The Art of a Drone Selfie

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Generally speaking, I always thought of selfies as being harmless fun. However, the idea of people becoming obsessed with the manufacturing of their own self-portraits came across as somewhat narcissistic to begin with. Hence I’d always steered away from taking pictures of myself – and ‘never’ in a million years would I have imagined writing a feature on taking selfies – yet alone this one.

So if you’re wondering what inspired this, it emerged from a moment I flicked through a web-link featuring some of the world’s most powerful drone pictures. There were a couple of images exhibited there that lured me into exploring this avenue. A common theme amongst these images was that they were not just top-down aerial pictures taken with a drone – they managed to incorporate the photographer into the picture as well.

Hence after looking at these images a little more closely, I found that the key element to achieving this type of dynamic was in the way the photographers had crafted themselves into the frame. This is also what provided the image with an immense sense of intrigue as well.

Therefore I finally decided to take my DJI Mavic Pro out to a few locations which I thought would have great potential for taking drone selfies. All shots on display here were taken with the Mavic in auto mode. It was also fitted with a Polar Pro – Circular Polarising Filter to help reduce the more harsh reflections and highlights. These are available from www.polarprofilters.com.

I also use my Flathat Labs landing pad for each take off. This ensures I get a smooth take off on sand, grass and rocks  which usually present me with an uneven surface. The landing pads are available at www.flathatlabs.com.

 

Benefits of including yourself 

When it comes to composition, including yourself won’t just assist in providing the viewer with a sense of scale and dimension – it builds more points of interest and adds substance to images that are typically only composed of sparse geometric masses. Another benefit is that it could act as a primary focal point too.

Other benefits are that it can potentially allow you to ‘story-tell’ in an image as well.

 

When and how to include yourself

Given the fact that most of top-down aerial photos are abstract in nature to begin with, it makes perfect sense to add in a focal point as well. Remember – you don’t just need the one focal point. If you decide to shoot in a similar style to what I have – try to strategically seek out more focal points where people could be incorporated.

Seeking a place to locate yourself within a composition is quite simple – you only need to find that primary focal point to add yourself in. Once you’ve found that, think about how you would like position yourself – whether to sit, stand or lie down etc.

Lying on the ground gives the viewer an usual perspective which dramatically adds to their sense of scale.

Start flying the drone at the lowest level and then slowly move upwards. Always check your image display and carefully observe how increasing the height affects your composition.

Don’t become obsessed with getting too much elevation as this can somewhat diminish the selfie-style image you are trying to create. Just to be safe, I usually shoot at three different heights and then choose the most suitable composition when I am editing my RAW files into jpegs.

 

Central Coast – New South Wales, Australia

 f2.2 – 1/13s – ISO 200

My mission here was to capture the beautiful contrasting colours and textures of the lily pads, water and wharf. Hence, I decided to elevate the drone to about 15-20 metres as it allowed me encapsulate every part of the scene I wanted too. It also helped me crop out other potential distractions such as the grassy banks that could have crept into the scene. 

Cropping out the grassy banks also added a dark sense of mystery too

I also tilted the frame by positioning the wharf at 45 degrees in order to just break the overall horizontality of the composition.

 

Northern Beaches – New South Wales, Australia

  f2.2 – 1/25s – ISO 255


The chance to capture an abstract and somewhat bold composition here only required me to elevate the drone to approximately 10 metres in height. By keeping the drone relatively close to the ground helped me keep out parts of the scene that I did not want to incorporate.

Hence, I framed it in a way to capture two sides of water and enough of the concrete slab to exhibit the numbers which would help the viewer to identify the subject.

The numbers also play a part in providing secondary focal points as well.

 

Western Sydney – New South Wales, Australia

 f2.2 – 1/150s – ISO 100


With this lake and wharf, my intention was to capture a bold and contemporary composition – therefore the drone was only elevated to around 25-30 metres. This enabled me to fill the frame with approximately a third of its surface area being taken up by the wharf which I though provided a nice visual balance. 

I also decided to stand in this picture as not only to provide a focal point – but the late afternoon sunset provided some beautiful light and shadows which assisted in breaking up the bold composition by adding some finer details.

 

Northern Beaches – New South Wales, Australia

 f2.2 – 1/50s – ISO 190


In order to achieve a sleek and contemporary composition here – I flew the drone to approximately 40 metres high and positioned the horizontal axis of the concrete plinth a little off centre and more toward the top part of the frame. I also took the drone to this particular height so I could capture all the colour tones in sea water below.

Lying down was the preferred option as the viewer is more easily able to identify me here.

Having captured the swimmers about to jump into the water also assists in providing an interesting secondary focal point too.

 

Western Sydney – New South Wales, Australia

 f2.2 – 1/13s – ISO 547


Shown here are the training nets from my junior sporting cricket days. Until now, my only views of this were from ground level during training days 30 years ago. Therefore I took the drone up to about 10-15 metres high and decided to explore it from an aerial perspective mainly because of the interesting layers it contained.

I also kept it at this low height in order to reveal the interesting textures of the steel mesh fence, concrete slab, dirt and grass on the sides.

I positioned the drone in way so that the stumps were revealed in the far right corner. Making the stumps visible not only enabled a secondary focal point – it helped the viewer identify the scene as being a cricket training pitch as well.

 

Western Sydney – New South Wales, Australia

 f2.2 – 1/180s – ISO 100

 

With this skateboard rink, I wanted to enhance its urban theme by revealing the concrete textures. Hence I had only flown the drone up to about 10-15 metres high to achieve this.

The irregular shapes and structure of the rink meant that I didn’t need to strategically compose the frame by rotating the drone (or adjusting its yaw) – instead I just positioned the drone at a height where I became the primary focal point and the skater became a secondary one.

 

Western Sydney – New South Wales,  Australia

 f2.2 – 1/370s – ISO 100

This scene presented me an opportunity to capture the stark white, geometric lines against a lush green football field in a unique way. Therefore taking the drone up to about 50 metres in height was ideal in capturing enough of the radial and rectilinear geometry of the chalked sidelines.

The drone was also limited to that height so that my presence wasn’t too small and diluted within the overall scene.

By turning the drone so that the positioning of the two football fields were at approximately 45 degrees to the horizontal frame added a much stronger sense of movement as well.

 

TOP FIVE TIPS

Scout your location:

Use maps to scout your location before hiking out.

 

Look for contrasting colours and textures:

Combine interesting colours and textures in the landscape to create interest.

 

Seek out focal points:

Look for spots in landscape where you could position yourself and other people.

 

Start low:

Keep the drone flying low and gradually elevate its height.

 

Take shots at multiple heights:

Capture numerous photos and pick the best later.