Drone photography: The art – part two

Lets just go back to the beginning of this story. To explore some artistic techniques in drone photography I decided to go to one of my favourite local haunts, Okia flat on Otago Peninsula. It’s full of great lanscape and vegetation features to shoot, but it also gets few visitors, so I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone with my experiments. I like to call it the land of the Pharaohs. You can see why:

Drone photograph of the pyramids, Okia flat, NZ

My plan was to try some ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) photography with my drone, a DJI Mavic 2 Pro. I hadn’t seen any before, so thought maybe I’ll come up with something interesting and truly original. In order to get a long exposure without blowing out the shot, I put on my strongest ND filter, a PolarPro ND16, and started experimenting. First shot:

Drone photograph

Nothing special, and a little blurry since the drone was hovering in place while shooting a half second exposure at f/11. But then I tried my first ever drone ICM move, just hitting the throttle to send the drone upwards. It resulted in this impressionistic image that, as a pure experiment, I was pretty happy with.

Abstract impressionistic drone photograph.

Next, to aim the camera down and push the throttle forward, sending the drone up again, to produce something that would hopefully emulate the ‘zoom burst’ effect.

Abstract drone photograph

I was immediately pretty happy with that, although looking at the images directly on the card, they were quite flat-looking and needed some contrast adjustments to bring out the full range of tone, which I did in lightroom later on. The only fly in the ointment was that I couldn’t get the drone to make the shot I’d really wanted, a spiral, emulating the ‘twist zoom’ ICM effect. Every time I tried to take a shot while making the drone climb and spin at the same time, I failed. I decided to move on (but would quickly solve that problem later).

Next I tried some straight forward flight, to see what kind of ground-rush effect I could get. Here’s the first shot.

Drone photograph featuring long exposure ground rush effect

It didn’t look like any hand-held ICM pictures I’d seen, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. Instead, it reminded me of tilt-shift or lensbaby effects. Or, as I would learn from people’s reactions later, the Photogshop zoom filter. But at the time, I was just excited about what I was seeing, and spent the rest of my batteries doing more. I put the Mavic into sport mode to increase its speed, and sent it screaming toward a basalt rockfall that has this great white lichen growing on the boulders. There was quite a lag between pressing the shutter and the exposure completing, and the drone came perilously close to smashing on the rocks, but I got this impressive result. Once my blood pressure dropped to within normal range, I realised that the direction of flight made little difference to the image. I could pull this off just as easily – and much more safely for my drone – by just starting from close up and flying backwards.

Abstract drone photograph, emulating zoom burst effect

I spent some more time shooting the vegetation, pointing the camera down and ascending quickly. The Harakeke (flax) and Aruhe (bracken fern) made for some great zoom studies.

Abstract drone photograph, emulating zoom burst effect

My last few shots were of the ground rush effect, aiming at the basalt cliffs. There was something really tantalising about it, an idea not fully realised. Over the next few days I pored over the collection of images I had created, figuring out how to bring out the best in them with some Lightroom processing, figuring out just what was happening in these images and more importantly, planning my next steps in this exciting field of drone photography. There was much more interesting work to come.

Drone photograph, featuring long exposure ground rush.
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