DJI Mini 3 and 3 Pro Long Exposure Photo Quality with a Drone

Long-exposure photography can produce astonishing results, but most people think that it can only be done with a camera positioned on a sturdy tripod

Long exposure photography consists in using a very slow shutter speed value to modify the aspect of the elements in motion within a scene by adding motion blur. Long exposure photos can also be made with a drone, in this case, a DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro

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Why long-exposure photography?

The classic example is to get a soft, silky look in waterfalls or waves, but it can also be used for softening the cloud movement in a landscape, or to give an idea of motion in moving vehicles or people walking

Long exposure in boats, vehicles, waterfalls, clouds

With a camera mounted on a sturdy tripod and extreme shutter speed, it is even possible to have cars or walking people disappear from a scene, which can be useful on certain occasions

It is also possible to experiment with long-exposure photos in other situations to get creative and unexpected results, as we will see later on

I have published several articles where I analyze in depth specific aspects of photography with the Mini 3 and Mini 3 Pro

Settings for Long-Exposure Photography

There are three parameters interacting for exposure: the aperture, the ISO value, and the shutter speed. For long-exposure photos, it is absolutely mandatory to use manual exposure, as we must control these parameters, especially shutter speed

In the current DJI line, the Mavic 3 is the only model with a variable aperture. In the Mini 3 and 3 Pro the aperture is fixed, so we only have ISO and shutter speed to play with

The lower ISO value, 100, is the one that yields the best quality. With higher values the luminosity increases, but there is a progressive loss of image quality. In recent DJI models, the tolerance to higher ISO has improved considerably and it is possible to use an ISO value of 400 (or even 800) without a significant loss of quality. So we have some room to move if needed

Long exposure to blur the moving elements of a scene

For long-exposure photography, the crucial parameter is obviously the shutter speed. With a camera on a tripod, speeds of several seconds are often used. In most cases, the idea is to blur as much as possible the moving part of the scene, while avoiding affecting the still parts

With a drone, extremely long shutter speed values should be avoided

With drones, a bit of extra care is needed, as a drone hovering has a small amount of drifting, therefore we cannot use extremely long shutter speed values, as we might introduce some blur in parts of the scene that are not in motion. The sweet spot for long-exposure photos with a drone is between half a second and a second, although occasionally 2 seconds can work well

ND Filters are Needed for Long Exposure

With a longer shutter speed, the sensor collects plenty of light. The luminosity is too high to expose correctly in full daylight and even around sunset or sunrise. This is why ND filters are needed for long-exposure photography

The filters needed are the same ones used for shooting hyperlapses, which are much stronger than the ones used for video, as for footage long shutter speed values cannot be used

It is not suggested to take photos in the central hours of a sunny day

The Mini 3 and 3 Pro have an extremely wide aperture of f1.7, which gathers a lot of light, therefore even stronger ND filters are needed. I use an ND 1000 and it works well, with the exception of the central hours of a sunny day, in which case an ND 2000 is more suitable

More detail on Why and how to use ND filters with the Mini 3 and 3 Pro in my article

Choose the hours around sunrise or sunset, or cloudy days

I strongly suggest avoiding the central hours of a sunny day, as the shadows are way too dark and the results are always disappointing both for video and photos, much better to use the first couple of hours after sunrise, the two hours around sunset, or when the sun is covered by clouds for much softer shadows

Using a Drone Without Flying

When talking about drone photography, we think about shots taken from a high point of view with the aircraft flying. But a drone doesn’t need to be always flying. It is also possible to use it like a ground-based camera, without activating the propellers

All we need to do is to find a level surface to place the drone: the floor, a table, a low wall, or a bus. We can even get organized to use it with a tripod and the good news is that we save battery time

Long-exposure photos with a non-flying drone

When the aircraft is placed on a solid surface we can use very long shutter speed values and take advantage of countless opportunities for great long-exposure photos, especially in urban environments

Long Exposure Photography and Hyperlapses

The exposure settings for long exposure photography are practically the same as for time-lapses and hyperlapses, as in both cases we want to create motion blur, in other words, we want to blur the moving elements

Scrolling through a hyperlapse to find long-exposure photos

A way to get stunning long-exposure photography is to shoot a time lapse or a hyper-lapse, then scroll through the short movie frame by frame and select one or more images. Then we go back to the specific photo file and edit it

Further down, I will show plenty of examples of long-exposure photos made using this technique to get the most exciting images out of a sequence

I have published a specific article about Moton blur, the most important factor in time lapses and in long exposure photography

More details about Hyperlapses with the Mini 3 Pro are in my specific article

Vertical Long-Exposure Photos

The Mini 3 and Mini 3 Pro have the capability of rotating the camera to take vertical video and photos. After a recent update, the Pro model can even take vertical hyperlapses

Vertical photos and hyperlapse with theMini 3 Pro

This opens up new possibilities for creative long-exposure photos and it is also very useful for users active on social media platforms like Instagram, Tik Tok, or YouTube shorts 

Special Effects with Drone Long-Exposure Photography

With the Mini 3 or other drones, it is possible to get some unusual long-exposure shots to create unexpected effects

Long-exposure special effects with the Mini 3

With a strong ND filter on, experiment with shutter speeds between one and two seconds by flying towards a target forward, backward, or even sideways for different effects. The blurring effect is much more pronounced when flying at a lower altitude, closer to the ground

Another variation is to turn the camera down for a top-down shot and take photos while descending and ascending. It can be great fun!  

Examples of Long-Exposure Photos

Long-exposure photos with the Mini 3 Pro

And now a few examples of long exposure shots, some of them made with a drone, others with a ground-based camera. If you enjoy the video don’t forget to hit the like button, it helps to spread the video to more users

VicVideoPic

I am Vittorio Caramazza, aka Vicvideopic, the founder of this website and author of all the posts. I am a videographer and photographer contributing to several stock agencies. I am an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Lightroom. I have 10 years of experience with dron videography and photography. I was struck by drone syndrome in 2013. I have owned and tested in depth the following drones: Phantom 3, Phantom 4, Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Air 2, Air 2s, Autel Evo Nano Plus, Mavic 3, Mini 3 Pro, Mini 3. My home has turned into a breeding ground for drones. I am the owner of two YouTube channels specializing in Videography and Photography, with a focus on drones My main channel is VicVideopic (in English): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgaBlrFDONJ4BSEUHa2cLKg My other channel is Drone Mitico, the Italian version.: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkeoY8rPPj-fypUKHckTtwQ I am currently based in Sicily (Southern Italy), but I tend to move quite often. After all, this is one of the main benefits of being a digital nomad…

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