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Understanding Depth of Field in Drone Photos

What is Depth of Field?

Simply put, depth of field is used in photos to show that something is in front of something else, creating depth. In other words, it is the distance between the objects that are in focus in a photo. When taking a photo with a regular camera, all things that are the same distance away from the lens will appear in focus, and anything closer or farther away will be out of focus. Cameras use aperture, or f-stop, to control how narrow or deep the plane of focus is. Though it is slightly counterintuitive, the smaller the f-stop (for example f/1.8 or f/2), the larger the aperture, meaning more light gets through to the sensor. In the same way, a larger f-stop (such as f/11 or f/18) means smaller aperture, or less light getting through to the sensor. With a f/1.8 aperture, you can take a photo of a person in which their nose is in focus and their ears are not! The plane of focus is a matter of inches at a very specific distance from the lens. But with f/18, a person standing 10 feet from the camera can be in focus, while a tree 500 ft away can also be in focus.

 

For example, in this photo, the depth of field is very short, with some of the beading in focus but the rest very blurred. This photo was taken with a very large aperture – f/1.8. 

 

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This example illustrates a much longer depth of field, as both the rocks in the foreground and bridge in the background are in focus, indicating a much smaller aperture. 

 

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With drones, this can be tricky as the camera is typically quite far away from your subjects. It is nearly impossible to get close enough to an object to have it in focus and the background out of focus. Instead, at a farther distance, everything in the photo appears in focus. Drone photographers need to get creative on how they get depth in their photos!

 

What settings do I use?

Depending on your drone, you may have different options for camera settings. Many drone photographers stay in automatic mode, as it typically does a decent job of exposing correctly and requires less attention when flying. But many drones have manual mode, where the pilot can adjust the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture as they are flying. To achieve more depth in a drone photo, you can adjust the aperture to a smaller f-stop, which will narrow the depth of field. One thing to keep in mind is that the smaller your aperture (higher f-stop), the darker your photo will be as less light is getting to the sensor. You can use a longer shutter speed or higher ISO to compensate for this. But, as stated previously, with drone cameras, you are typically far enough away from any objects (so you do not run into them!), that even with the largest aperture possible, it is difficult to differentiate which objects are in focus and which are not.

So there are some other techniques that you can use to give drone photos a sense of depth!  Check out our guide to DJI drone camera settings, or our Mavic Pro settings tutorial, for more information.

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Techniques for Adding Depth to Drone Photography

Bigger Foreground Objects

In regular photos, a photographer is able to get very close to their subjects, meaning objects in focus can be inches away from things not in focus. With drone photos, you probably need to choose a larger object to be in the foreground in order to separate it from the background. You could use a mountain, a boulder, or any structure as your foreground. If you fly low and close to the object, you will be able to exaggerate the differing depths to get the same effect that you would typically get by using a larger aperture. 

For example, in this photo, the chair is a larger foreground object, separating the foreground from the background.

 

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Leading Lines

Another great way to achieve depth in a photo is by using leading lines to draw a viewer’s eye from one part of the photo to another. Lines that converge toward the center of the photo imply distance. This technique can happen naturally in drone photos, as the overhead angle can create lines that lead toward the center. Keeping the horizon line in the photo can also help create depth if these lines also converge toward the horizon. You can use roads or natural landscape features to create these lines, or anything that leads the viewer’s eye!  

In this example, the road leads the viewer’s eye toward the center of the photo as well as the horizon line, implying that the road is getting further away, and adding depth to the photo.

 

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Similarly, in this photo, all of the boats are leading toward both the center of the photo, and the horizon line. This points the viewer’s eye toward the middle of the photo. 

 

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Fake it!

When all else fails, there is always something you can do in post production to mimic effects that are typically captured in camera. You can use Photoshop to blur segments of your photos to exaggerate the difference in depth. Similar to portrait mode on an iPhone, the lens itself isn’t doing the blurring, but rather software on the back end is used to create a similar effect. Blurring part of a photo brings attention to the foreground, creating depth. 

In this example, the photographer shot in automatic mode, but blurred the background in post-production to create the illusion of separation between the foreground and background. 

 

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Get Certified to Fly Commercially

The Dronegenuity Part 107 Test Prep Course does a deep dive into all of the topics that are covered on the FAA’s Part 107 Exam. This exam is required for drone users who intend on using their drone commercially. In other words, if you intend on making money with your drone, this course sets you up to take the FAA’s exam and get your certification. We’ll cover topics such as FAA regulations, weather, radio communications, sectional charts (of course), the national airspace system, and more. Enroll now to take your first step towards FAA certification.





 

Learn More 

We’d love to hear from you if you want to learn more about the benefits of aerial drone photography for the real estate industry. If you’re interested in obtaining your Part 107 Commercial Drone License or other drone training courses, please contact us at Dronegenuity today! We offer professional aerial photography services, performed by FAA licensed drone operators for customers of all sizes. All of the work that we do is completely customized and we make the process simple and convenient.

About the Author

Katie Caswell

Katie Caswell is a Rhode Island based photographer, videographer, and content creator, and has been pursuing her passion for creativity since 2015. She loves to travel, run, and explore, and this adventurous spirit is reflected in her creative work. Her goal is to experience as many new, exciting places as possible, and to capture their beauty with her camera through photos and videos.