There’s something so breathtaking about seeing our planet from a bird’s eye view. And no one gives us a better glimpse of that brilliant view than California-based aerial and landscape photographer Ryan Longnecker. We were lucky enough to chat with the man behind the magic.

Can you tell us about how you got started with drone photography? I got my first drone at the beginning of 2016. I remember seeing people’s aerial images and the ways they were uniquely able to showcase landscapes, colors, and compositions, so acquiring a drone to be able to do that was an easy decision.

Was it difficult at first or did you immediately fall in love with it? It’s actually not that complicated to learn, but the editing took me a bit of time. I loved it right away, because it reminded me of when I first fell in love with photography. It was more of a toy to learn and play with than a strictly business tool.

Everything you need to know about drone photography

Your compositions are stunning. Do you have your shots planned before you begin shooting? Really the only time I have compositions planned ahead of time is when I’m shooting in places I’m at all familiar with. I can sort of guess what it might look like, but I’m almost always surprised. If it’s a new place, I go up in the air to see what’s there. I tend to compose with more of an abstract painter’s canvas in mind than traditional landscape compositions.

The colors you capture are breathtaking. How do you find such striking hues? Color theory is such a big deal. It’s subconscious, but it exists in all good branding, marketing, and visual mediums. Look at how colors complement each other, and absorb yourself in contemporary combinations. And soak yourself in classical paintings, film, and cinema.

Do you have any drone shooting tips, tools, or best practices that you would recommend? I think where and when to shoot is all dependent on what kind of frame you’re looking to create. My timing preferences are the beginning or end of the day just for good sunlight options, but I love shooting in snow and fog, too.

If you’re shooting video, you’ll need to get neutral density filters to allow your drone’s frame rate to stay where it needs to be to maintain the video quality. I use all DJI drones and all PolarPro accessories. I’ve been with both of them so long that I honestly don’t even know or need to know what else is out there.

For best practices, be sure to always check for firmware updates before you go out so you are not out there stranded doing an update when you could be getting shots. I’d also recommend to get extra batteries so you can stay out for more than half an hour, and look at every angle to see what inspires you.

In post, look at the camera calibration panel at the bottom of Adobe Lightroom because a lot of really cool color edits happen in this panel alone.

Ryan’s top 5 tips for aerial photography

1. Find unique ways to set your shots apart by getting creative with subject matter and composition.

2. Take photos at lower angles and try long exposures.

3. Aim for uncommon shots.

4. Really nail your edits. Play and try new things in post.

5. Take risks but don’t be too risky. I nearly crashed $10,000-worth of loaner equipment into the ocean (the closest call I’ve ever had), but hey, I got the shots I wanted. (In any case, it’s a good idea to have equipment and liability insurance.)

Everything you need to know about drone photography

Do you have any favorite drone photos? I remember seeing beach shots taken with drones and I knew I wanted to try it myself. One of the first shots I took at Seal Beach in California (below) holds a special significance for me. That shot garnered some attention from Adobe, and ultimately turned into an ambassadorship and spot on Adobe’s Premium stock content tier. I’ve also had some great experiences shooting in Laguna Beach, California, and Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe, where the clarity of the water gives off unique blue tones and hues that I really love. My favorites are usually tied to the experience of being there.

4 Tips for getting started with drone photography

1. Shoot with a buddy or someone who’s also into drone imaging. It’s fun to bounce ideas off someone else.

2. Become knowledgeable about local and federal drone laws so people can’t intimidate you into stopping and to avoid putting yourself at risk of legal problems.

3. If you plan on doing this for business, get your drone pilot’s license.

4. Absorb good drone imagery often, and don’t shy away from wanting to create a shot you’ve seen someone else do. It’s good practice.

Ryan’s Tools

DJI Mavic 2
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
PolarPro Vivid Collection Filter Pack

Everything you need to know about drone photography

Learn drone photography in person!

Learn more from Ryan Longnecker at Click Away! He will be teaching Drone Photography for Anyone and From Inspiration to Execution: Vision, Style and Storytelling.

Photos by Ryan Longnecker

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Click Magazine. Subscribe now for more great stories!