Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Improving low-light drone photographs

Spiez castle, photographed at dusk using a Mavic Air drone

Anyone who has flown with a Mavic drone will know that, although the camera is brilliant and sharp when shooting in RAW format, its low-light performance is a little weak. The image contains a lot of digital noise and magenta artefacts in shadow areas, which can be difficult to edit out in post-processing.

The solution is to go to the manual camera settings in the app, set the ISO to 400, and then adjust the exposure compensation until just before you start to see the dreaded magenta hue appearing. The RAW exposure is then largely noise-free and the exposure can more successfully be adjusted during post-processing.

My shot of Spiez castle had a 1 second exposure time at ISO 400, using the fixed aperture of f/2.8, and the still evening meant that there is hardly any sign of slow-shutter-speed blur. The image stabilization in the drone, which holds the camera steady, does a great job.

(P.S. – be aware that night-time drone flights in Switzerland are forbidden, so once the drone starts indicating that the light is insufficient for visual obstacle avoidance, land it and come back another time. This happened a few minutes after I took this shot.)

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