Lighting a Milky Way Scene with a Drone: Abducted By Aliens

Alien Abduction. D850. 10 second exposure. f/2.8. 10000 ISO. Lit with the Mavic Pro 2 landing light for just a fraction of a  second as the drone flew straight up. Photo by Christopher V. Sherman

Alien Abduction. D850. 10 second exposure. f/2.8. 10000 ISO. Lit with the Mavic Pro 2 landing light for just a fraction of a

second as the drone flew straight up. Photo by Christopher V. Sherman

by Christopher V Sherman

Christopher V Sherman is a commercial and fine arts photographer. In February 2018 he put 99% of his belongings in storage in Austin, Texas in order to travel. He tries to post a photo a day on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And when he has something more in depth to share you can find it here. More about Chris can be found on the about page.

Early one morning, while gazing at our amazing Milky Way galaxy, on a beach, on the shore the Tasman Sea in eastern Australia, I was swiftly and briefly beamed up and then returned. It was caught on camera in this epic photo. No, that’s not a drone with a light under it. And no, no alien probes were used during my brief captivity. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

…. Okay, yes, that is that is a drone. This was my first attempt at lighting a scene with a drone.

The image was shot with a Nikon D850 on a tripod with a Tamron 15-30mm lens.

The drone used was the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. The red lights are the Mavic’s rear lights. They’re red because I had less than 30% battery remaining at the time. Usually they’re green. The main beam is the Mavic’s landing/takeoff light.

I kept this simple, using the Mavic 2 Pro’s built-in landing/takoff light. The light goes on automatically in dusk or night situations, during takeoff and landing.

A light sea fog stretched along the beach, creating less than desirable astro shooting conditions. It wasn’t thick, but it was enough to significantly reduce sharpness in the stars. At the same time it gave off an interesting hazy glow with the white drone light on.

Since I wanted to capture this in a single image with the Milky Way in the background, I had to time the shutter with the drone so that the drone light was only lit for a fraction of a second while the shutter was open otherwise I’d blowout the entire beach.

At the time I didn’t know if these lights were controllable by the pilot or if they were automatic only. I’ve since discovered that they can indeed be turned on and off by the pilot in the DJI app.

Not knowing this at the time, I had to rely on the Mavic lights being automatically activated by the bottom sensors when it was near landing or take off. And with that in mind I had to time the drone’s climb or decent with the Mavic controls in one hand and the D850’s remote shutter trigger with the other. Not knowing exactly when the landing light would come on meant this took several takes before I got the timing right and an even exposure.

I would have liked to have taken the drone higher to light more of the beach but it would automatically shut off on it’s own at it’s predetermined altitude. Now that I know that the pilot can control these lights in the app, I look forward to additional experimenting as time permits.