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How to Frame Aerial Drone Shots

Most of the rules of regular photography still apply to drone photos. For example, using the Rule of Thirds always makes a visually pleasing photo. This is a guideline for composition in which the photographer splits the frame into thirds horizontally and vertically, then places the subject or areas of interest where those lines meet. This concept applies to aerial photos exactly the same as ground photos. When framing a shot, it also helps to look for repeating patterns or shapes, and these can be really cool when shooting from above! It also helps to play with the foreground and background of the shot, placing the subject that you want in the foreground and the context that you want to show in the background. This can be a bit tricky with drones as you cannot get as close to a subject, but can be done with larger items such as trees or mountains. 

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In this photo, by staying low and close, the chair is in the foreground and in the right third of the photo, while the curve of the beach brings the eye back in to the center of the photo. 

 

When framing a drone photo, it also helps to get rid of any junk or anything that could be distracting from the subject. You can always remove small objects in post-production, or crop them out, but it is quicker and easier to to plan ahead and frame the shot to avoid anything that takes away from the overall photo. In a lot of scenarios, this isn’t possible, so creative cropping is your best friend!!

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With this photo, cropping out the negative space on the bottom and left hand sides draws the attention to the buildings and the skyline. 

 

How is Framing Drone Photos Different from Framing Regular Photos? 

While many of the same concepts of composition apply when framing drone photos, there are some logistical limitations that can make this quite tricky. Framing drone shots is completely dependent on the placement, height, and angle of the drone. With regular photos, the photographer can move with the camera around a subject that is either stationary or also in motion, zooming in and out quickly and easily. With drone photography, you are almost always shooting a stationary object, and you need to move your drone around that subject to frame it. This means a lot of flying around searching for the perfect shot! Also, unless you have the Mavic Zoom, most of today’s drones don’t have zooming capabilities. This means that you will need to get the drone physically closer to the subject to frame it how you want. Another thing that makes framing drone photos tricky is the fact that it is hard to know what a subject will look like from above until you are actually in the air. You can do your research on Google Maps satellite images, but you will need to scope out the area with your drone to know for sure. 

With all that said, here are some tips to make whatever you are shooting the star of the shot! 

 

Commercial Real Estate

When shooting commercial real estate properties, framing them correctly is essential so they can be used for marketing purposes. Commercial buildings tend to be large and flat, which can make it difficult to get the entire building in one shot, even at 400 ft! To frame these, try experimenting with different heights and angles, staying low and far away to try and capture the surrounding areas. This can help show nearby highways, parking lots, etc. You can also use the harsh, boxy edges as leading lines, drawing the eye to an area of interest such as an entrance or the company’s sign. 

HOW TO FLY: For commercial properties, try the straight-on shot. Start by leveling your drone low and close, right in the center of the front of the building. Then, back up and gain altitude simultaneously, taking photos every few seconds. Keep going until you can see the whole building in one shot, or until you hit 400 ft., whichever comes first! The result is a variety of heights and images, all framed nicely around the front of the building.

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Residential Real Estate

Residential real estate properties tend to be much smaller than commercial ones, making it much easier to frame them in a way that shows the entire building as well as the context around it. With residential properties, the house is the highlight of the shot, and should be the most prominent element of the photograph. You can frame these by playing with the foreground and background – framing the building in the bottom half of the shot shows the context of what’s behind it, and framing it in the top half of the shot can show what is in front of it, such as a large front yard. Or you can place the home directly in the center of the photo, making it truly the star of the shot!

HOW TO FLY: For residential real estate properties, try a Point of Interest. The DJI Go app has an automated flight plan that will fly a circle around a designated point. Set a point of interest to fly a large circle around the property with the house in the center of the frame. As it circles, take photos every few seconds to capture the property from all angles. Maybe even fly a couple of circles at different heights and distances to capture 

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In this scenario, the house was surrounded by greenery, so I chose to frame the home directly in the middle of the shot. This made for a pretty boring photo, so I cropped it to put the home in the right third of the photo, making it more visually interesting, and also removing the house next door. 

 

Construction

When capturing construction sites with a drone, it is ideal to get the entire site in one shot. This way, the site manager or whoever is viewing the photo can see everything they need to without scrolling between photos. To frame construction photos, it is okay to stay high and far away, it is typically more important to see the big picture than details. And construction equipment is large enough to be seen from a few hundred feet away! 

HOW TO FLY: For construction progress drone shots, try the 4 corner approach. Fly up to an altitude that allows you to see the entire site, and fly directly to each of the four corners of the site. Try to frame the site at a 45 degree angle in each direction, keeping each corner uniform. This makes the photos look intentional, rather than just flying randomly and shooting whatever you see. Doing this at each of the 4 corners covers the entire site quickly and easily, and ensures you don’t miss anything.

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These 4 photos are examples of a construction site capture at each of the 4 corners. Each view provides a slightly different view, and all of them together give a great overview of the entire site.

 

Events/People

Using people as the subject of a drone shot is a great way to add interest to any image. Because flying too close to people can be dangerous, people tend to look tiny in drone photos. If you are shooting a model as your subject, try to frame them so that the natural features of the landscape don’t overpower them so they get lost. You can do this by using leading lines to draw the viewer’s attention straight to them, or by using contrasting colors. You could also have your model run or jump to add movement and make the image even more exciting. 

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In this photo, the leading lines of the rocks form a V, and I have framed the people at the center of it.  

 

Drone photos can also make great establishing shots of any event venue, and help to set the scene for any event. But every event is different, so framing these shots can be a bit tricky. One thing to keep in mind is that you can’t fly directly over people, so no matter what shot, make sure it is taken from the side rather than directly above. Try to get close enough to see the people at the event, and use them as the subject of the photo. 

HOW TO FLY: To take well composed photos of any event, start by taking off far enough away that the noise won’t be distracting. Then fly straight up until you can’t hear the drone buzzing anymore. Slowly inch your way closer to the event, snapping photos along the way. Get as close as you feel comfortable, and come down in altitude if necessary. Once you are up there, you will be able to better know the best angles to capture the event. 

 

Fine Art

Sometimes drone photos don’t have any purpose other than making stunning imagery! No matter what you are shooting, drones offer a great opportunity to quite literally approach it from a new angle. Using the rules of photography and composition to frame it correctly, any subject can make a great photo. 

HOW TO FLY: Straight down shots of unique landscapes are some of the coolest looking pictures out there. Try flying directly over something you typically don’t see from above. It may not be recognizable for what it is, but it could make great abstract art! You can even use shadows as a graphic element of the photo, so plan the time of day that could create some dramatic shadows.

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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.