Peter Orsel

My Drone Photography Explained

Sometimes people ask me: how did you take this shot? What were your settings? What did the original file look like? It’s needless to say that Drone Photography gained loads of interest over the last years. In my previous post you can read all about my tips for shooting drone photos, but in this post I want to take you with me to Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. And to let you know: this shot was taken on a DJI Mini 2. It’s not always about the quality of the machine, but the quality of the brain behind it.In this blog I’ll tell you how I shot it, how I prepared it and how I edited it.

ISO 100 - F/2.8 - 1/500s - 10:41am - Height 438,7m

In This Post


It’s always great to shoot a lucky shot by flying at a certain destination at a certain time with certain circumstances you couldn’t have predicted, but you can’t count on them. This shot asked for some proper preparation. First of all: you can’t stay on the Koh Phi Phi Leh, so you have to plan a boat trip to this spot. When you stay at Phi Phi Don, there will be countless boat guys offering you a trip to the islands and you can perfectly negotiate the stops, the duration and the price. If you plan on going, keep in mind that you mention that you plan to fly a drone. Some guys don’t want people to fly drones from their boat, but they also want to earn money, so make sure to negotiate it before you embark. It also totally makes sense to book a private trip. On a boat full of tourists, you won’t be able to fly your drone at peace and you can’t negotiate to go to a certain place as there are more people to be pleased.

This certain morning, we left around 8.30am and paid for the two of us around 2.200 Thai Baht (60 euro/dollar) for a half day boat tour, excluding the fees to enter Maya Beach (400 Thai Baht). This might look expensive, but even for a group tour you would pay around 700 Baht, so the difference isn’t that big.

The Flight

Flying in open water requires courage and this was actually the first time I tried to fly my drone from a boat. Once flying high, I noticed that I needed to be at least 400m high. This is a grey area for drone flyers, as at many places it’s only allowed to fly 120m high, but pretty much everyone is flying higher. I don’t want to pretend that I’m the decent guy never ignoring the rules. For this place I simply knew I had to fly higher and I did. The Mini 2 is a lightweight drone and after 400m it can give some wind warnings.

At the time of this shot, I didn’t think about shooting it as a vertical panorama. I’m used to shooting vertical panoramas and stitch them together in post production, but somehow I didn’t think about it here.

Landing the drone was hard, as the waves were quite big and I was a bit nervous to catch it. Don’t underestimate it, I know stories of people losing their finger tips because of the propellors. I caught it, hoped on some good results and you can find the RAW file that made it to the final edit below with us in the boat most left bottom.

The RAW file


As I wrote above, I didn’t take multiple shots to stitch a vertical panorama and as you probably know, Instagram simply gives vertical shots more space on a feed. I had to find a way to edit it in a way that it would fit an Instagram feed, that it would be close to the reality and eye-catching in the edit as well.

As this photo was taken in bright daylight, I knew I had to change a lot in the colours to give it that look and feel I was going for. I took one of the colour presets I frequently use and edited it until I was happy about it. I also applied some masks to brighten the sky and focus the attention on the limestone cliffs themselves. All these edits were made in Adobe Lightroom.

After I finished the edit, it was time to take it to Photoshop to make sure it would fit my 4×5 ratio. I duplicated the mask (!) and went to Edit > Transform > Distort. In this final process I narrowed the photo down with about 25%, giving me that final look I was going for. This way the island looks narrower than it originally is, but I’m still very happy with the result. One mayor change you probably see as well, is the amount of boats. The two boats on the bottom left and the boats to the little harbour were distracting me. I liked the others, but the left one needed to be bended a little bit to make it to the 4×5 frame.

The photo without distortion

And that’s it! I’m curious what you think about this process, please let me know below and if you have questions, let me know!

4 Responses

  1. Hey there!
    Did you fly your DJI with permission?
    I’ll be there 2 weeks and it’s not enought to get any one.Thanks

    1. Unfortunately I only see this now! It’s hard to get the permit in Thailand, I flew without one and most of the locals are fine with it. Don’t take it as advice, it’s just how I did it!

    1. Hi Christophe, I don’t think they allow it. There are many guards on the beach to prevent people from swimming, and I’m sure flying a drone is a big no too. All people that I know and flew a drone there, did it from the boat!

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