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Drone Photography | Course Notes 

Dale McManus 

*All the notes in this document are meant to be basic reminders of key concepts but should 
not be used as replacement for watching the video tutorials online. The video tutorials go 
into much more detail and have example images, graphics, and more. 

Setting Proper Exposure 


Shutter​: small electronic c​ urtain in front of the camera sensor. When you take a photo, the 
shutter opens and exposes the camera sensor to the light that has passed through your 
lens. After the sensor is done collecting the light, the shutter closes quickly, stopping the 
light from passing through. 


Shutter speed​: how long or how short the shutter stays open to let light into your image. 
The longer it’s open, the brighter the image (and more motion blur). The shorter it’s open, 
the darker your image (and more crisp).  

Unless you compensate with ISO… 

ISO​: ​Camera setting that will brighten or darken your image. As you increase the ISO number, 
your image will grow brighter. ISO is a great tool to help you capture images in dark 
environments or be more flexible with your shutter speed settings. 

REMEMBER​:​ Too much ISO in dark environments will cause noise and grain on your image. 

Common ISO values: 

● ISO 100 (low) 
● ISO 200 
● ISO 400 
● ISO 800 
● ISO 1600 
● ISO 3200+ (high) 

HDR​: High Dynamic Range. The camera takes 3 photos back to back with different 
exposure values. The first one is going to be darker, exposing for the highlights. The second 
picture is going to be neutral, exposing for the mid tones. And the third photo is going to be 
brighter, exposing for the shadows. 

After all of those three pictures are taken, they’ll instantaneously combine into one evenly 
lit image. 

ALWAYS take an HDR photo and a regular photo while you’re out shooting, just so you have 
more options to choose from later. 

AEB:​ Auto exposure bracketing, which is ALMOST the exact same thing. It still takes three to 
five different images for highlights, midtones, and shadows. But instead of combining them 


into one evenly lit photo, it keeps them separate so that you can bring them all of them into 
Lightroom later and combine them yourself for (slightly) more control. 

Optimal Settings For Taking the Best Photos 

Aspect Ratio & Orientation 

Aspect Ratio:​ ​the ratio of the width to the height of your image or screen. 

Common Aspect Ratios: 

16:9 Rectangle (iPhones, modern tv screens, movie screen, etc. This is the most common.) 

4:3 Square (Optimal for taking the best photos) 

*Always shoot your photos in 4:3 aspect ratio because it leaves more room at the top and 
bottom of your screen to include more in the photo. You can always crop to a 16:9 aspect ratio if 
you really want. 

4:3 is best for posting to social media, blogs, websites, including in your portfolio, and more. 

Orientation:​ this is another word for landscape vs portrait mode. Landscape being a 
horizontal image, and portrait being vertical. 

There are advantages to both modes, but landscape is the most common way to shoot 
because our eyes are horizontal and it feels more natural to look at.  

On the latest DJI drones, you can switch the orientation your camera in the settings.  

Understanding White Balance 

White Balance:​ the difference in color temperatures of your image based on different 
lighting conditions. 

Lighting conditions can vary based on anything from the light bulbs in a room to the 
position of the sun. Obviously you shouldn’t be flying your drone inside so let’s focus on 



Depending on the time of day or the conditions of the atmosphere in your location, your 
image will come out with a warm or cold color temperature. And color temperature is 
measured in ​kelvin. 

The kelvin scales is as follows: 

● 10,000k (cold/blue) 
● 9,000k 
● 8,000k 
● 7,000k 
● 6,000k 
● 5,000k (neutral/white) 
● 4,000k 
● 3,000k 
● 2,000k 
● 1,000k (warm/orange) 

Most drones have a few choices of white balance to compensate for the color temperature: 

● Auto 
● Sunny 
● Cloudy 
● Incandescent 
● Fluorescent 
● Custom 

*I recommend sticking with AUTO when first starting out. But after some practice you can use 
the CUSTOM setting to set the exact numerical kelvin temperature to compensate for your 
image. Usually the goal is to get your image as close to neutral as possible unless you like the 
style of the warm or cold light on a certain shot. 

Shoot in RAW and D-Log 



RAW:​ uncompressed and high quality file type. This file type has a higher dynamic range, 
which means less harsh contrast between light and dark parts of your image. And it gives 
you a lot more control over changing colors and exposure later when editing your photos. 

D-Log:​ very flat color profile that gives A LOT more control over boosting colors and light 
when editing. The photo will look very bleak and gray initially when shooting, but can be 
boosted to into a very colorful and vibrant photo later… much more so than just shooting in 
a normal color profile. 

Shoot With a Grid and Center Point 

Always turn on the grid and select a non-distracting center point for your screen because 
they will help you better align your photos and keep the subject in the very center of the 
frame than just eye-balling it. 

Shot Composition for Drone Photography 

What is shot composition? 

Shot Composition:​ arranging your frame with objects and shapes to form a pleasing image 
and direct the viewer’s eye towards your subject of choice. 

*Shot composition is single handedly the most important part of taking a great photo. 

There are many different principles to shot composition to consider (see below). 

Time of Day 

Golden Hour:​ the hour just before sunrise and sunset when the light is low to the ground 
and creates a nice warm tone with soft shadows. 

Blue Hour:​ this is 30 minutes AFTER sunset which causes a very cold blue tint the ground 
below the horizon while the sky still has a warm tone. This contrast of warm vs cold can 
create a very pleasing image to look at. 




High Angle:​ Pointing your gimbal anywhere from 0 degrees to 80 degrees. This angle adds 
a lot more depth travelling out to the horizon. The higher you position your drone (facing 
the horizon), the more depth you’ll have. The lower you position drone (facing the horizon), 
the less depth you’ll have. 

Bird’s Eye View:​ Pointing your gimbal straight down at the ground. This angle gives a very 
unique perspective that our eyes are not used to seeing. This allows you find very 
interesting shapes, patterns, and lines on the earth around you. 

Rule of Thirds 

Rule of Thirds:​ a guideline of separating your image into 9 equal parts, but more 
importantly, 3 different columns. This allows you to balance multiple subjects in the same 
scene by placing them off to the right or left third of the frame. Rule of thirds allows the 
viewer to focus on the image AS A WHOLE composition, rather than one single subject. 

Rule of thirds works best when there’s a subject in the foreground off to one third, and an 
equally appealing subject in the background in the opposite third. 

There’s no “perfect” way to use rule of thirds, it’s more or less just a guideline to be played 
with when shooting multiple subjects in the same photo. 

Leading Lines 

Leading lines are lines of contrast in your image that begin at the outside of the frame and 
travel inward to a single point or area of focus. They help guide the viewer from the front of 
your image to the back and can add a lot of depth to your shot. 

There are 2 main types of leading lines: 

Geometric Lines:​ very straight and easy to follow lines that are commonly found in cities 
wheres theres lots of buildings, streets, bridges, etc that travel off into the distance. 

Organic Lines:​ commonly found in nature such as rivers, mountains, trails, etc. These lines 
tend to bend and curve and are a little harder to follow. 

Patterns & Repetition 



Patterns:​ Unique shapes, lines, and colors that can be found when shooting in bird’s eye 
view mode (straight down). Look for patterns as though you’re looking for the perfect 
iphone background or macbook background. Almost anything has unique shapes when 
shooting at bird’s eye view so it’s just a matter of scanning your drone around and filling 
the frame with interesting and colorful shapes. 

Repetition:​ another form of pattern, except everything in the frame is fairly similar and 
symmetrical (such as houses in a cookie cutter style neighborhood). 

Dividing Lines & Symmetry 

Dividing Lines:​ Hard line that divides your image into 2 or more parts. These lines can be a 
physical object like a dirt road, bridge, city street, boardwalk, etc. Or they can simply be just 
a line of contrast between light and dark or opposite colors such as where the sand (orange 
tone) meets the ocean ( blue tone), or the bright sky meets the mountains. 

You can also find multiple lines that break up your image into 3 or 4 parts. The divided 
parts of your image can either be completely the same, or completely contrasting. The 
point is to have the line break the image into symmetrical halves (thirds, fourths, and so 
on). The line can also be positioned diagonally from one corner of the image to another. 

Symmetry:​ the balancing of these 2 halves of your image. If these 2 (or more) halves are 
not balanced, it will show laziness and the viewer will become disengaged from your image.  

Symmetry = Professionalism 

Dead Space 

Dead Space:​ the absence of distracting space around the subject of your photo that 
creates a vast openness and singles out the subject. 

Dead space can be found almost anywhere because essentially you’re looking for nothing. 
You’re looking for non distracting backgrounds and backdrops. Look for foggy 
backgrounds, grass, water, sand, etc with not too many random trees, rocks, people, or 
buildings to distract the viewer from the subject, which should be placed in the exact center 
of your photo. 



Night Photography 

There are 2 different types of night shots you can take by balancing your ISO and shutter in 
opposite ways: ​Crisp​ and ​Long Exposure 

When shooting ​crisp​ night shots, the key things to remember are: 
● Boost your ISO high enough to bring light into your photo, but not too much that it 
causes noise & grain.  
● Keep your shutter speed as fast possible while still maintaining enough light 
intake to properly expose the photo. 
● To start, try an ISO of 800 and a shutter speed of 3 seconds. And then adjust from 

When shooting l​ ong exposure​ night shots, the key things to remember are: 

● Keep your ISO at 100. (least amount of noise & grain) 

● Keep your shutter speed as slow as it takes to properly expose the photo. 

Keep in mind that high winds can cause a lot of motion blur in your night photography, so 
shooting during calm nights is very important for getting the best shots. 

Architecture and Real Estate Drone Photography 

Common mistake: shooting the structure straight on from the front. 

Key #1 is to have as much 3D depth as possible. So shoot at an angle to show not only the 
front of the structure, but also one of the sides. This can add a lot more depth to the 
structure and give the viewer a better sense of spatial awareness. 

Key #2 is to fill the frame with what you like. If you’re selling property on Zillow or 
advertising on AirBnB for instance, the first photo should be filled top to bottom with the 
structure itself. Get closer and fill the frame so that the viewer can see more detail. Then 


you can back up and take more photos of the full property including the house, apartment 
building, etc. 

Key #3 is shoot at golden hour. Golden hour makes everything more epic… 

Key #4 is not to forget to include some bird’s eye shots looking straight down with structure 
in the EXACT MIDDLE of the frame. This gives a better idea of the size of the property in 
comparison to the house, apartment building, etc. 

Pro Pilot Tips and Tricks 

Utilize Google Earth 

Plan out your shots ahead of time using google earth (video tutorial in online course). 

Fly Like a Pro Tips: 

1) Know the rules and regulations. ​ 

2) Check the UAV forecast before flying. ​ 
3) Utilize Active Track 
4) Be aware and avoid collisions by never flying in any direction that does not have a 
sensor or the camera pointed in that direction. Flying sideways and backwards can 
be more problematic than it appears. No one PLANS to get into a collision. Also keep 
in mind that the higher you fly, the windier it gets. 
5) Know where and when to take off. Don’t take off near large metal objects or else 
you’ll end up with a magnetic interference that will throw off the GPS inside your 
drone. If you take off without GPS, it is WAY MORE LIKELY that you’ll drift into 
something and crash. The GPS is what keeps your drone hovering completely still 
without touching any of the controls. 

Sand and dirt surfaces are also not a good idea to take off from because grains of 
sand can get inside your gimbal and prevent it from working. I know this from 



Also avoid large crowds because last thing you want is to be sued for hurting 
someone with a rotor blade or having your equipment stolen. 

Editing in Lightroom 

(See online course for follow video along tutorials on transferring footage, editing in 
lightroom, merging AEB photos, and photoshop sky replacements.) 

Final Tips 

1) Shoot ANY chance you get! Practice makes perfect and mistakes are a good thing. 
The more you invest, the more you get back. 
2) Make something out of nothing! Even if all you have is an open field or a boring 
patch of trees, try your hand at different forms of shot composition to exercise your 
creative muscles and develop a better eye for appealing subject composition. 
3) BREAK THE RULES! Everything I’ve discussed in this course is a fantastic place to 
develop your skills and start taking better photos. But once you feel comfortable 
enough, break some of these rules and try out some new angles, new color 
corrections, new sky replacements, or anything else where you can throw in a 
splash of your own unique style. 
4) Follow your favorite drone photographers on social media. 
5) Follow the hashtag #dronephotography on instagram and start looking for new 
inspiration. It’s okay to mimic other people’s photos until you learn to make them 

Happy flying and best of luck (: