Instagram is the destination for some of the most wonderful aerial photos and videos. Have you ever wondered how those geniuses produce the beautiful images we see? Sometimes we ask ourselves, “Why can’t I shoot stunning photos like they can?” Here, we summarize 6 common shooting mistakes you should avoid in order to make your work Instagram ready.

1. Improper Selection of Scenery

This is probably the most common mistake, especially for beginner drone operators. Yes, we understand that you couldn’t wait for a moment longer to try your new drone. However, getting an A-grade shot is 70% about selecting the right place, and probably only 30% about capturing the aerial shot itself. If you do not find the best place to shoot, you are losing the game at the very beginning. Finding an appropriate location to shoot your aerial photographs and videos is crucial.

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Discovering the right spot is not as hard as it sounds. First, we recommend that you never set off before doing research. You can look online, ask friends, or join drone photography communities like DJI Forum and the Official DJI Owners Group of Facebook for more information. Additionally, Google Earth, a 3D representation of Earth based on satellite imagery, is an extremely helpful tool, and it’s free! You can preview your destination choice or scroll around the map to discover cool spots. Finally, as a photographer, you should develop your ability to detect the best shooting places. By taking note of your changing environment, you may accidentally discover beautiful places for your next photo shoot.

Photographer: Panvelvet; Shot on the Phantom 4 Pro; Source: SkyPixel

2. Improper Timing

Now that you have chosen the best place, you can focus on the timing of your shot. However, don’t get too confident as you have not captured the perfect shot yet. You might reach your destination too late, which will result in dark photos. Make sure you give yourself enough time!

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Reaching your destination at the right time is a tip we really want to stress. Usually, one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset are the best times; this time is also known as the “golden hour” for photography. This is when the sun is at a lower position, and the light is much softer. With this kind of light, the scenery and the object will have long shadows, and the shot will be deeper and show a sense of space.

Photographer: Manish Mamtani; Shot on the Phantom 4 Pro;  Source: SkyPixel

Timing is also associated with weather. By checking the weather forecast, you will be able to avoid unfavorable conditions. You may also want to incorporate special weather like fog, which adds a mysterious touch to some scenes. Good weather or bad weather, it really depends on what mood you would like to express in your photography. For example, rain might be good weather if you are exploring sorrow in a photo.

Photographer: Felix von Schwanewede (@fevonos); Shot on the Phantom 4; Source: SkyPixel

3. Improper Exposure

Exposure is the first element to contemplate in a photo shoot. Over-exposure or under-exposure directly affect the beauty and detail of a photo, and in serious situations, post-production won’t help.

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To avoid this situation during a photo shoot, we suggest you to use Auto Exposure mode, which is especially helpful for beginners. However, for filming, we recommend you use Manual mode and thus understanding shutter, aperture, and ISO better is the key.

Photographer: Boyan Ortse; Shot on the Phantom 4 Pro; Source: Skypixel

4. Improper Composition

Composition is the arranging of elements within the frame of a photograph. Improper composition unbalances and distorts the theme behind each photo, so even if you are in a perfect place at the perfect time, an improper composition will ruin your shot.

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Learning composition techniques increase your chance of success in aerial photography. Here are some of the most common ones:

Rule of Thirds: Divide your image into nine parts by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. The most important object should be placed along the lines or at the intersection of the lines.

Photographer: cmventi20; Source: SkyPixel

Diagonal Line: Just as it sounds, the diagonal line of the image divides the scene into equal parts.

Photographer: Manish Mamtani; Shot on the Phantom 4 Pro; Source: SkyPixel

Symmetry: One half of the image mirrors the other half.

Photographer: Petra Leary; Shot on the Mavic Pro; Source: SkyPixel

Center: The most important object is placed in the middle of the image.

Framing: Block a part of the subject to better frame the image.

Photographer: Séa; Shot on the Mavic Air; Source: SkyPixel

Here is another quick tip: To avoid mistakes such as a skewed horizon, you should adjust the gimbal’s roll axis before taking off.

5. Neglect of Post-Production

In the age of social media, it is difficult to capture people’s attention with unedited images. Most of the stunning photos we see are edited properly. What’s more, JPEG photos usually cannot capture as many details as RAW photos do, but post-production can help improve elements in photographs such as color, white balance, and contrast.

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Editing photos on mobile phone apps is convenient, we all know, but professional software on desktop computers like Photoshop and Lightroom are must-haves to master post-production. With these professional tools, we recommend that you start by understanding what each function can do to improve your image. For instance, the curves function could fine-tune your photo’s exposure by separating the light levels. You can also adjust the colors with saturation or vibrance.

Photographer: Ramon Rubin; Shot on the Phantom 4 Pro; Source: SkyPixel

6. Over Post-Production

Even though we claim post-production helps us on the path to success, overdoing it is hazardous. For example, over-adjusting saturation and contrast will make the photo look stiff and unreal.

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When editing, you should remember sometimes less is more. Saturation, contrast, and clarity provide unique effects when adjusting, but such corrections are usually too much if used simultaneously. If able, you should set the photo file to RAW, an unprocessed or uncompressed file, to attain maximum detail and accurate exposure.

Photographer: UP! Professional Aerial Shooting Agency; Shot on the Inspire 2; Source: SkyPixel

All in all, location, timing, exposure, composition, and post-production are elements that will affect your aerial photography. For beginners, practice makes perfect, but being aware of these components will help you progress more rapidly. We hope that you enjoy your flight and your photography really takes off after reading this article.

You might also like:

6 Things You Need to Know for Long Exposure by Filter

6 Photo Modes Every Aerial Photographer Needs to Know

JPEG vs RAW – What’s the difference?

Tilt-Shift Photography: Create a Micro World with Your Drone

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DJI Support is your go-to source for answers to any questions you may have about DJI products. Whether you are just a beginner or an experienced pilot, our tips and tutorials are here to help.