Aerial Imagery using drones: a step-by-step guide for drone users


Aerial imagery using drones: a step-by-step guide for drone users:

Aerial imagery is a term used for photographs/videos taken by an airborne vehicle such as a helicopter, a plane or a drone. These aerial images are not only fascinating for us but also are a source of information. Taking aerial photos was a very expensive exercise but not anymore, thanks to the drone technology. Drone technology has revolutionized the way we see things around us and a dying profession of photography is looking live and vigorous again. We can now get aerial photos and videos at an extremely affordable price using these machines. In this article, I tried to cover all the key aspects of doing aerial photography and videography using drones.

The importance of Aerial Imagery:

Aerial imaging has been a source of information for many professionals. Since this article is mainly on practical aspects of aerial photography, I do not want to lose the focus and would like to list below just a few of the applications which come to mind.

  • Aerial images are a source of information for disaster management services.
  • Mining professionals use these images.
  • Military purposes
  • Entertainment purposes, such as films
  • Advertisement
  • Historical studies.
  • Industrial drone inspection and damage assessment
  • Reconstruction and rehabilitation
  • Agriculture applications such as crop health monitoring and spraying.
  • Urban planning
  • Wildlife protection
  • Tourism

How drone technology changed the field of aerial imagery:

  • Made it affordable
  • Created opportunities for new businesses and small business owners
  • Revival of photography
  • Created new jobs
  • Changed the entertainment and filmmaking industry

Skills required for aerial imagery:

  • Skills in photography and photography gear
  • Ability to fly drones and related licensing requirements
  • Knowledge of some additional equipment and data handling issues
  • Marketing strategy to make money out of it

Key Steps to start a business of aerial imagery services (Skip first two if you do not want to earn money from it):

  1. Make a plan from scratch to finish(I mean getting paid) and learn the skills you need.
  2. Get the license (if required) for the category of drone you wish to fly.
  3. Get the starting equipment (see below). Do not buy all the equipment if you are a beginner, I have seen many hobbies fading out and people losing money on their brand new gear.
  4. Start making aerial photos and videos. When you produce something valuable, a momentum, you feel and start moving forward from there.

Step-1: Make a plan

If you want to use aerial photography and filmmaking as a business, then you need a business plan. A good read is here how to write a business plan. I would like to mention just a one liner here that you have a better chance to do business if you have a business mindset. It has nothing to do with your videography skills. The market is highly competitive, and before embarking on any business endeavor, you must get a good professional advice from experts in the business field. It is beyond the scope of this article, so I leave it here.

Step-2: Getting a drone pilot license:

You do not necessarily need a drone pilot license to fly a drone. For general information read this and for more detailed information, contact the aviation authority of your country of residence.  However, you must have a knowledge of drone flying and associated risks. It is nice to get a drone insurance before you start making some serious videos. It could be a requirement of insurance companies that you must have a drone pilot license. If this is the case, then you would have to get the license first. I would recommend getting a drone pilot license in any case because the training provides some valuable information which would help you in future. When I got my drone pilot license and certificates in aviation and radio communications, I learned so many new things such as:

  1. Knowledge of Meteorology (types of wind, types of clouds, )
  2. Aviation authority terms (some are critical for drone pilots!). A few are a classification of airspace, Visual Terminal Charts (VTS), en route charts (ERC), Automatic terminal information service (ATIS) and Aerodrome weather info service (AWIS).
  3. Aeronautical radio communications, Time Zone communication techniques.
  4. Risk assessment techniques (includes your basic health and fatigue! And of course other threats)
  5. Importance of flight plans

Step-3: The equipment required for Aerial Photography and Videography:

Now coming to our main topic, what equipment you would need for aerial imagery. So, here is the list of essential and optional videography gear. But as I mentioned before starting with the essentials,  just move with the momentum you get along the way.

Essential equipment:

  1. Drone with a camera

What drone should you buy entirely depends on the budget you have set. You can get some idea by reading “Drone Buying Guide.

There are few things you need to know before selecting a drone and camera. Every camera has a different maximum resolution. The high-end cameras can capture 4K videos (the top quality videos) while lower end cameras do not have this capability. If you do not want to get confused with this, here are the few simple things you should know:

  • A 4K image have Resolution of 2160 pixels high X 3840 pixels wide
  • A full HD 1080p image have Resolution of 1080 pixels high X 1920 pixels wide
  • There are cameras on cheaper drones which have even lesser resolution than these.

The more the pixels in rows and columns, the clearer would be the image. However, you mostly find HD 1080p and 4K video capabilities in new drones except for low-end drones.

Another important factor is the frame rate of the camera. The frame rate is in frames/second. The higher the frame rate, the smoother would be the video.

  1. A tablet

    While buying a tablet, you should select a suitable size. The radio controller of you drone should be able to handle the size of the tablet without any particular arrangement.

  2. Spares.You should have some spare propellers and batteries for your drone.

Optional Equipment:

This list could be huge. I will add few items here soon. So stay tuned.

Step-4: Doing Aerial Photography and Videography: What are the important considerations and how to get it done

  • Once you have all the gear ready, now it is time to capture some videos and photos. I would recommend a team of minimum two people is good to do a photography session. One would be controlling the drone and the other controlling the camera.
  • Try to practice indoor first with a small hobby drone like Hobby Blade Nano QX.
  • Once you are confident as a pilot, you can go outside now. When taking a drone shot, some people just try to go above and move fast. This practice is not always right. Instead, I would prefer to rise and move slowly close to the point of interest and giving a dynamic effect. If you move too fast, you can get a strobing effect dependent on the frame rate of your camera. You would develop a feel after some practice. One other thing you can do is to look the videos by other people and try to understand how a particular video was taken which looks amazing to you.
  • Another thing is zooming in and out at the point of interest can give us amazing effects.
  • Take some extra batteries and props for your drone if you are going far away to take some shots. Some expensive drones also have dual batteries, and if your budget allows, you can get one of those.
  • Like any photographer, you should also strive for perfect time and light conditions such as sunrise and sunset times. The hour before and after sunset and sunrise is called a “golden hour” and the light condition and view of the sky during this hr is amazing and you can take some breathtaking videos.
  • Once you get the footage you want, you can later edit it using various software available.
  • Consider the weather conditions before planning a video session. It is hard to fly drone when the wind is gusty, and the videos may not be smooth.


2 thoughts on “Aerial Imagery using drones: a step-by-step guide for drone users

  1. Ben says:

    This is all good advice. I followed the link here from Reddit where I had just posted a link to one of my videos, “How To Start A Drone Business That Will Last And Succeed” which echoes some of things you’ve written above.

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