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Most drone photographers may never notice this, but when a photo is taken from the sky, the subject appears slightly squashed. The mountains, the bridges, the buildings we photograph with our drones all look squatter and lose their grandeur when viewed from above.

This subtle effect occurs simply because we are looking from above rather than from our normal ascending point of view. Things appear taller to us when we are standing with feet on the ground looking upward toward our subject.

Our mission as photographers is to convey the emotions we felt the moment we were there on location, capturing the photograph. Why would we allow ourselves to lose that emotion, that feeling, simply because the photo was captured from a different perspective? This would be cheating our viewers from a shared experience. How can we convey the feeling of standing under the towering church steeple (for example) when the same steeple appears short and stumpy from a drone’s perspective?

We have ways.

The above drone panorama was captured while flying from a boat, as I looked upwards at the eroded peaks of the island. I was disappointed by the squashed appearance of the image as captured from 400 feet. Using sliders in the transform panel of Adobe Lightroom, I was able to bring back the feeling of magnificence to the scene.

In a matter of seconds we can bring back the “loftiness” of any subject using quick and easy photo processing techniques. If you are using Adobe Lightroom (which is the industry standard for professional photographers) a simple move of a slider in the application will do the job just fine. In Lightroom, simply go to the transform panel (Develop > Transform > Aspect) and adjust to the desired effect. Another popular photo processing software – Macphun Luminar – also has a tool called “Transform” with which you are able to grab the sides of your aerial photograph and drag the sides inward. Try not to over-do the squashing of your photo. Generally, decreasing the width by about 10-20% is enough to bring back the grandeur of a scene.

If you are anything like me, low aerial drone photography has reignited your creativity, along with your passion to share and sell great images. A great photograph tells the story of a particular moment in time. I have made a career out of inserting emotions into my photographs using various methods. My advice is for you to discover and use your own methods to tell your story effectively. Sometimes these methods are found in-camera, sometimes within the app, and sometimes in the image processing.

___________________________

Authors Randy Jay Braun & Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops guiding attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work and for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Please contact randy-stacy@djiphotoacademy.com with any questions.

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DJI has created an entirely new sector of working photographers. These are aerial drone photographers, of course, many of whom are trying to raise their own skill level with a yearning to earn a few dollars or establish a new career.  The DJI Phantom, Mavic, and Inspire lineup of drones has made aerial camera placement and operation an uncomplicated process. What is not so simple yet is the basic understanding of photography.  Some of the fundamentals, like types of blur & focus, are frequently misunderstood. Or, maybe this just a confusion of standardized industry vernacular? Perhaps.

What used to be more of a craft is now becoming more of an art. The rigid technical boundaries of photography have become more relaxed ever since digital camera sensors were introduced. Many new and eager drone photographers have muddled up the proper terminology. Drone operators often proclaim, “My shots are out of focus,” when they capture a blurry image. The words blur and focus are not interchangeable; there is a difference between the two. For concise and accurate communication, correct terminology should be maintained.

Suppose you have a photo that is not as sharp as you think it should/could be. Is it a result of blur or poor focus? Odds are, if you are flying a DJI Mavic or Phantom drone, it is problem of blur rather than poor focus. Why did it happen and how do you prevent it? Here is a breakdown of common types of blur and focus:

The Difference Between Blur and Focus
  • Blur issues and techniques are based on camera shutter speed.
  • Focus issues and techniques come from the camera lens.
Types of Blur

Motion Blur (also Subject Blur) – A streaking blur of the primary subject in the photograph, while other parts of the image appear sharp (or vice versa). The can be done intentionally to help tell the story, or by accident, resulting in an undesired effect. If a drone operator wants to demonstrate the motion of a subject, intentional motion blur works well and can be created with a relatively slow shutter speed (approximately 1/30th sec). But if the operator wishes to freeze the subject to prevent any subject blurriness, then a faster shutter speed must be used (approximately 1\250th sec.).

This drone photo demonstrates the productive use of motion blur, as the photographer slows the shutter speed to 1/2 second. The subject is showing motion while the other elements in the images remain sharp.

Camera Blur (also Camera Shake) –  If you are suffering from camera shake you will almost certainly find that your entire image is blurred from edge to edge. Look closely at it and you’ll see that there are no sharp points in the image at all. The blur may occasionally have a tiny hook shape or double image appearance. As a drone photographer, this generally means the drone is moving while the shutter is open. Wind may be the culprit. This can be cured with a faster shutter speed.

An unintended camera blur occurred as the camera moved during the 1-second exposure. The streaks in the image are a sure indicator of blur caused by camera movement rather than poor focus.

The entire frame appears slightly out of focus, a closer glance at the image from edge-to-edge reveals that the camera had a minor shake during the 1/30th-second exposure.

Zoom Blur – A less common type of blur that can be achieved when flying a drone forward or backward while using a longer (slower) shutter speed. Zoom blur can have a nice effect if used appropriately.

Zoom blur may be used effectively as an artistic technique. The drone must be flying toward or away from the intended subject while the camera is set to a slow shutter speed. This was a 2-second exposure using the Mavic Air. Closer elements in the scene will blur more than elements in the distance (an effect produced with a wide-angle lens).

Types of Focus

Good Focus –  When the subject of the photograph is in good focus, we often say that the photo is “tack sharp”, regardless of the other element in the foreground, or background.

Out of Focus – The intended subject of the photograph is not “tack-sharp”. The camera lens has been focused on the wrong area in the frame. Depending on which DJI drone you are using, you may have options for manual or autofocus methods to prevent this from happening again. The Phantom 4 Pro, for example, allows you to choose between tap-screen, auto-focus continuous (AFC) and manual focus. A great way to achieve consistently good focus is to tap on your viewing device placing the green focusing box in the area that you wish to be tack sharp. Then while flying, push the shutter release button halfway down to refocus (the green boxed area) again and again as you reposition the drone.

Don’t wring your hands too much worrying about the focus on your Mavic and Phantom drones. It is actually quite difficult to make an out-of-focus photograph with the smaller drones. As a general rule, if your subject is farther than ten feet from the drone, it will be in focus if you use AFC mode (autofocus continuous). Any subject closer to the drone than ten feet should be tap-focused or captured with fully manual focus (P4P only) using a focus aid such as focus peaking or Manual Focus Assistant in the DJI GO 4 app.

If you are flying the Inspire 1 X5 Pro, then you have a choice of lenses. Wide-angle lenses by default have a greater depth of field. If you select a longer lens, accurate focus becomes more critical as the depth of field becomes more shallow.

Shallow Depth of Field – The subject is in focus but the foreground and background are out of the field of focus. This is often a highly desirable effect used to isolate and place attention on the subject. The effect is quite difficult to create with a small drone camera like the Mavic and Phantom series. Generally, a longer lens set to a wide open aperture will create this shallow depth of field. For example, this would work well using the Inspire X5 camera with a 45mm Olympus lens (slight telephoto), opened to aperture ƒ1.8 – imagine photographing a house through out-of-focus tree branches.

The lighthouse in this image is in poor focus while the background elements are sharp. This was caused by shallow depth of field (wide open aperture). The focus could have been shifted to the lighthouse simply by tap-focusing on the FPV tablet.

Deep Depth of Field –  Some poor focus issues can be fixed by using a smaller aperture opening (ƒ8.-11.). A small aperture creates a deeper depth of field,  but this may lead to other issues related to the exposure triangle.

Other Factors Affecting Image Sharpness Include:  lens resolution, sensor resolution, lens cleanliness, micro-scratches on the lens, filter quality and cleanliness, lens or sensor moisture condensation. Atmospheric haze and lens flare issues are also sometimes confused with focus issues.

––––––––––––––––

Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Sign up below if you want us to let you know when we are coming to your neighborhood.

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The post DJI Drone Photography – Blur vs. Focus appeared first on DJI Aerial Photography Academy.

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The dreaded exposure triangle – this is the topic in our DJI Aerial Photography Academy which causes much unnecessary anguish. The “exposure triangle” is the foundation upon which photography is built. The triangle is simply a metaphorical graphic which aids us in understanding how to create a photo with good exposure. The triangle is simple for some, yet perplexing for others to grasp. In order to feel comfortable operating your camera, which may be hand-held, on a tripod or attached to a flying drone, you should understand how all three sides of the triangle play together.

The dreaded exposure triangle!

Let us begin with the fact that the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is an advanced camera system enabling aerial photographers to capture photographs in a fully manual setting if desired. When operating a camera in fully manual mode, the photographer has control over all three variables of the triangle, which are ISOaperture, shutter speed. Mastery of the exposure triangle will lead to better photographs in difficult lighting scenarios.

What if you prefer to shoot in Auto mode? Or in aperture priority (A) or shutter priority (S)? Even so, understanding the exposure triangle will help you to comprehend why the camera is selecting particular settings, and what the visible results will be in your photograph.

The exposure triangle does not need to be as complex as some people make it out to be. The three elements simply need to strike a balance in order for a good exposure to be captured. This balance should be achieved to accommodate the artistic or technical objectives of the photographer.

What objectives? Do you want the subject to be a blur, or be frozen in a split second of time? Do you want rich tonal depth and smooth colors, or something that looks a bit grungy, like a documentary style image? Do you want the entire scene to be in sharp focus, or allow the foreground or background to slide into a gentle softness? Any of these objectives can be achieved using the three elements of the triangle.

It is very important to understand that an adjustment to the numbers on one side of the triangle (to suit the photographer’s objective) will have to offset by an adjustment to one or both of the adjacent sides of the triangle if a manageable exposure is to be maintained. We call these adjustments “stops” or “exposure values”. One full stop up will allow double the light to hit the sensor. Similarly, one full stop down will cut the light in half, by changing either ISO (from 400 to 200, for example), aperture (from 5.6 to 6.3, for example), or the shutter speed (from 1/30th to 1/60th, for example).

Take a look at the camera menus in your DJI Go 4 app. You actually have a live version of the exposure triangle available within the app. It just looks different (not shaped like a triangle), but still has ISO, aperture and shutter speed all adjustable, at your fingertips.

Within the DJI Go 4 app, a window of advanced camera settings may be easily opened. In this window, select the “Iris” icon on the top left corner to reveal the current camera mode (which is set to “M” or manual), as well as the current settings for ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. This is the same thing as looking at the exposure triangle.

In this series of screengrabs, the camera mode is set to manual. The fully manual mode gives complete control of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to the aerial photographer (adjustable while on the ground or flying). Notice that the +-EV (exposure value) number at the bottom of each screengrab has been balanced +-0.0 because the photographer has selected different combinations of ISO, aperture and shutter speed within the exposure triangle, each resulting in a good exposure, but with slightly different objectives in mind.

Here is further explanation of the three key variables in digital photography:

ISO

ISO is the term used to describe the amount of light sensitivity we set for our camera’s digital sensor. I like to analogize the ISO setting to guitar music – a low ISO setting is like the clean, crisp, smooth music of Eric Clapton. As we crank up the ISO number, we are adding electronic gain. The higher ISO number becomes an electric guitar played by Jimi Hendrix in the 60’s, with enough reverb and feedback to make your head explode.

If we adjust the ISO (electronic gain) to a higher number, we are programming the camera sensor to become more sensitive to the light entering through the lens. Increasing the ISO number essentially allows us to capture photographs in low-light situations, but the trade-off is digital noise and decreased tonal values and range of hues.

ISO is simply an acronym for International Standards Organization. Don’t let random photography acronyms frighten you.

Aperture

Aperture refers to the opening size of the leaf diaphragm inside of the lens. This diaphragm is adjustable on the Phantom 4 Pro, but not on earlier model Phantoms, nor in the Mavic series drones. This feature ads a great deal of value to the Phantom 4 Pro by enabling a fully manual shooting mode. Lenses are said to have a sweet spot in the mid-aperture range, around f6.3, where the sharpest images can be captured. A higher aperture number like f11 on a Phantom 4 Pro will allow less light to enter the camera, but create a larger depth of field, where everything both near and far will be focused.  A solution for shooting in low light situations, however, may be to open the aperture ring wide (f2.8) allowing more light to hit the sensor. In the case of a wide open aperture, the photographer must be more diligent about a good focus on the subject.

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro has a variable aperture between ƒ11.0 and ƒ2.8

Shutter Speed

The Phantom 4 Pro has an option to use either a mechanical shutter or electronic (digital) shutter. We also have an amazing range of shutter speeds available from 1/8000th of a second to 8 full seconds! Many photographers will agree that this is the most important creative/technical decision to make, with regards to the exposure triangle.

The longer that you leave the shutter open, the more light is able to enter the camera and be gathered by the sensor. This is good or bad depending on the circumstance and the objective of the photographer. A hand-held, or drone-held camera will often suffer from camera blur if the shutter speed is slower than 1/30th of a second. Drones now exhibit near perfect flight stability in the sky, especially if there is no wind. Some photographers have achieved very sharp images at 2-4 second exposures in near darkness, or while using a neutral density filter. If the photographer’s objective is to blur a fast moving subject, then a slow shutter speed can be used to create intentional blur, as in a “cotton-candy” waterfall. In order to freeze a fast-moving subject, the shutter speed should be 1/250th or faster (shorter).

Ideal Exposure Triangle Settings

So then, what are the ideal camera settings for the DJI Phantom 4 Pro?  Photographers are asked this question quite often. The answer, of course, is that there are no ideal settings because each and every shooting situation is different, and the scenario is dynamically changing.

Most experienced drone still photographers have preferred settings to start with. Setting the P4 camera to the preferred settings on the ground will save you a bit of time once you get into the sky. On any given flight, I prefer to begin my settings with ISO 100 for a smooth image with quality tonal values and hues. I also prefer to set my aperture at about ƒ6.3, the “sweet spot” of the lens, using a nice size middle section of glass. My preferred shutter speed completely depends on what my objective is, and also the story I wish to tell with the image. For intentional subject blur, I will range from 1/30th of a second to about 2 full seconds. Alternatively, to freeze an image and prevent blur, I will opt for 1/250th of a second or faster.

An example of good exposure values.

One of our students at the DJI Photo Academy is a digital photography instructor at Penn State University, recently passed along a link which is very helpful for photography students. Take a look at this to see the differences between shifts of values in the exposure triangle.

All of these numbers may seem confusing at first, but with time the exposure triangle will become an instinctual tool that requires very little thought. Don’t let it make your head explode or ruin your zest for aerial drone photography.

________________________________

Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Sign up below if you want us to let you know when we are coming to your neighborhood.

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The post Exposure Triangle and the DJI Phantom 4 Pro appeared first on DJI Aerial Photography Academy.

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History will repeat itself, they say.

What we saw back in 1995, when digital cameras flooded the consumer market, is happening again with DJI drone cameras surging into the market.

Two decades ago digital cameras quickly caused the demise of analogue film cameras. What followed was a flurry of experimental techniques and alternative methods using the new digital medium. There appeared new photo-manipulation software, new types of digital filters, camera presets, and geeked-out capture techniques like HDR. It was like the wild, wild west for photographers.

And now two decades later? It’s déjà vu all over again!  What was old is new again with a vast fresh audience of drone-wielding shutterbugs. Post processing software gimmickry, presets and yes, even HDR have all been resurrected by a completely new congregation of budding photographers with flying cameras. We baby-boomers feel like we are being sucked back into a psychedelic dream, circa 1995!

I mentioned HDR. This acronym stands for High Dynamic Range. In this case we are referring to the capture of  high dynamic range images with our digital drone cameras. By definition, high dynamic range imaging is the compositing and tone-mapping of images to extend the dynamic range beyond the native capability of the capturing device. [1][2]  The aim is to present a similar range of luminance to that is experienced through the human visual system.

The human eye, through instantaneous adaptation of the iris, adjusts to a broad range of luminance present in our daily environment. The brain works in conjunction with the iris, continuously interpreting this luminance information so that a viewer can see in a wide range of light conditions. Our cameras do not fare so well with a broad range of light.

Let’s boil this down further. Your eye can see a range of up to 24 exposure values (EV’s) of light in a scene. Smaller camera sensors do not fare so well with a broad range of light. Depending on the sensor (number, size, and quality of pixels), your camera will only be able to handle a dynamic range of about 6 to14 EV’s, failing to record any image data on either side of this range. On a bright sunny day, the resulting photograph may have no detail in the bright areas, and/or loss of detail in the shadows. In photography vernacular we call these blown-out highlights and crushed shadows. Modern digital cameras have a workaround.

During the past four-five years, DJI has vastly improved the quality of their digital cameras. DJI branded cameras have a capture menu which includes AEB and HDR. (Note that the HDR capture mode is available only on the Mavic Pro/Platinum, and Mavic AIR drones). Using either one of these settings, you will be able to broaden the range of luminance represented in your finished photograph. Both options work very differently, however.

The HDR capture mode available on the Mavic drones will capture multiple photos with different exposures, then automatically pull the “best” parts of each frame and merge them to produce the final high dynamic range image. This is done in-camera. Personally, I feel like the resulting image looks flat. Most photographers will agree and use the other method, called AEB, for better results.

AEB is the acronym for auto exposure bracketing. Using AEB mode you push the shutter release button one time, and the camera will capture either 3 or 5 different exposures ( your choice) of the scene in rapid-fire sequence. I suggest that you opt to capture 5 images and here is why; the DJIGo4 app doesn’t let you choose the exposure spacing between each shot. It is fixed to 0.7 EV, so 5 shots will give you a better range of exposures to work with  (-1.4 EV, -0.7 EV, 0 EV, +0.7 EV, and +1.4 EV).

Out of those five exposures, I will generally toss two in the trash so that I end up with just -1.4 ,0, +1.4 which is a decent range of exposure with which to move to the next step.

The next step is to run these three exposures through a third-party HDR software. Software-based HDR processing is much more powerful than in-camera processing! I use either Photomatix Pro 6 (free trial here) or Aurora HDR (free trial here). Within these software applications, your batch of three exposures will be merged into a single 32-bit image – which will actually look quite terrible on its own because your computer is unable to display it properly. The next step happens automatically when the 32-bit image is run through a tone-mapping process. This is where the magic happens and a tone-mapped HDR image is displayed for you. It is common for the photographer to make further tweaks to the image, adjusting to personal taste.

HDR can save the day when you need to shoot into the sun, or when you are shooting through dark shadows into a brightly subject. Give it a try. Or at least get to know what HDR means when other people are talking about it. But a final word of advice is that you really should not use HDR imaging unless the lighting on the scene is truly too much for your sensor to handle.

  1. ^ “Compositing Multiple Pictures of the Same Scene”, by Steve Mann, in IS&T’s 46th Annual Conference, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 9–14, 1993
  2. ^ Reinhard, Erik; Ward, Greg; Pattanaik, Sumanta; Debevec, Paul (2005). High dynamic range imaging: acquisition, display, and image-based lighting. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Morgan

________________________________

Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Sign up below if you want us to let you know when we are coming to your neighborhood.

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The post High Dynamic Range Photos with Your DJI Drone appeared first on DJI Aerial Photography Academy.

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Image size 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 – there is plenty of uncertainty around this particular camera menu setting in the DJIGo4 app. What do all those numbers mean, and which is our wise option? The app menu name image size may be misleading in itself, as it might be assumed by the drone operator that the larger numbers mean a larger image size. This is not the case. For instance, 16:9 is the smallest file size recorded of the options below.

In the prof photography industry, we more often refer to image size as aspect ratio. Both terms are interchangeable in this article. When setting up your camera to capture a photograph, image size is the term used to describe the active horizontal and vertical dimensions of your camera’s digital sensor; the dimensions you are opting to use. These dimensions are expressed in a ratio – width:height (width always comes first).

Virtually every popular digital camera has a sensor with one of these two aspect ratios: 3:2 or 4:3. All of these seemingly random numbers are based on film sizes from decades ago. The most popular film size ever was called 35mm. The 35mm strip of film was measured at 35mm tall. The actual image size on each frame was 36:24mm. This reduces mathematically down to a 3:2 ratio. With today’s typical electronic cameras, we still compare digital sensor sizes to the old traditional 35mm strip of film. You might hear an older photographer talking about the “35mm equivalent,” or about a “35mm crop factor;” these are terms that still rebound from the good ‘ol days of film.

Enough history.

The native aspect ratio of your DJI drone photographs is determined by the width:height measurement of the sensor in the camera. You can override the native aspect ratio using settings in the menu of the DJIGo4 app.  If you select an aspect ratio different than the native ratio (for example, you select 16:9, when your drone has a maximum sensor image ratio of 3:2), you are essentially allowing the camera to crop every image for you, even before you take out the micro-SD card and transfer the images on to your computer. In weighing pros and cons of image sizes, there are more good reasons to stick to the largest native aspect ratio, which you should consider as the greatest number of pixels you can effectively use per each photograph captured on your camera.

So what is the native aspect ratio of the sensor in your particular DJI drone? For still photography here are the answers.

  • Inspire 2 Zenmuse X7, 24MP, 6016×4008 = native ratio of 3:2
  • Inspire 1 Zenmuse X5, 16MP, 4608×3456 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Inspire 1 Zenmuse X3, 12MP, 4056×3040 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Phantom 4Pro, 20MP, 5472×3648 = native ratio of 3:2
  • Phantom 4 Advanced, 20MP, 5472×3648 = native ratio of 3:2
  • Phantom 4 (original), 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Phantom 3 (all versions), 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic Pro, 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic Pro Platinum, 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic Air, 12MP, 4056×3040 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Spark, 12MP, 3968×2976 = native ratio of 4:3

You might notice that some of the numbers, as advertised in the spec sheets, are rounded up or down slightly. This is to simplify and standardize tiny variations in actual pixels versus effective pixels. When you see the native ratio of any of these popular drones, it will be either 3:2 or 4:3. Knowing this information will help you max out on your sensor space and capture the greatest amount of data possible inside the camera.

Personally, my workflow as a photographer is to use the maximum number of pixels available on the image sensor each time I capture a photograph. More pixels captured ultimately means more pixels to work with as I move my images into post processing.

This is where you find the “Image Size” on the DJIGo4 app.

Once you load drone images into your computer for editing (I typically use Adobe Lightroom, with a touch of Photoshop), then you will be able to make smarter cropping decisions, given a wider field of pixels from which to select. Final cropping at home on the computer makes good sense. Why?

  • You have a larger viewing screen.
  • You are no longer under a time constraint. (When the drone is draining its battery in the air, we often feel that pressure to work quickly.)
  • All drones tend to bounce around slightly while in the sky – especially in high wind – making critical cropping a challenge.

But wait! Why is there also that unusual 16:9 image size offered as an option on the DJIGo4 App? The 16:9 size is offered generally to videographers because this is the same ratio as in wide-screen TV cropping. As a still photographer, you might think 16:9 aspect ratio gives a nice panoramic feel to an image. True, but you are still throwing away pixels before you get to the editing table. Overcome that urge and stick with the native aspect ratio. It will pay off later with your own creative control.

________________________

Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Sign up below if you want us to let you know when we are coming to your neighborhood.

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Spring break is a week-long vacation for students. The particular week varies from region to region across America, but typically falls around Easter Day. Spring break means that the snow is ending and the days are growing longer. Generally speaking we are less grumpy when spring arrives. Spring break signals a new beginning; a re-birth. Spring break also signals us to unpack our DJI drones, charge up the batteries and create new photos!

1) Schools are out.

School campuses and government buildings are typically not good locations to fly drones. During spring break your local colleges and high schools become ghost towns; no kids, teachers, or administrators anywhere. This is a great time to shoot campuses. Even so, use safe flying habits as there may be sports teams still competing on the campus.

State and local government offices are operating on reduced levels during the spring break weeks. Many employees are on holiday travel with their families. Government buildings are a great subject for architectural aerial photographs. Check your airspace restrictions using AIRMAP app first. Find a security guard and make him/her aware of your flight intentions before spooling up your motors. Keep a safe distance.

2) People are generally relaxed and happy because the snow is melting.

The days are growing longer. Holiday stress is melting away and that cranky neighbor (who claims your DJI Mavic Air is louder than his/her gas powered leaf blower) will be mellowed out. Drone flying is simply one of the greatest stress-releasing activities out there. Heck, bring the kids and Uncle Reuben with you. they will be astonished by your tech skills. And consider this, your neighbors are finally getting drones in your neighborhood. In 2015 your neighbors thought you were a spy. This is 2018 – public perception is on the upswing.

3) The beach, pool, river or lake is calling!

Perhaps the greatest subject for drone photographers is shoreline! Shoreline is where we witness the conflict of nature, opposing forces, and a mixture of contrasting and complementary elements. Wherever water and land meet, go fly your drone and take a look-see!

Warning: Spring holidays occasionally involve alcohol. Do not drink and drone.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Sign up below if you want us to let you know when we are coming to your neighborhood.

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Drone photography in whale research. It’s about time!

We have all seen fascinating aerial photographs of massive whales as they navigate through the waters of the world’s oceans. Since the release of the DJI Phantom quadcopter drone in 2013, humans have a completely capable and unexpected new tool to view and study such creatures in their natural marine habitats. A drone’s-eye-view of a whale is not only beautiful, but scientifically insightful. Research teams from whale-rich corners of the planet are clambering to learn how small drones may provide data through photogrammetry. Drone photography is now becoming a standard research procedure, allowing scientists to ask a whole range of new questions as they view their subjects from this new perspective.

What type of data will an off-the-shelf quadcopter drone provide to a researcher?  Ask Dr. Rachel Cartwright, Dr. Cartwright has been researching humpback whales for 15 years; she is the founder and lead researcher of The Keiki Koholā Project, a local non profit conservation group based on Maui, Hawaii and Rachel also teaches UAV and other classes at California State University Channel Islands. She is on the forefront – successfully using drone technology as a tool for gathering whale data. The funny thing is, her trusty old Phantom 3 Pro is her drone of choice, and perhaps the least expensive tool in her arsenal. She uses the Phantom 3 for several reasons. It is simple to hand launch and retrieve from a small moving research boat. The lens has a wide field of view, allowing her to document a pod of several whales while flying at 100 feet. Finally, data collection over time requires consistent methodology. Cartwright has used the same size camera sensor and lens for three years now, allowing her to make consistent measurements from one season to the next.

Sixty percent of the Northern Pacific humpback whale population migrates to the warm waters of Maui, Hawaii during the winter months to mate and birth calves. Dr Cartwright, working under N.O.A.A. research permit #17845-3, is hoping to prove the importance and vitality of the waters around Maui, as a safe and secure nursery where mothers can raise their calves.

“Maui is really important as a place where the next generation of whales start, but there are indications that the quality of the area may have been impacted and the behavior has changed. We can quantify those changes by looking at the body condition of the moms, and documenting how that change over the course of time that they are in this area raising their calves.”

Precise measurements may be made by flying at predetermined altitudes, say 100 feet above a mother and calf  humpback as they break the surface of the water to breathe. Her research team uses measurements of the research vessel to convert pixel counts to real measurements of the whales’ body size and shape body size and shape.

“We are comparing the moms with young calves to the moms with older calves, and we can see a change in the body shape, and we can see how much change we get in that body shape, in different areas and in different regions. On top of that we can compare between years so that we can see if our average mom in 2018 is chubbier or slimmer than our mom in 2017 or 2016.”

At a recent whale symposium hosted by The Society of Marine Mammalogy, in Nova Scotia, Canada,  where an international group of more than 1500 marine mammal researchers were gathered, the discussions about drones filled the air. There is a giddy new excitement as teams from Alaska to the Antarctic create new data collection methods using drones to help protect marine species.

“The Phantom drones have given us a whole new perspective. Phantoms have opened up a window into a way of looking down on the whale. We haven’t been able to measure living whales in the wild until this point. We tried underwater, but there is too much distortion, and the ones that we get stranding on beaches have died and their health has been impacted. This is our first chance to measure the length and sizes and monitor their health of living whales in real time.”

We all love whales, right? Follow Dr. Cartwright and her team for research updates.

All of this is yet another reason we refer to small DJI drones as a “disruptive technology”. The disruptions are positively affecting industries worldwide, meaning higher productivity, more versatility, increased efficiency, and safer methods.

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Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Sign up below if you want us to let you know when we are coming to your neighborhood.

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The post Drone Photography in Whale Research appeared first on DJI Aerial Photography Academy.

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You decide whether or not to override your camera’s sophisticated light sensors.

Next time you head out to take photos with your digital camera, realize that you are walking around with a relatively powerful computer in your hand. Today’s digital camera systems have more built-in intelligence than you may ever need or use. Cameras record lightwaves with great accuracy. You, as the photographer, can program your camera to see light and color in specific way. Your camera is rarely wrong about the light it records.

Most quality digital cameras now have an exposure compensation function. This is my Nikon camera showing +1.3 exposure values, or f-stop.

Your DJI drone camera is pretty much the same as any other modern camera, except it has the remarkable benefit of flying. It is a flying computer with an eyeball which records the light and color of the world around you. Your flying DJI camera rarely makes mistakes, if ever. Why then do many of your photos still “come out dark”, or “come out light”?

You, as an aerial photographer have to give commands to both the drone and camera separately yet simultaneously. As an age-old photographer working in the drone industry, it is easy to see that some people have more skill flying, and others have more skill with the camera. Very few people are experienced enough to be expert at both. We all recognize them, because our jaws collectively drop to the floor when they post consistently great images on the DJI Owners Facebook Groups.

The control wheel for exposure compensation on the DJI Phantoms is located on the upper right corner of the remote controller.

We all want to make better photographs. There is one particular camera function that will help you create consistently better photographs, and it is relatively underused by drone flyers. This function (or command) is called exposure compensation. The exposure compensation control on the DJI Phantom remote controller is the round flywheel on the upper right side. It is the same button/wheel that controls the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, depending on what mode you are shooting with. Regardless of the shooting mode, you, as the camera operator, are able to override the powerful brain of the camera and tell it that you prefer to record more or less light in a scene.

Simply press down on the wheel to jump from Iso to shutter speed, to +-EV. This +-EV translates into “more or less exposure value”. If you scroll to the right, you are commanding the camera to give you more exposure, or more light. Scrolling to the left will make the photograph darker by allowing less light to hit the sensor.

This photograph was captured using the “correct exposure” as determined by the Phantom 4 Pro camera.

After deciding that I wanted the river in the foreground to be my primary subject, I decided to lighten up the entire image by +2.3 EV using the exposure compensation function on the Phantom 4 Pro remote controller.

Why is this so important? There is one particularly familiar situation in drone photography that requires the photographer to use exposure compensation: It is when the background sky is much brighter than the subject in the foreground. In this case the foreground becomes silhouetted. This is known as a “backlit” photograph. As the photographer, you should determine what your primary subject is, and help your camera record to correct amount of light that best supports your subject, with a certain amount of disregard to the other elements in the photograph. Here is where you use the exposure compensation wheel!   Use it often and fly safely.

This portrait is captured with Auto exposure. The drone camera saw the light sky and set the exposure properly for the large background. This created a backlit situation on the subject in the portrait, making him too dark.

In this case,I wanted the camera to expose for the person rather than the sky, so I used exposure compensation (+1.3 EV) to override the camera’s computer.

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Authors Randy Jay Braun & Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops guiding attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work and for play.

A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Please contact randy-stacy@djiphotoacademy.com with any questions. Sign up here for drone photo tips and workshop updates!

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The post Using the Exposure Compensation Wheel on Your Phantom appeared first on DJI Aerial Photography Academy.

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With our aerial DJI drone cameras, we all have the choice to capture either JPEG or RAW photograph files. Each format serves its own purpose, but there are vast differences. A realtor, home inspector or hobby pilot may prefer JPEG files to save time and end up with a tidy, smart looking image straight out of the camera. My choice is to shoot RAW because I intend to spend time processing every selected image. In my opinion it is crucial to capture your photos in RAW format if you intend to work at a higher level in still photography. Here is an example:

Shooting in  RAW, I intentionally captured this scene with the church under-exposed by approximately 4 EV’s (exposure values or ƒ-stops). What was I thinking when I captured this original photo? Why would I intentionally capture a scene like this with a “wrong” exposure? Why not just use the camera’s light meter to make a “correct” exposure?

This is why; with experience in photography there eventually comes a gut feeling about how far we can push the exposure latitude of a digital image during capture. Sometimes, I want to override the camera’s computer to achieve a particular effect. In this case, I could have shot the church scene with my Phantom 4 Pro in fully automatic settings and the outcome would have been a fairly average looking photo. In doing so, I would have lost most of the nice hues in the sky, and also lost the rich emotional feeling of the twilight hour. These things are important for me to convey to the viewer.

The histogram represents the exposure data of your JPEG image.  You will have some “bonus” space on both the left and right side of the histogram when shooting RAW. I consider the histogram a critical, yet flexible flexible guideline tool to reinforce my instincts.

While flying the camera near this church at dusk, I knew how much shadow and brightness my RAW file could handle, and so I opted to expose the image more for the sky and later open up the shadow detail in post processing. I never fly without first opening the histogram in the DJI Go 4 app. Remember that this numerically based chart represents the exposure values of a JPEG image (not a RAW file) and so in this case I ignored the heavy left side of the graph, indicating underexposure. Conversely, on the right-hand side of the histogram I was more careful to preserve the highlights because those are more delicate in post processing. An over-processed sunset leads to posterization or banding between subtle hues.

With the Phantom 4 Pro, I commonly expose a bit to the left on the histogram (one EV underexposed). This helps me retain more solid data in the sky. All of this is easier than it sounds. Let’s take a look at the basic slider settings I used in Adobe Lightroom:

Using Adobe Lightroom, basic exposure decisions can be made and adjusted with sliders in just 30 seconds.

In the very first panel (Basic Panel) I made 4-5 quick adjustments which recovered the shadows while preserving the highlights. It took me a total of 30 seconds. From that point I made additional adjustments in other panels to suit my personal taste.

Here is some more information about RAW versus JPEG. If you decide to shoot in RAW and learn post processing, there are several RAW file processing applications available; Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW, Macphun Luminar, DXO Optics Pro and Capture One Pro, to name a few.

Authors Randy Jay Braun & Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops guiding attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work and for play.  If you would like to attend, find the current workshop schedule at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Please contact randy-stacy@djiphotoacademy.com with any questions. Fill out the form to receive our workshop schedule and drone photo tips:

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The post Drone Photography: Some Like it RAW appeared first on DJI Aerial Photography Academy.

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DJI Aerial Photography Academy | Drone P.. by Randy Braun And Stacy Garlington - 4M ago

Drone photographs captured over water are filled with drama and never-before-seen views of the planet around us. We see marine life, shoreline, and the spectacle of contrasting elements.  Flying a drone from a boat is especially challenging and requires a great deal of care and pre-consideration, if you don’t want to say goodbye to your DJI investment.

Coordination between crew-members is vital when flying from an ocean vessel where swells and currents may not be obvious.

We have flown from boats and kayaks since the Phantom 1, in early 2013, and we endured several scares and close calls. We learned from our mistakes and we want to teach others so that they also learn from our mishaps. Here, at DJI Aerial Photo Academy, we compiled a list of pointers that will help you mitigate your risks while flying from a boat. Not all of these tips will apply to every flight or every type of boat. It is best to at least read these and grasp the reasons behind each tip, in case you find yourself in a wet situation where your drone begins to act oddly.

Let’s go through the tips point-by-point:

  • Stop the boat before booting up your gear. This allows the electronic sensors in the inertial measurement unit (IMU) to settle down.
  • DJI Phantom drones are simplest to fly from boats, for the reason that you may have to hand-launch and hand-catch the drone.
  • Calibrate compass and (IMU) sensors on shore before you board the boat and at each opportunity when you set foot on dry land.
  • Sit down when you fly from a boat.
  • Turn off the visual positioning system (VPS) over water. The motion of the water may cause the drone to act in erratic fashion because the optical and sonic sensors have a difficult time “seeing” or locking in on something fluid.
  • Pre-check air space in all areas in which the boat will be located. Don’t get out there on the water and unexpectedly find yourself in a no-fly zone.

    Launching from a sailboat is possibly the trickiest maneuver, for you have little control over the speed of the boat. Guy-wires create obstacles in several directions.

  • Upon landing on the boat, or in the hands of the “catcher,” the drone’s motors will take several seconds longer to shut down than they do on land because the boat is in constant motion and the drone will not “recognize” that it is “on the ground.”
  • Set your home point to “dynamic” so that your remote controller is always the return-to-home point rather than the take-off point. The boat will have moved from the take-off point after you have flown a few minutes.
  • Toggle “distance limit” to off.
  • Select a custom channel after you check the DJI Go 4 app to determine which frequencies are empty and available.
  • In the DJI Go 4 app, you have a series of pre-selected options from which to select “If RC Signal Lost” 1) Throttle down 2) Hover, and 3) Return home. Hover is likely the best option, but this depends on many variables. Think this through in advance depending on your situation. Throttle down is most likely a bad choice here.

    Sit down when flying from a boat! Communicate with the captain, and use a visual observer when possible.

  • Launch from hand or from your hard drone case or table. Boats are often constructed with a lot of metal and this causes compass errors. The way to get rid of the compass error is to lift the drone off the metal, or move it away from metal surfaces.
  • Be prepared to hand catch with a glove. Keep a tight-fitting leather garden glove in your drone case. Catching a drone by hand is the last option for landing, but in boat situations this may be the only option. Gloves are still not guaranteed to protect your hand from the propellers, but they will help.
  • Be conscious of the direction and the speed of the water current. Many decisions upon take-off and landing will depend on the drift of your boat. Wind is also a factor in the boat’s drift.
  • When hand catching on a small craft, position the boat to drift in perpendicular fashion to the incoming drone. You will prefer to land or catch the drone as it comes in from the side, lessening the risk of collision with the boat or another person.

    Risk mitigation is important before boat-droning. Think everything out in advance.

  • Remember this, if nothing else: If you launch any GPS-enabled drone while the boat is moving (even slightly), the drone marks the home position instantly upon takeoff. The drone will stay in its GPS home position while the boat continues to drift. This may cause the properly-operating drone to appear as if it is drifting out of control as the boat moves under it. The drone may accidentally hit a guy-wire, antenna, or worse yet, a person.
  • Once booted up, throttle up fast and elevate the drone above people and above masts, antennas, etc. The boat is likely drifting and the drone is locked in to 3-D space accurately by GPS coordinates. Accidents occur when the moving boat runs into the positioned drone.
  • Be conscious of waves and swells. As you launch and land on a large body of water, the boat will lift and lower itself in the swells, which may not even be visible with the human eye. This effect may make it appear mistakenly as if the drone is drifting up and down in altitude when it is actually stable and it is the boat itself that is rising and falling.
  • Do store your drone away from the motor or engine room. A lot of electromagnetic energy is emitted near the motor or engine room. This energy may be so severe that you have no choice but to go back to shore to re-calibrate the compass or IMU sensors.

    Plan to swap out SD cards every time you swap out batteries. Your card filled with images is possibly the most valuable part of your drone.

  • Stay within line of sight. There is nothing more bun-clenching than not knowing where your drone is when you are on a boat that is moving. Trust me on this. At the very least, keep the buzzing sound within ear-range.
  • Depending on the boat size, you may want to turn off obstacle avoidance. Do you have a large landing zone, or not? On a small boat, the obstacle avoidance may inhibit your landing techniques or even prohibit you from hand-catching the drone.
  • It you run into your “geo wall,” which you may have set at a specific distance, you will run into trouble as the boat moves from your take-off point past your max distance. The drone will simply hit an invisible wall and will no longer be able to come toward your boat. Reset the home point immediately in the DJI Go 4 app. Better to do this every few minutes if the boat continues to sail farther from the take-off point.
  • When launching from a sailboat, launch from the stern far away from the mast and guy-wires. Guy-wires are often unnoticed because they can be thin.
  • Retrieve your drone at 40% battery. It may take you an unexpected few extra minutes to land the drone. Make this your boat protocol.

    DJI Phantom drones are quickly becoming a standard tool in marine research. Photo©Keiki Kohola Project-Research#17845-3

  • Wear safety gear: A hat, garden gloves, and shatterproof eyeglasses.
  • Notify the captain of the boat of your flight plan and communicate during your drone flight.
  • It is very helpful to the drone operator (for directional orientation) if the boat’s bow is pointed toward the direction of the drone as it is in the air.
  • If your drone is in Beginner Mode then do not fly from a boat.
  • Drones do sink. (See video below.)

Bad day flying from my kayak... - YouTube

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Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page. Sign up below if you want us to let you know when we are coming to your neighborhood.

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The post Flying Your Drone from a Boat appeared first on DJI Aerial Photography Academy.

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