Single-shot verticals (drone)

A bit of an obscure title I know – that’s what happens whilst you type “out loud” I guess as you fumble for the right words.

The Mavic Pro’s gimbal gets a fair bit of stick for being so exposed – but it means that it can shoot natively in a vertical format which means “portrait” images using the whole sensor rather than cropping from a “landscape” or horizontal image.  I was just coming to the end of my mornings flying (battery was at 20% and I’d already used both spares) when I remembered this facility so I took a couple of test shots. It’s a facility I’ve not used before and indeed rarely seen mentioned. I wished I’d thought of it when shooting the long exposures of the lock gates a few weeks back.

© Dave Whenham
Shot from above the flood plain at Woodside Lock.  Apart from lifting the shadows slightly this is basically as-shot

I could see this being useful if shooting waterfalls or any image with a “tall” subject, for example a lighthouse. I shot a lot of panoramas today and with hindsight could have switched to portrait mode for some of those too as this would have given extra height (and is more like the way I shoot panoramas with a stills camera too).**

So, despite over 16 hours flight time I am still happily learning!

© Dave Whenham
Four hundred feet up – spot the pilot!

**POSTSCRIPT

I took the Mavic out the following morning, set to Portrait Mode, selected the Panorama 180 mode – and the camera swung back to horizontal for the sequence before returning to portrait mode at the end of the sequence. Seems I’ve not missed a trick with my panoramas!

 

Isn’t it ironic?

It’s ironic, but as I get further and further from my schooldays I get more and more prone to schoolboy errors. Simple things usually. I always leave my phone downstairs on charge when I go to bed as it means I have a fully charged phone when I get up the following morning. So, this morning, up with the lark, dressed, grabbed drone (always ready) and the new iPad and off out to see how well the iPad functions as a drone screen and whether it impedes flying at all.  Minor inconvenience to find I’d forgotten to charge phone but that was offset by the fact that I was going to be using the iPad so no harm done.

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Looking back towards Elland. My house is just out of shot top right.

Off to my usual test zone near the car, park on the roadside and walk the hundred yards or so.  In short oder, drone set up, filter attached, controller turned on and iPad cable installed. New iPad in hand so all ready for the test. Apart from one minor problem – the iPad holder is sitting on the desk at home and there’s no way I can wedge this tablet into the controller.  So, fall back on the iPhone – with 40% charge (which, incidentally, would be down to 8% by the time I got home). I had a pleasant twenty minutes or so, I find I’m regularly getting 23 minutes plus with a little juice still left in the batteries, but time was up and I left without seeing how the iPad works in practice.

So, I ended up trying out the iPad/controller combination in my back yard.  Six feet off the ground with the sensors constantly complaining I was very near an obstacle (house, shed, trees) wasn’t ideal but it gave me a feel.  I will need to fly it properly in the open to see how the larger size and weight affect my flying and manoeuvring. It felt a little clumsy this morning, nowhere near as well balanced as the iPhone and I found it slightly more comfortable to angle the bracket so the edge of the iPad rested on my wrists. I don’t need to see the joysticks and my thumbs still rested happily on top although not quite as true as before, tilting very slightly outwards but I think I will get used to this.

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Seven feet above the upper patio – I kept myself out of camera-sight for the 34 frames by walking behind the drone

The considerably larger screen though was a joy. As someone who wears different glasses for distance and reading I find juggling two pairs of specs whilst trying to read the  detail on  the iPhone screen and also maintaining visual contact with a drone at four hundred feet an interesting challenge.  With the larger screen I could read most of what I needed to see without the reading glasses. At the end of the day the iPad screen provides almost four times the real estate of the iPhone so that was to be expected.

The one piece of data on the controller screen that I have got accustomed to using all the time is the altitude readout and whilst this also appears on the iPad screen I found myself constantly looking for it. I often swipe up on the phone screen to give me an uninterrupted view of the scene without the usual visual clutter, it makes composition more precise, and having the basic data on the controller too was very helpful.

© Dave Whenham

So, it will take some getting used to in terms of weight, balance and learning to work without the controller readout but my initial thoughts on this mornings experiments are positive. I cannot see me using it exclusively, the iPhone is always with me and the DJI experience seems to have been built around its form, whilst the iPad is bulkier and also doesn’t fit in the little bag I carry the drone around in.  So, on a stroll along the beach with the wife, where I always carry as little photography gear as I can get away with, I will use the phone. However, if down there on my own, or with another photographer, I will usually have a larger bag anyway and the iPad will slip nicely into the front pocket without really adding to the bulk I’m carrying.

Shooting panoramas with the drone

If you’ve read any of my recent posts you’ll have noticed a few spherical panoramas as I’ve been playing with this feature on the Mavic Pro. Here are my thoughts having had a chance to shoot a few panoramas and played with them in post processing over the weekend.

The Mavic Pro has four panoramic shooting modes accessed via the DJI Go4 app which I use on my iPhone 7 when flying the drone. These are:

  • Vertical panorama – 3 frames
  • Horizontal panorama – 9 frames
  • 180° panorama – 21 frames
  • Spherical (360°) panorama – 34 frames.

I’ve seen other (different) frame specifications in some blog posts so I can’t comment on what’s available for, say, the Air but these hold true for me at this moment in time.

I found the vertical panorama less useful so haven’t really played with it that much. The horizontal panorama however is a format I’m very familiar with and enjoy shooting.

© Dave Whenham
Horizontal panorama – 9 frames

The 180° panorama is not something I play with very often when out with a camera, largely because it needs a specialist tripod head to get consistently good results. However, with the drone doing the technical bit I had nothing to lose by trying it out. Twenty-one frames with the drone adjusting itself between each shot automatically.

© Dave Whenham
Twenty one frames – the drone does the hard work too!

So far, my basic workflow has been:

  • Shoot the images with one of the panoramic presets
  • Quickly stitch and review on the app (depends on how critical composition is, I often skip this step)
  • Batch process the RAW (DNG) files in Adobe Camera Raw and save as full-sized JPEGs in a separate folder
  • Stitch the panorama using the DJI Media Maker app on my computer
  • Finishing touches in Photoshop

This has worked very well and I’m very happy with the results I’ve obtained so far. However, the DJI Media Maker app is very much an automated process with minimal user input and I do like to provide my own input! Artistic input if you like. I’ve been playing with Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor (ICE) this morning and that is looking interesting. I am running ICE on an iMac using Parallels software to overcome the Windows/Apple differences. I suspect that in this mixed environment ICE may run a little slower than in a native Windows system but have no way of verifying this.

© Dave Whenham
My first attempt at a spherical (360°) panorama with the Mavic Pro

One thing I should have done before shooting my first spherical panorama (above) was some basic research. Whilst I like the result I could have positioned the drone more carefully and kept the canal within the frame with just a little more thought. But that is what my regular visits to this location are for – to try things out, to learn and to make mistakes before visiting a more distant location. For example, I could have stitched this immediately on my phone whilst the Mavic was still airborne and got a sense for the finished result there and then, which would enable me to adjust my starting composition and shoot the frames again.

© Dave Whenham
One of the intermediate stages as the original long panorama is turned into a sphere.

When I got that first panorama back I wasn’t happy with the resulting sphere it created and after some further research I went back two mornings later and tried again.

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Spot the difference – broadly the same view but composed a little differently with the final spherical composition in mind.

Back home I stitched the 34 frames using the DJI Media Maker software (a free download from their website) and then took the panoramic image (above) into Photoshop to create the pre-visualised spherical panorama. Notice how the edges of the panorama become the central element.

© Dave Whenham
Second time – luckier!

So, there you have it. My basic panoramic workflow using the drone and my initial thoughts on the subject.

Woodside Mills lock

One of the things that featured in my initial interest in buying a drone was this set of locks near to my home. So, unsurprisingly I’ve photographed it from various angles and heights over the last twelve months. The lock is also within the relatively small area I regularly use to try out ideas with the drone.

 

© Dave Whenham
23 feet up is nowhere near my highest shot – but you don’t always need to be at 400 feet!

So, when I wanted to try using the panoramic feature it was to this spot that I headed initially. First results were very pleasing but on reflecting back at the computer I realised I could do better and also have a little more control of the composition by making some small tweaks to the process. So, for Take 2, I moved across the canal and used Woodside Mills locks as my focal point.

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102 feet up on a windy morning
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I’m immediately below the drone

What I was trying to achieve on a very blustery morning was a spherical panorama with the locks broadly central in the frame. And broadly-speaking it worked!

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From this …
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… to this. Thirty four individual images make up this spherical panorama which really puts the locks in context with their surroundings.

 

 

 

 

 

Auto-bracketing with Mavic Pro

IMG_2346I don’t usually produce technique or how-to blog posts but thought I’d share my experience of using the auto-exposure bracketing (AEB) mode on the Mavic Pro. I went out this morning and shot a bunch of stills with the Mavic set to AEB mode and opted for it to take 5 frames. Nominally these are at a variance of 0.7EV from each other and indeed my software suggests between 0.6 and 0.7 EV is the norm. Bracketing is something I am very familiar with from my normal photography so I start with a good understanding of the potential benefits and pitfalls.

© Dave Whenham
Freemans Cut from Cromwell Bottom.

The first example of a 5-frame image, merged in Photoshop using HDR Pro,  shows Freemans Cut and was shot into the sun, you can probably see where the sun is, just out of frame top right. In this instance the five frames have given Photoshop everything it needs to produce a nicely balanced image and the -1.3EV frame  has provided the HDR engine with just enough material to work with.  To be fair, the -1.3EV frame on its own has sufficient detail to produce a very acceptable image on its own and this I feel highlights the main drawback of the fixed 0.7EV step in the Mavic’s AEB settings. I have found the [-1.3 -0.7, 0, +0.7, +1,3]EV  range far too limiting and often +/-1.3EV  is not enough for the dynamic range of the scene. With my Fuji and Nikons I have been known to shoot +3, 0, -3 at times especially when there is sky in the frame and I’m shooting early or late in the day.   It would be good at least to have a full 1EV adjustment between each frame and an option for +/-2EV would be perfect; I rarely shoot bracketed sequences at anything other than +/-1EV or +/-2EV.

Realistically, I can always revert to manually bracketing with the drone assuming the wind is light enough to give me time to manually change things between shots but it Ould be useful to have the option to vary the adjustment range via the Go4 app.

© Dave Whenham
The five AEB images in Adobe Bridge (unprocessed)

Despite this limitation I do think that it’s a worthwhile exercise to shoot in 5-frame AEB as on occasions it can really help when post-processing to have that extra +/-1.6EV available. It’s easy enough to delete files that aren’t needed later.  I use a 32gb SD card and have never yet filled it in the 20 minutes or so of flight time that I am getting from each battery. I carry spare cards so in the unlikely event of filling one I can always swap it out when changing batteries.

Historically I have used Photomatix Pro for blending bracketed images preferring it to the inbuilt option with Photoshop. However, today I tried the PS version (HDR Pro) for convenience and was pleasantly surprised by the improvements. In the event I did not even bother to see what Photomatix could do as I was more than happy with the outcome from HDR Pro.

© Dave Whenham
“Flat” image straight out of PS HDR-Pro vs “finished” image.

I found that using the “flat” preset in Photoshop HDR-Pro produced a good tonal range and an image that responded well to additional processing.  I preferred this to any of the other more vibrant presets and it’s a good compromise between time and convenience compared to using the other presets or manually adjusting the conversion yourself.

© Dave Whenham
Having the additional image files enabled me to bring out detail in the river whilst not burning out the hard-standing or caravan storage facility at the top of the frame.

 

© Dave Whenham
Photoshop HDR Pro handled the moving train very well

Today’s exercise has suggested to me that it is worth keeping the drone in AEB mode for stills photography as the default, moving to single shot only occasionally when conditions are appropriate. As with all photographic bracketing it is always possible to simply use one frame out of the sequence and it costs relatively little to simply delete the other four if they are not needed. Having the option though is well worth the minor inconvenience of having additional image files to sort out back home.

 

Mavic Pro – polariser vs none

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.

© Dave Whenham

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.

© Dave Whenham
Brookfoot lock on the Calder and Hebble Navigation just outside Brighouse from c.300 feet.
© Dave Whenham
RAW file – straight off the card

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.

 

Calder & Hebble (Drone)

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.
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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.
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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!

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Woodside Mill (remains)

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.

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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.

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Undoubtedly though it’s the “straight-down” images that I like best especially when you can create layers and patterns.

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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.

© Dave Whenham
And the inevitable mono!