Over the past few years we have been facing a drought here in California and for those of us fortunate enough to live in Lake Tahoe this was very evident. Just go to any beach and you will find your self being able to walk on dry dirt/sand for several hundred feet out before even hitting water. I live in Tahoe City and have been tracking this for the last few years by taking aerial photos of the Tahoe City Dam, Commons Beach and the dock near Commons Beach pictured below.
Commons Beach and Tahoe City Dam with no water!
Well the draught here in California is over and the water is flowing full blast out of the Tahoe Dam, in fact its pushing out as of this writing 1180 cubic feet per second (source). However now we are facing the potential to pass the legal limit height for the lake which is 6,229.1 feet and we are currently around 6,227.52. I would assume this could lead to flooding in lower areas around the lake and various parts on the Truckee River.
Since I usually fly my drones around this area to practice I have captured over time the changes we have experience from 2015 to 2017. This footage was just throw away shots but I managed to dig out some clips from the past few years and put together this video below.
A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Fly Ranch which was recently bought by the Burning Man Project. I was kicking around the idea with Will Peterson about mapping a section of this area which would provide them with an overview of the ranch. Why do this, well aerial mapping with drones has come a long way when I first started (almost 2 1/2 years ago) and their are many reasons one would want to do this. A few examples would be agriculture, construction and inspection. For example with agriculture you can fly over the same area during each part of the year to see how your crops are doing and spot areas that might be dying or having issues. Normally to do this you would have fly in a helicopter and try to spot the issues from the air, which well with the advancement of drones you can simple have it do the same pattern and process the data once done to see how things are fairing in your fields.
Construction and Inspection are also other great options for mapping out locations. For instance lets say on Fly Ranch they wanted to place various buildings on the property. Normally you may just try to use Google maps and draw out areas that you would want to have your buildings/structures at. This might be enough for some people but here is where it gets interesting. With the mapped data processed though various applications you can generate a 3d model which then you could use to actually place additional 3d models created such as houses, buildings, tower etc to give you an idea of how things will actually look. Also taking this a step further you can use various technology to show in realtime how light and weather may effect the buildings placement.
Below is an example of mapping out an area and placing a building on the actual 3d mapped data. (sorry for the watermarks, I have had people use my stuff w/o permission in the past). This is a bit more advanced and off topic but it can give you an idea of whats possible.
Actually data created from the drone.
Custom House model on top of the 3d landscape data.
Example of how you can use light to see how it hits your house.
Another example of how you can use light to see how it hits your house.
So as you can see above this is a mixture of aerial data with an extra and additional house model on top top of it. I would assume you can imagine the possibilities, and one thing to note the software I use will allow a user to also strap on a VR headset and walk around in this virtual world created.
Ok so back to Fly Ranch. The challenge is to figure out the best way with the tools you have to execute this process of mapping 400 acres or more. Things to consider is which drone to use, how many batteries you need and the software you will used to pull off the mapping part. I chose to use my trusty DJI Phantom 4 for the job since at the time it had the most battery life per battery for a small prosumer drone. Next was choosing the right software to help you preplan your flight and get an estimate on how many batteries you might use. While many companies are coming out of the wood work at the time I choose DroneDeploy which allows you to preplan your missions first on the web and then sync* them to your mobile device.
So armed with my Phantom 4 and 4 batteries that last anywhere from 18-22 minutes depending on conditions I headed out to Gerlach, NV to stay with Will. The DroneDeploy preplanned mission it seemed like 4 batteries would be enough to pull off this job. Below are 4 sections that I photoshopped together to give you an idea of the area covered (about 400 acres).
4 Sections that map almost to 400 acres at Fly Ranch.
While this doesn’t look so big 400 acres is about .625 square miles. I choose to do 4 sections with one battery each since well I was testing out the software and didn’t want to risk any issues with not getting data. They do have the option which I choose not to test of allowing you to generate one big flight map and having it come back to swap batteries and continue off where it left off. The 20+ years of being a software developer I always choose to avoid any risks or bugs which Ill explain I ran into further below.
So the next day Will and I drove over to Fly Ranch, which is an amazing journey and well when you pull into the lot where Fly Geyser is your a bit in awe (See my video of the Geyser shot with my Inspire 1).
Inspire 1 waiting its turn.
So here is the first issue I ran into which well I knew about prior to going out. If you have no cell reception your map wont show up nor can you sync the map area to fly the drone. So always make sure to test your software with and without reception and see if it works for you. Luckily I had at Wills house pulled up the maps on my iPad and left it w/o doing anything else, like closing or killing the app. However even though I did this I did run into an issue where if I would pinch or zoom the app all of the sudden my mapping data below would disappear.
Opps, where is my google map data!
I don’t panic easily and trusted the software along with having a visual line of site of the Phantom 4 I felt I would let it do its job. Just a reminder to everyone you can have the Phantom 4 come back to the home point at any time, just make sure its set first.
So what I did find out is that the calculations of battery usage per section was a bit tight even though the P4 should push over 22 minutes I was getting 20 and for each section per battery I almost didn’t get to fully map the area. Again no big deal, always keep your eye on the battery and hit the panic button on the remote, just be sure to give it enough battery to fly to the home point or your going to end up doing an emergency landing at the position it is at.
Again DroneDeploy does have the ability to map a section and have it return back to allow you to swap batteries and continue where it left off and I believe that the map cacheing issue is fixed but always make sure you do some test runs somewhere before trying to do a test job like this. I have to day the DJI Phantom 4 performed flawlessly and is my goto mapping drone for right now.
After mapping each section you will end up with a lot of photos, I think the count I had was at almost 2000.
Part 2 of this article will explain what to do after you have all this data, the software I tested and the results.
Test test test your drone and the software you pick to map areas.
Always do preflight checks
Make sure all your batteries are charged
Check your props and make sure you have extra ones.
Have more batteries than you need.
Set the camera to manual mode, auto might change the exposure depending on what your flying over.
Make sure you have your memory card in the drone and also make sure there is enough space for these data sets.
Test your app with/without cell/wifi reception.
Scale down your map area a bit to provide the drone enough time to complete it and safely fly back to you.
Do not panic when things go wrong, trust your drone and either manually fly it back or hit the home button on the controller.
Make sure you’re not flying over people and check the airspace your in to avoid any issues with the FAA.
Backup or copy your image data.
Give a stranger a hug. Ok last one didn’t happen that day but I think thats an over all lesson to be spread 🙂
I went to Fly Ranch to work on a small test project with Will to map out parts of the ranch using drones. With my trusty DJI Phantom 4 and Inspire 1 I was able to map about 400 acres before all my batteries on the P4 where depleted. With this data we can build elevation profiles, visualize plant growth and issue, generate 3d maps and much more. I’m working on a separate article to discuss outline the process, the software I used and end results so stay tuned.
Below is elevation profile of one of the sections we mapped and the yellow box outline is where I shot most of this video.
Elevation Profile of Fly Ranch Section 3 Mapped with my DJI Phantom 4
One of the best parts of all of this was the ability to take some time (I had no shots planned out, just playing around) to fly my Inspire 1 around one of the most unique geysers I have seen in my life, Fly Geyser.
Fly Geyser, also known as Fly Ranch Geyser is a man-made small geothermal geyser located in Washoe County, Nevada approximately 20 miles (32 km) north of Gerlach. Fly Geyser is located near the edge of Fly Reservoir in the Hualapai Geothermal Flats and is approximately 5 feet (1.5 m) high, by 12 feet (3.7 m) wide, counting the mound on which it sits. – Wikipedia
I thought I would put together a small video of the geyser and share it with everyone. I have to say though, that I had no shots planned so this to me is all B roll footage or stuff that would end up on the cutting room floor, but nevertheless I think I was able to put together something I felt comfortable releasing.
I also was able to get permission to use one of my favorite tracks “Here comes the Warrior” by Rebolledo and you can usually find him playing on one of the best sound art cars the Mayan Warrior at Burning Man. Check out Sound Cloud for some amazing DJ sets from this years Burning Man that Rebolledo did.
Well I hope enjoy the video, please feel free to leave me comments, share this post and if you want to get involved with the Fly Ranch Project head over to their website and sign up!
As you guys may or may not know, I have been messing around with both aerial 360 panos and ground panos. This one is a test using the DJI Osmo along with a tripod and some great open source software Drone Pan.
This is a full 360 pano which I took on the east side of Lake Tahoe and I figured it would be a great way to showcase a first attempt at doing this.
Here is the current basic process, I will do a more in depth review of my process, which im still tweaking.
Connect Osmo to DJI App
Set some manual settings for your location, pan around a bit to find hot spots and reduce the iso/shutter/etc to your liking.
Open up the Drone Pan app (free from the app stores)
Click create pano start button and let it go.
Note it will not capture a lot of the ground where its standing so you might have to take extra photos or fix in photoshop.
I then use lightroom to try to adjust all the 25 images to the right color, saturation etc to my liking. Choose a good photo set the settings and copy to all. This is not prefect.
Go home and then use some stitching software to create your 360 pano. PTGUI, AutoPano Pro or you can try the free Hugin software. Note for the mac it hasnt been updated in ages and results from software may vary. I find autopano pro does the best job most of the times.
When your satisifed with your pano, I use Pano2VR software (yes, yet another thing to buy or try) to build our the html 5 pages for viewing.
Rinse and repeat this to find your own way.
Here is the final result..
Please leave any feedback, suggestions or comments below and share this if you like it!
So its been a long time since I posted and I have been quite busy with my new Tech Startup Likemoji (currently in stealth mode) here in the Lake Tahoe area. We also had a great winter so I haven’t had much time to take out my drones. Currently im working on a project where I will be creating 360 panos around Lake Tahoe and displaying them in a virtual tour.
Here is a complete WIP test of Eagle Rock near Tahoe City. This is a great little hike with some amazing views once at the top. This has a few issues since I couldn’t get the proper exposure lock on the camera so when you rotate around towards the mountains you see some sort of grayish fading in. This is all just a work in progress but thought I would share my example and look for more to come.
So, I have been slowly working and promoting my Instagram account thats about the drones I fly and the footage I take. I have settled on Aerial Flight Productions as the name and working on solidifying the company and a website around it.
Anyhow here are some photos and videos from my Instagram account and if you like my feed follow me:
A while back I went out to this cool location to see if I could capture some water falls. Note in California we have a serious draught issue so I wasn’t sure if it was flowing. Webber Falls is about 20 miles give or take outside of Truckee, California. After finding this little hidden gem I had to pack up the inspire 1 using a Microraptor backpack which works great and walk down a bit to the falls.
This wasnt a professional shoot, just messing around in this area seeing what looks good. I finally got around to editing the video and did a lot of rough cuts but here you can see for your self the end results. This was edited in Adobe Premiere Pro 2015 and the end credits where done with After Effects 2015.
Youtube Link (please watch it in 4k if your computer can handle it, it defaults to 720p)
I have been playing around with my Inspire 1 from DJI recently and testing various video settings and conversion tools to get the best quality that I can then pass off to post for more color correction.
I have read many blogs and watched a lot of videos where people recommend to shoot in Log mode which can be found in the Pilot app under Fn button, then select Color and you will see an option for LOG mode. If you want more of a technical explanation of LOG format please visit this page here.
I also stumbled across the DJI transcoder which transcodes the inspire 1 video format (DJI AVC) into Apple ProRes YUV 4:2:2 10 bit.
ProRes is a line of intermediate codecs, which means they are intended for use during video editing, and not for practical end-user viewing. The benefit of an intermediate codec is that it retains higher quality than end-user codecs while still requiring much less expensive disk systems compared to uncompressed video. It is comparable to Avid’s DNxHD codec or CineForm which offer similar bitrates which are also intended to be used as intermediate codecs. ProRes 422 is a DCT-basedintra-frame-only codec and is therefore simpler to decode than distribution-oriented formats like H.264. – Wikipedia Link
So I thought I would test this out with out doing any extra color correction. I took some footage directly from the Inspire 1 from a recent shoot I did in Virginia City, NV and transcoded the clip with the DJI tool which can be found here (see software tools section at the bottom).
Someone recommend these settings so my first test is with the profile set to apco(Proxy) and Gamma to Inspire 1.
This turned my 338meg mp4 file into a 2.56 mov file.
This didnt take long on my power house mac but Ill defiantly need to invest in more hard drives very soon, also just to be clear this is is used just for editing allowing you to adjust more color processing in Adobe Premier Pro or Apple Final Cut X and it not intended to be the end result for viewing.
Move the slider to see the differences.
As you can see the left part of the image is from the original video taking from the Inspire 1, and the right is the transcoded Image that does a nice little job of adding back in some of the colors lost or washed out.
Looking at this in Apple Final Cut Pro X and checking out the RGB Channels from the video you can clearly see that the original video is reaching the color space limitations where you start to get blown our or washed out colors, highlights and beyond.
And here is the transcoded video which tightens up the color space a bit in the allowed color space (depending on what look your going for).
So overall if your not going though this step you might be loosing a bit of data that you can then process while editing how ever be prepared for large files and lots of storage to be used :).
I do not claim to be an expert in this area but know a decent amount about color correction to make me dangerous but I’m just passing this information along for those who may not be away of this work flow and shooting in LOG format with your Inspire 1.
Please feel free to submit comments blow.
Their is some discussion on Facebook and some other locations as to why you would need to transcode to Apple ProRes and if you really need it since some NLE (None Linear Editors) you can correct the color profile yourself with some tweaks. This is true that you an do this and I found some interesting links to people talking about this and providing some pro’s and cons.
2 Posts stick out to me the most in this thread and its one from Marty where he does video comparisons of the various modes.
In his post he askes a few key questions which Ill not repost but you get the idea and can make your own decision as to what you want to do. For me I perfer to play around and get the best result out of my footage and if Apple ProRes provides more grading space vs compressed h.264 video from the inspire 1. I want to be clear their seems to be some confusion that the inspire 1 shoots video at RAW this is not true its compressed format of MP4/MOV (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264)at a bitrate of 60Mbps.
DJI-CAO replied to this post with his own info and I believe (I could be wrong) works on the transcoder from DJI which is right underneath the post from Marty which is linked above. However someone else on Youtube also answered one of the questions that might ring very true to most people.
To answer your question #2, by transcoding to ProRes 422, first, you have a codec that is more compatible with certain editors. For example, H.264 does play well with FCP. Another advantage is ProRes is better codec to color grade in. It’s a much bigger container, meaning it has more headroom when you’re pushing colors around. As result, you might get slightly better result, especially if you’re doing heavy grading. If none of the above apply to your workflow, it would be a waste of time and HD space to transcode to ProRes. Why does it use ProRes? It’s an industry standard format. If you ever work with other editors and need to provide RAW files, they might ask for them in ProRes format.
So my take away is depending on your situation you may need to convert to ProRes 422 if your handing this off to a professional service that will be editing your video. If your just messing around and putting together a few clips here and their for your own time you may want to consider using this because it gives you a first level of color correction or if you do not want to waste HD space you can make some adjustments in your editing program which can be small tweaks that give you similar results.