How to Shoot High Water in the River by Phantom

When there has been a lot of rain in Germany and/or a lot of melting water from the Alps, the water level in the river IJssel in the Netherlands rises and the river is much broader than usual. This usually happens during winter months and creates a great opportunity for aerial photography. So when I heard about the high water in January 2015, I grabbed my Phantom (Learn more about Phantom) and went to the river. But how to make good compositions for photos or panoramas?

1. Trees in the water

Trees in the water
Aperture2.8       Shutter Speed1/670s      ISO100      TypePhantom 2 Vision+      

The floodplains along the river are submerged and trees (without leaves because of the winter) are now surrounded by water. In the background you see the river itself, between lines of trees. To emphasize the trees surrounded by a huge amount of water, I used a low altitude (30m) and made a composition with a lot of water to all the edges.

2. Green islands

Green islands
Aperture2.8      Shutter Speed1/850s      ISO100      TypePhantom 2 Vision+
While most of the grassland is submerged, the higher parts are turned into green islands. Behind the bridge is the city of Deventer.
For this photo I used a higher altitude (142m) to oversee the whole river and floodplains. I continued repositioning my Phantom until the green islands and the river made a good composition together.


3. Between the river dikes

Between the river dikes
Aperture2.8      Shutter Speed1/1250s      ISO100      TypePhantom 2 Vision+

The adjacent areas are protected by river dikes, often with roads on the top. These photos were taken with the Phantom 2 Vision+, which had a clear fish-eye effect (curved horizon). It could easily be corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop, but you can notice that the shadows are pointing to different directions…

4. The earth is round

The earth is round

Aperture2.8       Shutter Speed1/190s       ISO100       TypePhantom 2 Vision+

This photo is captured opposite a curve in the river from a higher altitude, which was still allowed at that time (since July 2015 the maximum altitude in the Netherlands is limited to 120 meter). 

In most cases I used Adobe’s automatic lens correction to compensate for the fisheye effect of the Phantom 2. If I had straightened the horizon in this photo however, I would lose too much in the corners. But more important for me, the round horizon fits perfectly with the curve in the river.
Note: the newer Phantom 3/4  and Inspire no longer have the fisheye effect.

5.  High water in the summer

High water in the summer
Aperture2.8     Shutter Speed1/140s     ISO100     TypePhantom 3 Professional

In June 2016, we had another period of high water, after an unusual amount of rainfall in western Europe. Again, the floodplains were submerged with water. But at this time of the year there were leaves on the trees, warm coloured in the late evening sun. This time I was flying with my Phantom 3 Professional Check the Discount!.

6. Floodplain

Aperture2.8     Shutter Speed1/400     ISO100     TypePhantom 3 Professional

At this image you see the submerged area Ravenswaarden, captured from the opposite side (western side) of the river. When seeing the live feed on my smartphone, I’d love to make photos straight above that area. However, in the Netherlands it’s not allowed to fly above (or cross) rivers with a flying camera. Since there are no bridges in the area I had to wait for another occasion.

7.Panorama to fit the curve

Panorama to fit the curve
Aperture2.8       Shutter Speed1/450s       ISO100       TypePhantom 3 Professional

Ravenswaarden is on three sides enclosed by a curve in the river. I wanted to capture the whole curve, but it didn’t fit in one image. Flying further backwards was not an option, because I would fly too far from the river to get an interesting photo. So instead, I made two photos and merged them later in Photoshop to this panorama. I made sure to have about 30% overlap between the photos. The low sun behind me created very long shadows, which again are pointing to different directions. In this photo, it looks like they are all pointing to the submerged floodplain.

Photoshop (and other programs) have different options for merging photos (like cylindrical, reposition and spherical). As the result differs in the resulting composition and in parts of the original images that are cut off, it’s a good idea to try more of them and choose the image that you like the most.

8. A 360 degrees panorama

A 360 degrees panorama
Aperture2.8      Shutter Speed1/400s      ISO100      TypePhantom 3 Professional

Two weeks later (still high water) I went to the eastern side of the river to fly right above Ravenswaarden. The sky was interesting (blue sky with white clouds) and was reflected in the water of the floodplains. Except new photos I made my first 360 degrees spherical panorama: a panoramic view where you can look at all sides (including up and down). I looked for a place where the view in all the directions as well as right down was interesting. Also I wanted no buildings nearby, a beautiful reflection of the clouds in the water and the reflection of the sun on a not annoying place.

As with a normal panorama, you need about 30% overlap between all the photos, but now horizontal as well as vertical. I start (or end) with two photos straight down, and make rows of photos at different angles. The last series of photos was as far as possible directed upwards (this is 30 degrees up with the Phantom 3). Here you see the result in a flat image.

I used PTGui to make the panorama. The program worked easy, fast and with great result to stitch the 25 photos to one spherical panorama. My only problem was I missed a part of the sky above, as the Phantom cannot make photos straight up. With a smooth (blue or gray) sky it’s easy to fill it in, but with this sky it was more difficult. I should have made photo’s above me (for instance with my DSLR) and combined them with the Phantom photos in PTGui.

9. Little planet and VR

Little planet and VR
Aperture2.8       Shutter Speed1/400s       ISO100       TypePhantom 3 Professional
There are different ways to show the resulting panorama. A nice way is the little planet projection. The horizon is round and the place right down is the middle of the image. Here you see the little planet of the same image. 

Even more interesting is the VR or interactive presentation of a spherical panorama. In this view the horizon is straight and you can look around in all directions (left, right, up, down) by click and drag, or zoom with your scrollwheel (or by pinching and spreading on a touchscreen). Skypixel and some other popular sites offer the functionality to upload a photo for a VR panorama. Also, a PTGui license includes the possibility to integrate a VR panorama on your own site.

Unfortunately, the VR version (still of the same image) cannot be embedded on this page, but you can see it at here

Thank you for watching!
Author:Paul Oostveen
Articles from: SkyPixel