(Image by Michael Krämer from Pixabay)

Mastering Camera Settings for Aerial Photography

If you want to get maximum pride out of your drone, you will need to start owning that camera.

Flying the drone. Should be pretty simple.

Capturing stunning footage…

Not so much.

Yet the truth is, taking stunning photography shouldn't be a boring task, putting drone flying in the same category as doing housework…

Unless you love that stuff 😉

In the captivating world of aerial photography, understanding and mastering camera settings is akin to wielding a magical wand that shapes the essence of your images.

Like a symphony conductor manipulating instruments, you'll orchestrate the elements of exposure, adapt to different lighting conditions, embrace manual and semi-manual modes as your artistic palette, and unlock the secrets to achieving proper focus and depth of field.

Let's embark on a voyage to unravel the mysteries of aerial photography's camera settings.

1. Understanding the Exposure: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

Exposure is the delicate dance between three elements: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Picture yourself in a grand theater, where aperture serves as the stage curtain, shutter speed controls the duration of each act, and ISO represents the actors' sensitivity to light.

a. Aperture:

Imagine the aperture as a versatile lens, capable of adjusting the size of the spotlight illuminating your subject.

A wider aperture (smaller f-number) broadens the spotlight, creating a shallow depth of field that isolates your subject in sharp focus while the surrounding stage fades into a mesmerizing blur.

Conversely, a narrower aperture (larger f-number) tightens the spotlight, bringing the entire stage into focus, allowing every intricate detail to shine.

b. Shutter Speed:

Think of shutter speed as the tempo of the performance.

A swift, high-speed act freezes the motion, capturing a hummingbird's wings in perfect stillness or a racing car with breathtaking precision.

By contrast, a leisurely, slow-motion act paints a canvas of gentle motion blur, gracefully rendering flowing waterfalls or a field of swaying wildflowers.

c. ISO:

In this theater of photography, ISO determines the actors' sensitivity to light.

Like performers adapting to different theatre stages, raising the ISO allows them to perform with heightened intensity, enabling the camera to capture exquisite details even in dimly lit scenes.

However, with increased sensitivity, a veil of digital noise may subtly appear, like the background hum that accompanies heightened drama on stage.

2. Adjusting the Camera Settings for Different Lighting Conditions

Just as a theater's lighting designer adjusts the spotlights and floodlights to enhance each scene's mood, you, as an aerial photographer, must adapt your camera settings to the prevailing lighting conditions.

So let's explore some common scenarios:

a. Bright Sunny Days:

On stage, when the spotlight floods the scene with radiant sunshine, narrow the aperture (higher f-number) to deepen the depth of field, ensuring the grandeur of the entire landscape remains sharply focused.

With a fast shutter speed, freeze the actors' swift movements, capturing a soaring eagle in all its majesty.
Keep the ISO low, like a quiet audience, to preserve the clarity of the image.

b. Golden Hour and Twilight:

During the enchanting moments of the golden hour or twilight, when nature's lighting designer bathes the stage in a warm, golden glow, open the aperture (lower f-number) to create a dreamlike atmosphere.

This will allow the curtain of shallow depth of field to gracefully embrace the main actor, blurring the supporting cast in a soft, poetic backdrop.

With slower shutter speeds, capture the ethereal essence of moving clouds or the whimsical trails of car lights painting the city streets.

Adjust the ISO, like a seasoned lighting technician, to balance the exposure between the radiant sky and the Earth below.

c. Low-Light or Night Photography:

In the quiet darkness that envelops the theater, widen the aperture (lower f-number) to welcome as much light as possible onto the stage.

This allows you to capture the twinkling stars or the mystical glow of city lights.

Embrace slower shutter speeds, like the graceful movements of a ballet, to weave the ambient light into breathtaking long exposures.

Be mindful of the ISO, the delicate balance between amplifying the actors' sensitivity and minimizing the noise that may creep into the frame.

3. Using Manual and Semi-Manual Modes for Greater Control

In the theater of aerial photography, manual and semi-manual modes gives you more power as the director, infusing your artistic vision into every frame.

Consider the following modes:

a. Manual Mode:

Take center stage as the master director, the conductor of the photographic symphony.

In manual mode, you dictate each element of the exposure, setting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to your exact desires.

By orchestrating these settings, you have the freedom to craft images that perfectly reflect your creative vision or need.

b. Aperture Priority (Av/A) Mode:

Assume the role of the casting director, focusing on the stage's visual composition.

In aperture priority mode, you select the aperture, and the camera harmoniously adjusts the shutter speed for optimal exposure.

This mode allows you to control the depth of field, blurring the background or capturing every detail, while the camera handles the technical intricacies.

c. Shutter Priority (Tv/S) Mode:

Step into the shoes of the choreographer, capturing the art of motion.

In shutter priority mode, you set the desired shutter speed, and the camera diligently adjusts the aperture to maintain proper exposure.

This mode is ideal for freezing fast-moving subjects or creating artistic motion blur effects, allowing you to artistically choreograph each moment.

4. Achieving Proper Focus and Depth of Field in Aerial Shots

In the theater of aerial photography, proper focus and depth of field are the subtle nuances that elevate your images from mundane to extraordinary.

a. Focusing:

Visualize your camera's focus as a spotlight that follows the actors' every movement.

Whether employing manual focus or relying on autofocus, ensure your spotlight remains fixed on the key subject.

With autofocus tracking, imagine the spotlight deftly tracking the actor's graceful dance across the stage, maintaining impeccable focus throughout.

b. Depth of Field:

Envision depth of field as a stage set, carefully arranged to create a captivating backdrop for your subject.

With a wider aperture (lower f-number), imagine the stage set narrowing, directing the audience's attention to the main actor while the background softly dissolves into a mesmerizing blur.

In contrast, a narrower aperture (higher f-number) expands the stage set, enveloping the entire scene in sharp focus, inviting the viewer to explore every intricate detail of the performance.

So in conclusion:

Mastering camera settings for aerial photography is a poetic symphony, where aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and focusing harmonize to create breathtaking visual compositions.

We've delved into a world of theater, where stage curtains, lighting design, and choreography mirror the intricacies of camera settings.

Through your newfound understanding, you possess the tools to shape your aerial photography, painting vivid scenes from the sky with skillful control of exposure, adaptation to lighting conditions, utilization of manual and semi-manual modes, and the pursuit of focus and depth of field.

Let your camera settings become your wand, creating a visual enchantment that captivates viewers and reveals the extraordinary beauty of the aerial realm.

Now get out there, and make your next video a masterpiece.

Julian Sirian is a personal development blogger. His blog, Healingbymind.com is dedicated in helping people lead a happier, healthier lifestyle by using natural methods as well as psychological, spiritual and weight loss/fitness techniques.

Julian – who has written posts on Healing By Mind.