Droning On: Getting Started with Landscape Aerial Photography

Bringing the Inside Out

As a company we were a little late to the game with drone photography. It always made sense for a landscape design, build, maintenance firm, and it was something we wanted to get into for a long time, but it seemed intimidating. The equipment was daunting, and the learning curve seemed awfully steep for a traditional, terrestrial photographer like me.  A large-scale project that really needed an aerial perspective, to capture the scope of the property, ended up being the excuse we needed to purchase a DJI Mini 2 drone. And so, it began.

I admittedly did not know what I was doing at first. I took a lot of bad videos, with jerky panning and tilting, that made them borderline unwatchable. It’s hard not to fall into the trap of doing something with the drone just because you can. What I learned was that if you think of the drone as a tool to achieve photos, and potentially videos, that you otherwise wanted but couldn’t achieve without it, you will end up taking better shots. There are also a ton of great resources out there to learn how to do it well. Youtube was an invaluable resource for me, and there are lots of good photography classes out there that cover aerial photography.

The unexpected benefit of having a drone was that I could capture views that were otherwise just out of reach. Not necessarily bird’s eye views from way up above the landscape, but shots from over the middle of a pool, or a perspective that required a couple more feet of height than I could get with a ladder, or a green roof from just above the roofline – showing the grade change, the building, and the green roof in one shot.

That’s not to say that the bird’s eye views aren’t amazing. As landscape architects and designers, it’s one of the only ways that we can see the finished landscape from the same perspective that we’re designing it, from a top-down plan view. I find it strangely satisfying to see the canopy of a large Sugar Maple or a River Birch from above and see that nice round circular shape that we’ve used to depict it in the plan.

We haven’t had the drone for very long, but it’s already started to change how we’re thinking about photographing a property. I’m excited to see what new ways we can use it in the future.