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News & Notes

Are You Using Your Drone’s Photo Settings to the Fullest?

The exposure triad, your drone, and you

August 25, 2017

The art of photography is nothing new — but drone technologies are introducing plenty of newly aspiring artists to the photographic process. And many new drone operators aren’t familiar with everything they’re able to do with their flying cameras, even if they’re great on the sticks.

To capture better photo and video from your drone, you need to get familiar with camera settings. Sure, you can take decent photos with a drone’s automatic settings, but true artistry emerges from understanding the relationship between your subject and your camera’s settings while shooting in Manual.

Geoffrey Green, owner of drone services company VSI Aerial, says an important aspect of manual settings is what’s known as the “exposure triad” — ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings. Each one affects the others, so it takes some consideration of each to accomplish a perfectly focused and exposed shot.


ISO is a measure of camera sensor sensitivity to available light. Use low ISO when there’s plenty of light and the sensor doesn’t need to be overly sensitive. Use high ISO when less light is available. Image quality is better at a low ISO, while higher ISO can make the image appear grainy. Find a balance between your desired ISO, lighting, and image quality before taking off.

Green’s tip: Using a lower ISO setting for the camera sensor allows you to get the best image quality or clarity, but this comes at a price. Understand that you’re going to be limited by your light conditions when taking the photo and will have to introduce noise or a higher ISO to properly expose the image in a darker setting

Aperture setting allows different amounts of light to enter through the lens to the camera body. Aperture adjustments and range are specific to the lens you are using, and its adjustments are represented by f-stops (“focal” stops). Lower f-stop numbers represent a larger aperture (opening), while higher numbers equal a smaller aperture.

Green’s tip: Aperture gets smaller and bigger as you move from a higher to lower number. The smaller aperture requires more available light while the bigger requires less, but you lose focus on certain subjects in your shot. This is called your depth of field. At a higher aperture setting your entire image will be in focus, but you will need a lot of light available. However, at a lower aperture setting your focus will be sharp on the foreground of the image and blurry on the background. You need to know, which level is best to use.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is the gateway to the camera sensor, and determines how long the image is exposed by opening and closing whenever a picture is taken. Shutter speed is usually less than a second, but can be longer or shorter depending on shooting environments.

Green’s tip: Your Shutter moves slower at a higher number and faster at a lower number (1” or 1/1000). As your shutter moves faster, you will need more available light. The shutter will not expose the sensor to light for very long, while a slower shutter allows a ton of light to hit the sensor. The most important consideration for shutter speed is whether or not anything in your photo is moving. You will need a very fast shutter (1/1000) to stop something like a bird or water spray, while a medium shutter speed (1/250) should be good enough for a car and for a night scene with no motion you could use (1”).

Ultimately, each of these settings affects the amount of light available to the sensor. A photo that balances each of these elements will be much easier to edit. To check your lighting balance while shooting, use the histogram. The histogram basically tells us how much of our image is exposed by pixels. The left of the histogram is a lower exposed pixels while the right is higher. Ideally you want most of the data in the center with no gaps on the sides, but this is scene dependent.

Now that you’re equipped to better use your drone’s photo settings, get out and fly! Be sure to share your work with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Featured image: Drew Halverson