Drone photography with a difference – Can a DJI Spark do justice to a photograph from National Geographic?
“This is never going to work”, I told myself. It seemed absurd that this could be done with a tiny selfie drone. But, if I fail, I might learn something. I did. A lot. And it went better than I thought.
Gear won’t help you be creative. If you’re waiting for that perfect camera before you make something great, you never will.
Creativity is independent of technology. Do more with less!
Why Do This?
Ever since I saw a National Geographic documentary about photographing a tree from top to bottom, I’ve always wanted to re-create it (Original Image Here). But the rigs used were expensive, complicated and needed trained (and insured) climbers. So, this was never going to happen.
I got my DJI spark. Existing drone owners all mocked the cute little spark. “beginner drone”, “not for professional work”. However, I have a great belief in doing more with less. I wondered if the tiny Spark could do justice to a National Geographic photograph. Is it even any good for drone photography?
So, on a trip to Scotland, I found a tree, got permission from the residents and took to the sky! I will admit, I always have “Flight of the Valkyries” in my head and picture “Apocalypse Now” when I launch the Spark.
Manual Camera – We don’t want the exposure changing between frames. I exposed for the tree, which blew out the highlights in the sky behind.
Gimbal set as horizontal as it will go – This gets the most of the tree-against-the-sky part in frame. We will crop the ground and horizon out of each frame before blending.
Find your subjects best side and go to the top.
Make sure to only move up or down and to yaw left and right between images. Moving side to side would be a bad thing. You’ll have a hard time blending any of the images together as this will increase parallax. Imagine trying to take a panorama when your camera moves horizontally! Nightmare!
I descended, taking images as I went. Making sure to have some overlap on each of the sides. Then, once I had them all, I took my drone photography into Photoshop.
The first thing I realized was the horizon line would cause me a problem. I wanted to have the tree set against the sky because I thought this would 1) look awesome and 2) be easier to stitch together.
The horizon line moved up the tree as I moved up the tree. The Spark gimbal is set at a slight downward angle (which makes sense for selfies and drone footage). However, this puts the horizon higher up in the frame.
To remove the horizon, I just cropped the lower half out of the images (except the ground level ones). But, next time, I’ll need more overlap between frames to account for this. Here are some post-crop frames from the DJI Spark.
The second problem was parallax!
If you have a branch reaching out towards your camera position, and you move up and down, you get parallax. So, the tip of the branch appears to move against the background.
The ideal situation would be to compress the image perspective. Move further back, use a longer lens. So, I’d love to try drone photography with an Inspire and a longer lens, but I’m sure I can get a great result from the gear I have.
I first tried using Photoshop’s Photo-merge function. I use this all the time for Brenizer Method images and this seemed like a drone photography brenizer hybrid kinda thing. But, this time, it didn’t really work well. Because of the parallax and the shifting position of the camera.
This had to be done manually!
Stitching images together, manually, from a moving viewpoint requires some artistic license. This will not be a leaf-for-leaf reproduction of the original tree. However, I’m not enhancing any features of the tree. So in order to blend areas together, I had to get creative and accept this as an artistic exercise rather than purely documentary.
Drone Photography | What Next?
For a first attempt, I’m really pleased with the result. As I said, it would be interesting to try a different drone and lens setup. But this would only make stitching together easier.
So, I think I’d like to try this with some different subjects. A building would be a good fit as parallax would be reduced.
With more practice, I think I can perfect this. On one hand, there’s a lot of gear envy out there. However, I think if we got stuck into what our gear could actually do, instead of stressing over what it can’t do, we’d create more and buy less.
This was done with a selfie drone and a 12 Megapixel camera.
What’s your next project?
Thanks for taking the time to read this far. I hope you found something useful. Can you see a use for this method? What would you create with it? Let me know in the comments below. Better yet, look me up on Instagram and Twitter and don’t forget to tag me if you use this. I’d love to see what you create.
Thanks again, have a great day, watch less, create more,