Becoming a Better Drone Photographer - Setting up your DJI Camera in Manual Mode
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Becoming a Better Drone Photographer: Setting up your DJI Drone Camera in Manual Mode

In this article I show you how to setup your DJI drone camera, using the Go 4 app, in Manual Mode for shooting photographs. I will also talk about some of the settings you can change when shooting in manual mode, so you can explore and learn them. I will be using screenshots from my Inspire 2 as well as a video. 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.

If Manual Mode isn’t your thing, check out Full Auto Mode and Aperture Priority Mode.

What is Manual Mode?

Manual Mode is where you tell the camera what Shutter (shutter speed), F (f-stop), and ISO to use. The advantage of this is you have full control over how the camera takes your photographs.

Why would you want to do that?

As you get better at photography with your drone, you will want to be able to have the camera behave the way you want. For instance, let’s say you are photographing a fast-moving train. If you don’t want to have motion blur in the image you will want to be able to choose a shutter speed that prevents this. Try 400 (1/400 of a second) or 500 (1/500 of a second). Now when you make that change you will want to look at the histogram and the image on the screen and see what other settings you need to adjust so the histogram is more uniformly distributed across the frame. In the video below, I show you how to turn on the histogram and some basics about using it. You may need to change the F (f-stop) or ISO to get that balance in the histogram.

What is the aperture (F or f-stop) anyway?

The aperture, F, or f-stop, determines how much light is let into the camera’s sensor through the lens. A smaller number, like f/2.0, lets in more light and a larger number, like f/11 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 what you are photographing to be in focus in front of and behind that point of focus. A smaller number causes less of it 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 sharpest range is from f4-5.6. Yours may have a slightly different range, but this will be a good starting point for you. Also, the subject in most drone photography is so far away as far as the lens is concerned, that it will be sharp at any f/stop or aperture.

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 you 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, ISO, Aperture/F/f-stop, and Shutter. Typically you want to use the smallest ISO setting you can. If you do get noise in the image, you can use noise reduction to remove it. But when you use noise reduction, you will lose some of the detail in the image.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is how fast the camera takes the picture. Ideally, you want something faster than 1/30th of a second. You will need to play with this and find out how well you gimbal/camera stabilizes the image. Lower shutter speeds allow blur in your image and higher shutter speeds stop motion in your image. You might get away with slower speeds, you might not. Explore this for yourself.

Preparation

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

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

Now watch the video

Some things to explore.

In manual mode you can change all the setting by clicking the wheel, selecting ISO or Shutter or F and then roll the wheel to move the value up or down.

Show wheel

As you do this, keep an eye on the histogram. Typically you want the histogram distributed evenly across the range of the histogram. Using the three settings, Shutter, F, and ISO adjust them until you get a nicely distributed histogram across the entire range (see below). Now if there are a lot of dark areas in the photograph then your histogram will be skewed a bit more to the left and if there are a lot of bright areas, your histogram will be skewed a bit more to the right. Also look at the image on your tablet to help you get the correct exposure. This will take some time and experimentation.

A nicely balanced histogram.

I used both the histogram and the tablet image to determine final exposure.

A nicely balanced histogram 2

This histogram is too bright.

The histogram was pushed to the right and no longer shows how bright this is.
This looks similar to the one above, but notice how bright the sky is.

This histogram is too bright
This histogram is too bright

This histogram is too dark.

The sky looks great, but the rest of the image is too dark and the historgram reflects this.

This histogram is too dark
This histogram is too dark

So in review:

  • You now have control over how your camera takes a picture.
  • You can change the ISO, Shutter, and F to control it.
  • Keep ISO as low as possible.
  • Keep the Shutter (Shutter speed) no lower than 30 unless you want some blur in the photograph.
  • Keep the F(f-stop) between 4 and 5.6 depending on your sensor. A smaller sensor will have a slightly lower range.
  • 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.
  • Take lots of photographs and look at your result. Adjust your settings to get more of what you want!

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

Other Aerial Imaging Drones

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