I’m back with our regular series on aerial photography, this time interviewing one of our most proficient photo and video editors, Jon Mayo-Buttry about creating panoramas, workflow, photography, and his overall drone experience.
You obviously edit a lot of motion graphics, much more so than stills… Do you find the processes are similar, or do you use totally different software/filters/features.
There are certainly similarities between producing video or motion graphics based content and shooting aerial photography. At the core of both, you have a concept that you want to communicate. Whether it’s a landscape, a story, or a message, you are crafting the content to relay something specific, and controlling the way that content is perceived. You have a huge amount of control over designing the look of an aerial photo in post-production. If it’s a warm landscape, you can brighten the highlighted areas and add some color temperature to make the image feel warmer, attempting to capture the feeling of the environment when you shot it. You want to guide the viewer’s eye. Figure out what areas of the photo capture the pieces that you want to accentuate, and brighten or sharpen them. Then you can subdue the other parts, by darkening or blurring them, to help guide the viewer’s eye to where you want it to go. With panoramic images, having some kind of major feature or something that stands out helps give the image character. It also helps establish scale. When you see something manmade, like a skyline or a pier, break the landscape in a panoramic image, it gives you more information about the surrounding landscape. You can start to tell a story in that single image.
I use photoshop exclusively to assemble panoramic images. Photoshop is used in all areas that I work in, including motion graphics. It’s the best tool to explore and refine concepts, and you can easily break things into layers to be animated. These same principals can apply to aerial photography. You can break apart different shots into layers, constructing the exact shot that you want. Maybe there is a perfect sunset in one image, but there is a person or a car in that shot. You can borrow that data from a different photo, removing the elements you didn’t want in the shot and preserving the parts you want to keep. Similar to the post production workflow for video, you have to refine those edits until they are not noticeable to the viewer.
When you’re shooting photos, what are your preferred GoPro settings?
The biggest benefit to shooting imagery with a GoPro is ProTune. You can lock ISO down to the lowest setting to reduce image noise. Shooting at 12 MP (wide) is great for the amount of data you can capture, but it does include lens distortion. You can, however circumvent this with a modded lens. I’ve enjoyed shooting with the Peau Productions 3.97 mm. This allows you to shoot on the wide setting without getting barrel distortion. I usually set the sharpness to “medium” as I’d prefer to leave any post-sharpening to more robust desktop software, which gives you more control.
If a user wants to turn a video screenshot into a still photo, what are some tips for exporting a high quality, clear shot?
GoPro video is very sharp. Unless you are flying very fast or turning aggressively, your frames will be sharp. Film at the highest resolution possible.
Any tips for working with GoPro still photos in post?
If you shoot with the GoPro’s sharpening levels set to medium, then you can control how sharp the image is in post. Use an unsharp mask to bring out details. Don’t use so much that it’s clear to the viewer that sharpening tools were used, as that can bring them out of the photo. Push the levels until you can tell it’s a little too much, then back the settings off a bit. Sometimes closing your photos and opening them later with a fresh set of eyes will help you figure out if you’ve went too far with any types of color correction or post processing.
What are your favorite fisheye removal techniques?
I usually bring images through the camera raw import feature, which you can use on any images, not just raw images. This allows you to batch things like exposure and color temperature settings, and fisheye removal, giving all of your images the same look. That gives you a consistent base to start from when assembling aerial photos into a single panoramic image.
A lot of your work features some pretty dramatic lighting editing… Any favorite plugins or filters others might enjoy experimenting with?
After getting the baseline lighting close in the camera raw import settings, I light everything in post manually. My favorite technique is to use transparent gradients in quick mask mode to make feathered selections of the parts that I want to lighten, darken, or blur. Once I have the selections, I’ll manually adjust levels, curves, or simulated camera blur settings to craft the look I want and focus in on certain parts of the image.
When you’re shooting to create a Panorama, what GoPro settings do you use?
When shooting aerial panoramic photos, I’ll sometimes shoot 4K video, rotating the drone around. In post, you can isolate frames from the video and stitch together a high resolution panoramic image by assembling those frames in Photoshop. I use the same ProTune settings as stills; ISO set as low as possible, sharpness set to medium. I am fine shooting with either the flat or the GoPro color profiles. The GoPro profile seems to just juice the saturation a bit, which is usually done in post anyway. On higher end cameras, shooting flat usually means that you are shooting raw, with a higher dynamic range. But with GoPro, the flat color profile doesn’t translate to a higher dynamic range, so I don’t think it matters much.
Any tips and tricks for users on composition? How do you space your photos for proper framing?
Using traditional photographic techniques like the rule of thirds or taking advantage of dramatic one point perspectives can work. Overall, try and identify the most compelling part of your scene. Then set up the framing and camera position to accentuate that element and give it the focus you want.
What software do you use for stitching together panoramas?
I prefer to manually stitch images in photoshop. There are plenty of auto-stitching apps, but I think part of the process in creating an image from multiple images involves choosing which parts you want to use from each image. Water is especially tricky, as waves from one shot won’t line up with waves from the next shot. Manually blending and rotating selections can fix issues like that, as you have maximum control.
Any tips or tricks on getting a great stitch?
Know when to crop. Just because you’ve shot 15 images for a panoramic image, doesn’t mean you should use them all. Once assembled, crop in to get the framing you want, even if it means ditching parts of the photo.
What other post-processing do you do once the stitch is completed?
Traditional color correction and retouching, such as curves, levels, hue/saturation and removing unwanted objects like people, cars, etc.
Any other editing/tips tricks you can share with our users?
For landscape images, once you are finished, try flipping the entire composition horizontally. Sometimes a mirrored version of your image can give you a more interesting look.
Strangest story/encounter/demo experience with Solo?
Filming on set with Michael Bay in Malta was very memorable. Also, filming in Mexico was intense. Too many stories to recount. The best moments are adventures where you think the shoot won’t work out, or you are losing light, and then at the last moment everything comes together and you get something bigger than you imagined.