Ringstone – retired frustrated

I’ve shot Ringstone reservoir many times including a sequence of intimate icy landscapes and even some video footage. I did shoot a few aerial stills there about a year ago but haven’t since returned with the drone.

IMG_2590Gentle winds and a bright sunny start to the day here in Elland, saw me out of the house and  parked alongside the reservoir before 7am on Saturday eager to shoot a panoramic or two across the blue water.

Except for one thing. Conditions at the reservoir, less than fifteen minutes from my front door, were completely different to those at home. Windy, cold, no sunshine and just general greyness. I’ve noted this phenomenon in relation to weather conditions before of course but it still wrong-footed me.

Undeterred, I got out of the car, set the drone up and fired up the DJI app.  As I always do in these situations I took the drone up to around sixty feet, keeping it above solid ground rather than the water, and watched it as it hovered. Even without the “high wind velocity” warnings popping up on the screen I could see the drone rocking and rolling in the wind.  For my planned panorama I would have the drone at no more than one hundred feet but I would be hovering above the middle of the reservoir. What to do?

Having recently flown the drone in the rain on a similarly windy morning I’m a lot more confident of its abilities. I’m not, however, careless so initially considered a different composition that would enable me to keep the drone above the foreshore.

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Grey and windy. Nothing to see here.

In the event I took a good look around and realised that much of the view would be comprised of murky, dullness.  At which point a sudden gust of wind gave the drone a nasty swipe which was clearly visible in the point of view video on the screen. The manual doesn’t recommend flying in winds above 20mph and checking the weather app suggested that winds were gusting at around 25mph which accounted for the side drift (which was quickly corrected it has to be said).  I was reasonably sure the drone could handle the conditions.

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Light not optimal!

If the light had been better I would have tweaked the composition and given it a go – nothing ventured, nothing gained and generally the winds would have been within the manufacturers tolerances especially if I kept below 100 feet (bearing mind this location is more than 800 feet above sea level).  However, with the prospect of a dull image I decided that discretion should apply – I will save the riskier shots for days when the light and conditions suggest that a fabulous landscape image is possible.

So, a frustrating trip really but it makes sense to stay if not within then at least close to the comfort zone when there’s a risk to that expensive piece of kit. The comfort zone will expand with experience; I’m just thinking about how I’d have reacted twelve months ago and I doubt I would have even got out of the car then!

 

One panorama – three stitches

A quick experiment. One set of nine images and three attempts at stitching. The first in the DJI Media Maker, then in Photoshop and finally created in Microsoft ICE. In all cases I set everything to auto.

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First, the nine original images in Adobe Camera Raw

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Into DJI Media Maker to be automatically stitched. Note the locks are incomplete.

Ignore the overexposed sky in the top right quadrant, the original files are similarly over exposed. Note how DJI Media Maker automatically crops the image.

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Now, Photoshop. The canal is sadly misplaced with a new Cut on the left!

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Finally, Microsoft ICE

Microsoft ICE also has an option which if enabled causes the software to attempt to complete the missing elements.

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I have manually cropped this auto-completed version but there’s lots of edge distortion.

Conclusion

In this quick test none of the three automated methods produced what I had envisaged although DJI media Maker made the best attempt. Before I closed ICE down however I manually cropped the automated version (with auto-complete turned off) which gave me the best version of this test.

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The final version – manually cropped in ICE

Shooting panoramas with the drone

If you’ve read any of my recent posts you’ll have noticed a few spherical panoramas as I’ve been playing with this feature on the Mavic Pro. Here are my thoughts having had a chance to shoot a few panoramas and played with them in post processing over the weekend.

The Mavic Pro has four panoramic shooting modes accessed via the DJI Go4 app which I use on my iPhone 7 when flying the drone. These are:

  • Vertical panorama – 3 frames
  • Horizontal panorama – 9 frames
  • 180° panorama – 21 frames
  • Spherical (360°) panorama – 34 frames.

I’ve seen other (different) frame specifications in some blog posts so I can’t comment on what’s available for, say, the Air but these hold true for me at this moment in time.

I found the vertical panorama less useful so haven’t really played with it that much. The horizontal panorama however is a format I’m very familiar with and enjoy shooting.

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Horizontal panorama – 9 frames

The 180° panorama is not something I play with very often when out with a camera, largely because it needs a specialist tripod head to get consistently good results. However, with the drone doing the technical bit I had nothing to lose by trying it out. Twenty-one frames with the drone adjusting itself between each shot automatically.

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Twenty one frames – the drone does the hard work too!

So far, my basic workflow has been:

  • Shoot the images with one of the panoramic presets
  • Quickly stitch and review on the app (depends on how critical composition is, I often skip this step)
  • Batch process the RAW (DNG) files in Adobe Camera Raw and save as full-sized JPEGs in a separate folder
  • Stitch the panorama using the DJI Media Maker app on my computer
  • Finishing touches in Photoshop

This has worked very well and I’m very happy with the results I’ve obtained so far. However, the DJI Media Maker app is very much an automated process with minimal user input and I do like to provide my own input! Artistic input if you like. I’ve been playing with Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor (ICE) this morning and that is looking interesting. I am running ICE on an iMac using Parallels software to overcome the Windows/Apple differences. I suspect that in this mixed environment ICE may run a little slower than in a native Windows system but have no way of verifying this.

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My first attempt at a spherical (360°) panorama with the Mavic Pro

One thing I should have done before shooting my first spherical panorama (above) was some basic research. Whilst I like the result I could have positioned the drone more carefully and kept the canal within the frame with just a little more thought. But that is what my regular visits to this location are for – to try things out, to learn and to make mistakes before visiting a more distant location. For example, I could have stitched this immediately on my phone whilst the Mavic was still airborne and got a sense for the finished result there and then, which would enable me to adjust my starting composition and shoot the frames again.

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One of the intermediate stages as the original long panorama is turned into a sphere.

When I got that first panorama back I wasn’t happy with the resulting sphere it created and after some further research I went back two mornings later and tried again.

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Spot the difference – broadly the same view but composed a little differently with the final spherical composition in mind.

Back home I stitched the 34 frames using the DJI Media Maker software (a free download from their website) and then took the panoramic image (above) into Photoshop to create the pre-visualised spherical panorama. Notice how the edges of the panorama become the central element.

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Second time – luckier!

So, there you have it. My basic panoramic workflow using the drone and my initial thoughts on the subject.

Woodside Mills lock

One of the things that featured in my initial interest in buying a drone was this set of locks near to my home. So, unsurprisingly I’ve photographed it from various angles and heights over the last twelve months. The lock is also within the relatively small area I regularly use to try out ideas with the drone.

 

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23 feet up is nowhere near my highest shot – but you don’t always need to be at 400 feet!

So, when I wanted to try using the panoramic feature it was to this spot that I headed initially. First results were very pleasing but on reflecting back at the computer I realised I could do better and also have a little more control of the composition by making some small tweaks to the process. So, for Take 2, I moved across the canal and used Woodside Mills locks as my focal point.

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102 feet up on a windy morning

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I’m immediately below the drone

What I was trying to achieve on a very blustery morning was a spherical panorama with the locks broadly central in the frame. And broadly-speaking it worked!

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From this …

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… to this. Thirty four individual images make up this spherical panorama which really puts the locks in context with their surroundings.

 

 

 

 

 

The Road Goes Ever On

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Blackley Top

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

JRR Tolkien (1892-1973)

Rain!

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Perfect flying conditions?

What’s this? A Brit talking about the weather?

Never!

OK, so we do have a reputation for being obsessed with the weather but nevertheless the genesis of this post is the onset of rain.

I’d been expecting it; the forecast (see below) had suggested we’d wake up to rain which was frustrating as, having created my first aerial panoramas a few days ago (blog post to follow), I wanted to try out the onboard panoramic function within the DJI app. I’d not been able to get out yesterday and it was looking like I might need to wait until next week so when I left the house this morning and it was dry I decided to seize the day. 

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Arriving at the location I went through the pre-flight routine that I’ve become reasonably adept at now and the Mavic was quickly up in the air and hovering at 200 feet ready for the planned shot. A quick shot to check exposure and I was ready. I fine tuned the composition, bringing the drone down to around 150 feet and set the controls for a spherical panorama which would need to capture 34 frames to work its magic. As I pressed the virtual shutter button to start the sequence a drop of rain fell gently on the control by my finger, then another, and another until it was properly raining. Less than ten frames in and the rain had arrived! I was thinking furiously. 

My first thought was “it’s OK, the rain is coming from behind the Mavic so won’t get on the lens”. Typical photographer, but this however was very swiftly followed by “I know it’s not waterproof but what about a little shower?”

Fifteen frames, not even half way. “I’ve seen videos of these drones being flown in snow storms so a light shower isn’t going to hurt”. Eighteen frames. “But those guys know what they are doing, I’m still learning”. Twenty one frames. “I’m not stopping now!

Twenty six frames. I wipe the rain from the face of my phone which is being used to control matters. Thirty frames. “I’m sure it is taking longer between frames”. Thirty two frames.

“Thirty four, finished!”  Must just stitch it first though, after all that was the purpose of the experiment”. I know, agonising for most of those thirty four frames and then I leave it up there whilst the app processes the images without knowing for sure how long the process would take! But this was the process I wanted to test out.

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It looked OK (see above) but I couldn’t zoom in to check I’d got all of the lock gates, which are worryingly close to the edge of the frame …

By now it’s raining steadily so common sense takes over and I bring the drone back, flying backwards to keep rain from the lens but still looking for compositions as I bring the Mavic closer.  I can’t resist a few more single frames as I bring the Mavic ever closer and finally back down to the landing circle at my feet. Swiftly wiping rain from everything I’m packed up and under the shelter of a large tree in no time.

Checking the flight log it’s taken me considerably longer to pen these notes than the events they describe.  But I’ve added to my knowledge and experience both during the flight and whilst writing this.  As always when a flight finishes I have that mixed feeling of relief that I’ve brought the drone back safely mingled with a desire to get back in the air. I’ve two fully-charged spares in the bag on my shoulder so plenty of capacity for a longer flight – but it is actually raining quite heavy now and for the second time in five minutes common sense kicks in.

© Dave Whenham

Processed completely on my phone before bringing drone back down.

Sat in the cafe with a coffee I was pleasantly surprised that the spherical panorama rotates gently when viewed via the DJI app although disappointed that when downloading it all I get is the long thin panorama rather than the spherical version. Something else to research, but in the meantime I keep looking at the gently rotating sphere, more than pleasantly pleased that the earlier research had paid off and Woodside Mills locks are virtually dead centre of the sphere as the image above shows, The tiny dot almost dead centre is my landing circle. I will reprocess the 34 RAW files later on the computer but for now am very happy with my short but eventful trip.

Walking back along the canal I was able to appreciate the fresh, warm smell you get when it rains for the first time in over a week. Heedless that the tree pollen season hasn’t quite finished I breathed deeply and savoured that unique aroma. I do like the rain!

A Misty start …

Or, be careful what you wish for!

© Dave Whenham

Calder & Hebble Canal (Fuji X100t)

Over the weekend I commented to my wife that I was fed up of waking up to sunny mornings with bright blue skies and not a cloud in sight. Don’t get me wrong I’m happy to be warm and dry especially at 6.30am but as a photographer the relentless blue-sky-no-cloud situation has been a bit monotonous.

So this morning I woke up to a grey, misty morning – and woke up too late to catch the best of it too! I still dragged myself out though and headed for this spot where I have had a composition in mind for a while – just waiting for some mist or fog. As I say, a bit too late to catch the best of it but a pleasing start to the day anyway.

For the record, it’s now 10.17am and the sun is shining and the sky is cloudless albeit a grey/blue colour.