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Using the Rule of Thirds in Aerial Photography

As drone photography gets more and more popular, the novelty of aerial photos might be starting to wear off. Now that so many photographers have added drone imagery to their services, how can you make sure your photos stand out from the crowd? There are several things you as a photographer can do to improve the quality of your images, starting with how they are composed. As viewers, our eyes are drawn to well-composed, evenly balanced photos. So by making sure your drone photos are well composed, you will already have a leg up on a lot of your competition. One way to do this is by following the Rule of Thirds, which is a fundamental rule of photography. By using this rule of thumb, you can elevate your photos and make them stand out from the influx of drone photos that have popped up in the past few years. 


What exactly is the Rule of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds is a guideline that applies to photography, painting, drawing, or really any form of visual media. When executed correctly, it creates visually pleasing images, helps emphasize your subject, and encourages your viewer’s eye to move throughout the photo and land on the subject. To use the Rule of Thirds, break the frame into 3 pieces horizontally and vertically, creating 9 even rectangles. For example: 

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You can then use these lines in a couple different ways to help you place areas of interest in your photo. You can either place the subject of your photo on one of the intersection points, or you can separate elements of the image with the lines themselves. To use the intersection points, choose one of them to place your main focal point. Then, place something smaller or less significant on the other side of the image to offset it. The result will typically be a well balanced, more interesting image. 

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Or you could place your horizon line of your photo along one of the horizontal guide lines, splitting your image into 2 separate pieces (or thirds). This is typically more balanced than putting your horizon line directly in the center of the photo, as the sky can often be blown out while the ground has more texture, making the photo bottom-heavy.

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But rules are meant to be broken! The Rule of Thirds is just a starting point. You can still use elements like lines, colors, and patterns to create a balanced image without necessarily following the Rule of Thirds. But it helps to be aware of the rule before you break it, to be sure you are breaking it intentionally and doing so will add to the quality of your image. 


How does the Rule of Thirds apply to drone photography?

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The Rule of Thirds applies to drone photography in the exact same way it applies to regular photography! Drone photos, like any other photos, should be well balanced and composed in order to look professional. But it can be difficult to place your subject exactly where you want to when shooting with a drone, so cropping in post-production can be your best friend. But keep in mind that cropping wastes pixels, and can result in a worse quality photo. To keep the highest resolution possible, try to incorporate the Rule of Thirds while you are shooting, and don’t rely too much on post-production cropping. If you want to take it even further, check out our recent post on framing drone photos

Here are a few tips for incorporating the Rule of Thirds into your drone photography while you are flying:


  1. Turn on grid lines on DJI Go app. That’s right, they have already broken the frame into thirds for you! To turn the grid lines on, click the photo settings below the shutter button, scroll down to “grid” and select “Grid Lines.” Now you can use these guidelines as you are shooting to help you frame your photos. 
  2. Be intentional. Don’t just fly up to an altitude that looks alright and shoot a few random photos. Make sure you choose something to be your subject or main focal point, and frame your photo around that. Also be deliberate about placing your horizon line, making sure it is placed somewhere that will add to the interest of the photo and doesn’t look like an afterthought.
  3. Take lots of photos. Don’t be afraid to overshoot! Try taking a photo then shifting the drone slightly to get different angles of the same thing. This way, when you go through your photos later, you will have many to choose from. If you only took a couple of photos, you might have missed out on something!
  4. Plan ahead. There is no such thing as too much planning. Scope out the place on Google maps, identify what you want to be your subject, and plan a flight that will frame it how you want. With limited battery life of most drones, this planning will ensure that you don’t waste precious battery flying around looking for a good subject. 


By following the Rule of Thirds, your aerial photos will look more professional and stand out from an ever-increasing number of drone photographers. 

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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.