Soaring to New Heights: A Guide to Aerial Photography Drones

Aerial photography used to require booking a plane or helicopter to get the shots you needed. But today, advances in drone technology have opened the skies for photographers and videographers, providing easy access to unique bird’s-eye perspectives. In this post, we’ll highlight the benefits of using drones for aerial photography, review the top models of 2023, and share tips to start capturing stunning aerial views with your own quadcopter camera.

Get a New Point of View with Aerial Drones

Tired of shooting from the ground? Want to reveal your location from an angle not seen on a map? Drones give photographers the ability to easily rise up and capture shots from above – providing views of landscapes, cityscapes, crowds, and subjects not possible from the ground.

Aerial drones open new creative possibilities including revealing shots (a drone emerging from behind an object), orbits around subjects, unique side profiles, establishing shots to set a scene, and more. As drones have become more affordable and user-friendly, aerial photography has moved from professionals to hobbyists and content creators.

Compared to the costs of chartering a helicopter or plane, today’s drones put aerial photography within reach at reasonable price points. And features like automatic flight modes, stabilized cameras, and intelligent tracking allow you to focus on getting great shots – not piloting.

For real estate, surveys, inspections, mapping, search and rescue, and more – drones provide immense practical value as well. But it’s their ability to let the imagination soar and provide new photographic perspectives that make them an essential tool for any visual creator. Let’s take a look at the top options available in 2023.

Top 5 Drones for Aerial Photography

DJI Mavic 3 – The Portable Aerial Powerhouse

DJI dominates the consumer drone market, and their flagship Mavic 3 lives up to the hype as an incredible aerial photography drone. Key specs include:

  • 5.1K Camera: Captures stunning images with a Four Thirds CMOS sensor for high dynamic range
  • Adjustable Aperture: f/2.8-f/11 range provides control over depth of field
  • 42GB of Internal Storage: Built-in space for photos and video recordings
  • 46 Minutes Max Flight Time: Long aerial excursions before swapping batteries

The Mavic 3’s camera delivers ultra-detailed 5.1K video at 50fps along with 20MP still photos – and an adjustable aperture provides flexibility similar to a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Meanwhile, omnidirectional obstacle sensors allow for precise flight and hovering.

Advanced shooting modes like Hyperlapse (moving timelapses), Panoramas, and Low-Light modes provide creative options, while ActiveTrack 5.0 keeps subjects in frame automatically. It’s also the first consumer drone with a Hasselblad camera – delivering natural color science.

Pros

  • Best in class image quality and color
  • Smooth stable footage
  • Intelligent shooting modes
  • Long flight time

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Large footprint when folded

If budget isn’t a concern, the Mavic 3 is the ultimate aerial photography drone thanks to stunning image quality, long flight times, and smart features.

DJI Air 2S – Professional Performance for Less

The DJI Air 2S hits a sweet spot between price and performance, making it a favorite of hobbyists and prosumers. With a 1-inch CMOS sensor, the Air 2S captures 20MP photos and 5.4K video. It shares many of the same shooting modes as the Mavic 3 like Hyperlapse, Panorama, and FocusTrack subject tracking – at a lower cost.

Key specs and highlights:

  • Folds into compact and lightweight body (595g)
  • Up to 31 minutes flight time
  • 1″ CMOS sensor for high image quality
  • 5.4K/30fps and 4K/60fps video options
  • MasterShots mode automates complex drone moves

This compact folding drone delivers pro-level performance in an accessible package. The Air 2S is easy to pack along anywhere to capture aerial photos and video.

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Impressive image quality
  • Compact and lightweight

Cons

  • No aperture control
  • Less robust than Mavic 3

For hobbyists or semi-pro creators seeking great aerial shots without breaking the bank, the DJI Air 2S is a top choice.

Autel EVO 2 – A Modular Aerial Imaging Machine

The Autel EVO 2 splits apart into segments, allowing you to switch cameras depending on your mission. It’s built around an incredibly stable 6K camera capable of capturing vivid 48MP photos. The 1/2″ sensor gives strong performance in a wide range of conditions.

Key features:

  • 40 minutes of flight time
  • 6K/50fps video at 100Mbps
  • Swappable camera modules sold separately
  • O3 transmission for long range control (>4mi)

This drone was built with professionals in mind like public safety, inspections, and survey users. The modular design means switching cameras takes just seconds – allowing one drone body to serve multiple functions. And with up to 40 minutes aloft, the EVO 2 lets you remain overhead to find the perfect shots.

Pros

  • Modular camera design
  • Long flight time
  • Powerful imaging

Cons

  • Clunky remote control
  • Not the best for beginners

For industrial users like utilities, construction, police departments and more – the Autel EVO 2 delivers customizable and stable aerial imaging. It’s a workhorse ready for serious assignments.

Skydio 2 – The Self-Flying Camera

The Skydio 2 takes a different approach – using AI and autonomous flight to capture hard-to-get shots. With the Skydio 2, you simply tap on a subject on your phone screen – and the drone will autonomously orbit, reveal, track, and avoid obstacles with no controller needed.

Key features behind this autonomousCapture:

  • 6 4K cameras for 360 obstacle avoidance
  • AI tracking identifies subjects even when partly obscured
  • Front-facing camera helps map environments in 3D
  • Foldable and lightweight carbon fiber body

The promise of Skydio is capturing shots impossible with manual piloting. Whether biking down trails or navigating busy scenes, Skydio’s computer vision keeps subjects framed automatically. This hands-free tracking focuses on getting the shot – not flying.

Pros

  • Revolutionary autonomous flight
  • Intelligent tracking and obstacle avoidance
  • Easy to launch and capture selfie footage

Cons

  • 4K resolution cap
  • Requires good lighting

For athletes, action shots, and journalists, the Skydio 2 delivers a hands-free camera in the sky for hard-to-nail shots.

DJI Mini 3 Pro – A Portable Photography Drone

Small but mighty, the 249g DJI Mini 3 Pro packs impressive imaging into a lightweight body. Under 250g means no drone registration required in most countries, making this an approachable option for new pilots. Despite its tiny size, the Mini 3 Pro boasts:

  • 1/1.3″ CMOS sensor for 12MP photos
  • 4K video up to 60fps
  • Tri-directional obstacle sensing
  • Fast speeds up to 16m/s

Tucked inside is a camera delivering better-than-expected quality for the drone’s size. The compact controller fits an iPhone Mini for live display. And 34 minutes of flight time means you can stay overhead to nail the perfect shot.

Pros

  • Extreme portability
  • No registration required
  • Strong image quality for size

Cons

  • Lower resolution than premium drones
  • No modular add-ons

For travel-friendly aerial photography and videography, the DJI Mini 3 Pro packs high-end features in a fun-sized drone. It’s great for hobbyists.

Key Considerations for an Aerial Photography Drone

Beyond comparing specs, here are some key factors to weigh when choosing a photography drone:

Camera Quality & Features

The camera is the heart of any photography drone. Look for specs like:

  • Sensor size – Larger is typically better to capture more light and detail
  • Megapixels – 12-20MP provides enough resolution for most needs
  • Shooting Modes – Panoramas, HDR, low-light all add versatility
  • Stabilization – Gimbals and high frame rates produce smooth footage

Flight Performance

The drone itself needs to perform reliably in the air – with capabilities like:

  • Flight Time – 25-35 minutes per battery is ideal
  • Range – 1-3 miles lets you maneuver far from your launch point
  • Speed – 40-50mph helps capture fast moving subjects
  • Hovering – Precise GPS and visual stabilization enable rock solid hovering

Ease of Use

Look for intelligent features that make capturing aerial shots simple:

  • Automatic Modes – For takeoff, landing, subject tracking
  • App Integration – Control camera, gimbal, follow footage from your phone
  • Portability – Foldable designs fit in bags and packs

Durability & Weather Resistance

Drones take a beating, so pick one able to withstand:

  • Wind – Stable in gusts up to 30mph
  • Water – Light rain or mist won’t cause issues
  • Crashes – Prop guards and replaceable parts help minimize damage

Regulations & Safety

Understand regulations for where you’ll fly – and features to fly safely:

  • Registration – Often required when above 250g takeoff weight
  • Geo-Fencing – Restricts drone access around sensitive areas
  • Lighting – Visible strobes help others see the drone

Price & Budget

Drone pricing ranges widely – setting a budget helps narrow options:

  • Beginner Drones – $400 to $600
  • Prosumer Drones – $1,000 to $2,000
  • Professional Drones – $2,500+

Tips for Capturing Stunning Aerial Photos & Footage

You’ve got a drone ready to capture incredible aerial views. Here are some tips to take your shots to the next level:

Learn and Follow Drone Regulations

Knowing rules for registration, flying heights, and airspace restrictions will keep you safely compliant. Having a registered serial number on your drone may be required.

Start Flying in Wide Open Areas

Find an open field or park to launch, land, and practice controlling your drone. Move to more confined areas only once mastered.

Master Manual Control Before Intelligent Modes

Learning to manually pilot will make intelligent features like tracking work better. Get a feel for controlling elevation and camera angles.

Keep Your Drone In Line of Sight

It can be tempting to fly far til the drone is barely visible – but stay close enough to maintain direct line of sight.

Pay Attention to Weather Conditions

Check wind speeds in the forecast and at launch sites. Gusty winds will make flying more challenging.

Use ND Filters to Get Motion Blur

ND filters reduce light to allow for slower shutter speeds. This captures motion blur on moving subjects like cars.

Explore Different Angles and Reveals

Unique perspectives come from shots revealing the drone emerging from behind objects. Also try orbiting subjects.

Adjust Camera Settings for the Right Exposure

Familiarize yourself with controlling ISO, shutter speed, focus and more to nail exposure in different conditions.

Utilize Advanced Flight Modes

Intelligent modes can automatically execute complex moves like orbiting, tracking subjects, or building 3D maps.

Review Footage Closely on a Large Screen

Use a computer monitor to closely inspect footage for focus, exposure, and stability before sharing.

Consider Editing Software

Apps like Lightroom help color grade and sharpen aerial photos and video. Or use editing tools to stack multiple photos for HDR effects.

Backup Aerial Shots Properly

Save photos and video from drone flights across multiple storage devices to prevent losing great media.

Capturing professional quality aerial photography and footage takes practice. But drones provide immense creative possibilities once mastered. With the tips above, you’ll be ready to start creating stunning aerial visuals.

Frequently Asked Aerial Photography Drone Questions

Do I need a license to fly a drone?

In many countries, no license is required for recreational flight under 400 feet. However, regulations vary globally, so always check local rules for any licensing requirements.

Where am I legally allowed to fly my drone?

Avoid flying drones over groups of people, at night, or in restricted airspace. Again, local laws provide guidance on exactly where drones can and can’t fly. Stay away from sensitive areas.

What accessories should I buy with my photography drone?

Extra batteries, propellor guards, ND filters, a protective case or bag, tablet for monitoring footage, and microSD cards for storage are all useful additions.

How far can consumer drones fly?

Average transmission range is 1 to 2 miles for most consumer models. Higher end drones with long range controllers and antennas can reach 4 to 5 miles or more.

Can I fly my drone in light rain?

Light mist or drizzle is generally okay, but avoid flying in any heavy downpours or storms. Water can damage sensitive electronics.

How long does a drone battery last?

Average flight time is between 15 to 35 minutes depending on the model. Higher capacity batteries allow drones to stay aloft longer before needing to swap batteries.

What app should I use with my drone?

Most major drone brands have a companion app – DJI uses DJI Fly, Autel has the EVO app. These apps allow you to view camera feeds, adjust settings, edit and share media from your phone.

Do I need insurance if I crash my drone?

Drone insurance isn’t legally required, but can protect against costs for repairs or any property damage liability if you lose control during flight.

What’s the best drone for beginners?

The DJI Mini 3 Pro, DJI Mini 2, and Autel Nano+ are excellent starter drones under $600. Their small size and ease of use make them perfect for beginners dipping their toes into aerial photography.

Take Your Photography To New Heights With Drones

Aerial photography used to require expensive chartered flights and perfect weather conditions just to get limited shots from above. But today, drones have made capturing stunning top-down perspectives and unique revealing angles accessible to everyone.

Whether you’re a real estate agent, surveyor, rescue team, or just an aspiring hobbyist photographer – aerial drones provide immense creative potential. And with practice, you can produce professional-grade aerial photography without breaking the bank.

Just be sure to start slow by learning drone flight controls before moving to advanced shooting modes and maneuvers. Respect local regulations, keep your drone in line of sight, and pick safe open areas to fly. As you master piloting skills, fixed wing shots, orbiting motions, and tracking subjects will become second nature.

The sky is literally the limit when it comes to creative possibilities with drones. We hope this guide has provided a helpful overview of the best aerial photography drone options, buying considerations, shooting tips, and answers to frequently asked questions. Now it’s time to get out there, take flight, and capture your unique aerial perspectives!

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