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An Introduction To Drone Photography

How would you like a tripod for your camera that can extend up to 400 feet or move up to 500 metres away at the flick of a switch? Welcome to the exciting world of drone photography.

|  Drones
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It wasn’t so long ago that aerial photography was confined to planes and helicopters - an expensive business. Camera drones for consumers have only been around for a few years and have already transformed the highflying world of photography and videography. And don’t get me started on all of the other amazing uses for unmanned aerial vehicles because you’re interested in photos.

 

 

Where It All Began 

The first accessible drones for photographers were derived from model aircraft with something like a GoPro sports camera attached. If you wanted to fly a Canon 5D Mark III around then you’d need something much heftier (more on that later). Electronic gimbals using brushless motors provided the stability needed to counter the buffeting that these, relatively flimsy craft had to encounter.

Modern drones, even entry level consumer ones, are now jam-packed full of technology that only a while ago would have seemed like science fiction. They have GPS and GLONASS (the Russian satellite system), barometers, inertial measurement units, ultrasonic ground detectors, visual positioning systems and some are available now with collision avoidance technology.

 

Which Drone's For Me? 

So what do you need to take aerial photographs? Well, obviously that depends on the quality of photos that you want to achieve but even entry-level drones have surprisingly sophisticated camera technology bolted onto the flying tech that I’ve already mentioned.

Probably the world’s most popular camera quadcopter is the DJI Phantom 3. It can shoot video up to 4K resolution (depending on the model) and the entire range carries a Sony EXMOR 1 2/3” 12.4 MP sensor and an f2.8 lens with a 94-degree field of view. You can save your images as DNG RAW as well as JPEG onto a micro SD card of up to 64 GB. It can shoot in burst mode, auto exposure bracketing and time lapse. All of this can be controlled from an app on your tablet.

 

DJI Phantom 3

 

The amazing thing about modern drones is that stills photographers can park their aircraft and rely on the satellite lock and the gimbal to hold the camera steady, even in a gusting breeze. On a Phantom, you can tilt the camera from vertically downwards to 30 degrees above horizontal. To pan the camera you’ll need to yaw the aircraft.

When you move up to something like a DJI Inspire 1 you have more control over your camera. First of all the Inspire has a 360-degree gimbal so that you can fly your drone in one direction and shoot in another. Secondly, and this is more useful if you’re shooting video, you can use a second controller to operate the camera while the pilot is in charge of the quadcopter. Once again a lot of your flight and camera functions can be controlled from the DJI GO app, which also functions as your camera display screen.

DJI Inspire 1 

The Inspire 1 Pro and RAW models have 16MP micro four thirds sensors similar to the Panasonic GH4 and they have the added advantage of a limited number of interchangeable lenses* which can either be focused using the touchscreen app or there’s an additional remote follow focus accessory that’s available which is probably more suited to serious movie shooters. The Pro and RAW models have bigger and better glass on them and the RAW has the added advantage of an on-board 500GB solid state drive which allows for a high bit rate, especially useful for 4K videos.

The cameras on the Inspire range are also compatible with the handheld stabilised gimbal on the DJI OSMO who you can shoot stabilised video and stills on the ground as well as in the air.

If you fancy getting your own camera airborne then you’ll need to look for bigger aircraft. The GH4 is easily paired up with the DJI S900 hexacopter. There is a gimbal that’s specially made for the camera. The S900 is not a ready-to-fly-off-the-shelf multi-rotor. It can either be built for you or you can construct it from a kit.

The same goes for its bigger brother, the S1000 octocopter, which is capable of lifting heavier payloads, including the Canon 5D Mark III that I mentioned earlier. Again DJI makes specific gimbals for the 5D Mk II and Mk III so the disadvantage is that you can’t switch cameras without changing gimbals. When you get into the realms of really serious movie shooting drones the gimbals can be balanced to match a range of cameras provided they’re in a certain weight range.

 

S100 octocopter

Drones Have Accessories 

You’ll also need a few more accessories with both of the bigger craft. Things like battery chargers, telemetry and separate video monitors. So the cost can mount up when compared to a ready to fly package. The bonus is the extra redundancy that you get from 6 or 8 props and motors. If you lose one you can still get the aircraft safely back onto the deck without suffering any damage or injury. If quadcopters have a weakness it’s that they don’t cope quite so well with a lost prop or a motor failure.

You May Need Permission To Fly

There’s a very important caveat to all of this exciting information. If you intend to use your drone for your business or for financial gain you must get Permission For Aerial Work (PFAW) from the Civil Aviation Authority. This involves attending a ground school operated by a National Qualified Entity, taking a theory test, a practical flight test, writing an official Operations Manual and taking out the correct insurance before applying to the CAA.

The other important thing to bear in mind is that, although drone manufacturers boast that their craft will fly miles away and climb to thousands of feet, in the UK you are only allowed to fly your drone 500 metres away and it has to be within your sight at all times. The same goes for altitude except the limit is 400 feet. General aviation is normally limited to a 500 ft minimum height so the 100 ft gap is there for safety.

* There are currently 7 lenses available for the DJI Inspire 1 Pro and RAW cameras. Six of them are primes and one of them is a zoom BUT two of them (a 14-42mm and a 45mm) are only suitable for photography and not video. Four of the seven also require a counterbalancing weight.

 

About Author: Steve Robins 

Steve Robins is Head of Digital Content Production for www.heliguy.com - a one stop shop for drones, repairs, custom builds and pilot training with courses in Newcastle, Manchester and Farnborough.

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