I love my Mavic. Having flown with drones for a couple of years I have to admit that little machine made photography even more fun. It also improved my photography, my vision, my ability to pre-visualize scenes and it increased the production value of my videos tremendously.
Over the years, I have collected my own experiences flying first with a DJI Phantom 3 Standard and then a DJI Mavic Pro Platinum.
Since this article is about epic drone photography and not just drone photography in general, the first tip is to enhance all aspects that makes a photo epic. One example is your scene. Unless your backyard is a national park, you might have to spend a little transportation time to get to those epic and special locations. As we all know if you want to make special photographs, stand in front of special things. The same goes for epic photographs. Now those locations do not have to be world famous monuments located in no-fly zones, there are actually plenty of locations which are free to fly around. You just have to do a little research.
An important aspect of photographing huge scenes is to remember some sense of scale. Have something in your scene which reveals how big the scene is. It could be a house, a human, or a car, but it's something the viewer can relate to.
Increase the Focal Length
The focal length can also highly influence the "epicness" of your photo. Try photographing with a wider focal length. You might ask how in the world that is possible with a fixed lens, and the answer is simple: make panoramas. By making panoramas, you effectively expand your focal length from the built-in 20mm or 24mm to an ultra-wide angle focal length like 16mm based on the angle of view you cover. By using a wider focal length, you can really create some dramatic perspectives. The effects for wide-angle photography are the same in the air as on the ground. Everything closer to you becomes larger, while the background becomes smaller, creating a sense of depth in your photo. Then it is only a bonus you increase the megapixel count of your photo. Besides the two last images, all the images I've used in this article are panoramas.
The Right Light
It is obvious to all of us that light plays a huge role in photography. Being at a location with interesting light — light that benefits the scene — is essential. In the above video, I show footage from the beautiful glacier Fjallsarlon in southeastern Iceland. I visited this location several times during this winter in different light, both overcast and during a sunrise. Comparing the two types of conditions it is easy to see there is way more life and depth to the sunrise footage. Besides sunrise and sunset, I would suggest seeking out conditions with fog, which adds a lot of atmosphere to your photos.
First and foremost, find an interesting focal point, or hero object as some people call it. Use lines, shapes, or patterns to lead the eye to it. My initial idea was to photograph the smaller glacier next to Fjallsarlon, making that my hero object. Since I could not reach all the way over there with my drone I decided to use Fjallsarlon to my advantage as a foreground. Using the lines and repetitive patterns of Fjallsarlon to lead the eye into the photo.
When I had what I came for I turned the drone around and explored the edge of the glacier even more. Here I found an arguably even stronger composition closer to the glacier by using the icebergs along the edge of the glacier as a foreground leading into the scene and using the background mountain as the focal point to anchor the eye.
What these two photos also have in common is their strong figure ground relation. By placing the hero objects in high-contrast situations, I drag a lot of attention to them. One photo with the dark mountain on the brighter background sky and the other photo with the bright glacier surrounded be the darker mountain. It really makes the focal points stand out.
Even though you get the most optimal conditions, editing your photos is necessary. How much you apply in the post-processing phase is up to you, but straight out of camera your photos are often flat and at the very least, the photo will benefit from added contrast. This is not because you are a bad photographer or the drone has a bad camera, it is because of how your editing software interprets your file. On top of that, you can really enhance what you want to show with your photo by editing it.
Best Service for Safe Flying?
Some of these grand scenes are located in the popular drone photography locations such as Iceland and Norway. Especially if you are flying in the higher latitudes, have an eye on the magnetic interference forecast. Magnetic interference from high solar activity can interfere with the compass of the drone which turns off the GPS making you fly fully manually. This severely increases the risk of accidents or you losing your drone, because strong winds or gusts can kick it out of line of sight. Therefore, check out UAVforecast for forecasts on wind and geomagnetic activity up to 24 hours before you fly.
Have I left something out? Do you have some tips for making your drone photography larger than life? Leave a comment below.