Filters are common in landscape photography. They help photographers craft images that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. For example, filters can cut reflections that are impossible to remove, permit longer exposures or wider apertures, and even provide a boost to the contrast of an image. Aerial photographers using drones should understand what filters are available and which they can use to get the best possible photos and video.
Drone Filters Are Specialized Tools
Drones are loaded with tech. They fly, they have super-stabilized camera systems, and lots of wireless communication devices to ensure smooth operation and the ability to run advanced functions. Concerning the cameras and gimbals, you will see there isn’t much room or way to mount additional items, such as filters. This is why many companies have to produce options specific to your particular drone model, such as the DJI Mavic 3 Pro, which we’ve gone over in detail in the past. You can try to tape or fashion your own filtration, but without the precision of a dedicated tool, you risk unstable footage or damaged equipment. Therefore, we recommend picking up some bespoke filter sets instead of going the DIY route.
What types of filters are available, you may ask?
UV and Haze Reduction Filters
If there were a “standard” filter, it would be the UV filter. Designed to block ultraviolet light, these filters have fallen out of favor since digital photography became the norm. Aerial photography can, however, still enjoy the benefits of protection from the elements and the increase in UV light as you reach higher altitudes where a thinner atmosphere doesn’t block as much UV. Some manufacturers even include these as standard and are a great everyday pick for your aerial shots.
Neutral Density (ND) Filters
Now we are getting serious. Neutral density, or ND, filters have one job: to block light. Counterintuitive to photography, where you are looking to capture light, ND filters can help create long-exposure shots by decreasing the amount of light entering the lens and permitting longer shutter speeds. Contemporary drones have impressive stabilization systems and cameras that are now capable of capturing light trails or smooth water flow with a second-long exposure.
Aerial stills photography may not be super enamored with ND filters and their unique applications, but NDs are a godsend for video production. When working in bright sunlight, you are generally working with shorter and shorter shutter speeds. This results in choppy motion that isn’t quite a cinematic look, assuming you want to follow the 180-degree shutter rule. To get the shutter speed where you need for natural-looking motion, you will need to cut light with an ND filter. Also, electronic shutters are not ideal at extremely high shutter speeds and can result in artifacts that will make your footage unusable.
Various densities of filters are available to make it work for your scene. The darker the filter, the less light it allows, so either save those for brighter days or when you want to drag the shutter for a long exposure. If you only fly during the day and want something to cut light in general for video, then you may want a less dense filter to leave on your camera. Your own shooting needs will dictate the exact density you need, but the filters generally come in kits, so you will be prepared for anything.
Polarizers, specifically circular polarizers for digital imaging, help minimize reflections and can help boost contrast and saturation in your image. An example is making the sky a deep, dark blue. This filter is arguably the most difficult to use in the air. On land, photographers can make adjustments to the polarizer’s position to match the shot; with a drone you are going to have to preset it before takeoff and then hope that the setting works for all the shots you have to capture.
This filter is very useful because it can achieve a look that can’t be reproduced in post. By cutting reflections, you can more clearly see in water or through glass and get a lot more detail in your image. It also eliminates some types of haze, resulting in better contrast for your landscapes, so is well worth the hassle. Here are some tips on how to use a polarizer if you want some extra guidance. Some filter makers even combine the polarizer with an ND so you can get the best of both worlds without overloading the gimbal through stacking.
I’m sure drone manufacturers will continue to innovate and have very unique offerings for drones, like Moment’s anamorphic lens for Mavic 2 Pro, based on its smartphone-compatible anamorphic lens. So keep an eye out if there is a particular effect you want because it may be on its way soon.
If you have any of your own questions or suggestions please make sure to share them in the Comments section, below!