Drone Photography

mack

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Low light photography is my favorite style and the fact that I obviously cannot use a tripod and the smaller sensor makes it a struggle

If you're not trying to stay under 250g (which in the US is relatively meaningless other than a $5 registration), you can try adding a bit more weight to make it stable. I've found I can reliably get half second exposures in all but the windiest conditions on the Mini 3. My older Mavic Air which was twice the weight could go a bit longer, but of course the sensor wasn't nearly as good so the photos weren't any better in low light.

The other thing you can do is stack exposures. Unfortunately in low light the drone isn't very good at keeping pointed in the same place over time (since it generally uses the camera for that during the day), but you can probably at least get 10-30 seconds worth of half second exposures to align and average. That's definitely on my list to push the limits of, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.
 

mack

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Here's my first attempt at trying to get an astro shot with the drone:

Screenshot 2022-10-30 at 9.45.53 PM.png



Far from perfect, especially since the moon was out, but not terrible! I'll have to try again on a night without the moon. I was hoping having the moon in the shot would help the drone stay aligned, but it didn't. My process for this was:

  • Set the drone to "Timed Photo" to take a shot every 2 seconds (that's the fastest it would go, or you can do a "Burst" of up to 7 images. Would be great if there were a way to do a burst of 10+ images!)
  • Took 15 photos of 1" exposure (with the Timelapse mode that unfortunately means they were spaced out by 45 seconds)
  • Imported into Lightroom, set them all to +1 EV
  • Opened as layers in Photoshop
  • Ran auto-align
  • Exported layers as TIFF
  • Opened in StarryLandscapeStacker because 45 seconds is enough you can't just blend them in Photoshop
  • Back to Lightroom for some final edits
A lot of work! But despite the light pollution and the moon you can still faintly make out the Milky Way. Far better than my eyes could see at least! I'll have to try this again on a darker night to see if I have better results. I don't think even a full frame sensor could have made much more out of the Milky Way with the moon right there.
 

Eric

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Here's my first attempt at trying to get an astro shot with the drone:

View attachment 18766


Far from perfect, especially since the moon was out, but not terrible! I'll have to try again on a night without the moon. I was hoping having the moon in the shot would help the drone stay aligned, but it didn't. My process for this was:

  • Set the drone to "Timed Photo" to take a shot every 2 seconds (that's the fastest it would go, or you can do a "Burst" of up to 7 images. Would be great if there were a way to do a burst of 10+ images!)
  • Took 15 photos of 1" exposure (with the Timelapse mode that unfortunately means they were spaced out by 45 seconds)
  • Imported into Lightroom, set them all to +1 EV
  • Opened as layers in Photoshop
  • Ran auto-align
  • Exported layers as TIFF
  • Opened in StarryLandscapeStacker because 45 seconds is enough you can't just blend them in Photoshop
  • Back to Lightroom for some final edits
A lot of work! But despite the light pollution and the moon you can still faintly make out the Milky Way. Far better than my eyes could see at least! I'll have to try this again on a darker night to see if I have better results. I don't think even a full frame sensor could have made much more out of the Milky Way with the moon right there.
Wow, very clean for what it is and this is a technique I've never heard of, really good to know.

Can I ask what make/model of drone you are using? I was actually testing out 8 second exposures on a night with little wind and had far better success than I thought I would, all manual with low ISO settings and no ND filters. Have to wonder how well those would stack up using this method.
 

mack

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Wow, very clean for what it is and this is a technique I've never heard of, really good to know.

Can I ask what make/model of drone you are using? I was actually testing out 8 second exposures on a night with little wind and had far better success than I thought I would, all manual with low ISO settings and no ND filters. Have to wonder how well those would stack up using this method.

I've got a Mini 3 Pro (though with the Plus battery which makes it slightly heavier), so it's both a small sensor and not nearly as stable in wind. I think if you tried the same thing with a Mavic 3 you'd be able to get way better results!

The astro stacking technique is also how modern smartphones do night photographs (except they tend to use a lot of very short exposures). You can easily use the same technique to get good handheld night shots with any camera if you're willing to put in the work to do the processing manually! I don't think it would be too hard to make a Photoshop action for it either to simplify things.
 

Eric

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I managed to wreck it pretty good last night when coming in for a landing, it still flies but one of the arms lost its foot and it's pretty banged up. Fortunately, I got their DJI Care Refresh (like Apple Care) so I'll be able to get it replaced, I'll have to be more careful going forward.
 

mollyc

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oh yikes! it's a good thing i live in a no fly zone, because i know i'd wreck one.
 

Eric

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oh yikes! it's a good thing i live in a no fly zone, because i know i'd wreck one.
Is that for your entire area? I always stick to the rules when it comes to that, using the B4UFLY and DJI apps to confirm it's all legal and good. Sometimes it's just a matter of less than a quarter mile to be in the proper zones.
 

mollyc

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Is that for your entire area? I always stick to the rules when it comes to that, using the B4UFLY and DJI apps to confirm it's all legal and good. Sometimes it's just a matter of less than a quarter mile to be in the proper zones.
I live in northern Virginia, so we have more restrictions than most. I'm only about 15 miles from the White House.
 

mack

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I managed to wreck it pretty good last night when coming in for a landing, it still flies but one of the arms lost its foot and it's pretty banged up. Fortunately, I got their DJI Care Refresh (like Apple Care) so I'll be able to get it replaced, I'll have to be more careful going forward.

That sucks! The only damage I've managed to do over the years is destroy a propeller (which is cheap and super easy to replace). Did you manage to hit something coming in for landing, or did it just screw up and hit a propeller on the ground? I've definitely landed places where I wasn't sure it would be able to fit very well, but so far have been lucky!
 

Eric

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That sucks! The only damage I've managed to do over the years is destroy a propeller (which is cheap and super easy to replace). Did you manage to hit something coming in for landing, or did it just screw up and hit a propeller on the ground? I've definitely landed places where I wasn't sure it would be able to fit very well, but so far have been lucky!
Turns out the damage wasn't too bad, I replaced all the blades and still have a damaged foot on one of the rear legs but it flies and functions perfectly. So I've decided to wait on my DJI care replacement in case I need it for something worse down the road.

I just need to be aware of overhead wires and surrounding objects and have had really good luck with it so far with a couple of minor exceptions. A majority of my flying is low light or night so what I'm doing now is scouting the areas during daylight hours to know what to look out for at night, something I really should've been doing anyway.
 

mollyc

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Here are two examples (these are not my images) of photos that can only be taken with a drone. There is no tripod tall enough to take images like this, and even off a balcony, you can't get a view below/past your feet. Using a drone is no different than using a remote or an intervalometer, it's just the camera is in the sky, rather than in someone's hands or affixed to a tripod. There are lots of times the person manning the camera isn't actually touching it.

Well composed drone images are often very graphical in nature and make you think about your surroundings and how things look vastly different from a bird's eye view.

View attachment 14842

The image on the right just won second place in the category "From Above" in a massive, 40,000+ entry photo competition.

 
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