Over the last ten days we’ve had quite a few mornings when the weather has been relatively benign so I’ve been taking the opportunity to get some flying practice in. Being a photographer first and flyer second though I have managed to grab a few shots as well!
I’ve been talking “drones” with Richard recently as he has just himself acquired a Mavic Air and is getting ready to launch (pun intended) himself on this fascinating branch of our mutual hobby – photography. As I’ve been responding to some of his questions, I’ve started to think more about the settings on my Mavic Pro. I’ve largely been flying using the default settings and also shooting video using default settings although the stills camera is set to manual and has been almost since I began.
I’ve read a lot and also watched a lot of tutorials which recommend adjusting the responsiveness of the sticks and gimbal to help with smoother flight. The more I read/watch however the more I realise that from my perspective this is largely irrelevant as I mainly shoot stills for which I have the drone hovering as I compose and then take the image. With practice I can now make small, slow movements to edge myself into the “best” position and the jerkiness as I raise or lower the camera is not a major issue; the drone will be still when I take the shot. It seems to me that the main benefits of smoother stick and gimbal action is for video footage whilst the drone is flying and as I don’t shoot much video I’ve never really bothered too much with this aspect.
Last night however I made a few adjustments to the gimbal settings and to the Mavic’s Gain and EXPO settings and so was glad to get the chance to try shooting a little bit of video this morning to see if there were noticeable differences. I haven’t noted my settings here as I’m no way qualified to share but what I can say is that it made an appreciable difference to my ability to shoot smooth(fish) footage without using one of the advanced modes. Based on this experience and some more research I have noted down a new set of settings which I will try next time I get out for a flight.
In You Get What You Pay For I wrote of my experiences with some budget graduated filters for the Mavic Pro and concluded that whilst the set I had were not up to the job I needed to do some more research before buying a more expensive set of filters.
I also have a set of ND filters and a polariser for the Mavic Pro made by the same budget-priced company. Whilst the ND filters will be of more use once I start to seriously explore aerial video or what to start experimenting with slower shutter speeds for aerial stills but the polariser is already proving useful for stills photography.
The polariser I have is a simple push-on affair and once airborne, as with all these filters, cannot be adjusted. It is a matter of looking through the filter and turning it until the desired effect is reached and then pushing it firmly onto the lens. Of course, the effectiveness of the filter varies according to the drones position relative to the sun too so as you fly and manoeuvre its quite possible that the optimal amount of polarisation is not being applied. However, with all that said the filter does help particularly when photographing trees and foliage as it helps cut through the glare and intensifies the colours. The two images above illustrate this nicely – top left and bottom right are from the polarised frame whilst top right and bottom left are from an unpolarised frame. To make the comparison fair I applied the same basic RAW adjustments to both images.
It is possible, especially with the new Dehaze slider, to add punch back into non-polarised images (see below) but given that the files are only 12mp to start with I prefer to keep post processing to a minimum wherever possible.
The polariser is one filter I won’t leave home without and indeed based on my experiences to date I will probably upgrade to a premium brand at some point.
This was taken with the drone around twenty feet up and whilst I was using Tripod mode on the Mavic for the first time in order to gently manouevre the drone up through the tight spaces between the trees. This mode considerably lowers the maximum speed (down to around 2mph I believe whereas my Mavic has a normal top speed of 23mph according to my flight record) and also makes the sticks “duller” for finer control. I’d not used the mode before but was interested in how much more control it provided and also whether or not it really did improve the look of video footage.
The gaps between the trees where small and narrowed as you went upwards but by standing underneath and being careful I was doing OK.
Snap! At twenty feet I used the button on top of the controller to grab a still as I gently eased upwards.
So, this picture was taken and all was serene and I was feeling confident and calm as I gently pushed up to thirty feet when suddenly – whoosh!
As the drone cleared the shelter of the trees a sudden gust from a crosswind slapped it hard towards the top of this slender tree and with the camera module pointing downwards I could see I was inches away from crash-landing in the treetop. I then realised just how slow Tripod mode is – VEEEERRRRY slow. I was not able to simply push the stick upwards for a a sudden burst to take the drone up and out of danger so it was a painful few seconds before I was free of the tree and bringing the drone gently back down again.
If I’d had more experience of Tripod mode I would have hit X to return to normal and pushed up on the stick to clear the danger more quickly. But we learn with each flight and as my time with the drone approaches twelve months I’m learning more each time I fly. Certainly five months stuck indoors with health issues unable to fly the drone didn’t help my learning but I’ve made up for it this month with six separate outings in eleven days with a little over two hours flight time.
I tried once more to push the Mavic upwards but the wind was still giving the drone a serious battering though so prudence suggested it was time to bring it back down below the treetops for the time being! I still continued to use Tripod mode but kept the drone to around twelve feet as I practiced flying through the trees.
Ironically, for someone who once wrote about the need to label things to help my understanding I don’t like to label myself photographically. I am just a photographer. If pushed very hard however I would probably own to being a landscape photographer. As a landscape photographer I understand the need to balance the tonal ranges between, for example, sky and land. There are various ways but being rather old school my preferred, but not my sole, approach is graduated neutral density filters, ND Grads for short.
It wasn’t a big surprise then that now I have the basics of this drone photography lark under my belt my thoughts should turn to the subject of how to control tonal range in my drone images. I’ve tried the exposure-bracketing feature on the drone which works reasonably well but there is still that hankering to get it right “in-camera”. So I started to think about and look out for ND Grads for my Mavic Pro. Unlike a tripod-based DSLR I cannot change filters mid-flight with the drone; it has to be brought down, landed and powered off in order to attach or swap out a filter. In addition, owing to the size and build of the drone lens it is not possible to vary the positioning of the graduation – just as with a screw-in filter for your traditional camera the position of the graduation is a given. So, using filters on the drone has to be a considered option.
Whilst looking on the internet I found a third party set of three different ND grads (grey, blue, orange) for £40. I found no review for them online, apart from amazon.com reviews which I rarely trust these days, however reviews of the company’s ND and polariser filters elsewhere on the ‘net were reasonably positive so I marked them as a “maybe”.
I then found a set by Chinese company Neewer for just £11. I’ve used Neewer products before and found them reliable rather than spectacular so figured I’d chance my £11 on a set which duly arrived the following day from that well-known international online retailer beginning with A. But how did they fare?
I put the drone in the air with no filter attached then brought it back down to fit the ND grey filter. This is best done with the drone powered off and the gimbal lock in place. I then returned the drone to the air and endeavoured to take exactly the same image (I didn’t do too bad) to use as a comparison. Back home I converted both RAW (DNG) files in Adobe Camera Raw applying the same basic adjustments. The results are shown in segments 1 and 3 above. There is a noticeable grey cast in the image taken with the filter attached but this was easily removed as can be seen in segment 2 and I was left with a well-balanced shot.
But does the filter make a lot of difference? As can be seen above the filter definitely darkened the sky but looking closely at the image and the bottom half of the frame does appear a little bit darker too. To test this I left the filter on and took a third image, with no sky to see what happened.
I was expecting the top half to be darker than the lower half but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I took several other test shots too and came to the conclusion that the filter was having minimal effect on the image in terms of changing tonal range.
The blue graduated filter did definitely add a blueish tint to the upper half of the frame but again did very little beyond this to darken the tones in the sky relative to the lower half of the frame.
So, you get what you pay for in life I guess and for me based on this mornings experience these filters do not function as well as they might especially in terms of their prime purpose – that of reducing the tonal range in the image. However, I will try them out on another day when the sun is shining brightly and the tonal range is larger to see if it was the light not playing nicely this morning.
Will I be trying the £40 set? I’m not sure yet – I think I need to do some more research and see what other peoples experiences have been (assuming I can filter out the dubious “paid for” reviews on amazon). The lens of the Mavic is very small however and I’m starting to think that there just isn’t enough real estate to allow the graduation to work as I’d like.
The jury is out as they say and I need to investigate further before parting with any more money!
I was very fortunate recently to have three consecutive mornings where I not only rose early but conditions were ideal for some flying practice. On all three I headed to the closest stretch of the Calder & Hebble which affords sufficient space for me to fly a drone without getting in peoples way. That said over the three mornings I saw just two people so I was hardly a nuisance.
I used a polarising filter on the Mavic for the first time and that together with some bright early morning light produced some punchy, colourful images.
The image below falls partly into a landscape but also partly into an abstract style of image to me. It was for these types of straight-down abstract/semi-abstract images that I originally purchased the drone.
Bold colours, strong contrasts, a polariser and careful positioning of the drone all combine here to create one of my favourite drone images to date. I am still smiling several days after making this one!
This particular spot lends itself very well to images like the one below with strong lines, an almost graphical look but also when you look closely you see road, canal and river broadly running together.
All of the images above were shot with the sun either behind the drone or to the side and mostly with the camera pointing down so not receiving any direct sunlight. Shooting into the sun though as in the image below creates a far more contrasty scene and less saturated colours.
Undoubtedly though it’s the “straight-down” images that I like best especially when you can create layers and patterns.
I was lucky to get three good mornings, and almost an hours flight time over the bank holiday weekend and greatly benefited from the opportunity to practice my flying and aerial photography skills.
I headed up to Marsden Moor a couple of mornings ago hoping to capture some aerial shots of the early morning light on the rocks at Buckstones Edge. It was bright and sunny at home but twenty minutes up the road I pulled into the carpark in a total whiteout. I put the drone up but even at four hundred feet above me there was nothing to see!
So, I headed back with visibility improving the closer I got to home. Stopping and retracing my steps (tyre tracks?) I found it was not improving along the Edges so with domestic responsibilities waiting I headed back.
I did stop part way home, whilst still out on the moors, and had another try. This was slightly more successful although the files did need a bit more work than usual to make them fit for posting. This was partly down to the conditions and partly down to the fact I’d set the exposure to minus one EV by mistake and hadn’t noticed until it was too late!
I don’t take the Samyang fisheye out that often, it’s definitely an occasional treat, but it found it way into my bag the other afternoon when I went for a quick walk through the woods. Walking back to the car I thought I’d give it a quick whirl and was very glad I did!
This is the view from the end of our road, looking down over the Calder Valley towards Halifax in the distance. Being so close meant that during my extended illness this was one location I could get to without too much trouble and therefore in various ways it has featured in several 365 and 63/2017 images.
The final result consists of two frames, exposed for sky and foreground which have been merged manually in Photoshop. I used a tripod for this shot and a neutral density graduated filter to further help with the big difference between sky and foreground. I didn’t have enough “ND-power” though to capture this in one frame hence bracketing.
Third in the mini series of “Going Back” images in which I’ve revisited locations from the 365 with just the Samyang 12mm lens and a ND graduated filter.
This location proved more problematic than the first two as the available standing space is constrained by the width of the tow path and there is nothing to the left of the original scene but some unsightly bushes and the general crud that accumulates on the “Edgelands” of many locations.
I originally photographed this in January for image 26 using the Nikon full-frame DSLR and a focal length of 28mm.