Being a great wedding photographer isn’t just about getting the best shot—it’s also about dealing with people.
This is why knowing when to use a drone at a wedding is just as important as knowing the best drone wedding shots you can get.
Knowing When to Get Out Your Drone—And When Not To
Drones are noisy and distracting.
When a drone is in the air, it can become the thing everyone is paying attention to instead of the bride and groom.
While taking a drone photo during the actual wedding ceremony might sound like a good idea—and yes, it will be an incredible shot—it’s almost always a terrible idea (unless you own a drone with a zoom lens like the DJI Mavic 3 Pro).
The pro tip here is to be very careful about timing. When you use a drone as a wedding photographer, make sure you’re not going to steal anyone’s thunder, and that it’s not a quiet or somber moment. (No drone shots during speeches!)
One key consideration on when to use a drone at a wedding is that when you’re flying, you can’t be shooting on the ground (unless you have a second photographer or devoted drone pilot). So make sure you’ve gotten all the coverage you need on the ground, then put the drone in the air.
Now that we’ve covered these issues, let’s look at the key drone shots to get at a wedding.
1. The Venue
Wedding photos are all about memories.
That’s why the venue itself is an important part of a wedding, since it’s the place where the big event takes place.
The great thing about getting drone shots of the venue is that you have both time and a willing subject. No need to pose anyone—you can just put your drone in the air and find the best shots to showcase the special qualities of the location.
In my experience, drone shots of the venue can sometimes be more impactful than ground shots, because the aerial perspective allows you to capture a sweeping view, showcasing the context of the surrounding landscape and locale.
Pro tip: Arrive 15-30 minutes early on the wedding day and use that time to get drone shots of the venue. Since you’re early, you won’t be wasting time that should be used capturing important photos with your regular camera on the ground.
Sometimes I’ll even fly from the ceremony venue to the reception venue during this early period (you’ll need to check your drone’s flight time and range against the distance between the two locations to be sure this is possible).
2. The Landscape (or Cityscape)
The area around the venue is often just as beautiful or visually interesting as the venue itself.
For beach weddings, drone shots can bring out the expansive beauty of the ocean and the serene coastline. And if the venue is in a city, aerial shots can highlight the cityscape, adding a unique dimension to your wedding photos.
In Antigua, Guatemala, where I do most of my wedding photography, I always take pictures of the streets and buildings as part of my work. It’s an old colonial city, full of ruins and history—and memorable wedding images.
I also take a lot of landscape photos when I shoot weddings on Lake Atitlán, a popular wedding destination not too far from Antigua. The photo shot below was taken at La Fortuna Atitlán, one of my favorite hotels on the entire lake.
3. The Couple
Pull the couple aside and grab some couples shots with your drone, either on the wedding day or on a day leading up to the ceremony.
Remember to think ahead about aerial composition. Do you want them laying down, looking up at the drone? Do you want to shoot them standing from above? What will be at their feet?
If you decide to get drone shots of the couple on the day of the ceremony, keep these two things in mind:
- Communicate your plans. In many cases, you will want your couple to lie down so that you see their full bodies embracing, hold hands, kissing, etc. so you’ll want to ask them about this ahead of time, on a call or even on their wedding day. Give them a way to opt out—I like to say, “I have an idea, but please feel free to say no if you think it’s too crazy or you don’t feel like it.”
- Move fast. It’s their wedding day! They don’t want to sit around. Have your drone in the air quickly and ready to take the photo you envision so the couple doesn’t have to wait.
Pro tip: Scout the location beforehand and communicate your plans with the couple to ensure smooth execution. While you can show up and get a decent aerial shot, scouting is one of those things that can push you from being a good wedding photographer to being one that makes six figures in a year.
We know, we know. We just warned you about not doing this and now we’re saying to do it.
And it’s true—using a drone during the ceremony is something you should do only with extreme caution (it’s another six-figure wedding photographer benchmark).
But if you do it thoughtfully, you can absolutely use a drone to shoot the ceremony.
The truth is, I rarely fly my drone during ceremonies, since I want to make sure I am capturing all the important moments from the ground—and I don’t want to be loud or distracting.
But sometimes it’s just the right moment to use one. And when it’s right, the shots you get are incredible.
Here’s some tips for shooting the ceremony by drone:
- Use a dedicated drone pilot or a second photographer so the primary photographer can be capturing shots of the ceremony from the ground.
- Use a drone with a zoom lens.
- Start your shot from further away then fly in quickly (for drone videography), then lift your drone again so the noise is only heard for a moment.
5. Cocktail Hour
The cocktail hour is when I fly my drone the most.
First, I make sure to get enough coverage on the ground, working with my second photographer to capture everything we want with our regular cameras.
Then I put the drone in the air to capture the venue with people in it and the general ambience of the moment.
6. Group Photos
Everyone loves a good group photo at a wedding.
And a drone is a great way to get a group shot, since it lets you get everyone in there without any creative shuffling around. They’re all looking up, after all.
A good thing about group photos is that both the couples and the guests usually enjoy taking it, adding one more point to your performance on the important day.
Pro tip: Cocktail hours usually happen before the reception. Work with the wedding planner to plan a group photo by drone toward the end of the cocktail hour to break up the socializing and provide a segway to move everyone to the reception. Doing this also helps you get to know the planner better, and planners can be key contacts for getting more work—and raising your prices over time.
7. First Dance
An aerial view of the couple’s first dance, especially at open-air venues, can add a cinematic touch to the collection.
From the air, you can see everyone surrounding the couple as they twirl on the dance floor, capturing the unique moment and the beautiful surroundings.
Pro tip: On certain occasions I fly my drone and set up the frame ahead of time to capture the first dance. This way I can just hit the photo button on my remote while I also take regular photos with my camera. This takes some practice to master, but it’s definitely worth doing.
8. Outdoor Reception
Before the night is over and everyone goes home, capture the romantic mood and lighting of the reception (assuming it’s outdoors).
Although drones might not handle low light as well as regular cameras, they can still capture the unique aura of the venue post-sunset, and their ISO capabilities are getting better all the time!
This nighttime image of the venue will tie together the visual narrative of the wedding day, taking the couple from the start—the venue during the day, with no one there—through to the end of the day. And that’s the kind of magic that helps you level up your wedding photography and move into a higher tier.