Photographing with a Drone: Part 1



Aerial photography offers a whole new perspective on landscape photography, not to mention breathtaking bird’s-eye views of nature.

One of the most accessible types of aerial photography, which at the same time has its own specific features, is drone photography.

What is a drone?

Drone is a common name for remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones come in a variety of sizes and shapes, some with fixed wings and others with propellers. Fixed-wing drones are more often used in the military, as well as for specialized tasks in mapping and scientific research. Due to the need for a small runway and less maneuverability compared to propeller-driven (propeller) drones (in particular, fixed wing drones lack the ability to hover in one place and move at very low speed), fixed wing drones are rarely used for aerial photography. , therefore, in this material we will not touch on them.

Fixed-wing drone: Parrot Bee X.

Thus, the subject of our interest is drones with propellers. Most drones suitable for photographers are quadcopters (four propellers), but not all. There are also hexacopters (6 propellers) and octocopters (8 propellers). These are vertical takeoff and landing drones, which offer certain advantages for shooting landscapes, both natural and urban.

Drone with propellers: Parrot Anafi.


Drones are usually made from composite materials to reduce weight and absorb vibrations, which in turn reduces noise and jitter. They are equipped with multiple motors and propellers, usually one propeller per motor, however some drones have two propellers per motor. On quadcopters, two propellers rotate clockwise and the other two rotate counterclockwise.

Mavic Air quadcopter. Source:

The drone motors are controlled by a special controller that uses gyro stabilization and accelerometers to maintain real-time control of the drone, maintaining smooth and stable flight. The entire system is powered by a battery, which is usually inserted into the body of the drone.

The drone is equipped with a camera, usually located on the front or bottom of the body. Most modern drones are equipped with a built-in (native) camera, while earlier models usually used a separate external camera (sometimes small action cameras, and sometimes large DSLRs). The native camera provides a much greater level of real-time control.

The Syma X8W drone allows you to install an external action camera instead of the built-in one.

The camera (both native and external) is usually mounted on a 2- or 3-axis stabilized steadicam (aka gimbal), which compensates for vibrations and jerks from the body of the drone and allows the camera to move separately from it.


For flight and shooting, a remote control is most often used (for simpler models, only a smartphone is usually used), which allows you to control the movement of the drone itself and the steadicam, as well as receive first-person video (FPV) in real time on the integrated screen, the screen of the connected mobile device or even VR glasses.

Remote control and VR glasses to control your DJI drone.

The screen shows not only the video from the camera, but also important information such as flight altitude, speed, distance to the remote control, battery power, etc. Using the information received from the aircraft, the remote control can also warn the user of strong winds or obstacles. Everything serves to be able to control the drone as accurately as possible, and not rely on what the pilot can see from the ground. It is the first-person view that gives drones a huge advantage over other types of photography.

Drones for photographers

There are a fairly large number of drones on the market suitable for photographers, while the clear leader among manufacturers is the Chinese company DJI. The whole variety of drone models suitable for aerial photography can be divided into several categories that differ in the technologies used in them, such as camera and matrix, steadicam, battery, weight and size, etc. Below we will look at several categories of drones and how they differ.

Drones for fun/toys

DJI Tello.

These drones are equipped with a simple built-in camera with a low resolution and usually without a steadicam. Models in this category are very light, which makes them extremely sensitive to wind, and are usually not equipped with GPS, so you can not rely on flight accuracy and high-quality images. However, these drones are inexpensive and great for fun or training to fly more serious models.

entry-level drones

DJI Spark.

Such drones are already characterized by a more advanced control system and higher flight stability compared to models of the previous category. A dual-axis mechanical steadicam requires a shorter exposure to prevent image shaking. At the same time, the distance and duration of the flight of these drones are usually lower than those of models of a higher category.

Semi-professional drones

Drones in this category are typically equipped with a 3-axis gimbal, the ability to shoot at least 12-megapixel photos, the ability to shoot at slow shutter speeds (with flight stability to allow for such shooting), and 4K video. Mavic Air may be limited in flight distance as the WiFi connection this aircraft relies on is less resistant to interference in large cities than the Ocusync data transmission technology used by the Pro series.

DJI Mavic Pro.

The Mavic Pro, which is priced almost the same as the Air, has longer flight time but only a 1/2.3-inch sensor, while the top model of the Mavic 2 Pro series has a higher-resolution 1-inch sensor (20 megapixels vs. 12), as well as a more efficient noise reduction algorithm in low light conditions.

A fairly exotic model in the lineup is the Mavic 2 Zoom. The device received a 1 / 2.3-inch matrix, 2x optical zoom, which allows you to get different perspectives for one frame (the perspective depends on the distance to the object), as well as the cinematic Dolly Zoom effect (transtrave). All models in this category are very compact and easy to transport. The Mavic 2 Pro offers the best image quality of any drone in the range while still being portable, making it one of the most popular drones among photographers.

Professional drones

Drones in this category take aerial photography to a whole new level, with advanced interchangeable lens cameras ranging from interchangeable steadicam and Super 35 sensor cameras (Zenmuse X7 for Inspire 2) to digital cinema cameras (Arri Alexa Mini for FreeFly Alta).

DJI Inspire 2 with Zenmuse camera.

The weight of drones in this category starts from 4 kg, which is why there may be various legal restrictions on the use of such models. The design allows the camera located under the drone to move 360 ​​degrees regardless of the direction of the drone. Such drones are suitable for professional filming: they are often controlled by two pilots at once (one by the drone itself, and the second by the steadicam and camera).

What’s next?

We looked at the main types and devices of drones suitable for photographers. Modern drones for photographers are mostly quadcopters with built-in cameras mounted on a gimbal. In the next article, we will look at how drones have changed the game in aerial photography and what advantages they have over other aircraft.

* The materials of the sites (Erez Marom) and are used in the article.


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