With our aerial DJI drone cameras, we all have the choice to capture either JPEG or RAW photography files. Each format serves its own purpose, but there are vast differences. A realtor, home inspector or hobby pilot may prefer JPEG files to save time and end up with a tidy, smart looking image straight out of the camera. Stacy and I generally shoot RAW because we intend to spend time processing every selected image. It is crucial to capture your photos in RAW format if you intend to work at a higher level in still photography. Make a mental note that the type of RAW file that DJI uses is called a .dng. So when capturing a RAW file with your DJI drone, you set the file type to “.dng”.
Here is an example to show the power of RAW during the editing process:
Shooting in RAW, I intentionally captured this scene with the church under-exposed by approximately 4 EV’s (exposure values or ƒ-stops). What was I thinking when I captured this original photo? Why would I intentionally capture a scene like this with a “wrong” exposure? Why not just use the camera’s light meter to make a “correct” exposure?
This is why; with experience in photography there eventually comes a gut feeling about how far we can push the exposure latitude of a digital image during capture. Sometimes, I want to override the camera’s computerized exposure meter to achieve a particular effect. In this case, I could have shot the church scene with my Phantom 4 Pro in fully automatic settings and the outcome would have been a fairly average looking photo. In doing so, I would have lost most of the nice hues in the sky, and also lost the rich emotional feeling of the twilight hour. For a successful photograph, these things are important for me to convey to the viewer.
When shooting RAW, the histogram is a guideline for desired exposure.
While flying the camera near this church at dusk, I knew how much shadow and brightness my RAW file could handle, and so I opted to expose the image more for the sky and later open up the shadow detail in post-processing. Again, I never fly without first opening the histogram in the DJI Go 4 app. Remember that this numerically based chart represents the exposure values of a JPEG image (not a RAW file) and so, in this case, I ignored the heavy left side of the graph, indicating underexposure. Conversely, on the right-hand side of the histogram, I was more careful to preserve the highlights because those bright spots are more delicate in post-processing. An over-processed sunset leads to undesirable posterization or color banding between subtle hues.
With the Phantom 4 Pro and Mavic 2 Pro, I commonly expose a bit to the left on the histogram (one EV underexposed). This helps me retain more solid data in the sky. All of this is easier than it sounds. Let’s take a look at the basic slider settings I used in Adobe Lightroom:
In the very first panel (Basic Panel) I made 4-5 quick adjustments which recovered the shadows while preserving the highlights. It took me a total of 30 seconds. From that point, I made additional adjustments in other panels to suit my personal taste.
Final image of Hawaiian church taken by the Phantom 4 Pro as a RAW DNG file and processed in Adobe Lightroom.
Here is some more information about RAW versus JPEG. If you decide to shoot in RAW and learn post-processing, there are several RAW file processing applications available; Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW, Skylum Luminar, DxO Optics Pro and Capture One Pro, to name a few.