Cropping and Composition
There is no such thing as a good Photo with a bad composition. Composition is something that should be addressed behind the camera lens usually, but that isn’t always possible with aerial/drone Photography. Sometimes it’s just not possible to capture the perfect frame the first time through the lens.
Most basic editing programs, such as iPhoto or the new Photos will provide the tools necessary for cropping the photo to give it the optimal composition layout.
When it comes to photography, there are two major composition layouts that are utilized the most. They’re called the Triangle, and the “Rule of Thirds”.
Triangle compositions arrange the important objects in the image in a triangle shape. Triangles are very well balanced and pleasing to the eye; you see them a lot in portraits. The most relevant to aerial photography is going to be the “Rule of Thirds”. The rule of thirds divides the image plane like a tick tack toe board: with two lines dividing it vertically and 2 lines dividing it horizontally. The intersections of the lines are the best place to put the important objects in the image because the viewer’s eye will be drawn to it naturally.
One of the drawbacks of photography over other art mediums like painting is the unwanted objects in the frame. Historically speaking you couldn’t simply remove the unwanted object from the frame, and if it was something large like a car, or light pole, it’s impossible to remove it from the scene by hand. With film photography this is still a problem, but with digital and modern photography techniques it’s not so much.
Photo editing software, like Photoshop, allows the user to go in and remove certain parts of the image. With aerial photography that means removing the drone’s shadow, a stay bird, a power line, or even something as big as a car or a building. Removing them can dramatically improve the quality of the photo.
Art is all about the illusion after all, and nothing breaks that illusion more than a distracting object drawing the viewer’s eye. Removing the unaccounted for object not only smooths out the clutter, but it also serves to highlight the objects that were left behind. Suddenly the park bench in the upper right corner isn’t just a thing; it becomes the focal point of the shot.
With the editing software, the tool that allows you to do this is usually called a “clone” tool, where it copies pixels or dots from one area, and then transplants them on top of another. This means you can take the grass from the area surrounding the drone shadow, and use it to replace the shadow itself.
White/Visible light is a combination of all the colors in the spectrum. What we see as colors is actually the light being reflected back off the object and processed by our eyes. On a clear day, with minimal interference from the atmosphere (like humidity or pollen) what we see is a pretty accurate version of that color, and it’s what our brains compare other colors to.
And in that vein, color sets the mood, the tone, and establishes the style of the photograph. That’s why there are so many different tools available to correct and tweak the colors.
Overcast days can mute the colors and can be corrected by messing with the saturation. Adding a little bit more color via saturation is a great way to beef up the picture and make it pop a bit more. De-saturating on the other hand removes more of the color, and can leave a cool effect that’s not quite black and white, and is a bit despondent.
The “Golden Hour” Effect
Golden hour, or magic hour, is that period of time an hour after sunrise, and an hour before sunset. It’s called “golden” hour or “magic hour” because it’s been deemed the best time to take pictures or video. The shadows are dramatically long, and the light is amazing. During this time the sun’s light is coming through the atmosphere at such an angle that it gives a warm reddish glow.
The “Golden Hour Effect” is a way to get this same effect even when shooting in the middle of the day. Luminar has the best version of it in their editing toolbar.
Contrast and Haze
Old painting masters often utilized the perspective technique “atmospheric perspective” to indicate distance. Atmospheric perspective is adding more and more blue haze as the distance between the object and viewer increases.
Why does this matter?
Because in aerial photography the atmosphere between the camera and the object is often translated to the image, betraying the distance between the camera and object, and creating haziness that isn’t always desirable.
A simple way to obliterate the haze in the image is to play around with the contrast, increasing it a little until it becomes clear again.
One of the pitfalls of drone photography is the inability to set longer exposure times to compensate for the low lights of twilight and the night hours. Photos taken during this time often have problems with noise. Noise is the common term for the visual distortion in a photo; it looks similar to the old film grain. But as it gets worse the splotches get larger and more and more unattractive, ruining the photograph.
Having a good noise reduction setting on the camera will go a long way towards minimizing this unpleasant effect, but it won’t stop it completely. Playing around with the Luminance in the editing software will help reduce the problems of working in high ISO settings.
Blur occurs when the camera or subject moves while the camera’s shutter is open. It can be used to imply motion, but mostly it just ruins the picture. Large blotches of blur are almost always unfixable, but small blur can be adjusted with a “sharpness” tool or setting. It increases the contrast in certain pixels so they have a harder edge.
Be wary though, because playing with the sharpness too much can actually create some noise on the image as well.