Long exposure photography has always been primarily done with a tripod, but as the drone and gimbal stabilization tech evolves, it is now possible to get amazing long exposure shots even from small consumer and prosumer drones. Follow these five easy tips for great long exposure night shots your friends will love:
1. Pick a location – urban settings with active roads/highways are the most popular for long exposure night photography. Since flying over people is not advisable, find an open area (park, water) that you can safely fly over. Bridges are also a great subject for long exposure shots as they are often architecturally interesting, lit at night, and with ample room to fly around them while keeping your drone safely over water.
2. Plan your shoot – scout your planned location beforehand, preferably in daylight. Choose your launch and landing spot, and note any obstacles (trees, wires) that you may have difficulties seeing at night. Check for proximity to any airports. Also, areas that may seem safe in daylight may take on a different personality at night, bringing a friend is always a good idea. Pick a calm night – while your drone may do a great job stabilizing the image, long shutter speeds used in long exposure photography may require the camera to stay steady for 2-4 seconds, which is really difficult in windy conditions.
3. Set your camera for night shots – switch your camera to manual setting, keep the ISO at 100 (200 max) to keep the image noise down. Then experiment with different shutter speeds from 1.5s – 4s. I find the car light trails to look the best at 2-2.5sec shutter speeds, but it really depends on the speed at which the cars are moving. The scene is mostly black, so your camera will likely tell you that it is under-exposed (by as much as 2 stops). You can ignore this warning and instead check your shots visually for proper exposure. White balance is also important. Your camera will likely make things seem too “hot” with white balance left in “auto”, you can set it manually to 2000-3000k, and then adjust as needed in post.
4. Take multiple shots and save them as DNG (RAW) – use DNG format if your camera supports it, this RAW format saves the most information for post-processing. Take multiple images as many of them will come out blurry. Ideally, only moving objects should leave light trails.
5. Experiment with post-processing to get the most out of your long exposure shots – the long exposure shots can really benefit from a little editing. Experiment with different white balance settings, bring out more detail in dark areas, remove low light image noise, and try selective color saturation to give your night shots a unique look. Check out our quick Long Exposure Drone Photo editing tutorial to learn how to edit your long exposure shots like a pro!
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