There’s nothing quite like aerial photography. Truly, the expansive nature of it can be so breathtaking. And the thrill of capturing such photos has to rank pretty highly on a photographer’s bucket list. Even so, it’s vital to have a solid understanding of how to take photos from the sky, and what accommodations you need to account for to make aerial photography possible.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at our list of tips for taking aerial photography that will set you out on the right track.

What is Aerial Photography?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, aerial photography is the technique of photographing the Earth’s surface or even the Earth’s atmosphere through the use of cameras that are used within an aircraft by a photographer or that are mounted on an aircraft like an airplane, helicopter, drone, rocket, balloon, blimp, parachute, or satellite.

A Brief History of Aerial Photography

Aerial photography has an interesting history. It was first put into practice by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, a French photographer and balloonist. In 1858, he flew a balloon over Paris and capture photographs. Unfortunately, these photos have not survived and the earliest aerial photography still in existence today was taken in 1860 by James Wallace Black and Samuel Archer King. The subject of the photo is the city of Boston.

Tips for Taking Stunning Aerial Photography

If you’re looking to take aerial photographs on your own, there are some things you need to know to go about it successfully. What follows is a collection of 8 tips you must keep in mind before you either book a flight or send up a drone to capture photos.

1. Choose the Right Drone or Aircraft

Before you snap a single photo, you need to figure out how you’ll be taking them. Will you be going up in a helicopter to snap these shots or will you be using a drone?

If you’ve decided to pick a drone to enhance your aerial photography, make sure you check out our list on the top drones for photography.

If you plan on taking photos from a helicopter or airplane, you’ll need to bring up the right equipment with you. This means the the right zoom lenses, safety straps, and perhaps most importantly, gloves. Higher altitudes means colder temperatures and your hands will get quite uncomfortable trying to operate your camera with the cold wind rushing across your knuckles.

A drone used for photography
A drone used for photography

If you’ll be using a drone instead, there’s plenty of prep work to be done there as well. Take the time to practice flying your drone first before taking any photos. You should also be aware of any laws governing the use of drones in your area before setting to the skies.

For instance, The US FAA began requiring the registration of UAV’s weighing between .55 and 55 pounds in 2015. These are pretty lax rules but still something to be aware of before planning a photoshoot.

2. Pick a High ISO Range Camera

Because the light conditions and speed of travel will be changing rapidly when taking aerial photography, you’ll need to ensure your camera supports a high ISO range. Using auto ISO is a good idea, too, when shooting during the golden hour, for instance.

Sites like Shutter Muse recommend an ISO of 2000 or even higher to ensure it can handle the fluctuating light conditions. This will also make it more forgiving for the higher shutter speed and aperture you’ll need to take in focus, beautiful photos.

3. Select the Right Shutter Speed

Since the camera will be moving around very quickly and it’ll be hard for anything to stay in focus, it’s vital to use a really high shutter speed when taking aerial photography. We recommend anything over 1/1000th of a second.

The higher the shutter speed, the higher the ISO will need to be to maintain proper depth of field and sharpness, so keep that in mind when adjusting your camera’s settings.

4. Select the Right Aperture

Along with ISO and shutter speed, you also need to pay mind to the right aperture. Doing so will ensure your photos are sharp at the edges as well.

You should aim for an aperture of f8 or more to achieve the greatest amount of clarity across the entire image, not just in the center. Some adjusting may be required to get the right balance between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

This is why it’s also important to make a note of the settings you used during a photoshoot then review the photos you took to ensure they came out in a way you’re happy with. If you’re not happy, you can make some adjustments and make a note of them to use on a future photoshoot.

5. Keep Your Composition in Mind

Though you do need to keep a lot of different settings in mind when taking aerial photography, you need to pay mind to the composition of your photos as well. Even though you’re taking photos from the air, you still need to keep your photographic basics in mind: depth and foreground, for instance.

photo composition
An example of aerial photography composition

Come up with a list of the types of shots you want to capture before your camera hits the sky. While there’s always some element of being in the moment during a photoshoot, if you book a flight to take photos, you’re going to want to make the best use of your time. And that means planning accordingly.

6. Take Photos at the Right Time of Day

Time of day always matters when taking photographs. The golden hour is always lovely, but you’ll need to take your flight path and the angle of the sun into consideration here, even more so than when doing traditional landscape photography on the ground.

With aerial photography, there are no obstructions blocking the sun — from any direction — so you’ll really need to be selective to get the look you want.

7. Remember Image Stabilization

Airplanes, helicopters, and drones all have something in common: vibration: The former two produce a great quantity more vibration than drones, but it’s an issue for photography across the board.

That’s why having proper stabilization is key. If your camera has an automatic image stabilization feature, use it. You should also check your drone to see that it stabilizes each photo it takes and if it adjusts for wind variances. Without these features, your images will be blurry, out of focus, and unusable.

8. Post-Production is Your Friend

Even if you have all your settings right, there might be some element of distortion left in the images you capture. A common issue are perspective distortions that result from how high up in the sky you are when taking the photos. Think fish-eye but to the extreme.

Photo editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom make it easy to fix these distortions as well as make any other adjustments your images that are required.

Lightroom
Lightroom

Software like Luminar is also helpful because it has automatic perspective distortion tools that take some of the guesswork (and time spent) out of photography editing.

Use These Tips to Take Stunning Aerial Photography

Taking aerial photography is an exciting prospect. If you’ve never done it before, hopefully, this quick collection of tips will help you hone in on the planning phase of taking aerial photos and help you ensure you have all the equipment you need for a successful shoot. No one wants to get up in a helicopter only to realize they left something at home. 

With these tips in mind, you won’t be making assumptions about what works in aerial photography and instead, you’ll be making concrete plans for what will work for your next photo shoot. You can become a Shutterstock contributor with your amazing work or you can become a freelance photographer and start your own business. No matter the case, you’ll ace it if you follow these pieces of advice. Good luck!