Night Drone Photography

With recent changes to the FAA rules, it is now possible for drone pilots to fly at night without jumping through as many hoops as before. To be eligible to fly at night, I had to take the update course for my “Part 107” certificate. I also must have an anti-collision light on my drone that is visible for 3 miles in any direction (that sucker is bright!).

When flying at night, one needs to be very aware of their surroundings so as not to hit something that you can’t see. It’s best to check out the location in daylight hours to be sure there are no wires or other such items that you might encounter.

I flew my first night flight a couple weeks ago just to try it out. I flew from my deck, which is surrounded (and partially covered) by trees. I know where they are, and where on my deck I am clear of overhead obstructions. Landing is the tricky part — making sure that I am not descending into the trees or onto my roof. I was successful in flying a short flight and taking a few photos.

Several days later I flew from the Edmonds waterfront. I walked up the beach until I was clear of other beach-goers and had a good place to take off and land (a flat, almost-level, rock). My goal was to get some shots showing the Edmonds Ferry at or near the dock and the city lights of Edmonds. I was successful.

I flew my DJI Mini 2, which is very light-weight and has a 12 megapixel camera. I would like to try again with my DJI Phantom 4 Pro, which is heavier and has a better quality 20 megapixel camera. I think the heavier drone will probably be a bit more stable, which will improve the sharpness of the photos taken with the slow shutter speed required. Although, looking at the photos, the sharpness is quite good considering the camera is “sitting” on a platform floating in the air, subject to wind and motor/propeller vibration. Shutter speeds were between one third and one second with ISO varying from 1600 to 3200. With the small sensor on the DJI Mini 2, these high ISOs made for somewhat grainy photos.

The photo below was shot as a series of nine RAW photos. The drone was positioned at one point in the sky, then three photos were shot using exposure bracketing (each photo with a different exposure) to capture the wide brightness range. Then the drone was rotated, and another three shots were taken. I did this three times. Each set of three photos was merged using Adobe Lightroom Classic to form one HDR photo, resulting in three HDR photos, each with a slightly different view. These resulting three photos were then merged into a single panorama photo, again using Lightroom, to create the final image.

Edmonds Waterfront
Edmonds Waterfront

Edit 2/13/22: If you want to see the above photo in larger size, look at my Flickr album here.

2 thoughts on “Night Drone Photography”

  1. Beautiful! Sounds like you are having a lot of fun with your drones! Looking forward to your deck party.

    Like

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