Tips For Aerial Photography



There is nothing quite like the thrill of the first time you send a camera into the sky and gaze through its eyes. Welcome to the intriguing field of aerial photography. This popular art form has its roots secured in the early days of hot air balloons and pigeons outfitted with lightweight cameras. Now, we grapple with drones, helicopters, and airplanes to capture breathtaking views from the sky. The explosive growth of drone technology has significantly broadened horizons for every photography enthusiast, making aerial photography an accessible skill to learn.

Aerial photography offers an engaging and diverse range of shooting opportunities that balances both artistry and technique. Think of it as a different perspective that says, “hey, don’t forget there’s a big, beautiful world above the horizon line too.” Advanced equipment, a keen eye for location, and a well-timed shot fuse to create stunning aerial visuals that are as exhilarating to produce as they are to view.

But let’s face it, we are not pigeons; operating a drone or shooting from a helicopter comes with challenges we need to prepare for. Mastering the aerial perspective requires patience, practice, some hardcore tips, and of course, a healthy respect for gravity. This article aims to provide practical tips to bolster your aerial photography game while subtly reminding you that with great altitude comes great responsibility.

Let’s take flight into aerial photography, featuring a harmonious blend of practical expertise, artistic insights, and the essence of bird’s-eye view compositions. Here’s to the dazzling allure of capturing the world from above; one exhilarating photograph at a time!

Understanding Your Equipment

Aerial photography is highly dependent on the tools you use. While a unique eye for capturing stunning views from above is essential, your equipment can significantly impact the quality of your images.


Ah, drones, those truly miraculous pieces of technology that have efficiently made aerial photography accessible to many. Until drones came along, you had to either own a helicopter (yeah, right) or rent a plane to get a bird’s eye view. Now it’s all about propelling a device into the air with a camera strapped in.

For novice aerial photographers, it’s significant to understand how to operate your drone effectively. I’m not saying you need to be a world-class pilot, but knowing how to take off, land, navigate and adjust camera settings mid-flight will significantly make your life easier.

From a fantastic range of DJI Drones to some budget-friendly choices from Parrot, your options are endless. It’s essential to select a drone that is easy to control, comes with a decent camera quality, and suits your budget needs.

High-end Cameras

For those willing to invest in a helicopter or airplane shots, the equipment gets a bit more sophisticated and pricey – we’re talking about high-end DSLRs or mirrorless cameras. A staple among many professionals is the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, though others might prefer the Nikon D850. The Sony Alpha line also tends to find favor for its superb performance.

High-end cameras offer far superior image quality than drones. They may seem intimidating with dials and settings, but a basic understanding of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture will get you a long way. Remember, you’re not trying to solve an algebra equation; you’re merely finding the right balance to capture an image that set your eyes sparkling.

Camera Attachments

Don’t forget about attachments for your camera, such as different lenses and filters. Wide-angle lenses, for instance, can capture extensive areas, giving an astonishing perspective to your aerial shots. Some may also prefer to use a polarizing filter to manage reflections and enhance the overall vividness of their images.

Ultimately, your equipment is like your trusted sidekick in the aerial photography endeavor. So choose wisely, learn its ins and outs, and always take good care of it. Doing so might not give you superpowers, but it’ll certainly set you up for some super shots from the sky!

Selecting the Right Location

The concept of the right location is even more pertinent in aerial photography than its ground counterparts. Here, the canvas is broader and the perspectives are expansive. We’re not dealing with single subjects anymore but entire landscapes, architectures, or cityscapes.

Scouting Locations

The scouting process initiates the narrative for your aerial shots. Some photographers, with an affection for spontaneity, prefer searching for a location first and then craft their photographs to tell a story. Others do the reverse, letting the concept guide them to an appropriate location.

Topography, city development, water bodies, architectural styles, and land characteristics can all serve as powerful focal points for your aerial imagery. Iconic places like Grand Canyon, Venice’s charming canals, or Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are known for offering breathtaking aerial views. But the right location doesn’t always have to be grand and iconic. Sometimes, it’s the intricacies of a small flower field or the geometry of suburban homes seen from above that creates intriguing imagery.

Light, Weather and Changing Landscape

Weather and light play a critical role in the aesthetics of location. A seemingly “ordinary” place under the golden blush of sunset, or after a fresh sprinkle of rain, can transform into an awe-inspiring frame. The magic lies in visualizing this transformation and timing your shots accordingly.

Ever changing weather conditions, particularly clouds, can serve as a natural diffuser for light and add depth and drama to your shots. However, they can also be a challenge when flying drones, so keep an eye on the forecast and be prepared.

Consider how the landscape may change in different seasons. For example, a deciduous forest in autumn might offer a stunning contrast of colors not present during other seasons.

Map Software and Location Scouting Apps

In the age of digital convenience, photographers also have access to numerous types of map software and location scouting Apps. Google Earth, for example, can provide a preliminary bird’s eye view of your potential spot, saving you time and unnecessary trips. Apps designed for location scouting can offer useful data regarding sun position, tide levels, crowd density, and more.

In conclusion, the choice of location, influenced by light and weather, can dramatically impact your aerial photography. But remember, the seemingly insignificant or ordinary locations might hold potential for a unique shot. It all depends on how you interpret and capture it.

Timing and Light: The Artistic Implications in Aerial Photography

Before cracking the code to great aerial photography, you will need to understand the crucial role that timing and lighting play in the outcome of your shots. Indeed, the adage ‘timing is everything’ sounds cliché, but in aerial photography, its significance cannot be overstated.

Grabbing the Golden Hours

In photography, the periods shortly after sunrise and just before sunset are commonly referred to as the ‘golden hours’. These times offer a unique, soft, warm, diffused light quality that can enhance the beauty of your aerial photographs dramatically. But why? Well, during these periods, the sun is close to the horizon, causing the light to travel through more of the Earth’s atmosphere and scattering the short-wavelength light, blue and violet light to a far greater degree than the longer-wavelength, yellow, red and orange light. It sounds scientific because it is, and paying attention to this little facet of physics can make your photographs stand out spectacularly.

Clouds: The Unsung Heroes

Remember when we used to watch fluffy clouds and find them taking various shapes? Clouds might have been an entertaining pastime then, but now they’re about to become an aerial photographer’s trusty sidekick. Depending on their shape and thickness, clouds can create intriguing shadows, add depth, and diffuse sunlight in a way that enhances your aerial shots. Too many clouds, however, might cause your shots to end up a little darker than you’d prefer, and this is where knowledge of the adjustments in camera settings comes into play.

The Harsh Sunlight Predicament

While it’s usually good to have ample natural light when photographing, the noon sun can be quite harsh and create overexposed images with less visible details. Consider scheduling your shoots during the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is less intense. But if you can’t avoid flying your drone under the harsh midday sun, fret not! You could balance things out by adjusting your camera settings. Keep a keen eye on its ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to manage exposure under these challenging conditions.

Understanding Shadows and Angles

Keep in mind that the angle of sunlight changes throughout the day, and so do the shadows. Early morning light can cast long shadows that enhance the texture, creating a sense of depth in your photos. As the sun rises higher, the shadows shorten and can often disappear, only to lengthen again as the sun sets. Harnessing the power of these ever-changing shadows can turn your aerial shots from being ordinary to extraordinary. Just remember: it’s not just about capturing subjects, but their interaction with light and shadow.

In conclusion, to optimize timing and light to your advantage, look out for opportunities provided by the golden hours, use clouds creatively, be mindful of harsh sunlight, and work with the dynamic dance of shadows. Striking a balance between the kind of shot you want to achieve and the ever-changing conditions of light and timing can be a handful. But hey, in the words of a popular 90’s sitcom, “Could there be any more fun in a photography challenge?”

Composition Techniques

Aerial photography presents unique opportunities and challenges for composition due to the distinct perspective it provides. Understanding and effectively employing composition techniques can dramatically improve your aerial photos, enabling you to capture shots that are more balanced, visually compelling, and tell engaging stories.

Rule of Thirds

One of the first composition techniques you may have come across in your photography journey is the rule of thirds. This principle suggests that an image should be divided into nine equal parts with two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines. Points of interest should be placed along these lines or at their intersections for a more balanced and engaging composition.

In aerial photography, the rule of thirds can be used in any number of ways. For example, you might place a river or road running diagonally across your frame along one of the third lines. Or, if you are capturing a coastal scene, you might position the shoreline along one of the horizontal lines.

Leading Lines

Leading lines guide the viewer’s eye through an image, potentially to a subject of interest. These lines can take various forms – roads, bridges, rivers, shadows, etc. – and can be incredibly effective in aerial photography. For instance, a winding river or a long, straight road captured from above forms a captivating leading line, steering the viewer’s attention through the frame.

Symmetry and Patterns

Aerial photography provides an excellent platform for highlighting natural and man-made patterns. Agricultural fields, rows of trees, cityscapes, coastlines – all of these can form visually striking geometric shapes and patterns from above.

Similarly, symmetry, which is naturally pleasing to the human eye, can be more easily spotted and captured from an elevated viewpoint. Be it the symmetrical design of a sports arena or a perfectly mirrored reflection on a calm lake; aerial photography provides opportunities to discover and illustrate a world of symmetry.

Framing and Viewpoint

Remember, as an aerial photographer, you have a considerable advantage – a dynamic viewpoint. You can capture top-down images, slant views, or anything in between. The perspective you choose can profoundly impact the mood and feel of your image.

Framing is another powerful composition tool at your disposal. Using elements of a scene to ‘frame’ your main subject can help isolate it from its surroundings, lending greater emphasis and focus. For example, you could use the curl of a mountain pass or an arc of trees to frame a subject on the ground.

Final Note

Incorporate these composition methods into your creative process. Think consciously about how these techniques can be applied to the scenes below you. Remember, rules in photography are more like guidelines. Feel free to experiment, bend or break these rules, and create an image that is truly unique. This approach to composition coupled with the distinctive perspective of aerial photography, will certainly take your images to new heights, both literally and artistically.

Safety Measures

Every photographer understands the call of the perfect shot—it’s like a sweet melody that lures you toward capturing a remarkable moment in time. But when you’re piloting an aircraft (be it drone, airplane, or helicopter) for aerial photography, it’s not just about the art; it’s also about the safety.

Protecting Your Gear and Yourself

Let’s face it; drones aren’t exactly cheap, so losing one to an unexpected gust of wind or a hungry tree branch is probably not on your to-do list. Tips for protecting your gear include routine checks for unusual noises or erratic movements, always ensuring your drone reacts as expected to your commands, and never pushing it beyond its reliable operational range.

And let’s devote a nod to personal safety too. This means operating your drone in open, clear spaces away from people or too many trees, not flying it too high, and always keeping it in view. Most importantly, do not fly your drone in extreme weather conditions (no matter how tempting the dramatic shot may seem).

Legally Speaking

The laws surrounding drone flight can be as elusive to understand as the perfect light for your shot, thus navigating this legal landscape is crucial. Different countries have varying laws regarding drones, so it’s essential to research local regulations on drone flying to avoid falling foul of them. For example, in many countries, you need a permit to fly a drone, especially if it’s for commercial use. There are also often height restrictions and no-fly zones, typically around airports and residential areas.

Respecting privacy is another crucial aspect of aerial photography. Don’t be the creepy drone peering through someone’s window. If you’re unsure whether you’re infringing on someone’s privacy rights, the safe bet is not to take the shot.

Mindful Flying

Lastly, follow a “leave no trace” approach. This means not disturbing wildlife or natural landscapes. Fly your drone responsibly, ensure you’re not causing an intrusive noise and never leave behind any litter from your photography session. A good aerial photographer respects both nature and people.

Remember, maintaining a balanced commitment to safety along with your artistic vision is what makes a great aerial photographer. You not only create compelling images, but also contribute to a respectful, safe environment for everyone to enjoy.

Post Processing In Aerial Photography

Post-processing, or photo editing, plays a nearly magical role in aerial photography. This is where raw photos magically transform into stunning visuals that fascinate the viewer.

Why Post-process?

Aerial shots taken directly from drones or high-end cameras can already be stunning, yes. Yet, it’s that little tweak in contrast or the touch-up in saturation that often gives the image its final stunning glow. Think of post-processing as the final seasoning in your grand aerial feast—it doesn’t replace the main ingredients, but brings out their best flavors.

Adjusting Exposure and Saturation

Adjusting the brightness and color levels is often the first step in processing your aerial shots. Here’s a tip: underexposing your shot slightly when you capture it provides more room to adjust the exposure in post-processing. There’s margin to correct underexposure, but overexposure, on the other hand, could potentially wash out parts of the photo beyond repair.

Similarly, color saturation adjustments can significantly enhance the impact of your aerial images. Be wary, though. Turning up saturation to full volume might make the colors scream a bit too loud. It’s all about hitting that sweet spot that brings your photo to life without overdoing it.

Removing Unwanted Objects

Pesky power lines or that bird photobombaing your perfect landscape shot? Here’s where the charm of post-processing comes in handy! Software tools can help you remove unwanted elements from your image. But remember, less is more. Improve the image but, keep it realistic.

Photo Editing Software

There’s a range of software available for editing aerial photos— Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and Skylum Luminar, to name a few. While each serves a slightly different purpose and learning curve, they all share one goal: to help you transform your aerial shots from good to outstanding. Sooner or later, using these tools will become second nature, much like adjusting the shutter speed or flying the drone eventually does.

In the end, post-processing is an art as much as it is a skill. Keep your editing subtle, respect the reality of your original shot, and watch as your aerial photographs soar to new heights! Be patient with this process as mastering it could potentially take your aerial photography from wow to “I-can’t-believe-I-captured-this”!

Advancing in Aerial Photography

As with most aspects of life, mastery of aerial photography doesn’t happen overnight. Well, unless you’re some kind of photo-sorcerer, which in case, lucky you! But for the rest of us mere mortals, advancing in aerial photography is a combination of continuous learning, ongoing practice, and a dash of tenacity.

Practice, Practice, Practice

As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”. Don’t let your drone gather dust in a corner. Regularly run flight missions, even in your backyard. This will not only help you understand your drone’s mechanics and controls, but also allow you to experiment with your gear under different lighting and weather conditions. Trying different maneuver tactics can open up new prospects for you, creating unique aerial viewpoints.

Learn and Evolve

With the rapid advancements in technology, drones and aerial photography techniques keep evolving. Staying updated with the latest drone technology and flight techniques will definitely give you an edge. Whether it’s a new UAV regulation or a camera update, be in the know. Online platforms are a great place to start with tons of blogs, tutorials and forums to explore.

Workshops and Photography Groups

Attending workshops can provide you with hands-on expertise and invaluable insights from seasoned experts. You might make some great friends in the process as well – it’s a win-win! Photography groups offer another platform to exchange ideas, feedback, and often conduct group excursions which can be learning experiences in themselves. It’s like a real-life Instagram feed, only with productive reviews and less of those generic “Nice shot!” comments.

Experience From Others

Everyone’s experience is a learning opportunity. Look to inspirational figures and pioneers in aerial photography. Analyze their work, pay attention to their flight patterns, composition, and lighting usage. For instance, consider the work of George Steinmetz, known for capturing breathtaking landscapes from a motorized paraglider. His commitment to safety and respecting local regulations can be a lesson to each photographer.

Pursuing aerial photography as an avocation or profession can bring a unique sense of accomplishment. Capturing the world from a bird’s eye view, offers perspectives and vistas you might never have imagined. So, don’t be afraid to push your boundaries, learn from your mistakes, and keep striving for those awe-inspiring aerial shots.


As we draw our lenses away from the vast skies of aerial photography, let’s circle back, summarizing the key points we’ve deftly navigated together.

Aerial photography, while appealing to our desire to explore our world from new and exciting vantage points, is not without its challenging elements. Isn’t that part of its allure, though? The mix of technique, equipment, location, and timing builds an intricate puzzle that, when solved, presents you with a stunning display of creativity and skill.

We began with a foundational approach, understanding the choice of equipment. Then, we journeyed through the crucial aspects of selecting the right location and the play of timing and light – two factors that can dramatically shift the mood of your photographs.

Composition techniques came next, offering an arsenal of strategies to enhance the visual appeal of your aerial shots. Remember, from the rule of thirds to framing, patterns, and viewpoints, each technique serves a valuable purpose in your aerial photography toolkit.

Safety is paramount, not just for your expensive gear but more importantly for you and the soaring companions in the sky. The “fly and spy” adventure should always respect laws and focus on the wellbeing of all parties involved.

We then touched on the significance of post-processing, which can turn a good photograph into an outstanding one. The digital darkroom is where you refine your aerial shot, maneuvering through exposure, saturation, and other adjustments.

Lastly, we discussed the significance of constant learning and evolution in aerial photography. Don’t shy away from workshops, online platforms, or local photography groups. Indeed, ‘shutterbugs’ learn best amidst their flock! There’s always a richer perspective to gain, a new technique to learn or a captivating story of success to keep the spark alight.

In closing, let’s remember aerial photography offers you the unique role of a soaring visual storyteller. It’s about capturing a perspective of the world seldom experienced – it’s about embarking on an exciting adventure every time you send your camera skyward. Each photograph you capture isn’t just an image; it’s a testament to your evolving skills and creative vision. So, strap in, fire up your drone, and let’s paint the sky with our lenses. After all, isn’t that the ultimate satisfaction of capturing the world from above?

The Creativv
American digital marketer and founder of with over a decade of experience in event, travel, portrait, product, and cityscape photography.