“Cheap” Aerial Photography with the DJI Phantom

In Landscape/Nature by Jim Harmer31 Comments

DJI Phantom quadrocopter with GoPro Hero 3 mounted underneath.

DJI Phantom quadrocopter with GoPro Hero 3 mounted underneath.

Tomorrow, Improve Photography is going to take delivery of a DJI Phantom.  It's a $700 remote controlled helicopter that is capable of lifting a small camera in the air to take aerial photos and video.  Needless to say, I'm not going to be sleeping much tonight, knowing that a new gadget is in a box waiting for me somewhere.

Often, when I'm shooting landscape photography, I see patterns or areas on the ground that I think would make for an amazing aerial photo.  Aerial photography has always intrigued me, but it's not exactly practical to rent a helicopter for my photo shoots 🙂

In the last few years as technology has advanced, more and more RC enthusiasts are finding that some remote controlled helicopters are now capable of lifting cameras.  As soon as I saw this possibility, I went out and bought an RC helicopter to begin learning how to fly.  I started with small Walmart helicopters, which I crashed into oblivion, and eventually stepped up to much more feature-packed helicopters, such as the Blade 120sr.

Now, I'm taking my aerial photography to the next level by moving up to a DJI Phantom.

Why Should Photographers Care About the DJI Phantom?

Most RC helicopters have only one rotor.  While single-rotor helicopters can be very fast and lift a heavy camera, the vibrations caused by the one rotor destroy the sharpness of the photos or steadiness of the video.  The DJI Phantom, however, is a quadrocopter, meaning it has 4 rotors.  Having 4 rotors makes for a MUCH more stable flying experience.

There are certainly other quadrocopters available on the market, but the DJI Phantom is powerful enough to lift a GoPro Hero 3 camera.  The new GoPro camera, which I bought a few months ago, is significantly sharper and does better video than previous versions.  In fact, it's good enough that the footage or photos from a DJI Phantom are actually quite good.

In fact, this is the first RC helicopter that is practical for photographers to use for aerial photos and videos.

Why Choose the DJI Phantom Over Other Quadrocopters?

The Phantom includes many features that make it practical for newer RC helicopter pilots.  For example, it comes with GPS built in.  In fact, you can even fly the Phantom so high that it's just a tiny speck in the sky and then simply turn off your remote control.  When the copter loses connection with the remote, it automatically flies itself back to where it took off and lands itself.

Also, the Phantom is reasonably steady in the air.  While some quadrocopters couldn't dream of lifting the weight of a camera and flying steadily, the Phantom is made for use with the GoPro camera.  It does take some tweaking to get rid of the jello effect in the video, but with some minor tweaks, the Phantom can produce jello-free video and sharp stills.

One of the main draws to the Phantom is that it uses many standardized RC parts, which means you can add on and tweak the Phantom as much as you like.

Here goes nothing….

I'm anxious to try out the DJI Phantom for aerial photography.  I really think this will open up a new set of possibilities for my landscapes and provide me with a fresh way to see the world around me.  As I test out this new technology, I'll periodically update the site with the photos I get and my results.

If you're interested in the DJI Phantom, Amazon is currently selling it for $680.

Have any of you tried aerial photography?  Interested in the DJI Phantom?  Leave a comment below and let me know about it.

About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.


  1. i think i’ll wait till the chinese copy this fine product and flood the market at199. and hey order now and they’ll double the offer . just pay additional shipping and handling

  2. A lot photographers using these for commercial purposes aren’t selling the photos.. they’re just selling their time, or a consultation, and the photos are free.. It’s a loophole, and a gray one at that.. but that’s what’s going on with a lot of them.

  3. I’m about to but one for areal photography use, but I’ve heard of problems where they just “fly away” and the auto-return function never kicks in. Have you had any problems like that?

    1. The newer 2015 phantom.3 model flys great
      Just follow instructions to calabrate the quad and you will have no problems with flyaway

  4. I just bought a Phantom and I am in the process of doing test runs. I make surfing and wakeboarding videos and still shots. Will the GoPro Hero 3+ Black’s remote effect the Phantom’s flying? Will I be able to switch from video to photo while its flying and click to take a picture or will it cause the Phantom to go crazy and crash?

  5. The gopro hero 3 black won’t effect the Phantom. I have a 3 silver and it works great. You can set the gopro to take video and stills at the same time with out switching back on forth. You set the camera to shoot every 5 sec 10 sec or more. You can also download the Gopro app to a Iphone and control it from there. Hope this helps

  6. Hey interested in getting a phantom.
    Just wondering, can you take photos, directly downward?
    And can it stream live footage to a tablet or other device and is it interchangeable to a first person mount to a direct downward mount? thanks

  7. I just purchased a DJI vision 2.
    I love to fly and I love to take pics/video.
    i am older, retired and love to learn new things.
    I have to say for far I love the Vision 2.

    Hope to hear from others that like to share.


    1. The newer 2015 phantom.3 model flys great
      Just follow instructions to calabrate the quad and you will have no problems with flyaway

  8. they say dont take off from concret or blacktop and away from towers and high voltage items and always calibrate it after every 5 to 6 flights and make sure you have good gps singles and know what the phantoms led lights are telling you hope that helps… fly high be safe/

  9. Amazing article Jim! This is really helpful in clarifying things about drones, one of its features to offer is about aerial photography and aerial mapping as well, although both can contribute a lot of help to people, it also attain a lot of restrictions and rules to follow. Besides, this can make a work a lot easier! Great work!

  10. I have seen something like this flying around before, I never knew what it was. I love that you can take pictures from so high, it would be great for a wedding.

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