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.
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!
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!
My first attempt at a long exposure wasn’t a resounding success but it provided some very useful food for thought and experience. It also provided a surreal moment as I woke on Sunday morning to find it featured in Flickr’s “Explore” section despite its obvious flaws.
My second attempt therefore was made on a slightly more open stretch of the River Calder although for the initial close-in shot, the trees on the left hand side and part of the front of the scene were still fairly close to the drone. Once again I am using the Freewell 10-stop ND filter.
I have visited this part of Cromwell Bottom a few times recently, shooting the weir from above as an incidental part of a wider scene as well as deploying the infra-red Fuji.
My aim was to keep the shutter speed to around 1 – 2 seconds increasing the ISO if needed in order to do so. In the event it was a bright sunny morning so I was able to keep the ISO at 100 and still shoot with the desired shutter speeds.
I was using the iPad with the drone for the first time and the larger screen was a boon in quickly identifying that movement was still an issue when the drone was just 14 feet up but as the height increased the stability improved. As I mentioned earlier there are a lot of dense trees to the left of this shot and immediately behind the little monitoring station. I had wondered if these would help shelter the drone perhaps from the slight breeze but on reflection wonder if they were once again swirling the drones own backdraft around? Whatever, once we clear the trees matters improved although that begs the question what would happen in a stronger breeze?
The four images above are straight from the drone and even at this size the motion blur in the first is very evident. I needed to reduce the exposure time for shot three but looking at others I took around 90 feet the thoughts on height affecting motion blur in this situation hold.
All of the images shot at between 1 and 2 seconds above tree height were very usable, and if the scene had been more photogenic would no doubt have been properly processed too for my Flickr feed and blog. However, this trip was about learning the possibilities and so I wasn’t precious about the actual view. The question remained though, could I salvage the first image, shot from just fourteen feet up? I took the unprocessed image into Photoshop and applied the Shake Reduction filter. I manually selected five areas to provide multiple traces for the software and as you can see above the end result was definitely usable.
I played with a few exposures between 3 and 6 seconds but wasn’t happy with the results of these on the day. It could be that such lengthy exposures are possible on very still days but that will need some further tests. For now an exposure time of between 1 and 2 seconds seems to give me a nice creative look to the image without too many problems vis-a-vis image quality. As with the first attempt I am very pleased with the neutrality of this ND filter too.
So, a successful morning, a few more lessons learnt and some more food for thought. I’m looking forward to shooting some 1 and 2 second shots above the Northumberland shoreline in the Autumn!
The first anniversary of my Mavic Pro drone purchase passed recently and I got to thinking about what I’d learnt. In truth much of the learning has come in the last few months as I was not well enough to take the drone out over the winter months and prior to that I was still really nervous about the whole flying a camera thing. But practice is really paying off and even the quality of my images has improved considerably.
I am first and foremost a photographer, so, what does this photographer take from his first year flying?
First and foremost
Get used to flying it, to taking off, landing and generally moving about the sky. If you are a first-time flyer, then forget about photography for a few flights. Yes, it will be hard to do and a little frustrating, but practise flying in all directions, squares, circles, backwards, forwards, side-to-side. Get to instinctively know when pushing right on the stick will move the craft left and when it will move it right – it’s easy to forget especially if things go a little awry. The one time I crashed was exactly due to that confusion. With the drone pointing towards me and drifting to my left towards the trees I instinctively pushed the stick right to take evasive action. Except this was the wrong thing to do as it took the drone to ITS right and directly into the branches I was trying to avoid. I always try to watch the drone too when manoeuvring rather than the screen as I can more quickly spot if its drifting in the wrong direction.
Needless to say I didn’t follow this course of action (to be fair no one suggested it) but in hindsight waiting just a little longer to take photographs would have meant better pictures from the start and a more comfortable flying experience. Do as I say not as I did might be another way of putting it!
Exposure is critical
The Mavic Pro has a much smaller sensor than many enthusiast photographers will be used to and therefore has less tolerance to noise. Indeed, whilst the stated ISO range is 100-1600 I rarely move it from 100 and I’ve not seen many bloggers or vloggers suggesting using the higher ISO. These days with live histograms on most cameras it is relatively straightforward to “shoot to the right”. I have the histogram up on the screen at all times and watch it carefully. I aim to keep the graph pushed as far over to the right on the screen without “clipping” into the highlights.
Exposing to the right (ETTR) is a well-used technique and means adjusting the exposure of an image as high as possible at base ISO (without causing unwanted saturation) to collect the maximum amount of light and thus get the optimum performance out of the digital image sensor. It is easier to pull down exposure in post-production than to pull detail out of the shadows. With the small sensor on the Mavic I want to start with as much detail captured right from the start, hence ETTR and RAW (DNG) capture is my go-to approach.
Nail the composition
Here is one very good reason why you want to learn to fly and position the drone with as much accuracy as possible.
You only have a relatively small file to play with; 3992×2992 pixels (typically giving a 23mb file) compared for example to my Fuji mirrorless camera’s 6000×3376 (48mb) or my Nikon D800E’s 736×4912 (72mb). Having to crop into the file throughs away precious pixels and of course if you then need to enlarge the image for printing you are further degrading the image quality.
Try to get composition spot-on to avoid cropping later. Be patient, rotate the drone and take it higher/lower as needed to really get the framing right. Swiping up on the screen to temporarily remove all the data and information displayed upon it can help and don’t forget to check the corners of the screen too. There is no doubt that in this situation the iPad screen beats my iPhone but thats another blog post.
Do keep this in perspective though, I recently printed an image from the drone at A3 and was blown away by the quality. For small prints on on-screen usage the files can take some cropping but to my mind it makes total sense maximise every pixel available and careful composition at the time is a huge help in this regards.
When processing your images (I shoot RAW and process in Adobe Camera Raw) try to avoid pushing the sliders too far – less is definitely more and over zealous use of the sliders will degrade the image very quickly in my experience. Once again, getting the exposure right and nailing the composition also help here. I have found that skies generally need some gentle noise reduction, but again don’t go overboard and if you are able to do so I would suggest just selectively de-noising the sky and not more detailed parts of the image.
Height isn’t everything
You don’t have to shoot everything from 400 feet up! Just because you can doesn’t mean you always have to. The image above was shot from 65 feet up for example and the shot above of a sunrise on Newborough Beach was taken from five feet.
Be open to shooting each scene from different angles and differing heights. I will often take the drone to 400 feet and then slowly bring it down tweaking the composition and taking a series of different images as I drop back down to around 80 feet. Other times I will watch the screen as I slowly rise into the air looking for the optimal point at which the composition seems complete. There is no zoom lens on the Mavic so, just like using your feet to “zoom” a prime lens on your stills camera, you need to use the joysticks to “zoom” around the composition with the drone.
The image above, taken from 390 feet, was one of half a dozen I took as I brought the drone down from 400 feet to eventually place the two trees centrally at 140 feet (see below) but shot from a point more to the right and with the drone pointing more towards me than when it started..
I’ve a few other things to mention, including my experiences with filters and the various built-in shooting options but five seems to be the “done” thing for initial “top tips” features so I won’t rock that boat. Te recap my conclusions from this exercise, learn the basics (flying), remember to squeeze as much from the little sensor as you can and exercise restraint when sat at the computer.
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.
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.
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 thedetail 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, there you have it. My basic panoramic workflow using the drone and my initial thoughts on the subject.
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.
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.
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!
OK, so we do have a reputation for being obsessed with the weather but nevertheless the genesis of this post is the onset of rain.
I’d been expecting it; the forecast (see below) had suggested we’d wake up to rain which was frustrating as, having created my first aerial panoramas a few days ago (blog post to follow), I wanted to try out the onboard panoramic function within the DJI app. I’d not been able to get out yesterday and it was looking like I might need to wait until next week so when I left the house this morning and it was dry I decided to seize the day.
Arriving at the location I went through the pre-flight routine that I’ve become reasonably adept at now and the Mavic was quickly up in the air and hovering at 200 feet ready for the planned shot. A quick shot to check exposure and I was ready. I fine tuned the composition, bringing the drone down to around 150 feet and set the controls for a spherical panorama which would need to capture 34 frames to work its magic. As I pressed the virtual shutter button to start the sequence a drop of rain fell gently on the control by my finger, then another, and another until it was properly raining. Less than ten frames in and the rain had arrived! I was thinking furiously.
My first thought was “it’s OK, the rain is coming from behind the Mavic so won’t get on the lens”. Typical photographer, but this however was very swiftly followed by “I know it’s not waterproof but what about a little shower?”
Fifteen frames, not even half way. “I’ve seen videos of these drones being flown in snow storms so a light shower isn’t going to hurt”. Eighteen frames. “But those guys know what they are doing, I’m still learning”. Twenty one frames. “I’m not stopping now!
Twenty six frames. I wipe the rain from the face of my phone which is being used to control matters. Thirty frames. “I’m sure it is taking longer between frames”. Thirty two frames.
“Thirty four, finished!”Must just stitch it first though, after all that was the purpose of the experiment”. I know, agonising for most of those thirty four frames and then I leave it up there whilst the app processes the images without knowing for sure how long the process would take! But this was the process I wanted to test out.
It looked OK (see above) but I couldn’t zoom in to check I’d got all of the lock gates, which are worryingly close to the edge of the frame …
By now it’s raining steadily so common sense takes over and I bring the drone back, flying backwards to keep rain from the lens but still looking for compositions as I bring the Mavic closer.I can’t resist a few more single frames as I bring the Mavic ever closer and finally back down to the landing circle at my feet. Swiftly wiping rain from everything I’m packed up and under the shelter of a large tree in no time.
Checking the flight log it’s taken me considerably longer to pen these notes than the events they describe.But I’ve added to my knowledge and experience both during the flight and whilst writing this.As always when a flight finishes I have that mixed feeling of relief that I’ve brought the drone back safely mingled with a desire to get back in the air. I’ve two fully-charged spares in the bag on my shoulder so plenty of capacity for a longer flight – but it is actually raining quite heavy now and for the second time in five minutes common sense kicks in.
Sat in the cafe with a coffee I was pleasantly surprised that the spherical panorama rotates gently when viewed via the DJI app although disappointed that when downloading it all I get is the long thin panorama rather than the spherical version. Something else to research, but in the meantime I keep looking at the gently rotating sphere, more than pleasantly pleased that the earlier research had paid off and Woodside Mills locks are virtually dead centre of the sphere as the image above shows, The tiny dot almost dead centre is my landing circle. I will reprocess the 34 RAW files later on the computer but for now am very happy with my short but eventful trip.
Walking back along the canal I was able to appreciate the fresh, warm smell you get when it rains for the first time in over a week. Heedless that the tree pollen season hasn’t quite finished I breathed deeply and savoured that unique aroma. I do like the rain!
So, having achieved a basic level of competence at flying the drone I am now able to concentrate a little more on the photography and videography side of things. Little things help, like knowing how to quickly change shutter speed whilst in the air and knowing how to clear all the information from the screen with a single finger when trying to fine tune a composition. As I was discussing with Richard this afternoon, once you’ve got your head around the flying bit then, and only then, can you give the photography side some real focus (pun intended).
I took the Mavic out this morning specifically to try some new settings. These were geared towards videography and included adjustments to the gimbal and the way the drone handles as well as a tweak to the video settings. For those who may be interested I set the video to 25fps at 4k and the style to D-Cinelike with custom settings of +1,-1,-1. Looking at the advance Gimbal settings, the pitch was set to 11 and smoothness to 15. Finally, I changed the Sensitivity settings – Att 100, Brake 130 Yaw Max 50. I’m not qualified to explain all these but you can’t move on the Internet for videos and blog posts explaining it all in great detail – and some of it is accurate too!! I made the changes in an attempt to produce smoother video footage and start to take more control of things.
Watching back the first clip from this morning’s trip (see above) I can see a marked improvement in terms of the smoothness of the ascent and the movements are also cleaner. This was not shot in Tripod mode but achieves a good level of smoothness none the less I think, especially compared to earlier efforts.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.