Drone Sunset Time Lapse and Hyperlapse Ramping Exposure

 I have recently done an article about how to make a sunset timelapse with a drone. In this one, I will show a few different techniques

Sunset Hyperlapse Ramping Exposure

I always use RAW files for hyperlapses, panorama, or regular photography, but for this first hyperlapse I will try using JPEG files to check the difference in quality

In the previous video I had opted for a static timelapse, but there was a bit of lateral drifting. This time I will try a hyperlapse with a subtle forward movement which should help reduce the drifting

If You Prefer To Watch This As a Video

Course Lock mode

How to set Course Lock mode

The best way to add movement under these conditions is to use the mode Course Lock in the Hyperlapse menu. We can set the direction of flight and we can also choose a target for the camera direction. But in low light conditions, the aircraft will lose the target so we simply lock the direction without choosing a target for a movement with the camera pointing forward

In the previous article, I was hoping to get some artificial light to show up during the sunset for an interesting shift in luminosity. But I was surprised to see that hardly any electric light was turned on, so this time I try my chance with some small towns along the Mediterranean East coast of Sicily

I have done specific hyperlapse tutorials for the different models of the current DJI line


To get a longer final clip, I reduce the interval to 1 photo every 3 seconds. I set the length of the clip to 16 seconds and a relatively slow speed of 0.3 meters per second

Since there will probably be some cars in the frame, I want to get some nice motion blur, therefore this time I will use an ND 64 filter, in order to use a slower shutter speed

Shutter Speed1 second
Aperturef 5.6
Exposure settings

I have done an article explaining Why ND filters are needed for hyperlapses

Exposure Ramping

This time I will increase the exposure during the hyperlapse, a process known as exposure ramping. In this case, I will keep the shutter speed constant at 1”. I can increase the ISO value from 100 to 400 for two extra stops of luminosity, as the image quality of the Mavic 3 is still excellent at this value. I can also increase the aperture from f5.6 to f2.8

Using the histogram to ramp exposure

To choose the best moment to ramp the exposure I keep an eye on the histogram. As the luminosity from the sun goes down, the bars of the histogram move toward the left. When the last bar to the right reaches a specific point, I increase the exposure. In this case, I will increase it twice: once for the ISO and another one for the aperture

I have done a Step by step tutorial for beginners on how to shoot a drone time lapse, and another Step by step guide on drone hyperlapses, I suggest them as a starting point for beginners

Color Grading

For editing and color grading all the photos I have used the excellent Luminar Neo, the tool I use for editing and managing all my photos. Click on the link for an in-depth analysis of this program. I then export the images in JPEG format and import them as a sequence in the video editor, Premiere Pro

Two big shifts of luminosity due to exposure ramping

Using this method there is a good amount of light towards the end of the clip, but there is a noticeable downside, as there are two points in the hyperlapse where the light changes dramatically, so the luminosity values must be dynamically adjusted in the video editor to achieve a transition as smooth as possible

This is the result. There was a very strong wind and there is some warping in the first part of the clip, as the drone was drifting more than usual. The luminosity at the end is excellent, but you can notice the two points in the clips where the exposure was changed

The result after basic post-processing

I only did a very basic adjustment to better underline this issue, I will show later on how to achieve a smoother transition. The JPEG files behaved much better than expected and the color rendition is very pleasant

I was again expecting more artificial light to turn on in the small towns, but it did not happen, so I decided to try a different location for the next one

Longer Sunset Hyperlapse with Constant Exposure

This is the new scene: a much bigger town by the sea. I expect this time to get a good amount of artificial light or at least plenty of light coming from cars

Let’s try this time a longer hyperlapse going well past sunset until night maintaining a constant exposure. We will see how much of the shadows we can recover at the end of the clip in post-processing

I select a frequency of a shot every 3 seconds, a length of the final clip of 20 seconds, and a very slow speed of 0.1 meters per second

Shutter Speed1 second
Aperturef 2.8
Exposure settings

This is the result. When the light from the sun has disappeared the image is very dark and there is a lot of noise in the sky. I am not too worried about the noise, as I use the excellent denoiser Neat Video, refer to my specific article for more details

Using a constant exposure would be a possible choice in the case of a town with plenty of artificial light, but in this case, if we want to go until night, exposure ramping will certainly give better results

Sunset Hyperlapse in an Urban Environment

The next day I go to the same location for the same hyper-lapse, this time using exposure ramping. I try a slightly faster speed of the aircraft at 0.3 meters per second

Shutter Speed1 second
Aperturef 4.5
Exposure settings

I am still using an ND64 filter and I have some room to increase the ISO up to 800 and the aperture up to f2.8

Dynamic Color Grading Using Keyframes

The individual photos in the editing program show a big jump in luminosity when the ISO value was increased and a second smaller one for the aperture. Looking at the unedited hyperlapse we clearly notice the two jumps, let’s see how we can fix them. I will be using Premiere Pro, but the technique is similar to any video editor

Using keyframes

I go to the last frame of the clip and color-grade it. I make sure to create a keyframe for all the values, not only Exposure but also Contrast, Highlight, Shadows, White, Black, Saturation, and White balance

Now any time the values are modified in other parts of the clip, keyframes will automatically be added and the values for that point will be stored in memory

I go to the first frame and I color grade for the beginning of the clip. Then I move to the exact point just before the shift first in luminosity and adjust the values until it matches the frame right after. I move to the second shift in luminosity and do the same

The transitions in the hyper-lapse are now almost seamless and I am quite happy with the results, but the clip is not long enough and I would like to apply the same focus ramping technique to a longer hyperlapse going almost into the night

Full Day to Night Hyperlapse

The location is the same. The light conditions might vary from one day to the next so the result will be slightly different each time. This time it is quite cloudy and a bit hazy. I decided not to use the ND filter

Shutter Speed1/8″
Aperturef 11
Exposure settings

This time I will ramp the exposure only once, it will make things easier in post-processing. When the light from the sun goes down I can slow the shutter speed down to 1 second from the initial value

I want to get a longer hyperlapse, so I keep the interval to one photo every 3 seconds. I set the clip length to 20 seconds and a slow speed with the aircraft moving forward at 0.2 meters per second

After post-processing

There is a big change in luminosity at the point where I increased the SS by 3 stops, but after carefully color grading with Premiere Pro, the transition is barely visible. There is still a good amount of detail in the shadows, a nice color rendition, and no visible noise. I am quite happy with the result

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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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