Drone Photography – 9 Tips for Amazing Photos

The quality of drone photos improves drastically by choosing the correct exposure values and the most suitable light conditions. Tools like Automatic Exposure Bracketing and 48 MP mode are useful in certain conditions. Several other tricks pave the way to extra creativity

Some tips apply to photography with any camera, others are more specific to images taken with drones

More details can be found in the following articles

If you prefer to watch this as a video, you will find a link to my YouTube video at the end of this article

1 – Time of the Day 

Probably the most important tip to get consistently good results in drone photography is to choose the best light conditions

Video by Vicvideopic

I never shoot in the middle of a sunny day, as the shadows are very dark, the contrast too high and the results are always disappointing

It is much better to choose the so-called golden hour: the first two hours after sunrise or the last two before sunset for much softer shadows and a warmer feel

Another excellent time of the day for drone photography is right after sunset when the street lights turn on and there is still some natural light

In these conditions, we have some control over the lighting of a scene, a bit like being in a photo studio, with the artificial lights acting as the main source and the twilight as a fade light to smoothen the shadows

I have done specific articles about Night photography with the Mini 3 and 3 Pro, and with the Mini 4 Pro

Video by Vicvideopic

I only take photos in the central hours of the day when the sun is covered by clouds, as they act like a giant softbox, smoothening the shadows

In general, it is much better to have very little difference between the lights and the shadows, in other words, low contrast

It is then easy to increase the contrast to your taste in post-processing while reducing contrast is a much harder task 

2 – Correct Exposure

To get quality images it is crucial to get the correct exposure

It is always better to err towards underexposing rather than overexposing, as it is possible to recover dark shadows up to a certain degree, while there is nothing to do with burnt highlights

The histogram is the only tool I use for exposing
The histogram is the only tool I use for exposing

The only tool I use for exposing photos and footage is the histogram. I leave some space between the last bar to the right and the right edge to make sure that the highlights are preserved

When exposing manually, the MM value at the bottom of the exposure window displays the luminosity resulting from the exposure values

Since the Mini 3 and  Pro have a slight tendency to overexpose, I prefer to have the value in negative territory, between -0.3 and -1

I always use manual exposure, as it is often useful to control individually the shutter speed and the ISO, the only two values available with most prosumer drones, as the aperture is fixed

Video by Vicvideopic

By using a longer shutter speed of about 1” with the aid of ND filters, it is possible to get silky waves and clouds, add motion blur to moving subjects, or create some interesting special effects

You will find plenty of examples in my article about long-exposure photography

I also suggest using manual white balance to have consistent colors while editing

With most drones, I like to set the white balance value at around 5500 Kelvins, but the Mini 3 and 3 Pro tend toward a yellowish tone, so with these models, I prefer a lower value of about 5100 Kelvins

3 – Use Automatic Exposure Bracketing

The Mini 3 and 3 Pro have an AEB photo mode

When selected in the Photo menu, the camera will shoot 3 or 5 photos in rapid succession with an interval of two-thirds of a stop between them. I always use AEB mode with five shots when shooting photos for two reasons

  • To make sure that I get one photo perfectly exposed, since I have five different exposure values for each of them, much like an insurance policy against wrong exposure
  • To merge the five images to HDR with a photo editor to get better results under certain conditions, especially in situations of high dynamic range, like shooting in the direction of the sun. The software will take the darkest part of the image from the brightest photos and the brightest ones from the darkest image, thus reducing the dynamic range
Example of 5 AEB photos merged to HDR
Example of 5 AEB photos merged to HDR

More details about Automatic Exposure Bracketing with the Mini 3 and 3 Pro, AEB with the Mini 4 Pro

4 – 48MP Photo Mode

The DJI Mini 4 Pro, Air 3, Mini 3, Mini 3 Pro have a 48MP photo mode

Video by Vicvideopic

The Bayer Quad sensor of these models has a real photo resolution of 12MP, but it can split each pixel into four smaller ones, thus achieving a sort of 48MP

Photos taken in this mode have a slight advantage in detail in easy light conditions. This is useful, especially for large prints and deep crops

Experienced users can also merge 48MP photos into a panorama for insane resolution

The downside of this mode is that the resulting pixels are much smaller and therefore collect a lower amount of light, resulting in less info in the shadows and lukewarm results in low-light situations

More detail in my article about the 48MP photo mode in the Mini 3 Pro, and with the Mini 4 Pro

5 – Use RAW Format

With the Mini 3 and 3 Pro, in photo mode, it is possible to save the images in JPEG or JPEG + RAW format

Photos saved in RAW format contain more information, especially in the shadows, and respond better to color grading and color correcting

Video by Vicvideopic

JPEG photos have a good dose of processing applied, they are in a way pre-cooked, so they leave less latitude for post-processing

With the new generation of DJI prosumer drones, the quality of JPEG images is remarkable, they can be shared on social media without any editing, although they get even better with a slight increase in contrast and saturation

I always suggest saving in both formats. Even for users who don’t do any photo editing, it will be valuable to have a RAW copy of their images for future use

6 – Rule of Thirds

The same scene may look in many cases better, by applying some basic rules of composition

Also, by knowing the rules it is possible to break them

Video by Vicvideopic

One of the best-known is the rule of thirds, used not only by photographers and videographers but also by master painters in the past

It consists of not placing the main subject in the middle of the images, but rather on a third, either horizontally or vertically, or both

In the Camera tab of Settings, all models have an overlay with a grid to apply this rule

In drone photography, the sky and the horizon are often in the frame. In general, it is more interesting to have the horizon in the upper or lower third rather than in the middle

The same often applies to the main element of a scene: rather than placing it in the middle, a position on one of the thirds can be more appealing

In the case of a moving subject, it is recommended to place it on the third which leaves more space in the direction of the movement

7 – Different Points of View

The same scene looks different from different angles. With drones, we can access unique points of view

Video by Vicvideopic

I suggest taking several shots of a scene varying the altitude and the angle. Intelligent flight modes like Point of Interest or Spotlight are excellent tools for finding the best perspective for parallax

Try orbiting around the chosen subject or flying in a diagonal line at different heights and distances while taking plenty of photos

Then in front of the computer while sipping an exotic drink choose the ones that offer the best perspective and the most interesting angle

Beginners starting with drones tend to fly as high as possible, but very often the best shots are from a low altitude and closer to the subject

Video by Vicvideopic

Bird’s eye view photos can only be made with drones and they often result in a completely different rendition of familiar scenes

This tiny island off the East Coast of Sicily is well known to locals, but when I showed top-down photos to friends living in the area, they could not guess what it was

A fumarole in Iceland seen from above looks like an abstract painting by Klimpt

A top-down view of a vineyard might be mistaken for a cashmere blanket

Video by Vicvideopic

With the Mini 3 and 3 Pro it is possible to shoot videos and photos in a vertical format. It is a feature mostly used for footage, but certain still images fit very well in portrait photos  

8 – Use Leading Lines and Geometrical Patterns

Video by Vicvideopic

Photographers and painters often use lines and geometrical patterns to add interest and to lead the eyes in a specific direction

Drones can move the point of view to different heights, offering even more possibilities to use lines and other geometrical patterns

In post-processing, it is sometimes useful to rotate the shot to find the most interesting angle

9 – Inspect the Location

To make the most of a specific location it is important to know it well

Often when visiting an unknown place the first photo session is mostly for scouting purposes: we take as many photos as possible from different angles and different heights

When analyzing the images taken in front of a computer we often spot the ideal shots for photos to take going back to the same location

A useful tool to inspect an unknown location is Google Earth where it is possible to move around the place with a 3D view on the computer to analyze the scene

When preparing a photographic trip with a drone always inspect the official maps to find out if there are any restrictions due to regulations. Consult the maps of the aviation authority of that country or DJI Fly Safe maps

If You Prefer To Watch This As a VIdeo


I am Vittorio Caramazza, aka Vicvideopic, the founder of this website and author of all the posts. I am a videographer and photographer contributing to several stock agencies. I am an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Lightroom. I have 10 years of experience with dron videography and photography. I was struck by drone syndrome in 2013. I have owned and tested in depth the following drones: Phantom 3, Phantom 4, Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Air 2, Air 2s, Autel Evo Nano Plus, Mavic 3, Mini 3 Pro, Mini 3. My home has turned into a breeding ground for drones. I am the owner of two YouTube channels specializing in Videography and Photography, with a focus on drones My main channel is VicVideopic (in English): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgaBlrFDONJ4BSEUHa2cLKg My other channel is Drone Mitico, the Italian version.: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkeoY8rPPj-fypUKHckTtwQ I am currently based in Sicily (Southern Italy), but I tend to move quite often. After all, this is one of the main benefits of being a digital nomad…

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