Lunar Aerial Imaging received CAA permission to fly our drones at night and we have utilised this in the city of Manchester. We thought we would share some useful tips.
1. Chose a very calm time. For still photographs an extra calm time allows for the drone camera to be steady for the longer exposures needed in the dark. For video, it is not as essential, because the shorter shutter speed is set to the frame rate.
2. Explore extra lighting. Ensure you can see everywhere, everything and everyone you need to see. This includes being able to see the drone. And carry torches.
3. Consider the lights on your drone. Depending on your drone's lighting orientation you may need to isolate or shield the front lights to stop lens reflection. But remember you still always need to be able to see the drone, so a light is still an important feature.
4. Study your site in the daylight. Take note of heights and locations of obstacles such as trees and cable. Avoid flying in these areas.
5. Use aperture priority mode. Using the largest aperture possible will shorten the shutter speed. This is necessary because the drone is not as stable as a tripod; exposures longer than 1-2 seconds will be blurry. Avoid using auto exposure as the camera will increase the ISO to shorten the shutter speed, resulting in a noisy image. For video you will be in full manual mode.
6. Use the lowest ISO possible. This will help reduce image noise. But still maintain a shutter speed of less than a second for photographs.
7. Use auto bracketing. For stills take multiple photographs using a range of exposures. You can then choose the most appropriately exposed shot, or use software such as Lightroom to create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image using all of the exposures. This will help to pull out the shadows and not blow out the highlights.
8. Use manual focus. When the light begins to fade auto focus becomes less reliable.
9. Enjoy the nautical and astronomical twilight – Just after sunset and just before sunrise there is a short window before we enter night time, providing beautiful light and some great definition in the sky.
10. Post production – To get the most out of your night time stills and video some post processing will definitely be required. At first glance they will usually look dark and flat.
REMEMBER: Always follow the drone code and check the country’s regulations. If flying a drone for commercial purposes in the UK you need to make sure you have your special CAA permission to fly at night.