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  • Writer's pictureBonnie Sindelar

5 Lessons I've Learned from Drone Photography

It's been about 18 months since I got my shiny new drone in the mail. It's been an incredible journey so far, and I've compiled a list of 5 lessons that I've learned along the way.

 

Lesson #1

Have patience and wait for “the” shot.


Drone shot of family walking across bridge

This was a common practice when I learned film photography, because you couldn’t just click the shutter 25 times and then choose the best image on your computer. You had a finite amount of film, (usually around 24 exposures), and film wasn’t cheap. So every click of the shutter cost you real money, and you had to use patience and judgment to take only the photos that were “just right”. 


With my drone, after I take one photo, I have to wait roughly 4 seconds before the image has been processed and I can take another one. So when my subjects are moving or their surroundings are changing, I can’t just click indiscriminately, hoping that the perfect shot is in there somewhere. I have to rely on patience (and some luck) to choose when to take those 1-3 images from each scene before my subject has gotten tired or the moment has passed.  This makes my job much more nerve-wracking, but the anticipation before I can get on my computer to see how those images turned out is pretty fun, too. It's just like going back to the darkroom with my undeveloped film roll, and that feeling is pure nostalgia. :)


 

Lesson #2

Less is usually more.


Drone shot of mother and daughter on boat

In regular photography, I use “depth of field” to control where I want the focus to be in the final image. In other words, I put the subject in focus and use camera settings to partially blur the rest of the scene. This technique pulls your eye to the subject and also does a great job of hiding things in the background that aren’t terribly photogenic.

However, like those old disposable cameras, (for those of you old enough to remember), my drone has such a wide-angle lens that nearly everything in the scene is in focus. Since changing the depth of field isn’t an option with my drone photos, I have to be incredibly careful about what I put into the scene and think about whether that’s going to pull the attention away from the subject.


Because of this, I’ve learned that less is often more when it comes to drone portraits. Of course, I still love to shoot in those epic locations, but I have to be very careful about how I frame the shot to keep the focus on the people.


 

Lesson #3

Preparation is king.


Drone shot of 4 women posing in colorful windows

When I first started my photography business, I would scout out every location to choose the best areas to shoot, save inspiration photos on my phone, and have all my poses written down ahead of time. After years of photography, though, as my skills grew, I knew I could show up to a new location with a new family and no concrete plans and still get good results. 


With drone photography, that’s not the case. Lighting looks so different from the sky than it does from the ground. Locations that you thought were going to look amazing from above turn out to be completely lame or way too busy. Poses that you had planned look weird from a drone's angle. Locations that you wanted to shoot at end up having drone restrictions. 


There are so many variables with drone photography, and maybe I’ll need less preparation as time goes on, but for now, I still need to prepare a lot.

 

Lesson #4

Photography is equal parts Art and Science.


Drone shot of 2 sisters in a yin yang

I knew this fact when I first started photography. My skills were still developing, and I broke “the rules” of photography every day, in search of the most artistic shot. 


As time went on, however, photography became more of a science to me. I would go to a session, knowing that I was going to shoot with “this” light and “these” poses, using “these” camera settings and “these” angles. It became a little bit like checking off boxes on a list. And that formula is usually completely fine for clients, because a consistent and predictable product is often what they’re coming to me for. 


However, with my drone, it’s completely different. The angles, location, poses, and lighting are all new at each session. 90% of my shots are constructed in my imagination before I even turn my drone on. The artistic side of photography has taken over again, and I absolutely love it, since that’s what brought me into it in the first place. 


 

Lesson #5

Have humility and gratitude.


Drone shot of girl, shot through the eye of a dome

Many clients have stood patiently beside me or held an uncomfortable pose while I awkwardly fussed with my drone, trying to get the right angles and settings. I warned my clients, “I’m fast with my camera, but I’m really slow with my drone, so please have patience with me.” They did, mercifully, and I’m so grateful to every person who’s done that, because it’d be impossible to create these images that exist in my head without those people.


I’m nowhere near an “expert” in my craft anymore, and I’ve had to learn a lot of humility along the way. Thank you to everyone who has helped me hone this skill, and to everyone who will help me continue to hone it in the future.

 

heart

-Bonnie

Genesis Photography (Lincoln, NE)

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