New Drone and Some Photography

A friend of mine got a DJI Phantom 4 Pro and had it for a while and thought it was cool but a bit out of my price range, then someone else I knew got a Phantom 3. So I started looking more into things and bought a Phantom 3 Advanced and got some extra necessities with it. An extra battery, props, and a bag. In short, I have bought a few more accessories and well to make a long story short, I enjoy this new hobby. At this time I have flown it nearly everyday aside from a few days where it was raining. I have got over 1.5 million feet and nearly 18 hours of flight time, and something around 150 flights.

One of the things I figured out with the photography end was to shoot in RAW. Now I have been shooting in RAW with my Nikon for sometime but I’d say most people know they should but don’t know why exactly. The reason is mostly due to the dynamic range. JPEG images are pretty much limited to the standard color pallet your computer can display, RAW generally goes a little beyond that. So if you did slightly over or under expose an image you have a little more wiggle room for adjustments also there is no compression so the RAW files are generally 10x larger than a JPEG image.

Storm rolling in over Lake Chatuge

The next thing was learning about all the different flight modes. The Phantom 3/4 use GPS positioning and while that makes it easy to fly and generally much safer to fly, it is much like having training wheels but you, in most cases, don’t want to turn that off. Generally speaking I always take off and land in GPS mode. Once I am up in the air and the conditions are manageable I will fly in ATTI mode (attidude mode) which turns the GPS positioning off. It doesn’t disable the GPS, just lets the drone fly freely, but you are having to compensate for the wind and in a tailwind make for some extreme speed. In my case, I have been able to hit 60 MPH, but in reality I probably should not have been flying the drone that day. In the photo above, after landing, shortly afterward, the winds from the thunderstorm came through with 40-50 MPH gusts. That would have been bad and might have made it impossible to land the drone. To make matters worse, I’m near the lake and fly over water a lot.

I will say, of the few times I have seen a rainbow and had a camera, they are very hard to capture, same goes with sunsets.

Nice, but the sun is always over exposed and I guess in the case of the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced, just not enough dynamic range…even with a ND8 filter. I even tried HDR shots and still just didn’t get what I was wanting.


Now I am new to HDR image processing so some of the first ones were a bit dicey. There is no doubt, looking at the individual shots that I am getting a more vibrant image but I like for the results to be what I saw and the sun was very much orange and not white but there’s no saving it. At least not without a lot more editing and then that takes away from the whole thing.
The next thing is FAA regulations. There are a lot of them. The biggest problem for the area I live in is remaining at or under 400 ft AGL (above ground level). The problem is that the app, DJI Go, only shows your altitude relative from where you took off. So, unless you’re on a pretty flat area the AGL the app reports is pretty inaccurate. Meaning if I went to a mountain top that was 3,200 ft in elevation and flew out in a straight line, the app would say I’m 0 ft in altitude and let say the land in the valley below was 2,000 ft…the app says 0ft but I’m really 1,200 ft AGL and in serious trouble with the FAA. The other problem to contend with is that descending and climbing, climbing specifically, eats away battery life in a hurry. Also, can put your drone out of radio range. Which is another guideline, keep your drone in VLOS, visual line of sight. Now I know many people bend or break the rule on that. The phantoms are white…skies can be blue or white if it is cloudy and unless it is near dark the lights don’t help you so it is very difficult to follow that guideline to a T. Just depends on what you’re doing with your drone in terms of photography. The big thing though is pre-flight check. I will tell you right now if your prop comes off, your drone is crashing and if you’re 400 ft in the air and it falls on someone or damages someone else’s property there’s going to be issues. Check everything, have some common sense, know how the technology works, not just because it is fun. They don’t let people fly airplanes just because they want to. You probably wouldn’t want a Cessna flying into the roof of your house, same goes with your drone. So the big ones are pre-flight checks, battery maintenance and monitoring, and obey the 400 ft AGL limit. Don’t fly within 5 nautical miles of an airport with an active control tower, call them and ask, they’re probably going to be fine with what you’re doing. If you’re flying 200 ft in the air and you’re 4.5 miles away, they’re not going to have an issue and frankly that drone pilot is the least of their worries. The ones they worry about don’t call and try to “hack” the drone so they can fly it 16,000 ft in the air…
Anyway, more photos…

The more I play with the HDR stuff, the better. The biggest challenge is getting a photo with a low enough exposure…I can crank out over exposed photos all that with the Phantom. This was near sunset only using a UV filter and got surprisingly good results. At any rate it is easy to get a little too overkill working with the HDR to the point where it just doesn’t look real and “photorealistic” is what I am aiming for in most cases. So the picture above is pretty close to what it looked like as shot.
Anyway, I plan on sharing more stuff soon. I also put together a compilation you can watch here:

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