How to Make Drone Photos Pop

There are an infinite amount of ways to edit photos, and each photographer has his or her own personal preferences. I’m gonna show you how I personally go about editing, with a focus on drone photos!

Editing Drone Photos in Lightroom

Editing drone photos is very similar to editing regular ground photos, the only difference here is the subject matter. Commercially captured aerial photos are very often created with marketing purposes in mind and, with that, bring their own unique set of requirements.  With drone photos, often times there is no human subject, which means we can be a bit more creative with colors and toning. When retouching people, we need to keep them looking human, so we can’t go overboard. We aren’t trying to make our landscapes look unnatural, either, but we can have some more freedom with colors and toning.

Camera Settings

But before we get into post-production, let’s make sure we are shooting with the most appropriate camera settings. All the post-production in the world can’t save a truly terrible aerial photo, or one that is technically incorrect. Always shoot in manual, and always shoot raw.  We created another post and accompanying video that provides a more detailed explanation of the difference between RAW photos and JPEGS. But to summarize, shooting in RAW gives us much more information about each photo, allowing for much more detailed editing. To set your drone camera to shoot in RAW in the DJI GO or DJI GO 4 application, go into camera settings, and select just RAW, or JPEG + RAW if you would like to have both.

I use Lightroom for the majority of my photo editing. Lightroom is a great resource for batch editing a large number of photos because it makes it easy to synchronize the same settings on many photos. All you have to do is edit one photo how you like it, then copy and paste those same settings onto other photos with similar lighting scenarios. To import your photos to Lightroom, select them all and drag them to the Lightroom icon, or open up Lightroom and click File, Import Photos and Video. Once you have imported your photos, you’re ready to start editing.

1. Profile Corrections

I always start by scrolling down to the profile corrections and checking the boxes for “Remove Chromatic Aberration” and “Enable Profile Corrections.” This gets rid of any chromatic aberration, lens distortion, and vignetting that could have happened while flying. If you shoot in RAW, each photo has the data to tell Lightroom what kind of lens was used, so Lightroom automatically chooses the necessary lens corrections, or you can click “Manual” and decide precisely how much you would like to correct.


2. Basic Corrections

Basic corrections can start to change the fundamental characteristics of the photo. Here we can change things like temperature & tint (white balance), exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, vibrance, and saturation.

A lot of times, I pull the slider much too far in either direction, then find middle ground that looks right, but sometimes more than one setting can be “right.” This is where your artistic license comes in. In this example, I edited the same exact photo in two very different ways: one with the shadows lightened to see the subject and a cool tone, and one with the subject as more of a silhouette, with a warmer, moodier tone.


There is no right or wrong here necessarily, so feel free to play around and figure out exactly what you want your photo to look like. In this photo, I darkened the exposure a bit, boosted the contrast, and brought down both the shadows and the highlights.


3. Color toning

This section is where we can start to get creative with colors, and really fine-tune the colors of the photo to look exactly how we want it to.

HSL stands for hue, saturation, luminance. This part really depends on the photo you are working on, there is no general rule that applies to all photos. Some aerial photos need a lot of color toning, and some need very little, and it also depends on personal style. Some photographers like to keep their photos looking as realistic as possible, while some like to exercise their artistic license and manipulate their photos quite a bit

For this photo, after the basic edits, I scrolled down to the HSL panel and moved the sliders back and forth until I liked the result. And that’s really all there is to it! Have fun with it, but it’s easy to get carried away and make your photo look unrealistic.


4. Graduated Filter tool


Sometimes, you need to make adjustments to only one part of a photo, and not other parts. If necessary, you can use the graduated filter tool to select exactly what you would like to edit.  Underneath the Histogram the graduated filter tool is the fourth icon from the left. To use this, select the icon, then click and drag on the part of the photo you want to edit. Then, when you move the sliders back and forth, they will only change the selected part of the photo. In this photo, I needed to brighten the exposure of the ground, but when I did so, I blew out a lot of the color and texture in the sky. So I edited the ground and mountains, then added a graduated filter on the top for the sky.

5. Copy and Paste

Opening up an entire camera roll can be overwhelming, and editing each photo individually would be extremely time consuming. Luckily, Lightroom makes it easy to edit even hundreds of photos quickly. Once you have completely edited a photo, all you have to do is select that photo first, then all of the photos that you want to look like that first one, and click “Sync.”

6. Export as JPEG

Once you have the entire group of photos looking how you want them, you can convert them to JPEGs. Click File, then “Export…” or Command + Shift + E. This opens up a dialog box, where you can select the location to save the photos, what you want to name them, etc. Just make sure you scroll down to the section called “File Settings” and choose JPEG.


7. Take into Photoshop (Patch Tool)


Now that you have your JPEGS, you can decide if they need further retouching. Most of the edits you need to do, you are able to do in Lightroom. I usually only use Photoshop for spot healing, like retouching skin, which is not as necessary for drone photos without close ups on people. But this function can be applied to landscapes as well, for taking out drone propellers that might have snuck in there, or smoothing out clouds, or taking out anything that you don’t want in your photo. The patch tool is by far my favorite. All you have to do is draw around whatever object you want to take out, then click and drag to a part of the photo that you would like to replace it with. Photoshop blends the two together, and fills in the gaps so that the new area blends smoothly.

For example, in this photo, there are two boats that I think unbalance the composition of the photo. Also, there are a few ripples in the water, and other distractions that I feel take away from the overall image. So, after doing all of my Lightroom editing, I brought this photo into Photoshop.


But, in Photoshop, edits have to be done one at a time, so I usually only take my final selects into Photoshop and really spend some time there perfecting them.


As you can see, there is a lot of freedom when it comes to editing great drone photos, so experiment with new things, and have fun with it!


If you’d like to learn more, please check out some of our other drone photography tutorials, or simply follow dronegenuity on our social media channels: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and subscribe to our mailing list for regular updates.

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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.