Drones are amazing to get a new perspective from up above. If you buy a drone as a photographer you the expectation, that you make amazing photos just because the perspective is great. If you are photographing for a while with your drone you will come to a point where you get frustrated because the pictures are as boring as your pictures from the ground. I came to this point a few months ago. So, I started to search some mistakes I keep making and what can I do better.
The quick answer is, that there is literally no difference between the classical way to take photos from the ground and to aerial photography. It comes down to the same point. Interesting subject, great light an contrasts. If you are interested in some generally tips to follow in for better composition in photography, read this article on Improve Photography.
If you are not happy with your drone photos keep in mind, that only a very small amount of all pictures taken by drones get seen by other people than the photographer and his friends and family. All the great pictures you see on Instagram are most times only the best one.
As you may have recognized the more often you fly the less you have to concentrate on flying. The first times you fly with a drone you have to focus on flying. The first photo you take will not be the best. But you can keep in mind that it gets better the more you try. My first tries were just bad, but it went better every time I was flying. Before you plan something important plan enough time to train flying. I bought my drone about four months before a big journey that I could train before but it wasn’t still enough time. You should at least plan about 5h flight time for training.
2 Right Light
This is the same as with a normal camera from the ground. The better the light, the better your drone photo will be. You have to keep in mind that the camera sensor on a drone is not as big as on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. This means compared to a big camera, the sensor is not able to make the same image quality. Especially with a lot of contrast (bright and dark) smaller sensors often struggle a bit. It is often better to fly at the golden hour because the contrasts are not as strong as in the middle of the day.
Another point are reflections. Especially if you photographing water you will get different reflection angle than from the ground. This does mean, sometimes when you have nice light with nearly no reflections on a lake you can get very bad reflections if you fly up. Sometimes you can avoid this by changing the camera angle on the drone, photograph in the same direction with the light or take a picture straight down. All these tricks are limiting you in your creative freedom so it is better to wait for the right light.
If you are photographing something that can reflect, the right light can also mean a bright overcast day. If the sun does not come through the clouds you will not get any reflections and the contrasts are not too high.
3 Search Patterns
To make a interesting picture it can help to search patterns. This can mean man made things or natural things. Sometimes you can find some nice patterns with threes or small lakes that are naturally grown. Sometimes you can find interesting patterns in man made things like roads. The human brain likes patterns and searches them everywhere. If you make a picture with niche pattern in it, it will be interesting (and therefore better) automatically. Especially if you photograph from a bird’s eye perspective.
4 Look For Contrast
Another thing that the human brain likes are contrasts. A black and white picture can be really great and basically there are only two colors in it. This does not mean (like I mentioned in point 2) that you should fly on midday when you have a lot of contrasts with dark and bright. It does mean you should look for contrasts in the landscape. This can be for example a white beach with blue water. Generally, al things where water and land come together are a nice contrast. Look for interesting coast lines or islands.
I bought my drone in the winter and in the first weeks I made the same mistake over and over by photographing a snowy landscape. If there is snow everywhere, nearly everything in the picture will be white. A snowy path in a snowy landscape is nothing interesting, there are basically no contrasts.
5 Add People
People like to look at other people doing things. If you can include a person in your photo it will be more interesting for other people. This can be a bit challenging and you have to think a bit different than when you are photographing with a camera from the ground. If a person walks somewhere from up above it will be only a small point. If you want to make a good picture form a person with a drone the person should lie somewhere so that the full person appears on the photo.
Keep in mind that a drone can fall down when you are flying over people. Your models should be informed that you are flying over them.
6 Night Photos
In some counties the drone laws do not allow to fly in the dark. It can be also dangerous because you can lose sight to the drone very easily. This is only something advanced pilots should do, if it is legal. If you want to do it search something where lights are. If the light is low, you have to slow down everything and you will learn faster. Modern drones are extremely stable. This does mean, if you have no wind, you have basically a flying tripod and you can do all the things that you can do with tripod from the ground. You can do nice light paintings by walking around with a flashlight or photographing a street with car lights. Also keep here in mind that a drone can crash. You do not want do crash your drone on a car at night. Keep always a safety distance.
Most drones are limited with the field of view. On the DJI Mavic 2 Pro you have only a 28mm lens. This can limit you in your creativity. If you want to make a photo with a smaller focal length you can take multiple shots and match it together to a panorama later. Some of the newer drones have also an integrated panorama modus in the software. As I mentioned earlier you have literally no movement with modern drones, so you can take your time to make all photos needed for a panorama.
8 Vertical Panoramas
I do not know a drone that can take a portrait orientated photo. All drones I know can only take landscape-oriented pictures. This is bad because some pictures are only good in portrait orientation. If you photograph straight down you can rotate the drone by 90° and you get a fine portrait format. If you want to photograph something which is not directly under the drone, take a vertical panorama. Just about four or five shots from the horizon to the ground and match them afterwards. Lightroom does an extremely good job matching vertical panorama.
9 Right Flying Height
Finding the right flying height is not easy and, in the beginning, often a trial and error. Most people i know fly to high. They thing drone photography is all about the height. But if you fly to high you lose a lot of details. Of course, there are nice landscapes that are really nice from far away but most of the things are more interesting if you do not photograph them from too high up. Roads for example get very small if you are too high.
Finding the right height does also mean do not fly to low. If you are photographing towers or mountains you should not fly to low. On most drones you cannot tilt up the camera. This limits you a bit while photographing. If you photograph something like a church tower it is easy to fly high enough to make a nice picture. It can be harder on high mountains. In this case you should rather search another composition.
10 Man Made Things
Man made things are always interesting from up above. This can be house, a street or something that moves like a ship. Windy mountain roads are always nice to photograph. Two of the most famous drone spots in my region are mountain pass roads. If you fly over man made things like houses, respect the privacy. A nice building with a big pool can be a great photo but you have to keep in mind that flying with a drone can violate privacy.
11 Extra Batteries
If you buy a drone always buy an extra battery. Some drones have a flight time around half an hour but if you just staring this is a very short time. Most of the drone batteries can only be charged with a special charger and not with by USB. If you are somewhere out you are often glad to have extra flight time.
12 Know The Area
Another good tip is to know the area where are you want to fly. My motto is better safe than sorry. I do not want to get any problems by flying my drone in a no drone zone. In the beginning I often forgot to check if I am allowed to fly in certain areas. I left the drone in the backpack and missed some great opportunities because I did not know that it was fine to fly in this area. So, check the area before you go. In the worst case, you have no internet connection and cannot check it at the location.