Best height for drone photography [A complete guide]

Buying a drone gives you the capacity to take photographs from a unique visual perspective. According to your local laws, you may be able to fly up to 120 m above ground level or more. At that height there may be plenty of things to see but you may not be capturing the best aspect of your subject. In this article, we are going to go over the best height for drone photography and all of the ways that you can get the most from your shots in real estate, portrait and animals, nature, and sporting shots.

The best point for drone photography is typically far below its maximum legal height. Depending on your subject it may be better to fly at eye height (1.2 m) or at 60 m but direct the camera straight down. 120 m is the best height to capture expensive landscapes. It all depends on your shot.

Drone photography is definitely an art form that you need to practice. In this article, I will share with you some of the shots that I have taken for different purposes and you’ll see that it’s not all about getting the highest shot possible.

Best height for drone photography

The best height for drone photography and really depends on the type of shop that you are taking. For example, if you’re taking some real estate shots you want to show off the house to its best. This means capturing shots of the exterior of the house from various angles whilst also showing its location relative to the beach, parts, and other amenities.

On the other hand, if you are taking shots of people, you probably don’t want to go too far away unless you have got significant contrast between them and the environment (such as in snow shots). Capturing an image which shows of your subject the best may mean flying your drone at eye level rather than aiming for a high shot.

As you practice your drone photography techniques you will develop your skills and develop an intuition for what works and what doesn’t for each type of shot.

Practice makes perfect.

However, here are some of the general rules as well as some advice for each type of drone shot that you may want to take.

General rules

The general rules of taking great drone shots can all be broken. Just use this section as a general guide for what is typically seen as good drone shot practice but realise that depending on the drone shot you may want to break certain rules to create an even more awesome shot.

Still see details of subject

For each drone shop there is a subject. This subject could be a person, a building, a pet, a unique architectural feature, a landscape artefact and much more.

You should ascend to a height which best shows of this subject. Unlike videography, your drone photo is a still image which means that as you look at it your eye will be drawn to a particular part of the image.

Typically, we use a rule of thirds positioning for the subject of the photo. This means that the subject is placed in one of the four crosses created if you were to split up the shot into three equal portions with lines both horizontally and vertically.

Most commonly this rule is broken by placing the subject in the middle of the shot.

As long as the subject is obvious and your eye is drawn to it as the main part of the image you can’t go too wrong.

Provide a sense of scale

Flying a drone away from a subject can provide a sense of scale. This means that the drone is showing you how big the landscape is and how small the subject is. This unique perspective that are drone, or a helicopter, can give someone brings out a feeling of awe in its viewer.

Use your drone to provide a sense of scale.

This can be done by flying up to a height where you can still make out the subject but you are able to understand the subjects position in its environment.

This works really well with people on the edges of cliffs, mountaintops, and situated in impressive landscapes.

Using your drone to provide a sense of scale is only one of many ways that drones can be used to create a unique perspective. Something that you would not be able to get a simple DSLR camera.

Here are some examples of the sorts of heights that you should consider flying your drone at four different common drone shots.

Real estate

Using a drone to sell houses is becoming more and more popular. The unique perspective drone can give provides an ability to see the house in its environment and it can show you some parts, nearby greenery, distances to parks and schools which can increase the sale price of the house.

The height of a two story house is approximately 25 feet tall which is about 7.5 m. I would recommend sending your drone to twice the height of the house which could be approximately 50 feet or 15 m.

Reverse the drone until you can see the entire house and captured the shots at a number of different angles.

Typically, a drone real estate shot looks down at a 45° angle onto the roof of the house whilst also keeping the sky in the top portion of the shot.

People tend to not like just looking at the roof of the house so avoid any straight down shot unless it is situated particularly close to rivers, beaches, or other locations that would increase its sale price. After all, you can get that shop on Google Earth.

You can also descend the drone to the height of the top of the roof which will enable you to capture some unique architectural features of the house and also details of the garden.

Taking drone shots of something that is so large and stationary limits your ability to be overly creative with your drone shots.

People and animals is where you can have a lot more creative freedom.

People and animals

if you are taking drone shots of people it is likely that you actually want to see details of the people in the photos. This means that you should not go any higher than 10 feet or 3 m high with your drone.

If you are taking shots of a group of people this is where you can have a lot of fun.

In my other article, drone photography ideas – 20 ideas to level up your drone shots – click here to be taken to article, I share with you some of the unique opportunities that portrait photography can open up when you have a drone.

Shifting the perspective is an important way to use a drone where you go above your subject and point the camera straight down to the ground essentially turning the ground into a canvas to create a fun scene.

There are some shots where you want to provide a sense of scale with the subject lost in the surroundings. In this case you can fly up to 50 m in the air so that you can still see the subject (as long as there is significant contrast between them and the environment) but they get lost in the expansive landscape.

Providing this scale require you to go further into the air but low enough so you can still capture the landscape. This is much easier if people are in a high point searches on the top of a mountain or on the edge of cliffs.

Nature and landscapes

Drones are the perfect companion for someone who wants to get awesome nature and landscape shots.

They allow you to capture elements of the environment that have been difficult to get in the past. Some of the best drone shots I’ve ever seen have come from utilising them for landscapes and capturing wild animals.

Depending on your landscape you may want to send your drone up to its maximum height of hundred and 20 m. Or whatever is legal in your country. From there, you conduce to point the drone camera straight down or you can find an angle at which you can see some interesting aspects of your environment.

This could include:

  • Natural contrast – contrast between rocks and water, sand and water, trees and water, are incredible shots. Go as high as you want to really maximise the amount of contrast in your image.
  • Colours – there are some incredible colours in the ocean and in trees. Finding a shop which has incredible array of colours can also improve your nature and landscape geography. These can also be enhanced in post editing software.
  • Symmetry in nature – there is something aesthetically pleasing to using symmetry in nature. If you come across some trees, coastlines, or other symmetrical features you may want to make those objects symmetrical across the frame of the shot as well.

When I have been out in national parks and nature sanctuaries I have been able to capture some of the most stunning shots with my drone. I am always on the lookout for unique perspectives, interesting subjects, and contrast (whether colour or texture).

Travelling to a new place always fills me with excitement and I make sure that my drone battery is charged up for every trip that I do whilst on holiday or travelling around my home country of Australia.

Sports

If you are using your drone to capture sporting events such as motocross, motor sports, or athletic activities you want to get closer to the action than in other types of drone photography.

I recommend that you go no higher than approximately 5 m as this will give you the best opportunity to capture the action close-up and from a unique aerial perspective.

If you want to capture any surfing shots check out my other article – Best drones were surfing [buyers guide, shop list, and tips) – click here to be taken to article.

Drones are fantastic if you are requiring shots out over the ocean or water. Never have we been able to get so close to surfing action with our camera.

If your sport involves something in the air such as jumping, hitting a ball, or throwing something you may be able to position your drone so that the object comes towards the drone and then drops away. Obviously, there is a huge risk that something will hit your drone midflight but could be the shop that you are looking for.

Find the unique angles

Ultimately, all of these awesome shots are by finding unique angles which only a drone can give you. Some of my favourites are:

Straight down

Going up to approximately 50 to 60 m and looking straight down is a fantastic shot. It is a perspective that only birds have and it is where the majority of my favourite shots have come from.

Over water

As I have talked about, above, capturing shots over water is one of my favourite ways to use my drone. If you want to know more about flying your drone safely over water check out my YouTube video, below.

“Peeking” shots

While I am flying my drone I am also on the lookout for shots which include both foreground and  stuff in the distance. Typically, I am able to include a part of a tree to frame the shot which gives me a unique depth to the photograph.

I have also found unable to send the drone behind some geographical features such as a boulder or a pinnacle so that I have a contrast of depths. When you are taking drone shots of landscapes can be hard to find this feature but it adds a new dynamic to the shot completely.

How can I improve my drone shots?

Improving your drone shots is incredibly simple as long as you are able to combine some of the best practices your be sure to always leave from your drone photography mission with a shop you are proud of.

Time of day

The time of day that you take your drone out can dramatically change the sort of shop that you end up with at the end of the day.

Going out in the morning results in a completely different shot than heading out in the afternoon when the sun is above the drone.

But when is the best time of day for drone photography?

Best time of day for drone photography

Arguably, the best time of day for drone photography is 30 minutes after sunrise and before sunset. This gives the light a unique orange glow and highlights your subject from the side which can provide increased contrast in colour and shadows.

Subject in shot

Make sure that your subject is in shot and it is the most obvious thing that your eye gets drawn towards as you are looking at the photo.

You don’t necessarily have to get close to the subject but it does need to stand out in some way and you can make people stand out in natural environments by giving them an unnatural coloured jacket or hat.

Alternatively, you can position them at the apex of the rule of thirds which is somewhere the human eye is naturally drawn towards. However, making the subject of the image obvious will result in a better and more natural feeling shot.

Depth of field

When using drone photography for landscapes it can be easy to lose a sense of perspective. Drones are not typically designed for capturing multiple objects in the same shot that are both close to the camera and far away.

However, finding a way to include some out of focus objects close to the camera or help the photo feel more natural – I have used natural geographic features for this as well as trees and man-made items such as buildings and antenna.

Contrast

Always look for contrast in the image. Contrast can be: texture, shadow, colour, positioning, and much more.

Rule of thirds

The best thing to do when you are starting out is to enable the rule of thirds grid in your shots so that the composition is pleasing to the eye! I think that every drone that has been made for photography has the ability to turn on the rule of thirds grid one the live view.

You should position the subject of your shot -person, landscape feature etc, at the intersect of the grid. It’s a very quick and easy way to ensure that your shot are nearly always perfect!

Use bracketing

Your drone has the ability to take the same shot with 3 to 5 different exposure settings. This means that you will never miss out on a shot because your exposure was set incorrectly.

The great thing about this is that your shots can be combined in a program like photoshop to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image.

No matter what you are using bracketing for whether to blend your exposures or just shooting multiple exposures safety you’ll be guaranteed that every shot is a winner.

Use a bigger screen

We spend so much time looking at our tiny screens when flying a drone.

Best height for drone photography [A complete guide]

When I am flying my drone I use my smart phone which has a relatively small screen. I recommend that you purchase an iPad or tablet to use as your first person view screen as it will enable you to get a much better idea of the composition and quality of the shot before you push the shutter button.

Summary

In this article we have talked about the best heights for drone photography for various use cases.

Ultimately, it comes down to capturing the subject of your shot in the best way. Most of the time we do not need to go anywhere near the maximum height that the drone can fly in order to capture the best image.

A height of between 10 and 100 feet is more than enough to capture a huge variety of situations and subjects in the best possible way.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!