Drone Photography at Night - Tips on Shooting and Editing

City shots at night are visually appealing.  Similar to night photography in general, here are some tips on shooting and editing from our own experiences.

Before we proceed, be mindful that certain parts of the world do not allow flying drones at night! Do check before you take flight.

Drone of Choice:

Our drone of choice is the Mavic 2 Pro for night photography.  Other than its portability, it also has some key features below that make sit an outstanding drone for night photography:

- 1" sensor (for taking in more light)
- Aperture up to F2.8 (and in full manual control)

Settings:

Similar to using a DSLR, there are several settings that play a big part into shooting at night:

- Aperture
- Shutter speed
- ISO

Assuming you already have a basic understanding of controlling the exposure of a camera, it is absolutely the same on a drone.

However, unlike a camera which you can mount a tripod on for the long exposure shots, you cannot for a drone.  Now here's the mindblowing news: you can do about 2s exposure on a drone (on a breezy day).  Yes, the drone is capable of a 2s exposure without blur/shake on a breezy day. Of course this is heavily dependent on wind speed, gust winds, etc... so there's no guarantee. 

This leads to our shooting mode of choice: continuous mode.  Continuous mode takes multiple frames per shutter click, minimizing the effect of gust wind causing motion blur to your taken image. There ought to be one of two stable amongst the multiple shots you have taken, right?  

About ISO, this depends on the drone you use and the amount of noise you can tolerate on an image. Generally for the Mavic 2 Pro, we won't go beyond ISO 200 - 400. ISO 400 on a windy day and ISO 200 on a breezy day.

Tips on Editing Night Photography and Blending Exposures:

Here's a before and after shot:



There are a few things we have done in editing this image.  Other than the basic editing including tone curves, contrast, saturation etc... Did you notice there were more light streaks from passing cars in the edited version?

This is achieved by taking the same shot in several continuous frames and "blending" them together using Adobe Photoshop.  Here's a simple guide (and our workflow) to doing this:

1. Edit your photo using Adobe Lightroom

This involves the basic editing that you would do to any of your images, in your own preferred style.

2. Open as Layers in Adobe Photoshop

Select the several frames (usually three to five, or more if you like) and go to "Photo > Edit in > Open as Layers in Photoshop"

3. Diving into Adobe Photoshop

After opening the images as layers on Adobe Photoshop, you should see your chosen selection of photos listed in the layers panel as below:

 

4. Aligning your layers

You should then select the layers, then go to "Edit > Auto-align layers"

As the drone isn't on a tripod, it might sway or rotate due to the winds. Therefore, aligning the images on Photoshop makes sure the images will be stacked properly.

5. "Lighten"

Once the images are stacked properly, go back to the layers panel and select "Lighten" This function will filter the "light" areas of the images and stack them on each other. 

As you can see, the light streaks are already stacked!

6. Final Edit:

Once you have completed all of the steps above, you will need to edit your image one final pass because:

- Auto aligning the images means there may be some cropping required to the edges
- Lightening your photos means the contrast of the image is now slightly different to the image that you have originally edited. So we woiuld suggest to import the photo back to Lightroom for one final edit.

Hope you have enjoyed our tips on shooting night photography on Drone and how to post-process them. Let us know if you have any questions through e-mail (contact@beyondvisuals.hk) or DM on our Instagram https://www.instagram.com/beyondvisualshk/

The Beyond Visuals Team 




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