How to make Mavic Pro drone photos sharper, cleaner and with less noise.
Updated: Aug 2, 2019
The Mavic Pro is an amazing little camera but therein lies its greatest flaw, the tiny camera can only capture so many pixels during the exposure. However, there is a way to fill in all that missing data and create an amazing image.
The basic process is to take a burst of photos rather than just one, then merge those photos and combine them together in Photoshop.
I use this method for every single shot I take on my drone. it may result in a few more minutes processing photos but the end result is amazing. Well worth the extra effort. Once you've done it a few times, the process is reasonably straightforward and can be done quickly.
For examples of the end result, check out my Instagram account
Before you take a photo, change the drone settings to Burst and set to the highest number it has. For the DJI Mavic Pro, it is seven and I found this a nice sweet spot for getting the most detail as well as creating a nice long exposure look. You can always choose the merge fewer photos later but you can't add more if you didn't take them!
Select the settings menu, below the shutter button, select "Photo", "Multiple" then select the number of shots you want in the burst.
From then on, you're just shooting the same way you always did, it's just that you're taking seven photos at once rather than just one.
Once you've downloaded the photos from your SD card, within Lightroom you can stack your photos by capture time. Select all the photos, right click and select "Auto-Stack By Capture Time" and select 1 or 2 seconds, depending on your shutter time and how long it took taking the full burst. Try one second first and then if the groups are too small, up it to two seconds.
You'll then see all your photos grouped together as though you only took the one photo, you can then expand each group individually but it just makes it easier going through only the first photo to initially rate them rather than all seven for each different shot.
Once you choose a photo to work with, select the first photo in the shot and do some basic edits to make sure the light level is showing as much detail as possible. This is just ensuring your black areas or not too black and you're not overexposed too much in places. This will ensure Photoshop has the right amount of data to work with.
You should also do your lens corrections now while you're working with the raw files so it can be done automatically because once you merge the files, the camera data will not be in the resulting file.
Now you can sync those changes to the other seven files by selecting them and hitting "Sync Settings" or copy and paste the settings.
With the seven files still selected, right click and select "Edit in" then "Edit in Photoshop as layers". This will open photoshop as one file with the seven photos loaded as different layers.
Once you're in Photoshop and all the images are loaded as layers in the file, select all seven layers and go to "Edit" and "Auto-align layers". On the pop-up options, select Auto. Since they're all very similar, these options are fairly redundant.
This will take anywhere from a couple of seconds to a minute, depending on how much is moving and how fast your computer is.
Before you go to the next step, one quick little option is to right click on the first layer and Duplicate it, then switch off that layer. This is to save one unmerged layer for removing movement, I'll get into more detail shortly.
Convert to Smart Object
With the seven original layers selected, that is not selecting the duplicated layer, go to "Layer" > "Smart Objects" and select "Convert to smart object". Again this will take about the same time as aligning the layers and you will end up with one layer instead of the seven.
Stack Mode Mean or Median
This step will basically look at each individual pixel, compare it to each layer and then select either an average or the most repeated value and show that, depending on your stack mode selection.
With the new merged layer still selected, go back to "Layers" > "Smart Objects" and select "Stack Mode" then select "Mean". This will merge the layers into one and that's when the magic happens. You can also try "Median" but that will depend on the moving objects in the image and how you want them to look.
What's the difference between Mean and Median
Median uses the most used value while mean uses an absolute average of the values.
Mean will show all moving objects as a blur whereas Median may result in them not show them at all. Mean will always work and look more like long exposure whereas Median will get mixed results depending on whether the object moves completely between each frame. If an object is in one frame but not in the others, it will disappear in the resulting image.
Which one works best will be determined by how much is moving in the frame.
The following step is optional if you want to remove some of that movement, that's why we saved a duplicate layer earlier.
Make the duplicated layer visible again, create a mask for that layer, fill the mask in as all black so that the top layer is not visible again. Swap to brush, set your colour as white and simply brush out the movement. This is probably more easily described by watching the video above but you are basically just making the parts of the photo you don't want visible, shown in the unmerged layer above the merged layer.
Watch the video from here if you want to see that in action.
You can now save the file and return to Lightroom, where the file will appear next to your seven raw files and will be saved as a TIFF file. Since this is a new file, all your editing is set back default.
While you're no longer working with the original raw file information, your new file has a bit more dynamic range so you'll find you'll have a bit more room to push your values.
And you're done!
If you found that helpful at all, I'd be hugely appreciative if you gave my YouTube channel a Like or Sub, or follow my Instagram account, each little bit makes a huge difference. Happy snapping!