With the ever increasing popularity of drones and multi-rotors, aerial photography has gotten a big shot in the arm. Serious camera drones now outnumber your typical RC airplanes equipped with sport cameras to get that bird’s eye view. I have been flying several of the larger GPS equipped quadcopters and one of the newest is the Chroma Camera Drone with the CGO3 4K Pro camera. Here are some tips and hints I have learned along the way to make your aerial photos and videography better.
(Above) a clip from a recent video shot with the Blade Chroma.
Learn to fly Safely
As with any RC vehicle where it is a drone or a fixed wing model, read the instructions so you understand how you new camera platforms is suppose to operate. Before you can take any kind of images, you first have to learn how to fly your quadcopter.
(Above) Always read the instructions for your rotordrone.
And not just how to hover it, you need to become proficient with your drone so you are always in complete control. You need to be aware of your surroundings and keep onlookers safe. Should something unforeseen happen, you need to be able to properly react to minimize the danger to others around you and to property. Becoming airborne without the proper piloting skills is a big mistake.
(Above) Reading the instructions also goes for the camera.
Start with a small simple quad and work your way up. Also there are several excellent RC flight simulators now available with quadcopters in their aircraft choice menus. One of the key ingredients needed to produce quality aerial photos and video is to fly smoothly, without any sudden attitude changes or corrections.
Never fly alone. Have a safety spotter with you to both increase flight safety and to share the fun. Another safety tip here is to always fly in “Line of Sight”, so you always see your drone from the ground, even if it is equipped with first-person view (FPV) equipment.
Always get Permission
Always get approval from the land owner or manager of the area you want to fly your drone at. Don’t just show up and send your drone over the heads of others enjoying the day.
(Above) I was invited to help document local construction at our town’s High School with aerial photos and video. I was given permission to fly above and around the heavy equipment and trucks. Always get permission when flying in public areas.
(Above) always be a good neighbor when flying your drone.
This is also a good way to be a good neighbor. If you want to fly in your neighborhood, go knock on the door and let your neighbors know what you are doing. If you offer them a nice digital photo of their house or yard, they’ll appreciate the offer and most of the time will welcome the experience. And of course, if they don’t want you to fly because they are nervous, then don’t. Go somewhere else. Positive PR is a very important thing.
Vibration is the worst enemy of the aerial photographer. Simply attaching a sports camera in its case to your quadcopter without some sort of vibration dampening will produce poor quality images. Consider the use of a gimbal to support your camera.
(Above) gimbal support and shooting on the sun lit side of objects produce excellent results. Don’t shoot in the direction of the sun.
Gimbals dampen vibration as well as stabilize the camera to produce smooth and flowing video and extremely sharp and focused photos. There are several drones available today that come fully equipped with a camera, gimbal camera support and with real-time camera control.
When it comes to taking aerial photos, sunshine is your friend. A cloudy overcast day makes photos dark and sometimes, very thick overcast can interfere with GPS satellite lock. Pick a day with sunny conditions and minimal wind. Always keep your drone between the sun and the object you are taking photos of.
(Above) On overcast days, the colors are muted and the photos become darker.
If you shoot with the lens aimed toward the sun, you will get light flash and you will be shooting the dark shadow side of the scene or object. The sun lit side of the object will always produce the best results.
(Above) GPS Lock is good for stabilizing your drone so you can concentrate on framing your shot.
If available, use the GPS stabilization mode while taking photos. This keeps your drone in an exact location while you frame up your shots. With the Blade Chroma 4K camera drone, the ST-10+ controller/transmitter controls both the drone flight operation as well as the camera operation while showing you what the camera sees on the main screen. Featuring a touch screen, the various functions and setting menus are easy to access and navigate. Once the controller and the Chroma drone are powered up, it takes a several seconds for the controller to acquire the 5.8GHz wifi signal from the camera. Around the screen are various real time telemetry squares showing, (positioned counter-clockwise from upper left corner), Mode, GPS signal, Number of Satellites tracked, Position, Distance (ft.), Ground-Speed (MPH), Altitude (ft.) and Battery Voltage. Along the lower edge of the screen are the System settings, Flight settings and Model select touch bars. Pressing these brings up the various sub-menus which are navigated with touch and swipe. Below these are the navigation buttons to navigate the functions.
After you learn to operate your drone safely, be sure to setup your camera correctly. There are several settings to choose from and they are brought up by touching the Camera Setting icon on the main screen. This is especially important if you are shooting video.
You can also use aftermarket equipment to upgrade your quadcopter. Sport cameras like the GoPro and Hitec RCD’s S60 come with protective cases and are very good digital cameras for both still photos and video footage, they are also adjustable so you can select the quality of your imagery. Various multi-axis gimbals are also available from distributors like Hobby King and DJI. Just make sure your drone can lift and operate safely with the additional weight of the camera equipment.
Aftermarket Camera tips
- Set the shutter speed 1/250 or higher
- Don’t use autofocus
- Set the camera’s manual focus from 30 feet to infinity
- If available, use a wifi iPhone or Droid app to control the camera and view the image