How to optimize your midday light drone photography


Midday light photography is perhaps one of the biggest hurdles photographers face. Don’t despair. There are ways to repair midday light and still obtain beautiful shots!

As I drive through North America in a truck full of drones, my partner Stacy Garlington and I remind ourselves that the journey is more important than the destination. We drive from one city to another not only to waste fuel, but to share our passion for photography with drones with others. On the way, we use Google Maps to filter out interstate highways. This obliges us to follow the country roads and main roads of the past. Creating photographs with drones above the forgotten gravel crossings of America is a dream come true, at least for us, because we teach these things.

Too often we come across a beautiful location at noon, a red barn with a gray silo surrounded by a green wheat field and a blue sky full of white clouds. But at noon… really? Photographs captured at noon are normally the least attractive. Midday lighting means tiny, awkward shadows, a lack of colour, no mood and no story to tell.

But when you have to fly, you have to fly! Sometimes there’s no alternative; just fly, resume and continue driving along the road to the next nameless motel (with a weed infested pool that has been empty since 1968).

Lately, I’ve been capturing a couple of photos at noon. These would have been really fantastic images if there had been a warm sunset filtering through the trees. Or perhaps the undulating landscape would reveal its shape with shadows if the morning glow was coming through the fields. Unfortunately, the sun was high.

photos with drone dji
Fallen pine captured in the light of noon.
photos with drone dji
Fallen pine with a light paint to create drama and atmosphere. Here I used the Adobe Lightroom adjustment brushes.

When processing photos, professionals use a secret technique to save images from such flat lights. They call it “painting with light.” Regardless of the post-processing software used, there should be a brush tool in which you can paint in some places with lights and even some shadows. I generally use Adobe Lightroom Classic CC. Another software alternative is Skylum Luminar. Take a look at these shots before and after!

photos with drone dji
A flat, lifeless midday light with an intriguing and beautiful subject.
photos with drone dji
Painting with the effects of a low sunset at sunset saved this image with Phantom 4 Pro drone from permanent deletion. On this image, I used the adjustment tools of the Luminos Macphun to paint the light of the glowing sunset.

Imagine the horror if you were forced to present your photos to the public directly from the camera. The drama and emotion are missing in these shots without shadows. A successful drone photo should capture and trap the viewer in the frame. The photo must stop the viewer for a brief moment and force him to reflect on the moment when he was captured. Go ahead and test your midday light photography with DJI Mavic 2 and see what you can invent!