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Old Dec 07, 2010, 07:29 AM
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Japan, Tokyo, Chiyoda
Joined Oct 2010
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Advanced Aerial Still Photography : challenges and solutions (not video)

Dear all,

Let me explain a bit what I would like to discuss here. I hope people you can share experience and tests will join !

I am a photographer comming to RC multicopters to get a flying tripod. I have a lot to learn and have been reading here and preparing a lot, and still have a long way to go. But I noticed that many people here focused on video a lot (with fantastic results), and that most still pictures are made from high up.

Based on my photographic experience, taking stills from quite high up seems pretty straitforward :
- focus is not really an issue (deep of field becomes very big is your subject is far from you),
- composition is easier (your speed realtive to your huge subject is small)
- good/heavy/expensive/bright lens is not needed (since you will close it around f5.6+ anyway)
- vibration is less of an issue (since using wide angle)
So most people seem to use compact cameras with very good results.

But what I would like to do with a flying tripod seems a bit more challenging : to fligh at relatively low attitudes (2m to 20m+) and take picture that will allow to pop up details with controled composition and sharp focus with low DOF. That means :
- lifting good and expensive lens is the 500g range (like a 50mm f1.4), and use then very open (around f2.0 for example)
- lifting a larger sensor for better image quality (APS-C type at least, maybe FF like 5D2)
- being able to control quite precisely the composition in real time, idealy using live view (=what the sensor sees)
- being able to control the camera settings during flight (ISO, aperture ...) and in particular to ajust focus on different points of the image (not only the center) with enough accuracy to get perfect sharpness
- decrease shutter speed as much as possible to keep the ISO down

So I would like to gather in this thread the challenges related to this goal and evolving solutions we can find. I will also be happy to contribute my photography knowledge is you have some related questions !

My main questions so far :
- what is the best platform for this ? > it seems UAVX and MK are the current best
- what is the best multicopter ? > only octo seems to offer the safety/reliability/redundancy package - for MK an I2C isolator is needed
- what stability is reachable with /ocot ? > for electric planes it seems 1/250th+ is the norm with engine stop during exposure ...
- how to kill the vibration for still photography ? > is photo (1/50th+ minimum) very different from video (1/25th in general) when flying ?
- what are the appropriate camera mounts ?

- how to get full control of the camera ? using wifi for example ? > one good thing is that short working distance is needed, 30m away from operator would be already far

Your comments are very welcome, I hope this thread will grow since they are many talented people around (and already a lot of good photographers I have seen !)

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Old Dec 07, 2010, 07:33 AM
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Here are some example of what I am talking about

First, here is one very nice high up photography taken by Olivdudu and his famous plane La mouette.

This image have been shot with a small sensor compact camera at f2.8 and 6mm (see the image EXIFs). If I take a wild guess that the focus point is 50m away from the camera, it means the DOF (Depth Of Field) is very big : everything from 2m away from the camera to infinite will be in focus !
(you can check this calculation using this link : )

Now, here is an example of what I shoot myself and would like to do with a flying tripod :

This image has been shot (from the ground) with a Canon 1D (much bigger sensor than a compact) and a big 200mm f2.0, and has been shot at f2.5. I would say that the subject was about 8 meters away.

It means the DOF was quite small, with only 18 cm : from 7.91m to 8.09 things are sharp, then the rest is blurry.
You can also note the focus is not made on an element at the center of the image, and also that a small change is the helicopter would mean a great impact on the framing (field of view is smaller so movement have proportionally more impact).

Do do this kind of image is for sure a bit different than the above one, and this thread hopes to explore the differents chalenges to reach that level
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Last edited by alainphoto; Dec 07, 2010 at 07:51 AM.
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Old Dec 07, 2010, 07:37 AM
Predictive text is for aunts!
Norfolk, UK
Joined Nov 2009
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Hi Alain,
I am coming in the other direction, having done photography from a dslr under a kite, and thought you might like to have a look at the Kite Aerial Photography forums as well?

Hope that is of some help.

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Old Dec 07, 2010, 07:48 AM
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Hello Andy

Thanks a lot for the link, I will take a look for sure !

As of now I am very attracted to multicopters since they offer a lot of flexibility verus all others, including kite

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Old Dec 07, 2010, 08:08 AM
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There is two point I can already contribute myself

The first is the choice of camera and lens that will give you good results. I can give my opinion on that and will do so a bit later since it is a bit long.

The second one is how to get good control of the camera. Here we go !

1/ The simple way is to attach a FPV set up, compare what your camera will really frame versus the FPV, and release when you like it.

This is for sure very good and proven but also very limited :
- focus not controlled (you do not see what the camera see), that is not an issue when DOF is very big, but is critical when it is small ! Especially if you do not want to limit yourself to center point !
- either you leave the other settings (aperture/ISO/shutter speeed) to the camera, and get sub optimized results (very view camera llow fine tune of auto parameter, like canon pro bodies), or you have to set them for the full fly time, that means any chabge of light will kill the image (exposure too bright or dark, so goes to trash)

2/ so the best way is to take full control of the camera externaly, this is already possible by cable, and also via wifi

2-1/ you can use the camera maker own wifi transmission solution, like this one, it goes below your DSLR :

problem : big, 300g, and very expensive ! 700 usd !
they areusually rated for 100-150m, but at this range you may still have control but may loose the live view (=to see what the camera sees, real time) due to huge amount of data, I do not know really (yet !)

2-2/ or you can look for DIY solutions based on wifi for example.

here is a guy who made it for a few bucks !

cheap, light weight, replaceable, the main question is to confirm what range this can give you, depending on what material you choose - some very strong wifi antena could help for example, but you have to remember the camera is expecting a cable here so the solution has to be transparent to fool the camera (ie maybe receiver and transmitter sold and working together ?)
I will for sure be exploring that way more
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Old Dec 07, 2010, 08:11 AM
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One thing I think you will need to consider is definitely having a second person flying (controlling) the camera. Maybe even a second radio and receiver controlling the pan/tilt/focus. It will be hard enough for the pilot to keep the aircraft on station (hex or octo probably) without having to take the pics too.

And a longer lens is going to aggravate the effects of vibration and aircraft motion as well.

Admirable goal. Good luck with it.

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Old Dec 07, 2010, 08:16 AM
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Hello Enigmasoar

Thank you for your comment. Yes I am strongly considering the 2 person set up for sure
Mainly for safety issues, since heli will be close to ground, subject and other stuff

About vibration, I really hope to gather information from experienced people here
If I shoot high speed thanks to big aperture, it will help.
But beautiful ligh is always when then light is scarce (clouds, early monring, sunset etc), so experience teached me that to keep the ISO at low levels you always need to work on the slowest speed that your subject will allow.
With 1D mk4 on the ground, I try not to go above 1000 ISO, even around f2.0 and lens stabilization it is not always possible !

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Old Dec 07, 2010, 08:53 AM
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Rich Hill Missouri 64779
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Maybe our friend "frogman" will hop in here, he too, is a professional photographer. He is working with Tricopters. Good luck with your learning and I pray you perfect it to your liking!
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Old Dec 07, 2010, 10:17 AM
Stoughton, WI
Joined Jun 2009
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Originally Posted by quailbird View Post
Maybe our friend "frogman" will hop in here, he too, is a professional photographer. He is working with Tricopters. Good luck with your learning and I pray you perfect it to your liking!
Hoppity hop I am. Actually I'm not a photographer but a videographer/filmmaker. (Filmmaker sounds better.....videographer sounds so Funniest Home Video'ish ) the subject matter. Alain, I've been at this RC thing for about 2 years now so if you have never flown RC before you better learn to fly before worrying about strapping a big heavy expensive camera to one of these rigs.

What you are wanting to do is going to be tough but could probably be done with some DIY stuff. The biggest issue I see is the constant need to re-adjust settings and tweak the camera to get the exposure right. Without having a hand on the camera to push buttons and move switches and dial it is going to be difficult to dial in all those things with it 50 feet up.

Seems the best way would be to set your camera to Aperture Priority and manually set your ISO where you want it and then let your shutter compensate on the fly (pun intended). If you set the autofocus to center and used a live view downlink to get your object in the center then you could possibly pull off that shallow DOF look you are after.

It just seems there are so many things that need to be adjusted on the camera "in the moment" that it is going to be difficult. At some point you will have to just trust a few auto functions to take part of the load. I'm a video producer not a photographer but I know enough about DSLRs to have schooled a few photographers I have worked with over the years. I have a Rebel T2i that I use for mainly video but also do a few photos with it. I haven't strapped it into a flying machine yet but have flown my RebelXT on a large plane.

If some of the shots you are wanting are architectural stuff 20-50 feet off the ground then a pole photography system may a possibility. I saw someone on RCGroups was selling a 60ft aluminum mast setup with a full pan/tilt setup on top. It was a huge tripod with extendable aluminum sections. That would get up pretty high and would only take a few minutes to retract and move if needed. That may be an option. If you are interested I can dig up the thread at home. I can't find it right now.

If you are in the US and wanted to call me sometime and pick my brain I would be happy to share what little I know from 2 years of learning this stuff. I can tell you to lift a rig like you are talking you will need a pretty good sized Hex/Octo setup with a second radio to fly the camera. A setup like that is easily going to cost about what body for a 1D or 5D would cost and probably more. If you want call just PM me and I'll give you my number.

The biggest battle you also have to fight is in your mind knowing everytime that camera comes off the ground there is a chance of a crash that could destroy the camera. THe more you put up there the more have to lose.

Hope I can help a little. I offer my video help where needed and it's always nice to have other experts and different areas floating around here to assist people.
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Old Dec 08, 2010, 12:44 AM
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Old Dec 08, 2010, 02:29 AM
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Interesting challenge Alain!

I've been shooting aerial photos with a DSLR for the last 20 months or so, but have always taken photos from a height where DOF isn't really important ... or rather with the subject at a distance where DOF isn't important ... like this:

Your desire to achieve shallow DOF effects in aerial photos will require a very complex platform .... As you say a multicopter is probably the way to go due to its small size and high lifting capacity I certainly wouldn't want to fly my helicopter near to buildings / the subject!

To be able to see what the camera is seeing and make adjustments to the camera's settings and focus, your best move might be to use Canon's EOS Utility software and a wireless USB 2 extender:

Bear in mind though that when in LiveView mode, most DSLRs are very slow at focusing ... and with any aerial photography platform you will always be battling drift, which will make accurate shallow DOF shots a nightmare. Can but try though!

Some food for thought!


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Old Dec 08, 2010, 03:28 AM
I'm Ginger & called Adam
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This really sounds like a job for a mast/pole? Or a helium balloon if you need more height ?

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Old Dec 08, 2010, 03:42 AM
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Yep Adam is right, 2-20m is surely a sweetspot for a mast or pole, especially if you are lifting heavy(ish)/expensive equipment, much easier to compose shots and try different settings without changing the composition (and probably way cheaper than a hex or Oktokopter setup).

have a look at Spiderbeam

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Old Dec 08, 2010, 05:37 AM
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Frogman > welcome in and thanks for the details !

About setting the camera itself, it is very easy with Canon EOS Utility as Hogster mentioned. Sorry I have not been very clear about this, but this option works very well, it let you almost fully control your camera with your PC from a distance. For me this is a very basic thing, just like for people here ESC and prop are meanigfull Let me explain a bit for everyone (sorry if you already know all about it)

This software is provided on the CD of your canon camera if compatible, you can also download it at canon site. Many cameras are compatible and for sure all DSLR from lats 3 years. Other brands have somehow similar tool, but I know the red (=canon, Nikon is the yellow ...) mostly.

It is much more powerful than setting up the camera properly from the group (you should do it anyway), since many cheap camera will not give you good control, and also because micro-ajusting once you are in front of your subject can help you win one or two ISO speed (ie go from 400 or 800 to a nice 200 ... or go from noisy 1600 or 3200 to an acceptable 800 ! this makes a big difference).

Here is a capture of the main control you get once a camera is connected. Aperture, speed, and ISO etc are at hand, and will help secure that image is optimized.

The trick is that it works with a cable, not wireless ! Canon has wireless solutions, but then they use another software and the hardware is big and expensive (see the 700 USD camera grip I posted before).
So first, to use the easy Canon Utilities way, we need to replace the cable with some wireless solution, and that what the DYI solution I posted right after the expensive grip does.

This way you can change your camera key settings very easy from the ground with a laptop. And for sure trigger the release !

Second tricky point is that you can also get live view image using this software, and therefore control focus and composition.

Here is how it would look like, note the left part where your PC sees what the camera sees. The white squarish thing in the middle of the live view is the focus point, you can move it anywhere and focus (easy if your camera and subject is steady, since it is very slow).

So we reach another problem that I have not been testing yet : live view is a video feed and therefore requires a lot of data. Also, focusing in live view is very slow, so you need a reactive liveview. So a lot of data and quick reponse time is needed ! I am very unsure on how far and how good we can go and with what system.

On this subject, it is mostly a photographer issue and I hope to find and share some info and do some test and share results with you here.

for sure, this software is not the ONLY way to get feedback from the camera, but this is the one I know and can share about.
If there is other interesting setup, for sure I am interested in sharing it !
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Old Dec 08, 2010, 06:19 AM
Gary Mortimer's Avatar
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Listen well to Hogster he's a real expert! Also as Adam and Dave had said poles work really well.
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