I bought my first drone last December. I learned to fly it reasonably well. I bought my second one in March. It had a camera and a first person view (FPV) monitor so I could compose my shot remotely.
Over time I’ve learned a lot about flying, shooting and working with a GoPro Hero 3+ stills and footage. Periodically, I’ll post here on Photofocus more about this tool available to photographers who want a higher point of view of scenes planes and choppers can’t reach.
Parts of a photo drone
Modern drones are relatively inexpensive to buy and operate. They can carry a small camera like a GoPro Hero aloft for views that are impractical to capture any other way. Larger, more expensive models can lift a full size body like the Canon 5D Mark III. Drones are sophisticated aircraft that use GPS to maintain a stable position. GPS makes them relatively easy to fly.
- Gimbal. A gimbal keeps the camera steady in relation to movements of the drone.
- Controls. The up and down angle (tilt) is changed with a control on the remote. Panning (side to side) is done by rotating the drone on its axis.
- Cameras. GoPro Hero 3+ cameras have a 2.77 millimeter ultra wide angle lens. Still photos can be 12 megapixels while video can be shot at 2.7K resolution at 30 frames per second or 4K at 15FPS. (The newly released Hero 4 can shoot 4k at 30 FPS.) This is better than HD. The frame can be zoomed closer digitally during editing. DJI also makes its own camera that can shoot a DNG raw file.
Points of view
This photograph shows a drone hovering behind an excavator tearing down an old house to make way for a new one. The GPS system holds the drone level, maintains the altitude and minimizes drift while the GoPro records the scene. This behind the scenes shot was made with a Canon 1Dx and a Sigma 24-105mm f/4 lens.
Below is an uncropped frame grab from the video the drone was shooting. The drone appears quite near to the cab of the excavator in the still photo. This image shows just how wide a picture the GoPro makes when fairly close to the subject. The higher point of view shows the action better than a still shot from the ground. The drone provides another point of view that can be very helpful in telling the story.
Compare the dust in this shot to that in the one shot from the ground. This one tells the story much better. Add motion and the result is compelling.
One final note: It’s very tempting to fly very close to a subject to fill the frame. I prefer to shoot at a higher resolution and slower frame rate then crop as needed.