ALTITUDE, DRONE PHOTOGRAPHY AND YOU
What do these things have in common? They’re all important factors in deciding how you want to capture fantastic photographs of your property, business, or event. Although there’s a standard shot list in the drone photos industry, each project has its own unique requirements and knowing exactly what kind of shots you want will help you be satisfied with your experience, whether it’s with Aerial Hawks or not. We want to help people stay informed about basic photography issues so they know what kind of quality they should be expecting. So let’s dig in and learn about how altitude affects drone photography!
Sun Angles and Attack Headings
The first thing you should know is that choosing altitudes and attack headings may be the most important aspects of planning a photography mission. Depending on factors such as sun angle, wind, and tree height, obtaining some shots may not be safe or require lots of post-processing to reduce glare and overexposure. Altitude affects the framing of the shot, while attack heading (the angle of the drone compared to the building, as well as where it’s situated in the air) determines what parts are in shadow or sunlight, what features are drawn out, and what exposure settings can be used. In order to get our bearings, we’re going to look at several photographs of the same house taken from different angles and altitudes. (Note that all these pictures were taken at 9:30 AM EST with the sun low in the sky towards the southeast. So the drone should be between the house and the sun – the drone should be somewhere south or east of the house.)
Luckily for us this particular property faces towards the northeast, so by flying in between the house and the sun, we’re able to catch the front façade. In general, there’s a certain time of day either in the morning or evening where the sun shines on the front face of a property. Knowing the angle of your property, event, or business is important because you’ll know if a drone pilot shows up at the wrong time of day, it will be difficult for them to get a good picture. At Aerial Hawks we use the free SunCalc web application to plan a photography mission (https://www.suncalc.org/). We looked up this particular house on SunCalc and determined that early morning was the best time of day to shoot.
Unfortunately at any other time of day, the sun would be illuminating the back half of the property. So there’s a very limited window of time to capture this property!
How Different Altitudes Affect Photography
So once you’ve determined what time of day to request photos (and what angles you want to capture), you can begin thinking about altitude. In the continental US, most areas allow drones to fly up to 400ft, which is incredibly high! We’ve taken photos of the house at various altitudes for you to see what details are captured at each step.
This photo was taken at an altitude of 25ft. You can easily see the architectural features of the house including the brick waffling on the corners. Details such as leaves and branches in the trees are clear, and shadows are sharp. This is a horizon shot (the sky is visible) but because the horizon line is hidden by the trees, the house takes up the viewer’s attention.
This image was taken at 35 ft. More of the roof is visible than in the 25ft photo. Again, this is a horizon shot with an angle of 10-20 degrees, so the trees are covering up the horizon line.
This photo was taken at 50ft. The drone is high enough now that the tree line is becoming more linear. Shots taken with a sharper angle would cause the house to be in the upper third of the frame. You can see the launch pad of the drone (2×2 foot square) for reference.
This horizon shot is taken at 100ft. Shots from this altitude are typically more washed out due to high sun exposure; this photo has been digitally edited to remove the effects of this overexposure. Aerial Hawks always shoots in RAW mode so that every single detail of a scene is captured, and we process the RAW photos to bring out certain colors and details.
This shot was taken at 200ft and almost the entire field is visible. 200ft is a good altitude for many real estate and commercial photography projects. We chose to not include the horizon in this photograph (angle 40 degrees) so that you could see the difference between a horizon shot and a normal one.
This shot was taken at 400ft, the highest altitude a typical photography drone will fly. Shots taken from this altitude can highlight how a structure interacts with its surroundings; in this case you can see how the shadows of the trees fall across the house, which is situated at an oblique angle towards the east. This is the lowest angle you can shoot and not include the horizon, between 10 and 15 degrees.
You’re the Expert Aerial Photographer
You’ve learned about sun angles, attack headings, and altitudes, so you’re very well prepared to order a drone photography mission! You’ll know what times of day and altitudes are best for your project, and you’ll know how to ask for specific kinds of shots (remember, a horizon shot includes the horizon line and is a very popular type). If you’re ready to contact us and request a photo or video shoot, head to (insert link here). If you already have a drone pilot waiting in the wings, you’ll be prepared to get the best assets possible and have a great experience with a photography professional.
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