Drone Photography – Working on the Dark Side

Shooting at first light or twilight will add mood to your photograph – don’t spoil that mood with technically perfect exposure values. Allow the intended mood of the photograph to determine the shape of your histogram. If the photo you made is  low key, or of a dark or gloomy subject, then allow the histogram to be heavily weighted to the left indicating underexposure. But how can we prevent any of the camera’s auto-exposure modes from lightening up the scene and spoiling the mood?

Tonys House with DJI Histogram
Do not let the shape of the histogram spoil the intended mood of your photograph. Allow a dark scene to be dark.

By default, if you are shooting in Auto, Exposure Priority, or Aperture Priority camera modes, the computer in your DJI camera will attempt to fix a low-key image by lightening the image and therefore destroying the intended dark mood. You can override the computerized light metering system in your camera using a couple of methods:

Exposure Compensation Flywheel
  • Shoot in Manual (M) camera mode, rather than Auto (A).
  • Use the Exposure Compensation flywheel (upper right side of the remote controller) when shooting in any priority or auto mode.

A good rule of thumb, while you are out shooting is this: If you see with your eyes that the intensity of the light is low, or if you feel like it is rather dark, then your photograph should reflect the darkness.

Image Dark Histo

The exposure on the top is technically correct, according to the histogram. However, we opted to override the computerized light metering system by shooting in Manual camera mode and allowing the histogram to fall to the left side in order to preserve or enhance the mood.

In the photography industry we can generally toss photographers into one of two buckets; those who are technically accurate, and those who allow themselves to convey emotions. We urge the majority of our DJI Photo Academy students to share their visual story with feeling. We ask, “How did you feel when you were there at that moment? What was it like? What is your story?”

Of course this method would not necessarily apply to some industrial drone applications like first response, agriculture, or construction. This applies to more creative photographers and filmmakers.

Next time you take out your DJI Mavic drone out to capture beautiful images, try using appropriate exposure rather than technically accurate exposure.

Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face classes are currently very limited to small groups. They hope to resume full-sized classes in Q2 of 2021.

A book about Aerial Drone Photography? Yep. These two have energy! Randy and Stacy have just laid down the outline. There will be a nicely discounted price for every person on the MailChimp list. Chaaa-ching $$$$$. 

Until then, HECK YEAH, Randy & Stacy are teaching the same course (and more) to you as you sit in your LazyBoy chair at home. This is a bargain because you get a full six hours of bite-sized lessons that you can digest whenever you want. Take a look at our online Premium Masterclass.

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Randy & Stacy are DJI’s only officially authorized aerial photography instructors worldwide.

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