Try these twelve innovative tips for shooting sharp aerial photos, no matter if you’re photographing from a plane or piloting a drone.

Whether you’re shooting from a helicopter, a plane, or using a drone, shooting sharp aerial photographs can be difficult when you have so many elements to consider. In a helicopter or airplane, it might be a lens flare seeping through the window, or a cracked or smudged screen. When you’re using a drone, it might be that you have a basic setup with limited technological enhancements to assist you in creating beautiful and sharp aerial photographs.

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12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Boats at Sunset
Image by Ekaterina Kondratova

First of all, what is considered a sharp photograph?

In photography, a “sharp” photograph describes an image that shows the main subject in sharp focus. The image has clean lines, crisp details, no blurring, and no noise. Shooting sharp aerial photographs can be especially difficult as you have a lot of variables that influence your photograph. Often, you need to shoot at faster speeds if you’re shooting out a window to capture everything in focus. That might make you raise your ISO, which adds noise to an image.

Achieving a sharp aerial photograph comes down to a lot of variables that you can adjust depending on your individual circumstances. Use these tips to minimize the noise in your aerial photographs, and produce clean and sharp images that customers can purchase and use from your Shutterstock portfolio.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Cathedral at Sunset
Image by paulmichaelNZ

Here are 12 pro tips on shooting sharp aerial photographs for you to consider before your next shoot with a drone, helicopter, or airplane.


Shooting sharp aerial photographs from an aircraft

Tip #1: Start with a sharp aperture

The sharpest aperture on a camera is generally 2-4 stops down from the widest aperture, putting it around f/8 on most lenses. When shooting aerial, we suggest starting your aperture at f/5.6 and adjusting from there. This will allow you to capture your image in full focus.

However, if you are shooting from a window, you may need to widen the aperture to closer to f/2.8 or f/3.5 so that you minimize capturing any defects on your window. Play with your settings until you find the optimal balance between shutter speed and aperture, without needing to adjust your ISO too much, to ensure you are shooting sharp aerial photographs.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Sharp Aperture
Image by A. Aleksandravicius

Tip #2: Focus on the scenery

Before you start shooting, ensure that you’ve focused on the scenery and not on the window. Chances are, you’ll need to use manual focus in order to do this as your camera will want to automatically focus to the window. So, get as close to the window as possible to minimize any defects or scratches on it. Find a point in the sky or landscape to focus on, and shoot.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Focus on Scenery
Image by Munimara

Tip #3: Don’t use a polarizer

If you typically use a polarizer when you shoot, consider removing it when you are shooting out an airplane window. A polarizer can work against you when you are shooting out a window, as the plastic in the window may cause color patterns to appear and distort your image. Remove the polarizer before you start shooting to ensure you capture a sharp aerial image.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Don't Use a Polarizer
Image by Jacob Lund

Tip #4: Use a delayed shutter

When you are shooting aerial, you need a fast shutter speed to keep your image in focus while you’re moving. This may mean that you need to adjust your ISO to compensate. Shooting sharp aerial photographs can be difficult to achieve if you add ISO, as this creates noise in your image. Instead, consider using a delayed shutter. If your camera has a setting that allows you to have a two or five second delay on your shutter, this will allow you to press your shutter without shake. While you’ll still need to hold still for a slower shutter speed, this will help prevent noise from damaging your opportunities to snap a sharp aerial photograph out the window.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Delayed Shutter
Image by Breslavtsev Oleg

Tip #5: Chartering a plane? Ask the pilot

If you are lucky enough to charter a floatplane, or a helicopter, more than likely your pilot is going to be happy to support you in getting the shot you need. Don’t be afraid to ask, and notify them that you are a photographer shooting aerial images. The pilot knows the landscape better than you, and can most likely support you in a slight change of course to get a shot with the best light based on the direction of the sun, or the scenery you’ll be flying over.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs— Ask a Pilot
Image by Kertu

Tip #6: Use a lens with image stabilization

When you are shooting from a smaller plane or helicopter, there’s a higher chance for vibration. This causes movement in your camera. Try to keep your hand and arm from touching the sides of the aircraft. Use a lens that has an image stabilization feature, as this will go along way in keeping your image as sharp as possible.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Image Stabilization
Image by Kastrapav

Tip #7: Shoot in burst mode

When you are shooting from an aircraft, a lot of things happen at once. The scenery changes in a blink of an eye, and you don’t want to miss an opportunity to capture the image of the day because you were too slow on the take. If your opportunity to shoot is limited, shoot in burst mode. This will allow you to capture a ton of images, giving you more opportunity to select the sharpest one when you review your images. Don’t get caught up in having your settings as perfect as possible. Chances are, you may be able to fix any mistakes in post production if the image is too dark due to a faster shutter speed.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Burst Mode
Image by Robert Jahns

Shooting sharp aerial photographs with a drone

Tip #8: Pan the drone to create high-quality images

For the majority of drones that you can purchase as a consumer, the megapixel count is significantly lower compared to DSLR alternatives. One solution to keep your quality high, and maximize your opportunities to sell your images, is to create a pan. Fly over your subject in a coordinated attempt to create multiple images, and stitch them together to create a pan using post-production software.

 12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs— Pan the Drone
Image by Peteri

Tip #9: Keep your ISO at 100

Drones have small sensors that typically don’t perform well at high ISO speeds. They create a lot of noise and limit the quality of image you can produce. To keep your drone stable, set it to GPS mode and aim for a day with light wind. You can then set your shutter speed quite low as the drone will stabilize itself, and keep the ISO at 100. The result? A sharp, motion-free aerial image.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — ISO at 100
Image by Everst

Tip #10: Shoot in RAW (if possible)

For all photography purposes, taking photos in RAW format gives you more flexibility when post-producing your image. The image is uncompressed, which gives you a significant amount of more detail and resolution and allow for you to make adjustments to your image. Most high-end drones will come with cameras that support digital RAW formats. This gives you more creative control to shoot images that may look dark at first, but allow you to brighten and adjust significantly in post.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Shoot in RAW
Image by Avigator Fortuner

Tip #11: Bracket your images

Using the image bracketing feature is a great feature available on most drones. Bracketing allows you to select an image out of a batch of images with variable settings, so you have options to choose from. This features gives you the flexibility to select the image that has the best quality available out of your selections. Whether an image is over or under exposed can make or break your image, and bracketing helps support you in making sure you always have options to select from.

Images by paulmichaelNZ

Tip #12: Use drone lens filters

We suggest not using lens filters for images shot on planes. However, utilizing lens filters when shooting sharp aerial photographs using a drone is crucial when shooting in difficult lighting. Lens filters will help you control the light that reaches the sensor, and enhance your colors. Before you purchase your filters, identify the environment that you will most frequently shoot in. This will help you decide the best filter for the type of photography you want to create.

12 Pro Tips on Shooting Sharp Aerial Photographs — Use Lens Filters
Image by photobort

We hope these tips help you the next time you’re shooting sharp aerial photographs from airplanes, helicopters, or by using a drone. We can’t wait to see what you create next on Shutterstock.

Top Image by Benny Marty


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