Photo by Alessio Soggetti
In the past, a professional photographer had to hire a plane, helicopter, or glider to take an aerial photograph. However, now that camera and drone technology has decreased in size, anyone can purchase a drone and take breathtaking aerial photos and videos. As a result, in recent years, drone photography has become one of the fastest-growing types of professional imagery.
With drones, you can capture landscapes, cityscapes, real estate, and weddings from a whole new perspective. Your photos and personal style can be enhanced with this unique bird’s eye perspective. Nevertheless, drone photography can be a complex and confusing hobby to get into. That’s why we’ve assembled this essential guide to help you get started.
From the best drones to buy in 2023 to how to start a drone photography business, we’ve covered everything you need to know about drones.
So, let’s take to the skies instead of droning on!
Section 1: What Are The Best Drones To Buy For Photography?
What Are The Best Drones With A Camera For 2022 And 2023?
Photo by Kevin Oetiker
With the perfect drone, you can capture sharp, professional images from the sky. As there are so many models on the market, finding the right one requires careful research. To make your decision easier, we’ve scoured the internet to find the best drones to buy in 2022 and 2023 and have listed our top choices below.
DJI Mini 3 Pro
Your ideal drone depends on your skill level and budget, but the internet agrees that the DJI Mini 3 Pro is the best drone for most people. For most professional and hobby photographers, the DJI Mini 3 Pro is the best compact drone you can buy. Although it has a premium price tag, the Mini 3 Pro is a huge upgrade over the Mini 2. In addition, compared to larger drones, you get a far superior camera and obstacle avoidance sensors.
The Mini 3 Pro’s 12.1MP 1/1.3-inch sensor can produce excellent images and impressive high ISO performance. There is very little noise up to ISO 6400, and the bright f/1.7 lens and dual native ISO technology make low-light performance impressive for such a small drone. Photographers will love the drone’s ability to shoot in portrait without cropping due to its tri-directional obstacle avoidance.
While it’s no longer DJI’s newest drone, the Air 2S remains a good choice if image quality is more important to you than size. Despite its compact, folding design, the drone has the same 20MP 1-inch sensor as the older Mavic 2 Pro, giving it greater light-gathering powers than the Mini 3 Pro. This combination makes the Air 2S a great choice for beginners, hobbyists, or pros who need that a large image sensor.
Mavic Air 2
The new Mini 3 Pro may be smaller, but the camera on the Mavic Air 2 is even better. 5.4K video at 30fps gives you extra creative flexibility, as well as a useful digital zoom option (even if we recommend using it at only 2x zoom). Combined with 1080p at 120fps and high ISO performance, it’s a superb midrange flying machine that soars above its competition. Those on a tighter budget consider the Mavic Air 2.
Autel’s Evo Lite+ is the flagship drone in its latest line-up of DJI rivals. Capable of recording 5.4K videos at 30 frames per second, it shares many specs with the Air 2S. In addition to the 40-minute flight time and adjustable aperture (ranging from f/2.8 to f/11), it also leapfrogs the Air 2S and Mavic Pro 2. Lite+ lacks the fourth-axis stabilization of its Evo Lite sibling, but the larger pixels on its sensor provide better light gathering in dim light.
Best Drone Under $500
Photo by Simon Barber
The DJI Mini 2 is the best drone under $500 and the only viable 4K camera drone in its price range, but it is also one of the easiest to carry around on the go. It is not the best camera drone, and there are more affordable basic airframes for learning how to fly, but as a simple craft for some hobby camera work, it is hard to beat the Mini 2.
Powered by a 4K camera on a 3-axis gimbal, it has a great range, a decent speed, and up to half an hour of flight time. When you want wings but are satisfied with your phone’s photos and videos, the Mini 2 is a superb choice. The Mini 2’s ease of use, compact size, and portability make it our first choice for hiking drones.
Best Drone Under $200
In terms of features, the Larvender KF102 is a very capable camera drone. It is particularly noteworthy that the remote control transmitter operates at 5 GHz, which gives it an impressive range. The drone camera records to an SD card onboard and transmits to your phone at the same time. The remote works independently of the phone, so you don’t need the phone to control the drone. GPS map route planning, as well as other features like follow-me are available on the phone.
Although brushless motors should have a long life, some users report problems with them. A three-axis gimbal stabilizes the camera. In addition, the GPS allows the drone to return to you automatically if the battery runs out.
Large Drones Vs. Mini Drones Vs. Pocket Drones: What’s The Difference? And How Does This Make A Difference When It Comes To Image Quality?
Photo by david henrichs
Despite the blurring lines between what a small drone can do and what a big drone can do, size still matters. Do you need a large drone to accomplish your aerial goals, or should you look for small drones? Your answer depends on the nature of your flight and your ability to transport your machine safely. It’s true that folding drones have made a big difference in size, but that’s just one part of the story.
For first-time fliers and children, keeping things small is ideal. Almost all toy-class drones are lightweight. However, being small doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a toy. High-end quadcopters are also small and lightweight. Furthermore, the propellers are powerful enough to really hurt if you get in their way.
Drones that are small are easy to transport, and if you go small enough, you can fly them indoors safely. Nano drones are the smallest of the small, barely able to hurt a fly. It is important to consider the risks before launching anything larger or heavier than a nano drone since it produces enough power to hurt or punch holes in walls.
The larger size of the drone adds many logistical challenges, such as not fitting in your backpack, but it usually offers a much more stable flight. Generally speaking, the smoother you need your photo or video capture to be, the larger your drone should be.
A drone’s size should also be considered for many other reasons. You can answer those questions for yourself as we go, maybe you need it to fit into a bag, and maybe battery life is a concern. Your tiny car knows if it can accommodate a huge drone.
You should also keep in mind the FAA’s drone weight rule. Drones with a total take-off weight of 55 lbs or more, including payload, are prohibited. Drones with a larger payload are usually more stable for cameras, but small drones can fit in backpacks or can be flown indoors. Therefore, the FAA does not specify an upper size limit for your aircraft. Go for it if you can design a craft that weighs under 55 lbs but is 500 feet long.
Section 2: How To Shoot Drone Photos And Videos
Photo by Jonathan Lampel
How To Master Drone Shooting
Now, it’s no use traveling to an amazing location and taking a picture from the sky only to have it turn out worse than something your phone could take. Remember, it takes time and practice to learn how to capture beautiful scenery.
Keep these tips in mind:
When you’re flying, it’s easy to forget the fundamentals of photography, but they’re still applicable to drone photography. Study basics such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, and the golden ratio if you’re not familiar with them.
- Look for symmetry and patterns while you’re soaring high: When you’re soaring high, you’ll see a lot of repetition, colors, and shapes. Aerial photos like these are some of the most iconic.
- Simple compositions can lead to amazing shots that celebrate the subject, just like ground-level photography.
- The stability of some drones these days allows you to use long exposure for capturing swaying trees or crashing waves.
- Drone photographers can benefit greatly from the right light shooting at certain times of the day and can create spectacular patterns and long shadows.
How To Get Really Good At Drone Videography: 3 Key Techniques
In the end, a drone is nothing more than a tool. You’ll be limited in how far you can take your drone videography if you don’t know how to use the tool.
To stand out from the crowd, you need to learn how to think like a filmmaker, how to construct a storyboard and repertoire of shots, and how to use them to add drama and interest to your story.
YouTubers Stewart and Alina have put together a Drone Cinematography Masterclass that’s free for anyone. From their videos, you’ll learn how to interpret light and flight direction, how to deal with unwanted objects, how to pick the right camera motion that transforms a simple shot into a masterpiece, and much more.
Take advantage of simplicity
According to Stewart and Alina, the vast majority of drone videography and aerial cinematography coming out of Hollywood is quite simple. Despite a slight motion from the drone and gimbal tilts or rotations, the real beauty of the shot comes from:
- Keeping the subject a secret for the first frame adds to the suspense
- A creative decision regarding the direction of the camera in relation to the sun
- The depth created by layers in the composition between the camera and the subject
In the world of photography, expensive gear can make a difference, and there will always be a better drone or a stronger camera. However, the majority of Stewart and Alina’s commercial and wedding work is shot on cameras that cost around $1,500. It goes to show that producing professional work doesn’t require the latest and greatest system.
Drone Cinematography Tips: Essential Shots
According to Stewart and Alina, the following are the most common drone videography shots you should start honing and incorporating into your repertoire as a drone cinematographer:
Best Drone For Filmmaking
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
According to internet reviewers and influencers, a filmmaker’s arsenal should include the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, as it is regarded as one of the best drones for any type of filmmaking. Overall, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro has features that are hard to beat because they fit any filmmaker’s budget.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro features a Hasselblad 20MP 1″-type image sensor, which is significantly larger than many competitors. As a result of the wider ISO range, the camera performs better in low-light conditions. Taking excellent 20-megapixel aerial photos with incredible color detail is another fantastic feature of the Hasselblad L1D-20c camera.
With its superb implementation of Dlog-M and HLG HDR for high dynamic range recording and 10-bit compatibility, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro sets itself apart from the competition.
The result is a video that can be graded and edited using high-end software. A number of today’s popular cinematic cameras are compatible with the footage produced. This ensures that the quality of the footage will never be compromised when switching between a drone and a movie camera. For filmmakers seeking an advanced drone to add to their toolbox, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro series is a great choice.
A Talk With Pixsy User And Drone Photographer @dronepicr
Pixsy sat down with one of our users and professional drone photographer, dronepicr, to understand the medium of drone photography from an insider’s perspective. Since 2013 dronepicr has mainly worked on his project “Aerial Perspectives” and takes aerial photos with a drone. The first aerial photos he shot in Cologne, where he lives. He continues the Aerial Views Project, photographing numerous sceneries from above all over the world.
For him, aerial views show the world from a different, unusual perspective. His powerful and descriptive images provide clues to understanding the relationship between the natural and constructed environments.
He is a professional photographer that works on editorial, travel, and commercial assignments throughout Europe and beyond. His images have been published in Stern.de, Yahoo, ntv.de, Le Dauphiné Libéré, Expedia, vodafone.de, STA Travel, Kölnhoch11, Top Magazin Köln, and on german television (WDR) among others. He kindly gave us a moment of his time to offer these insights into drone photography.
How Did You Get Involved In Drone Photography?
I grew up in a family that loved photography. My father took some photos for newspapers in my hometown. He showed me how to use cameras. He had always had the new stuff. I’ve always liked (especially on vacation) to go to high vantage points (television towers, mountains) because I was fascinated by the eagle’s-eye view there. With the relatively new drone technology, I was able to capture this in the picture as well.
What Do You Like About It?
It’s a completely different perspective that excites me. In the past, this perspective was only seen in Hollywood films. I also like that you get an overview and discover things that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
What Was Your First Drone? What Equipment Do You Recommend?
I bought a Phantom professional from DJI in 2015. Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t that mature back then, so there were a few minor crashes. Overall I had to replace the drone twice. In Hawaii, relatively at the beginning of my stay, this drone flew far out to sea and crashed due to a compass error (volcanism). I’m still very frustrated about that today because I couldn’t buy a new one there in a hurry. However, the drone was replaced by the manufacturer. Today I use a Mavic 2 from the same manufacturer, which works far more reliably. I highly recommend this drone.
What Are The Limitations Of Drone Photography?
When it comes to drone photography, you quickly reach your limits. On the one hand, technical problems can hail the best motifs. On the other hand, there are, of course, also weather-related difficulties. So you can not fly the drone in strong wind or rain. Of course, to get the ultimate shot, you need to be in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, there are also different drone laws from country to country, where you quickly get into conflict with the law and have to answer questions.
What Are Your Hopes For The Future Of The Art Form?
In the future, I wish that the existing negative image of drones in public will change. The technology is now so mature that it is safe to fly with it. I also can not understand that in some countries flying is forbidden, especially at sights. In my opinion, the country is missing out on a major factor when I think of the spectacular pictures on Instagram. However, some countries are aware of this and are slowly opening up to drone photography. Unfortunately, the image of drones is affected by wars and conflicts, as can be seen in Ukraine. Furthermore, I can also imagine that the technology will continue to develop and that good shots at night may also be possible.
Pixsy would like to thank dronepicr for agreeing to participate in this article, and we recommend that everyone follow their form on Instagram and Flickr.
The Internet’s Best Drone Pictures To Get Inspiration From
Voulas place at Tsambika Beach, Rhodes, Greece by dronepicr
Top-down of Tsambika Beach, Rhodes, Greece by dronepicr
The Birth of the Olympic Games by dronepicr
Shipwreck of Peristera Island, Greece by dronepicr
Top down aerial of Elafonisi Beach on Crete, Greece by dronepicr
Aerial view of the beach of Cofete on Fuerteventura, Canary Islands by dronepicr
Section 3: Drones And Real Estate Photography
Why Drones Are Really Useful For Real Estate Photography
Photo by Blake Wheeler
Realtors can leverage drone photography to improve their real estate sales and marketing efforts in many ways.
Photos of real estate from the air
Multiple angles can be captured with drones equipped with high-resolution 4K cameras to provide expansive, cinematic images and videos of a property’s interior and exterior. Using aerial drone photography, homebuyers can visualize the lifestyle that comes with property and capture the ambiance of the property.
Showcase the roof and surroundings of a property accurately
Drones offer better visual accuracy for real estate. Potential homebuyers can view a property from the air, allowing them to see the surrounding area and the development itself. In addition to learning about the property’s size and neighborhood, homebuyers can also find out whether there is a park nearby or if there are trees nearby. Homebuyers will feel more confident in their decision-making as a result, and the listing will appear more appealing to them.
For large commercial developments, condominiums, and apartment buildings, drone photography can be particularly beneficial to fully showcase a property and its outdoor features, such as parking facilities, which would not be possible to capture from the ground level using a handheld camera.
Additionally, drone photography is an inexpensive and safe way for potential homebuyers to get a closer look at a property’s roof. In lieu of physically climbing up the roof and taking photos, a drone can take aerial shots of the roof that minimize the risk to human life as well as labor costs.
Photo by Derek Thomson
The Best Drone For Real Estate
According to a number of realtors, the EXO Blackhawk is a great choice for real estate professionals and hobbyists alike. This stylish real estate drone comes with easy instructions and tutorials for those who are new to aerial drone photography.
EXO Blackhawk features a 16 MP camera, 4K 30 FPS video, and over 30 minutes of flight time. Although it doesn’t capture as high-quality, high-resolution images as some, it may be sufficient for sharing online on real estate listings. For those who aren’t completely confident in their ability to maneuver their camera or capture stabilized video, this is an excellent entry-level device.
How Much Does It Cost To Get Drone Photography Made For Real Estate
Real estate drone pilots usually charge per square footage rather than per hour, and most packages include both exterior and interior shots. Depending on what works for you, you can also use a pricing structure based on the hour, half-day, or full-day.
The following pricing model for real estate drone photography is based on a number of examples that can be found online, however, it’s up to you to determine what price you should be paid for your time. Pricing based on square footage:
- Under 2000 square feet. $149 per square foot
- Under 3000 square feet. $199 per square foot
- Under 4000 square feet. $249 per square foot
- Under 5000 square feet. $299 per square foot
In most cases, these prices will include both interior and exterior shots. To capture the whole property, exterior shots are usually taken from above, level with the ground, then from different angles on the sides.
Section 4: Starting Your Career In Drone Photography
Photo by William Daigneault
How To Start A Drone Photography Business
It is possible to make a lot of money by starting a drone photography business. However, before you start flying, it’s important to know that commercial drone use requires a license or certification depending on your country, like the FAA Part 107 license in the United States. It is also likely that you will need insurance, both for your drone and for your liability.
Next, in order to take high-resolution images and videos, you will need a high-quality drone, take a look above to see the ones we recommend. Finally, to start your business, you should focus your efforts on a niche or vertical, such as wedding photography or real estate. To continuously attract clients for your drone photography business, you will need a solid marketing plan.
Moreover, make sure you’re insured. Drone photography requires the purchase of a high-quality camera drone, which is a huge investment. When you crash or damage your drone, drone insurance will help cover any repairs or replacements. Drones are your business’s money-makers, and you need them to run smoothly to keep your business afloat.
For more information about how to start a drone photography business, take a look here:
How Much To Charge For Drone Photography
The process of doing some competitor analysis in your area of drone photography will take lots of trial and error, but it should give you a pretty good idea of what other drone photography businesses are charging.
It is important that your pricing reflects the value you provide. Hourly rates don’t take into account all the work that happens after the photo shoot, so it’s best to avoid these. Instead, put together some pricing packages that include every step of the process. In the case of a wedding drone photography business, you might offer two packages:
Package A: three-hour photo shoot with all digital downloads and 30 printed images. The price is $2000
Package B: 5-hour photo shoot, all digital downloads, 60 printed images, and custom slideshow. The price is $3500
Section 5: Different Types Of Drone Photography
Drone Night Photography
Photo by Goh Rhy Yan
Night-time aerial photography is a great way to explore the darkness and capture some dramatic images for your portfolio.
In a manner not dissimilar to the retina in the human eye, visible-light cameras use a sensor to capture light reflected and emitted from objects in the environment to create an image. When light is scarce, not enough of it falls on the sensor to create a clear image. As a result, the photograph appears murky and dark because it is underexposed.
Increase the amount of light
When you take a selfie in a darkened room, your cell phone will automatically turn on a small LED light or adjust the display brightness to full so that the camera can capture a clear image. While taking pictures indoors, professional photographers use photo strobes, commonly known as “flashes”: For the split second that the shutter is open, the flash floods the room with light, ensuring a properly exposed picture.
A drone pilot typically focuses on features that are quite large: anything from a city block to an entire city. Because of the sheer size of these subjects, artificial lighting cannot be used to cast more photons on the sensor. For more tips on how to take the best drone photos at night, check out this useful video.
Drone Long Exposure Photography
Photo by William Daigneault
For decades, photographers have used long exposure times to their advantage when shooting at night. When you take an ordinary daylight photograph with your cell phone, a digital camera, or a drone, the sensor is typically exposed to the light for just 1/60 of a second. Your “shutter setting” refers to these intervals: another throwback to film photography, when silver halide crystals were exposed to light using a mechanical shutter.
Let’s say you were to take a photo in daylight with a shutter speed of 1/1000, but imagine that it was nighttime and you left the shutter open for one whole second. What would happen? Light from lit objects in the camera’s field of view would “stack up” on the sensor, creating a clear image, even at a faster shutter speed.
When the shutter is open, what happens if something moves? It would appear blurry, or even disappear altogether since there would not be enough light reflected from its surface to register at any one location. When the shutter is open, what happens if the camera moves? During exposure, everything in the frame appears blurry since it is “dragged” across the sensor.
Therefore, even the slightest movement of the camera is fatal for long-exposure photography, which is why tripods and remote shutter releases are used. Being mounted on an aircraft, your camera is naturally defined by movement. With a drone, long-exposure photos require ensuring the camera gimbal is free from vibrations caused by the motors, maintaining exceptional position hold, and finding times and places where the wind will not be an issue.
Drone Landscape Photography
Photo by Jelle de Gier
As opposed to standard photography, you’ve got many opportunities to make a terrific landscape photo with a drone. However, the most important thing about drones is the freedom to fly to heights not accessible to you before, shoot new perspectives of things you’ve photographed lots of times before, use new angles, and, most importantly, be creative without boundaries.
For a more detailed introduction to drone landscape photography, this video has you covered.
Drone Wedding Photography
Photo by Paul Pastourmatzis
With more wedding photographers and soon-to-be newlyweds using drones to capture their big day, aerial wedding photography is gracing many photo albums. Aerial wedding photography was once reserved for exclusive sets with complicated setups. Drones now offer professional imaging capabilities, Intelligent Flight Modes, and ease of use to wedding photographers across the globe.
Wedding drone operators can capture breathtaking aerial narratives and once-in-a-lifetime venues. Our tips on aerial wedding photography will give you the perfect marriage of tips to create a breathtaking wedding album for soon-to-be newlyweds.
The wedding couple is the most important person of the day. Aerial photography is more challenging than close-up portraiture, and it will require some careful planning for each photo. Discover some inspirational shooting locations at the venue before, during, or even before the wedding. There is no better subject matter for aerial images than gardens, meadows, and beaches. Your narrative can be shaped by utilizing the surroundings as props. This drone image, for example, highlights the unique features of this couple’s wedding venue.
Shooting at wedding venues can be a breathtaking and inspiring experience. The list of stunning backdrops includes historical churches, rolling countryside hills, white sandy beaches, and grand country manors. Taking photos from a distance will provide an interesting contrast between the newlyweds and the venue.
Section 6: Drones For Hobbyists And Enthusiasts
Photo by Aaron Burden
Drone flying is an exhilarating experience! Zooming in and out of epic locations, completely immersed in the pilot’s view, is thrilling. There are a lot of people who are interested in building a drone, but they need help knowing where to begin. Many hobbyists choose to build their own drones as their biggest obstacle to getting their first drone.
For me, building my own drone was a daunting task, and there’s a mountain of information to wade through before anything makes sense. The good news is that it isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and with a little guidance, you’ll be in the air in no time! Anyone armed with the right information can get on and do it relatively hassle-free if they have the right information. How to build your own drone can be a relatively easy process as long as you follow the right steps. Below you will find a popular YouTube tutorial that will tell you everything you need to know about building your own drone.
About The Author: Robin Gillham
Robin is a resident case manager at Pixsy, working directly with our creators and photographers to help them enforce their rights. Robin is a hobby photographer with a keen interest in time-lapse.
More posts by Robin Gillham