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.
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.
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!