How to Capture Incredible Detail in Your Drone Photography
Over the past decade, drones have created a whole new genre of photography for the average consumer. Their biggest hurdle has been poor resolution and dynamic range, but with these few tips, you can achieve much more detail in your drone photography. We’ve come a long way from the first drone I owned, a Phantom 2, which didn’t even have a camera equipped and you had to build parts of it yourself. In a very short time, drones have gone from a DIY hobby to being so easy to use that Grandpa can buy one for retirement fun. Kidding aside, many of us use drones to blend in with our ground photography and open up a whole different world of perspectives. I even met a few people who specialize and only photograph drones as if it were a genre like wedding or portrait photography.
Assuming you’re not flying a rugged drone with a full-fledged mirrorless or DSLR camera, you’ve probably struggled to be completely satisfied with the image quality coming from your drone’s camera. . Recent drones take great pictures, certainly good enough for social media, but when you want to print those pictures or edit as many details out of them as possible, you might struggle to get the results you want. Here are some quick and easy fixes that should absolutely improve the picture quality the next time you fly.
Exposure Bracketing is an advanced technique used in landscape photography that allows you to capture multiple images at different exposures to improve the dynamic range of your final image. I wrote an entire article on why and how to use exposure bracketing in landscape photography which I highly recommend you read if this is new to you. I go in depth to explain what dynamic range is and why you might want to bracket the exposure of your images.
Dynamic range is the amount of light measured between the darkest part and the lightest part of a scene. So the higher the dynamic range, the more luminance values you can retain in an image.
All cameras have a limited dynamic range, especially the camera on your drone. This means that when you take a single photo, there may be parts of the image that are just too bright or too dark to hold any information.
Notice in the image above that we have all the detail we could want in the darkest regions of the photo, but to do this we had to completely overexpose the brightest parts of the image. It is the dynamic range of our camera that limits what we can capture and to help with this we can frame the exposure of our images. All of this means we’ll be taking multiple frames instead of a single frame to add a few stops of dynamic range to our final image and the best part is that it’s built into most drones!
I will use a Mavic 2 Pro and DJI GO 4 for all the explanations here which should cover the majority of drone users. Once connected to your drone, open the photo settings.
Select the camera icon at the top. Also, make sure your image format is set to raw. Press “Photo” to open photo mode selection.
Select AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) and select 5 shots. If you select 3 shots, you will only come away with 2 more stops of dynamic range instead of 4. Now each time you take a shot, it will take 5 frames: a -2EV, -1EV, 0EV, + 1EV and +2EV . Keep that in mind because these images will add up quickly. Technically, we don’t really need the -1 and +1 exposures, but there’s currently no way to just take the -2EV and +2EV exposures, so we have to use them and end up with a few more shots.
Make sure you don’t use the HDR setting on your drone if it’s equipped with one, as processing them automatically can affect the quality of your images. If your drone doesn’t have an AEB setting, you can do it manually. Simply take a shot at 0EV, -2EV and +2EV changing shutter speed between shots as quickly as possible.
Okay, now that you know how to get more dynamic range in your drone shots, how do you get more resolution? The answer is much simpler: panoramas. But we are not limited to only taking side-to-side photos, we can take photos in a grid depending on our composition. Panoramas are a bit different in execution than exposure bracketed images since you will need specific scenes or change your drone’s placement so you can take multiple images, usually this just means getting closer to your subject . If you’re unfamiliar with panoramas, feel free to catch up here, but it should be easy to follow if you’ve never taken one before!
The rule is simple when shooting panoramas, just make sure the images overlap by about 30-40%. So, you’ll take your first frame, turn your drone right or left, and keep going until you tilt your gimbal down, then traverse back. I’ve created some sample panoramas above that you can take. Obviously, you can take as many as you want in any pattern, but just make sure to take them quickly so objects that might move in your footage are easier to blend in.
Many times you’ll fly so far that you’ll capture an entire scene in one frame, but if you want more resolution, all you have to do is fly closer to your subject and take a panorama that captures the entire scene. scene.
Now that you know how to frame exposure and take panoramas, it’s time to combine the two techniques into one scene. All you have to do is make sure the AEB setting is on when you’re going to take a panorama — that’s it. This means you’ll end up with 5 images for each part of your panorama, so even though hard drive space is cheap these days, don’t go overboard with all the images you take.
It’s time to take all of our images and combine them together. We’ll be using Lightroom Classic for this example, but Photoshop and Lightroom CC can do this as well. I’m sure other programs can too, but these are the ones I know of. Once all your images have been imported, you will need to find the start and end of an image sequence in your library. I do this by adding a star to the first image and 5 stars to the last, just to help me know where a single composition begins and ends.
Select the first image in the sequence and while holding down the Shift key, select the last image. Right click and go to Photo Merge, Panorama HDR. Depending on the number of frames in your shot and your computer, this may take some time.
This will bring up your panoramic preview which I break down in depth in my article for all settings. The first thing you need to do is make sure all of your images are processed in the top right corner. To keep things simple I would try the spherical and cylindrical projects, usually cylindrical gives me the best results on a grid style panorama from my drone, then warp the limits to 100. You may have noticed that I used the spherical projection for this particular image. A great reminder not to follow them blindly and play around with what suits your photo best,
And that’s it, we’re done! You now have an image with much more dynamic range and resolutions that rival or beat modern mirrorless cameras. I’d love to see your results or any tips you might have from your experiences in the comments below! As always, thanks for reading and I hope this sheds some new light on your photographic journey.