A drone lets you take photos to the next level. There is only one downside to most drones I know of. The camera cannot be tilted for vertical shots. That doesn’t mean you can’t shoot vertical images. The solution is a panorama.
Although not everyone likes drones, these little devices can take you to inaccessible places. Or it can take you high into the sky for a bird’s eye view. But only if you’re licensed to fly, of course. These flying machines are not allowed to be used everywhere. But if you’re in a place where it’s possible to fly a drone, it can take your photography to another level.
Taking pictures with a drone does not require going high in the sky. Even a few meters can provide a completely different view. You can see how a road winds through the landscape, or you can see the flow of a stream or a river.
On top of that, a drone can bring your camera just beyond that bush for a clear view of a landscape. In other words, a drone does not need to reach the maximum allowed altitude to achieve the best result. But I must admit that sometimes it can be quite amazing to see and photograph the world from above.
The reason for a vertically oriented photo
If you take a high vantage point to gaze at the landscape, it will fill much of the frame. Chances are you’ll run out of space at the top or bottom if the photo is taken horizontally. A lower viewpoint removes the landscape in a smaller part of the frame, making it easier to adjust everything between the borders of the image.
You can try this yourself by shooting a road from a very low angle and then from a high angle while holding the camera above your head. In the first photo it is not possible to see where the road leads. The second photo will show it, but it will take up so much space that there won’t be room for much else. See the before-after example below to see the difference. You will have to choose between showing the canopy or showing the path.
Now take the same photo in vertical orientation. You may lose a bit on each side of the frame, but it will allow you to lead the way with the forest canopy. If you’re using a regular camera, it’s easy to do. Just turn the camera. With a drone, it becomes much more difficult.
Vertically oriented photos with a drone
With drone photography, the camera will be even higher, making it even harder to fit everything into the horizontal frame. In this situation, a vertically oriented photo might be the best choice. You’ll have a lot more room to show off that winding road or creek through the landscape. The only problem with many drones is the inability to rotate the camera.
Some modern drones offer the ability to rotate the gimbal to allow for vertically oriented shots. Yet with most drones you are limited to the horizontal orientation. But there is a solution, of course. If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s a vertical panorama.
Although it may seem obvious, not all drone photographers are aware of this possibility. They know about horizontal panoramic photos, but often forget about vertical panoramic photos. If you trust the automated software that controls the drone, you will find a setting for panoramic photography, but only in the horizontal direction. So you have to do it yourself.
How to take images for a vertical panorama with a drone
It is quite easy to make a vertical panorama with a drone. Simply fly to the desired position and keep the drone as stable as possible. If the drone has a tripod mode, activate it, although it is not always necessary if there is not much wind. Adjust position and height until you get the best possible composition. You may have to look up and down several times to know what will be in the frame. Take your time.
Next, rotate the gimbal down, looking down at the ground. Always shoot a little farther than necessary to have the possibility of cropping later. Take the hit. For each successive frame, rotate the gimbal a few degrees up. Try to keep around 30% overlap between frames. This way you can capture anything you want in four or five frames.
You have to stitch the images together in post, obviously. This is possible in specialized panorama software like PTgui, but if you are an Adobe Lightroom Classic or Adobe Photoshop user, this will also do the trick. Just load the images into the stitching part of the software and you’re almost done.
I always do post-processing for each image before stitching it together. I feel like I have a lot more control this way, but I could also try the other way around. Use the method that works best for you.
After assembly, there may be projection errors or a tilted horizon. It is necessary to choose the projection which offers the best possible result. It may depend on how many images you want to stitch together. For me, in Lightroom Classic, the Perspective projection gives the best results in most cases. If it leaves you with a lot of empty space on the sides, try Boundary Wrap.
Wrapping the boundaries can ruin a straight horizon. If so, you can transfer the image to Photoshop and transform the perspective until you are satisfied.
The final result
This all may sound like a lot of work, but it’s not that bad. Most of the time this is fine, unless the drone had trouble hovering in a spot due to high winds or you forgot to activate tripod mode, for example. Let me end this article with a selection of vertical drone photos I’ve taken over the past few years to get an idea of the possibilities.
If you have any add-ons that can help take vertical panoramic drone photos, please share them in the comments below.