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Getting Started with Drone Photography

Welcome to our new segment of Clicke Bait called Clicke Teaching Clicke, where as the name suggests, we’ll feature informational articles by members of the Clicke for members of the Clicke. Send us an email if you’re interested in writing for us or have a topic you’d like to suggest!

Getting started with drone photography

By Nakiesa Tajrishi

I remember the first time I thought about buying a drone. I was looking at a friend's drone photograph, thinking how cool it would be if I could do that, too. But that thought was followed shortly by a much more pressing thought — how would I even fly this thing?

Drone photo self portrait of Nakiesa
Drone photo self portrait, by Nakiesa

I did have a few hours of video gaming under my belt, but I never seemed to master using both controllers simultaneously. I knew if there was a drone out there for me, it needed to be user friendly.

If your curiosity already led you to Google, then you probably discovered, as I did, that there were infinitely more options than I had anticipated.

There are drones of all shapes, sizes, price points, and purposes. Some of them have a UX remote where you see what is happening; some of them just have a remote.

Some factors to consider in your purchase:

  • They range in price

  • Total distance you can fly

  • Fly time per battery

  • Megapixels & quality of the camera

  • User friendliness (i.e. how easy it is to fly your first time)

  • GPS capability

  • How well it will survive a crash

  • How long it takes to charge the battery

I wrote this article to walk you through my process in hopes that it will (a) help you decide if you want a drone; and (b) streamline your process of finding the right drone for you.

Drone photo in West Palm Beach of Nakiesa
Drone self portrait captured in West Palm Beach, FL

Luckily, it was close to Christmas when I was considering getting a drone, and I had the opportunity to give my father a drone as a Christmas present (that I could also conveniently test out).

If you have the funds and opportunity to purchase a mid-priced drone first, that can be a good starting point from which you could go up or down depending on your needs and budget.

I started with a reasonably priced drone on Amazon that had decent reviews. Primarily, I was focused on something that would survive crashing, something that wasn't too hard to figure out how to fly (re: note on crashing!), and something that wasn't too expensive, but not too cheap either.

The drone I went with cost around $300 and came with fifteen minutes of flight time per battery charge. In my head, all of this sounded reasonable. Christmas Day came, and my dad opened his present. He was definitely interested — it was kinda hard not to be! — the photo on the box looked super cool and promising.

The mid-priced drone proved to be a fun toy, and the thrill of seeing it fly in the air was definitely exciting, but as a photographer, it wasn’t going to cut it for me.

As first-time drone operators, some of the kinks we ran into (with the $300 model) that you should be aware of too were:

  • Even at a medium price point, your drone may require some DIY

Luckily, my dad is an electrical engineer, so a trip to his toolkit fixed the faulty connector on our drone. For those of you who don’t have electrical engineers handy, it might be worthwhile to get something more ready-made.

  • If you’ve never done this before, you’re going to crash a lot...which can be frustrating

We launched the drone at my cousin's farm, with plenty of open space and as few trees as possible, and I’d suggest you find as open of a space as possible.

  • The fact that our drone was constructed with a light and flexible frame was a sort of double-edged sword

On one hand, this was fantastic for avoiding any damage when crashing, but on the other hand, it was terrible for staying steady as a gust of wind blew by.

  • Since our drone did not have UX, we had no way to see what the drone was seeing, which definitely made it harder to fly

The remote looked like a remote control car remote, and honestly, flying the drone felt like driving a remote control car. UX is more helpful than you may think for both flying the drone and for getting a sense of what the photos will look like.

Art Emaar Dandelions in Dubai, UAE
Art Emaar Dandelions in Dubai, UAE

After my first drone experience, I knew that I needed to be more serious if I was going to find a drone for my photography.

I started looking at drones the same way I look at my camera equipment. From my searching, I found a few companies that I was willing to consider, but ultimately I went with DJI.

I chose and recommend DJI for a few reasons:

  • They are a well established company with endless user reviews raving about just how easy it is, at any level, to fly one of their drones.

  • The DJI drones come with features such as controlled liftoff, controlled landing, a variety of pre-programmed cutaway paths, and tracking mode. So for someone who is feeling a bit nervous about crashing, this is absolutely perfect!

  • They also have obstacle avoidance, GPS tracking to precisely record where the drone takes off and needs to land, provides warnings about wind speed, when to return to home based on battery life and distance flown.

  • Camera quality! DJI drones are equipped with Hasselblad cameras, which are some of the best in the industry with megapixels comparable to a handheld camera.

  • They have this amazing feature which allows the drone to act as a tripod in mid-air, giving you consistent and steady photography shots.

  • UX! The UX on DJIs includes controls for literally everything, from the camera controls we are familiar with to controls for the gimbals. And perhaps most importantly of all, the UX comes with a map automatically connected to all aviation regulations. Meaning, if you happen to be in a no flight zone, or can only fly up to a certain altitude, this drone is going to let you know.

  • They have a variety of drones at different price points, ranging from “I want to take selfies” to “I am a professional drone operator,” but with each drone you know you are getting the same quality. I went with the Mavic Pro model, which was the last consumer model before entering into professional level equipment.

Having this drone has opened up a whole new perspective for me, both in terms of my photography and in terms of what I feel I am capable of doing.

I have grown tremendously in confidence from adding this skillset to my photography toolkit. And as a personal plus, I get to live my lifelong dream of seeing what it would feel like to be able to fly!

It's so interesting to look at the things we view on a day-to-day basis from a completely different perspective.

The top down shots you can create are striking images with unique perspectives. Personally, I love to fly my drone at the beach, and capture the waves as they crash against the shore, but there are so many ways you can use the drone.

Self Portrait in Saint Thomas in US Virgin Islands
Self Portrait in Saint Thomas in US Virgin Islands

Lately, I've been experimenting with the idea of using the drone for my self portrait photography. The view is so different from what you can achieve using only a tripod, as the drone has the ability to capture you at infinite heights and distances with no concerns about the best place to set up your tripod for the shot!


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