How to control your drone camera [EVERY way]

there are many ways to control your drone camera. Ultimately, you can move the drone camera as much as the gimbal allows. The controllable camera range is often smaller than the total movement range because the drone needs some wiggle room for stabilisation during capture.

Controlling your drone camera is often performed with the remote control. There are flywheels and buttons on the remote control that control your camera, and you can also control some drones by using hand movements to trigger the photograph and video capture.

In this article, we will go through all the different ways you can control your drone camera and use examples of common methods and techniques professionals use to create a smooth and cinematic feel.

Controllable gimbal movement

How far you can move your camera and the directions it allows is dependent on the gimbal that is attached to the camera.

Some drones allow you to control the tilt of the camera. The tilt axis means that you can either look ahead or look down. But you cannot move the camera from side to side. Other drones allow full 360° movement of their cameras.

It all depends on the gimbal’s controllable range.

Here are some examples of drones with various gimbal movements.

DroneControllable range
DJI Mini 3 ProTilt: -90° to 60° Roll: -90° or 0°
DJI Mavic 3Tilt: -90° to 35° Pan: -5° to 5°
DJI Air 2STilt: -90° to 0°(default); -90° to 24° (extended)
DJI PhantomPitch (tilt) : -90° to +30°
DJI Inspire 2Pitch (tilt): -130° to+40° Roll: ±20° Pan: ±320°

You will notice that the DJI air 2S has the lowest amount of movement in the above table. It only allows you to tilt or pitch the camera up and down. With this drone, you will need to move the drone in space to frame your shot.

In other types of drones like the Inspire 2, you have the full pitch, roll, and Pan movements. The level of controllable range means that you can frame your shots much easier, and you will not have to rely on the drone moving to frame your shots.

After the gimbal, the most important part of controlling your drone camera is the remote control.

Common remote options

When you are piloting your drone, you only interact with the drone and its camera via the remote control.

The remote control not only provides you with joysticks to move the drone in 3D space, but it also provides you with buttons and interfaces (such as touchscreen devices) to control the camera.

You can easily access every camera function using all of the remote control buttons.

Here are some common ways that you can control your drone camera.

Scroll Wheels

Many remote controls have a scroll wheel accessible via your index finger to control the camera’s pitch.

Using the scroll wheel, you can move the camera from facing forward to pointing downwards at 90°.

Here is what it looks like on the remote control for the DJI Mavic AirWhile.

Scroll wheel on my drone remote

Programmable buttons

There are also programmable buttons on most consumer level camera drones that you can program to control the camera.

Customisable buttons for camera control on the RC controller.

For example, I have programmed one of my buttons to return the camera to the front facing direction which can easily get me out of any issues if I am worried about where the drone is flying.

I use this after I have been looking directly down with the drone and do not want to wait for the camera to slowly tilt back up. The button snaps the camera to the forward facing direction.

Zoom options

Newer and more expensive drones are starting to provide zoom options for the drone pilots. Digital zoom is a great feature when you cannot get close to the subject of the photo. Zoom function sometimes introduces digital noise into the photo so you have to be very careful with its use.

You can access the zoom feature in a variety of ways and here is how you use the zoom feature on a Mavic Air 2.

There are three ways that you can use the zoom feature on the Mavic Air 2. Firstly, you can press a button on the screen, press and hold the same butter for smooth zoom shots, and you can also hold the function button and use the flywheel on the remote to perform a smooth zoom.

Press the button on the screen

The first way to use the zoom feature on the Mavic Air 2 is to press the on-screen zoom button on the fly app. You should see a 1X button that you can press to change the zoom.

Depending on your filming resolution, you’ll be able to achieve different levels of maximum zoom.

Pressing the button will quickly cut into the new zoom. If you want a smoother zoom, you can press and hold the button.

Press and hold

Pressing and holding the same 1X button will open up a sliding zoom scale for you and provide a way to zoom into your framing smoothly.

The slider provides an intuitive way to control the camera’s zoom, and you can change the speed of the zoom by pushing the slider further.

Getting used to navigating the first-person view of your drone and all of the features you can access using the fly app will allow you to quickly navigate through different functions and features without running down your battery while searching for the best feature.

Hold the function button and use the flywheel

You can also use the zoom feature using the remote control.

By holding the function button and using the flywheel at the rear of the remote control, you’ll be able to change the digital zoom of your shot smoothly.

I prefer using this method to change the zoom of my shots as it is intuitive and allows me finer control with the flywheel than I can get using the on-screen software sliders.

Software for camera options

Many of the camera options, such as white balance, manual controls, photo aspect ratio and other important camera options are all found on the app that interfaces with your drone.

Most drone remotes require a smart device to be attached to the remote control and stream the first person view of the flight.

Using this interface you can control the camera and access all of the important settings.

Framing using the drone movement

Because many of the drones have a limited controllable range of their cameras, many people use the physical positioning and movement of the drone to frame their photos and videos.

You can rotate the drone from side to side whilst utilising the tilt or pitch of the camera to frame almost any subject well.

Because many drones only allow you to tilt or pitch the camera up and down, Yaw is an important part of getting the framing right.

Yaw

Moving the drone relative to your subject is the only way many drones can access side-to-side camera movements.

My first drone, the DJI Mavic air, only had tilt options for the drone camera, and therefore I positioned the drone relative to the subject for framing.

Movement may result in blur

While using your drone as a camera, you must be careful with the drone’s movement during photos and videos. Any quick movement of the drone that is not fully compensated for by the gimbal will result in blurry footage.

One of the great things about your drone is that you can place a camera in the sky with very little skill – however, any wind movements can result in shutter and juddery images.

Using hand movements

The last way you can control your drone camera is by using hand movements.

Some drones come with the capability of flying using hand signals and movements.

For example, my first drone, the DJI Mavic Air, was able to be flown by using Jedi-like hand movements.

Here is an example from the manufacturer flying the drone using hand signals alone.

You notice that you can move the drone relative to the subject (fly further or closer) and initiate photographs and video capture by using hand signals.

This has saved me a few times when the remote control has been lost in my bag or has run out of battery.

I have also used hand gestures if I do not want the hassle of getting my remote control out of my bag and want a quick follow-me shot.

Summary

this article went through all the ways you can control your drone camera.

You can use remote control, smart device software, and hand controls to control the camera. Every part of the camera’s features can be set using the software interface, and you can program some of the most useful features of controlling your drone into the programmable buttons of the remote.

Getting the best shots with your drone means practising regularly and making sure that you know all of the options available to you.

Controlling your drone camera reproducibly and predictably is the trick to creating cinematic and professional-looking footage.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones. His favourite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!