Becoming a Better Drone Photographer- Setting up your DJI Camera in Aperture Preferred Mode
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Becoming a Better Drone Photographer: Setting up your DJI Drone Camera in Aperture Priority Mode

In this article and video, I am going to show you how to setup your DJI drone camera, using the Go 4 app, in Aperture Priority Mode for shooting photographs. I will be using my Inspire 2. Your screen may look a little different, but the basics are the same. Also, note that some drones don’t allow you to change the aperture.

What is Aperture Priority Mode?

Aperture Priority Mode is where you tell the camera to use a particular aperture or f-stop and then it adjusts ISO and shutter speed to maintain that aperture.

Why would I want to use that?

With these smaller sensors in our drone cameras, you really want to stay in the 4-5.6 f-stop range as much as possible. With even smaller sensors, you might want it a little lower. This will give us the sharpest photographs.

What is the aperture anyway?

The aperture determines how much light is let into the camera sensor. A smaller number, like f2.0, lets in more light and a larger number, like f5.6 lets in less light. This f-stop also affects how much of the photograph is in focus in front of and behind, where you set focus. A larger number causes more of the image to be in focus in front of and behind that point of focus. A smaller number causes less of the image to be in focus, in front of and behind the point of focus. So why don’t you just set it to f16 or f22? Well, too large an f-stop will degrade the sharpness of the photograph because of something called lens diffraction. The camera on my drone is a micro 4/3 sensor and the best range is from f4-5.6. Yours may have a slightly different range, but this will be a good starting point for you.

What is ISO?

When you set the Shutter and the F-number (f-stop) to specific values, changing the ISO allows you to increase the amount of light that the camera sees. The drawback is that as I increase the ISO from say 100 to 1600, noise increases in the photograph and at some point it becomes unusable. So it is a balance between them all. Typically you want to use the smallest ISO setting you can. You can also use noise reduction to remove that noise, but noise reduction also removes detail in our photographs, so it is a balance.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is how fast the camera takes the picture. Typically, you want something faster than 1/30th of a second. Your drone will show 30 for 1/30th of a second or 100 for 1/100th of a second. A bigger number means a faster shutter speed. Explore this and find out how well your gimbal/camera stabilizes the image at slower shutter speeds. If you are getting blur in your images, increase your shutter speed.

Preparation

Do your initial setup inside. Be sure to remove the rotor blades from your drone before you begin.

  1. Start your remote controller, connect your tablet and start the Go 4 app
  2. Start your drone
  3. You should see a screen similar to the one in the video and in the screenshots below.

Now watch the video

Some things to explore.

In Aperture Priority Mode there are settings you can change using the right wheel even when you are flying. The right wheel on the controller (see below) is both a button that lets you change what is selected and a wheel for changing values.

Show wheel

When you push on the wheel like a button, you will see the selection change between ISO, EV, and F (f-stop).

EV-selected

Click the wheel/button until you have EV selected. Now slowly move the wheel, and as you do so, you will notice Shutter changing. It leaves ISO and F(f-stop) alone until it reaches 30 (1/30th of a second shutter speed) and then it begins to increase ISO. Using the histogram as a guide, change the EV value until you get a nicely distributed histogram across the entire range (see below).

Also, note what the EV value ended up being and you can use that as a starting place to fine-tune the exposure for your next photograph. To really learn what the histogram is telling you, you will want to try different settings and see how the photograph comes out.

Histogram distributed

Now click the wheel again until F is selected. Slowly rotate the wheel and see what happens as you make the F-number bigger and smaller. What changes? What doesn’t? Does Shutter change? Yes, you will see it change. Did the histogram change? No, because as you change F(f-stop), the camera changed the Shutter (shutter speed to compensate). You might want to do this if you need a faster shutter speed with a fast moving object, such as a car or boat or a slower shutter speed to create some motion blur with that same fast-moving car.

Now click the wheel again until ISO or Auto ISO is selected and slowly move the wheel. What changes? Shutter changes. Remember though, you typically want to use the lowest number ISO you can.

So to review:

  • Keep the ISO as low as possible.
  • Keep the Shutter (Shutter speed) no lower than 30. Remember in this Aperture Priority Mode, you can only change Shutter by changing ISO, F(f-stop) or EV.
  • Keep the F(f-stop) between 4 and 5.6 depending on your sensor. A smaller sensor will have a slightly lower range.
  • Use the EV and explore this and how it changes your histogram, ISO, and Shutter
  • Use your histogram and the image on your tablet to tell you if you have the right settings. You typically want a uniform distribution across the range of the histogram.

Fly safe and have fun!

DJI Mavic Air at B&H

DJI Mavic Pro at B&H

DJI Phantom 4 Pro at B&H

BJI Inspire 2 at B&H

All Drones at B&H

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