photo by borchee via iStock
Using filters for drone photography isn’t all that different from using filters for more traditional photography here on the ground. And because of that, the benefits of filters for drone photography are quite similar.
But, for the sake of being thorough, let’s review how filters can help you improve the results you get when taking photos with your drone.
Polarizing Filters for Drones
photo by Stefan Tomic via iStock
A polarizing filter offers a ton of benefits for your photography, starting with its ability to minimize reflections.
If you’re shooting a landscape and water is involved, the glare of the sun off the surface of the water can be extremely distracting. But with a polarizing filter, that glare is minimized so the viewer gets a better look at the beauty captured in the shot.
photo by Mariusz Switulski via iStock
Likewise, polarizers help increase the contrast in the sky, making the atmosphere a deeper blue and clouds brighter white. It can add a nice degree of pop to a landscape photo.
On top of that, polarizers reduce atmospheric haze. This is important for drone photography because sometimes distant elements in the landscape can look a little hazy. But with a polarizer on your drone’s lens, that haze is all but eliminated, resulting in a cleaner, crisper shot.
The primary difference between a polarizer for a drone and a polarizer for your normal camera is that when you’re using a normal camera, you can easily adjust the polarizer’s strengths. This is obviously not possible when the polarizer is flying around attached to your drone.
Instead, you have to preset the polarizer before you launch the drone and hope that whatever setting you chose on the polarizer works for the shots you want.
Neutral Density Filters for Drones
photo by zsv3207 via iStock
Along with polarizers, neutral density filters are the most commonly used filters for drone photography.
An ND filter’s task is to block light. The amount of light it blocks depends on its strength. For example, an ND4 filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens by two stops. However, an ND16 filter reduces the amount of light by four stops. This means that with an ND4 you can slow the shutter speed from 1/100 seconds to 1/25 seconds, and with an ND16 you can slow the shutter from 1/400 seconds to 1/25 seconds.
But why would you want to do this?
photo by MongkolChuewong via iStock
Extending the shutter speed allows you to create long exposure images in which the movement of things like clouds, water, and cars is blurred. Today’s drones have incredibly sophisticated stabilization systems that make taking long exposures possible.
Likewise, having the ability to extend the shutter speed can help you shoot better video.
Let’s say you’re out filming on a sunny afternoon. If you relied simply on the camera settings, you’d have to use a very fast shutter speed to prevent the video from being overexposed. The problem is that a fast shutter speed gives video a very choppy look. This is where an ND filter comes in.
By blocking some of that sunshine, you can extend the shutter speed and create a video that has smooth action and a much more cinematic look.
ND-Polarizer Filters for Drones
Some companies, like Haida, have developed ND-polarizer hybrids (shown above) that give you the best of both worlds in a single filter.
There are many advantages of using this type of filter, not the least of which is that you don’t have to swap one filter out for another. Instead, you can leave the same filter on the drone’s lens whether you need to extend the shutter speed or you want to minimize glare.
Another benefit is that you don’t have to stack filters.
Rather than overloading the drone’s gimbal with the extra weight of a second filter, these ND-polarizer combo filters enable you to get the effects you need without compromising the performance of the drone’s camera system.
I have this 3-pack ND-polarizer filter kit from Haida for the DJI Mavic Air 2.
These filters have impressed me with the high-grade build quality that includes K9 optic glass for the ultimate in sharpness.
And since the frames of the filters are made with aerospace aluminum, they’re both strong and super lightweight. They’re also waterproof and have 10 layers of coatings to protect against scratches, water and oil, and reflections.
The kit includes a 3-stop, a 4-stop, and a 5-stop ND-polarizer so I have wide latitude for creating the specific looks in my photos and videos that I’m after.
Getting top-quality images and videos with your drone requires a lot more than having filters on the camera’s lens. But as we’ve discussed here, there are plenty of benefits of investing in a good set of drone filters. So far, I’m really impressed with this Haida filter pack - give it a shot and see for yourself!