Process for Planning an Aerial Portrait Shoot

I have been shooting aerial photography for years now, but have never really shared much of my process when it comes to creating images. Here is a quick look at what sometimes goes into a simple photo of mine.

Idea/Inspiration

As the creator, it all starts with a blank canvas. Our ideas come from things we've seen, known, and experienced. Using a camera, we can look at the world from a certain perspective, determine what we want to photograph, and perceive it in our own way. A lot of my inspiration will come from photos I see on Instagram. I have to say that I love this platform most for showcasing some of the best aerial photography, photography, and video work consistently. Being that I am exposed to this type of work again and again, I am always forming my own new ideas and trying to put a twist on things.

This idea came from another photographer, Petra Leary who I look up to for her attention to detail and absolutely mind-blowing compositions. Everything about her work is so clean and I kind of wanted to take that style, but produce a chaotic, yet very simple image of a girl venturing through the grass into the unknown.

Scouting Location

A few days before the shoot, I went to a few grass patches and flew to get an idea of the location I wanted to shoot in. This time, there was no plan B, because I wasn't able to find another spot within a reasonable distance. I had already shot here before and been unhappy with the photo. Going in with a new mindset, I told myself with enough patience, I could create this image.

Depending on what type of shoot it is or how important it is, scouting is a great way to make sure you are able to execute your plans when shoot day turns up. This being a personal shoot for me and a more specific idea I had, I wanted to make sure everything was going to work out according to plan. My biggest worry was that the grass was not going to look the way I wanted it to (too short, too tall, too patchy), and it was hard to find a spot with tall grass online. Knowing some spots in town helped me out big time, but I would have to get everything perfect to get this photo to look right.

Shooting

The first step for me was to find a woman willing to help me out with the photo. I knew that the grass was green or yellowish in certain areas, so I wanted to select tones for the clothes that would contrast the environment. After talking over outfits, I decided to pick out a dark blue hat and romper for the model to wear. All that said and done, I had her get there a few hours before sunset to be ready a bit early.

This location doesn't seem like much, and honestly, it really wasn't anything special. I only picked this spot because I knew it had tall grass that was easy to access, and I'd be able to fly without any trouble. After analyzing the grass and patches I could use in this location, I knew it might be hard to accomplish the shot, but I knew it would be possible as long as I could get the right lighting. For me, I typically prefer a partly cloudy day where the sun is in and out or an overcast day where the lighting is just balanced overall. On this specific day, it was sunny but then, the clouds came in to assist.

I made sure to take a variety of photos, try different patches, and even photograph the hat separately so I could Photoshop it in, because it got bent by some luggage in my car. I think this is a crucial step, because you never want to go home unhappy. I always check my images on location and make sure to show the model as well. It's always nice to throw out some encouraging words even if the photo isn't looking quite how you want it. It could help the model feel a little better about helping you out.

Things to Do Differently

As awesome and quick of a shoot as this was, I will note a few areas on my end for improvement. Carry bug spray on portrait shoots, because nobody likes to get attacked by bugs. Bring pants when walking in tall grass like that; you never know if there will be ticks or anything. I do not like to put my models at risk, so I always make sure they are comfortable with the doing the photo I have in mind beforehand. In this case, I asked her to bring boots in case the ground was dirty or wet and a few extra outfits just in case the colors I selected happened to not work out. Luckily, she had picked that nail color.

Editing

Because I see the edited version in my head before it's shot, this to me is a huge part of completing the shoot. I do everything I can to get the photo to look how I want in camera, but when it comes time to edit colors and adjust specific things, I make sure I spend the time needed. For this photo, I have included a time-lapse showing the edit. I did a lot of color-tuning in Lightroom, but then added a less bent hat in Photoshop and did a few more very minor adjustments.

After about an hour editing and final tuning, the eyes can get tired but I was feeling good with the colors, look and vibe I achieved. Taking photos like this take time and practice and since I only had this one shot planned, I set a lot of my focus on making sure I could really achieve it and make an edit that I was proud of. Above you can find the original on the left and the final version on the right.

Sharing

This is really the last step for a photo. We can share our images digitally or we can even print them. For me, a majority of my work can be found online. I set aside time every week to upload my photos to a few different places, including Skypixel, Instagram, Fstoppers and my website. I will also take time to check in on all the places I am posting to answer any comments throughout the week. I find that sharing work provides a feeling of giving. It is nice to work hard on a vision you have to see other people appreciate it. 

If you are not getting good feedback, analyze it in a way that you can learn and grow versus considering your work as bad or as a failure. It takes time to create work you are passionate about, and it can pay off greatly to share that work with the world. Comment and share some creative work you have done recently, and be sure to link any videos of edits you may have! More people need to appreciate what goes into a photo.

All photos shot on DJI Mavic 2 Pro, DJI Smart Controller and Polar Pro ND Filters.

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