How I shoot aerial panoramas

The tiny and lightweight DJI Mini 2 quadcopter has three panoramic shooting modes:

  • Panorama Mode: 180˚ (7 images)
  • Panorama Mode: Wide-Angle (9 images)
  • Panorama Mode: Sphere (26 images)

and here is how I use them.

Usually, when I shoot videos with the Mini 2, I put an ND filter on the camera and if I shoot stills, I use a CPL filter (circular polarizer/linear), which helps reducing glare from reflected surfaces. However, when shooting panorama I don’t put any of those filters on. I.e., removing a filter from the camera means performing a simple gimbal calibration before take-off;  at this point I also put the iPhone into airplane mode, the idea here is to remove as many interferences as possible.

Once the quadcopter is placed into the perfect spot to capture the panorama, I set the camera into manual mode and adjust the ISO and shutter speed so that the histogram looks reasonable and (almost) no zebras are apparent, I usually set the white balance to 5600. The higher the windspeed the higher the shutter speed should be, i.e. I may set a higher ISO the get to a faster shutter. All pictures in this post were taken at ISO 100, 1/800 sec, f/2.8.

The camera has two major modes: Photo and Video. When the camera is set to photo mode, you can select shooting just jpeg or jpeg+raw. However, this setting does not automatically also apply to shooting panoramas. I.e. when in photo mode and selecting one of the three panorama modes, you’ll still have to select jpeg+raw to make sure you capture the panorama in the highest possible resolution. 

180˚ Panorama (7 images)

Shooting a 180 degree panorama goes by very fast, the seven images are captured in almost no time. After taking the center shot, the drone captures three images on the left side, before moving back and taking three on the right. A single image captured in raw-mode has a resolution of 4000 x 3000 pix. Merging the seven images that made up the 180 degree panorama in Adobe Lightroom created an 12,869 × 3011 image. Lightroom provides you with some options during the photo merge and I don’t really have a rule of thumb, but experiment every time I use it and try to get the best result based on the images.

Having the sun in the photo always creates some challenges, especially with the aperture wide open at f/2.8. Here is the final result after some editing in Lightroom:

Wide-Angle Panorama (9 images)

Shooting a wide-angle panorama  goes by almost as fast, the Mini takes just two more images but the gimbal makes the camera look up and down to the ground more than in the previous mode. Merging the nine images that made up the wide-angle panorama in Adobe Lightroom created a useable image of 6550 × 4790; to be fair, I had to adjust the horizon a little and lost a few pixels that way. Here is the final result after some editing in Lightroom:

Sphere Panorama (26 images)

Shooting a 26 image panorama takes a little time and the little drone does its thing while I’m down here just seeing the images coming in. This kind of panorama takes a little to get used to tho. The right side of Elephant Mountain faces South, while the left side faces North. I.e. the U-shaped trail in the picture, in reality is pretty much a straight line. After merging the 26 images, I ended up with a usable images of 18684 × 6520 pixels, which even in JPEG format means 90MB.