Drone Photography: A Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Stunning Photos

Most photographers who are starting with aerial photography invest a decent amount of money to create stunning drone photos from a unique perspective. By spending thousands of pounds on the equipment, the margin for trial-and-error is much smaller which is why I am giving you a head-start with some practical tips on how to take the best drone photos and how to edit them afterwards. 

Passcal \ YayImages

This article contains links to products and services that I think you will find useful. I may earn a commission on any purchases you make at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more HERE

NEW European Drone Regulations

Since 31st December 2020, new European Drone Regulations are in effect. Read this summary of these EU drone regulations to understand how it impacts you and your drone before you get started.

Getting started with a drone

The key to becoming a great aerial photographer is hidden in your preparation. The most important steps of taking better drone photos are done behind your laptop: by doing research!

Work with good equipment

The first thing you’ll want to figure out is which drone you’ll be buying and decide if you need additional accessories.

Most drone photographers start with an off-the-shelf solution in which the drone has everything you need to take aerial photos and video footage. If you are not owning a drone yet, we suggest you look into the new DJI Mavic 3.

Other options include:

  • DJI Mini 3
  • Autel EVO II
  • Holy Stone HS720

If you’re more technical-minded, you could purchase individual components and assemble a unique drone according to your wishes. However: This means you’ll have to do the reparations yourself as well. 

Get to know your drone

After finally buying the drone, your priority should be to figure out how to navigate it. 

Putting in the hours to learn how to land, hover, and move your drone before you even shoot one single picture is key. It’s like driving a car. The more hours you put in, the more natural your movements will be, and the more you can focus on taking your shot. 

By training your navigation skills beforehand, you’ve got less chance to mess it up when it’s time to take the shot. 

Learn to discover new spots

When you know how to fly a drone and when you have mastered the basics of photography, the biggest difference in taking stunning drone photos is your location.

That’s why we recommend you work out a system for discovering new spots to fly. You could use google maps, save image locations on Instagram, or you could develop a sixth sense in figuring out what places are perfect for drone photography.

Keep in mind that next to finding a great location to fly your drone, your timing will be crucial as well. We’ve listed some apps to help you figure out the best time to shoot landscapes, time-lapses, sunrises, and sunsets.  

  • PhotoPills is a powerful app that allows you to plan your shots in advance. It shows you the position of the sun and moon, as well as the Milky Way, at any given time and location. You can also use it to calculate exposure, depth of field, and time-lapse sequences.
  • Sun Surveyor is a simpler app that does a great job of showing you the position of the sun and moon. It also includes a light meter so you can check the exposure of your shots.
  • The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a desktop app that’s great for planning long-term shoots. It allows you to see the position of the sun and moon over a period of time, so you can plan your shots accordingly.
  • Magic Hour is a simple app that tells you when the golden hour and blue hour will be at your current location. It’s a great way to make sure you’re out shooting at the right time.
  • Aerial Timelapse is an app that helps you plan and create time-lapses with your drone. It allows you to set the start and end times, as well as the interval between shots.

These are just a few of the many great apps available to help you plan your drone photography shoots. With a little research, you will find the perfect app for your needs and location.

Keep track of no-fly zones and local regulations

Drone flying comes with a few responsibilities, so you best keep track of the no-fly zones, local regulations, and insurance before you encounter a bad experience. 

There are many different ways to find the latest info, but we prefer to consult DJI’s Geo Zone map to see where it is safe to fly or where flying is restricted. 

Create a pre-flight checklist

It’s something we already pointed out in our past articles: Most drones have a limited flight time, which means we should make our flight time count. By creating a pre-flight checklist we make sure we’re not losing time. 

Download PDF of the Checklist

Learn how to compose aerial pictures

The last thing you’ll want to figure out before you go exploring the world with your drone is how to compose stunning drone photos. If you already have some experience in photography, you’re already one step ahead.

How to shoot aerial pictures using the right configuration and setup

Another thing we have to realize is how important the configuration of our camera is. Using the right setup will make sure your start with the right foundation and the most optimal picture you can think of. This is so you can take advantage of these settings in the post-production process.

Shoot in RAW

Something every photographer should acknowledge is that you should always shoot in RAW if you want to manipulate or process the image in any way.

This is because a RAW image file is an uncompressed file, which takes all the image data from its sensor and saves it in an unedited and uncompressed format on your memory card. It takes up more storage space, but in return, you’ll be able to edit more details in your post-production process.

Bracket your drone photos

The term “Automatic Exposure Bracketing” probably won’t mean much to you, but the HDR function on your smartphone might ring a bell. 

To explain it briefly, the Automatic Exposure Bracketing – abbreviated as AEB – is the setting in which your camera will take a series of constructive photos (comparable with the burst function) using different exposures. This way you’ll end up with three images of the same composition, giving you more options when going to the post-production process.

Image Size 4:3

Most drones have the option to crop your pictures but we recommend keeping your image size to 4:3. Changing this image size, sometimes impacts the number of pixels your drone will be using making it more interesting to crop your pictures afterwards in the post-production process.

Shoot in Manual

After a while – when you’re used to shooting pictures with your drone – you’ll start to develop your own style. Ours is to underexpose our pictures, so we can take advantage of this in our post-production process.

By shooting aerial pictures in the manual setting, you’ll not only be able to decide on the amount of exposure but also the depth of field, noise, and many other settings.

Use Filters

Many experienced photographers agree that a lens filter is an essential accessory when you’re trying to make great drone photos. The main reason for this is because lens filters such as the ND or Polariser filters affect the colour saturation of light, reducing reflections and creating a deep blue sky effect in your images. 

geogif \ YayImages

Improve your drone photos by learning the basics of Lightroom

Taking a picture in the perfect circumstances and the best settings is one thing, making sure the subject attracts enough attention and the colours pop is a whole other skill. With software like Lightroom or Photoshop, you can transform these pictures into a once-in-a-lifetime drone photo.

Enable profile corrections

All camera lenses have their own characteristics and benefits, but most of them have their shortcomings as well. These shortcomings are mostly expressed in Vignetting (darkening the corners of the image) or Distortion (the lens produces curved lines where straight lines should be, most noticeable with wide-angle lenses). 

This is where Lightroom’s ‘profile corrections’-function comes into play: it’s built with the purpose to remove these typical optical issues.

Keep in mind: some photographers like to enable these corrections after they finished editing the picture because they find it slower. Removing Distortion and Vignetting might stretch the picture or add noise, so I recommend looking at the result before you determine whether or not to use it.

Select, Crop, and Straighten

When processing images we only want to spend time on our best pictures so we start by selecting those after which we crop and straighten them.

Apply presets

As a serious photographer, having a cohesive style of photos is essential. In reality, this mostly means that you’ll have to create your vibe during the editing process. Once you’ve found your vibe (Bright, Retro, Dark & Moody, etc.) you’ll always have to start your editing process with the same steps.   

This is where Lightroom presets come in to make your life easy! Rather than re-applying every step to recreate the same vibe, this one-click photo editing tool helps you dramatically speed up your workflow while keeping the same professional look.

Small adjustments, according to the photo

No drone photo is the same as another, so after applying your preset, you’ll have to shift some sliders to achieve the best result. The most obvious adjustments are the lights (exposure and contrast) while adjusting the colour settings (white balance, temperature, hue, saturation, etc) will make your picture bright and warm. Or dark and moody.

Graduated filters

A small trick to draw attention to your subject is slightly darkening the environment with graduated filters. This will make your subject the most exposed part of the photo, which is why it will become the focal point.

Import into Photoshop to remove objects with content awareness

When I feel 100% confident about the final result in Lightroom, I might upload the drone photo into Photoshop, to work with the content awareness tool to remove people or objects from our shots.


After walking through this post-production process, the only thing that’s left is exporting my drone photos. 

My default settings (for the web) are: 

  • JPG format, in sRGB colour space
  • Resize to fit 2500px for the longest edge, without enlarging
  • No watermark, since we decided to add our copyright info to our EXIF information.

Drone photography quick summary

Drone photography is a great way to capture the beauty of the world from a different perspective. However, taking stunning drone photos takes more than just flying and shooting.

1. Choose the right location.

The first step to taking stunning drone photos is to choose the right location. Look for places with interesting features, such as mountains, rivers, or forests.

2. Plan your shots.

Once you have chosen a location, take some time to plan your shots. Think about what you want to capture and how you want to frame your photos. You can also use a drone simulator to practice flying your drone and composing your shots.

3. Use the right settings.

Your drone’s camera has a number of settings that you can adjust to improve your photos. Experiment with different settings to see what works best for you.

4. Be patient.

Taking stunning drone photos takes time and patience. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the perfect shot right away. Keep practising and you will eventually start taking amazing photos.

5. Edit your photos.

Once you have taken your drone photos, you can edit them to improve them even further. There are a number of photo editing software programmes that you can use.

Want to learn more about photography? Read all my Photography Guides

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *