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Ever look at some of the amazing drone photography out there and wonder: Why don’t my aerial photos look like that?

You’re not alone. Many of us who love taking pix from the sky feel a bit grounded when we look at the final product. Yes, the pictures are good. But they’re not always great.

You know what? They can be. Like everything else, good photography is a skill that can be both taught and learned.

Yes, some people have a special X Factor that takes them above and beyond the masses. But most people have the ability to take really excellent aerial images, providing they learn the right skills. The good news is that a DJI-sanctioned event is making its way across the US, with in-depth seminars taking place in multiple cities between mid-July and the end of September.

An amazing 360 aerial image - one of the winners in the SkyPixel contest.
An amazing 360 aerial image – one of the winners in the SkyPixel contest.

They’re run by Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington – both of whom are well-known photographers and who were previously in charge of the still photography development team at DJI. In fact, Stacy has quite a story about how she became involved in the drone photography world.

Basically, she followed her dream. You can see how well that unfolded in this TEDxYouth@Austin event:

So Stacy is one half of the equation. And Randy Jay Braun, whom some of you may already know from his prominent Facebook presence and work with DJI, is the other half.

Randy was one of DJI’s very public personas for several years, often making presentations about techniques for capturing from the air and helping DJI get the word (and techniques) out to new drone fliers.

Now, Randy and Stacy have teamed up again for the DJI Aerial Photo Academy Tour. At the moment, 10 dates are scheduled from mid-July through the end of September. Cities on tap include: Madison (WI), Minneapolis (MN), Des Moines (IA), Columbus (OH), Indianapolis (IN), St. Louis (MO), Chicago (IL), Baltimore (MD), Philadelphia (PA), and Rockville (MD).

DJI Photo Academy: Stacy Garlington and Randy Jay Braun
DJI Photo Academy: Stacy Garlington and Randy Jay Braun

Randy Jay Braun says these workshops offer something for two very different groups of people:

“One would be still photographers who need to work their way into drones and add a drone to their toolkit,” he tells TDC. “And the second group would be the maybe quarter-million people out there who own drones who want to make better photographs. And they don’t know how because they have no photography skills.”

For starters, many people (from both camps) mistakenly think that the point of drone photography is to get up really high and capture a wide swath. Well, that may be the case sometimes, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. It’s far better, says Braun, to capture something specific and truly of interest.

“A lot of photographers think they have to go high and far once they get a drone,” he says. “And most of the best drone shots are actually low and close. So shooting things from 30 or 50 feet off the ground – that’s a very important thing that lots of people overlook.”

The 2016 SkyPixel aerial photo of the year for 2016. Copyright Ge Zheng.
The 2016 SkyPixel aerial photo of the year for 2016. Copyright Ge Zheng.

For those of you who can’t make it to one of the workshops, we asked Braun to provide a few of the many tips that will be on offer. Commit these to memory:

  • Fly lower and closer to your subject
  • Identify your subject: What is it you really want to shoot?
  • Control the viewer’s eye and keep them in the photograph using post-processing techniques like Adobe Lightroom or other tools

That latter point is a significant part of the one-day workshops: How to really elevate your photo with the right processing. For some, the idea of getting in and adjusting settings and using different filters can be intimidating, but Adobe Lightroom is an easy and powerful tool to learn, with a learning curve less steep than that of Photoshop.

“So there are shooting skills, and then there are processing skills – mostly Adobe Lightroom,” he says. “(Skills) that apply to aerials specifically, such as correcting distortion, getting rid of hazy skies, or de-cluttering a scene. You see a lot of clutter when you’re in the sky.”

Finally, Randy Jay Braun points out that many people who attend these seminars hope to earn a little money with their drones, sometimes to help support what he knowingly refers to as a drone “addiction.” And so part of the seminars focuses on basic business skills, and offers some key tips on running a small aerial photography business.

The seminar cost is $249. But if you sign up well in advance there’s a considerable early-bird reduction and you’ll pay $179. You can find the planned city schedule on this Facebook page, then drill down to the specific city you’re after. Ticket sales are through Evenbrite.

Oh – if you haven’t seen it – check out our story on some the best Skypixel aerial photographs around. And, if you haven’t joined yet, consider a membership on www.skypixel.com. There’s an entire community just waiting to share photos, tips and support.


Want to buy Adobe Lightroom Photoshop 6? It’s an amazing tool that we use here at TDC. You can buy it now in one-shot for $142.99 via B&H Photo Video.

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