Bring the Most Out of Your Photographs Using Manual Mode 

Whether you are on the ground or in the air, understanding how to use manual mode is the essential to capturing vivid photographs and stunning cinematic video. 

Setting Up Your Drone Camera in Manual Mode

Do you feel like your images and videos are lacking? Are you spending hours after your shoots editing your projects to get them to look the way you want? The best way to eliminate hours of photo and video editing is to get your images and videos looking perfect right from the start. With post-production in mind, it's time to understand how to optimize a workflow that is in your favor. 

The settings in manual mode can be information overload but once you break the process down, it becomes second nature. Similar to a stick shift car, using a manual provides more control.

In terms of your camera, think of it as  a giant light sensor. When I use manual mode, I have the mentality of  "How can I optimize this sensor to capture the MOST data despite what the preview looks like" While it might not look usable at first, the data is there to manipulate in post-production. Let me explain below 

Why Would You Shoot in Manual?

Drones like the DJI  Phantom 4 PRO & DJI Inspire 2 have advanced built-in functions that can capture stunning images on their own, so why would you ever need to use manual mode? Well, algorithms and computers can only be so perfect, and sometimes it's better to have full control over the images and video your drone is capturing.

For instance, if your drone were high up in the sky and you noticed that the image looks overexposed, in automatic mode there isn’t much that you can do except try and edit it in post. In manual mode, you can change the exposure levels on the fly (no pun intended) and capture the image you want right then and there, saving you time messing with it later and bringing out the most data to edit in post production.

Getting Full Control

I am going to use the DJI Inspire 2 as an example. The majority of this will  apply to all DJI drones. That being said, here's how you get into manual mode:

  1. On your phone or tablet, select the button right underneath the shutter button with the small P and sliders.
  2. Within that pane, select M for manual.

It's really that easy to get into manual mode. Once you're there, you can then start tweaking the different settings to make sure that you're capturing images exactly as you would like. Let's take a look at each of the settings and what happens when you start adjusting them:

3 factors to balance while working in Manual Mode 

3 factors to balance while working in Manual Mode 


This is the amount of light that you want to come through the lens. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the lower the number, the wider the lens, meaning your image will be brighter. This is useful to adjust during night or evening shoots where you need as much light as possible to make sure your images are clear. On the other hand, if it’s a super bright day, you’ll want to increase the aperture to make sure your shots aren’t "blown out" or overexposed. I tend to set the photo for the exposure I want to see from the final photo and then go one or two stops darker. The more contrast and data you can capture, the more usable data is in the file is while editing in RAW. 


Aperture will also give you control over the depth of field in your images. This is a cool effect for still images especially because you can focus on the subject in the foreground like a building or mountain, while the background is blurry, giving the viewer a sense of depth.

Shutter Speed

This setting is more important for still images. Basically, the faster the shutter speed, the clearer your moving images will be. The longer your shutter exposure, however, the brighter your images will be. You might want slower shutter speeds for shots that have a longer exposure, although keep in mind that the lower your shutter speed, the blurrier your images might be.


If you can’t adjust your shutter speed or aperture in your particular situation, adjusting ISO is your best bet. The ISO is basically how sensitive your camera is to light. The higher the number, the brighter the image. Don’t get carried away with your ISO though because as you increase it, you’re going to start to see more noise and graininess in your shots which can be tricky to remove from photos and almost impossible to edit out in videos.

Histogram The Exposure Meter

Example of a histogram in Adobe Lightroom Classic 

Example of a histogram in Adobe Lightroom Classic 


At the very bottom of the same pane, there's a tiny little meter showing negative, zero, or positive. This is your exposure meter, and if you're going to take the reins and shoot in manual mode, you need to pay attention to it. You typically want to shoot for zero, meaning your exposure is even and spot on.


If it’s negative, that means your image or video is underexposed and overexposed if the meter is in the positive. Sometimes you’ll want to underexpose and other times you’ll want to overexpose depending on your situation.


What programs should I use to edit? 

Adobe Lightroom Classic 

==> Adobe Lightroom  is designed for cataloging, editing, color correcting, and preparing multiple files simultaneously

==>Adobe Lightroom is designed for cataloging, editing, color correcting, and preparing multiple files simultaneously

Adobe Photoshop CC 

==>  Adobe Photoshop CC  is amazing for photo manipluation. 

==> Adobe Photoshop CC is amazing for photo manipluation. 


Camera RAW offers more precise control of the photo data


Example: Monument Circle (Indianapolis) at Night

==> Shot with the  DJI Inspire 2 X5S

==> Shot with the DJI Inspire 2 X5S


Edit using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop

Wrap Up

Those are my quick pointers on shooting in manual mode. It takes some practice, especially if you are new to photography and shooting video so don’t be discouraged if your images look a little wonky at first. Keep at it, play with the settings, and pretty soon you’ll be a master with full control over your next shoot!

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