Most owners of drones started developing interest in drones due to the opportunity to capture aerial photos and videos. Aside from being an incredibly fun experience, drones allow hobby and professional photographers to capture footage from angles and vantage points that have been impossible before. Drone manufacturers have made it as easy as ever to capture unique and captivating aerial shots with a host of flight options.
In this article, we look at the regular and intelligent flight modes available in the DJI drones. DJI has consistently managed to stay ahead of the race for consumer and professional drones, and these flight features have become the standard against which other drones are measured against.
Regular Flight Modes
These flight modes are not specifically used for drone photography, but instead are options provided to drone pilots so they can fly according to their level of expertise.
1. Beginner Mode
The Beginner flight mode is available in all DJI drones. As its name implies, the Beginner mode was especially made for those who are still very unfamiliar with drone flight. It makes use of all available sensors onboard the drone, aiding in keeping the aircraft stable and making it easier to fly. It also restricts the movement of the drone to within 30 meters of the remote controller. This way, the newbie drone pilot does not need to worry about the drone getting out of control and flying too far away.
2. Positioning Mode
Positioning Mode, or P-Mode, makes use of the drone’s GPS technology and optical sensors to maintain a stable hover. There are typically two Positioning Mode types: P-GPS and P-OPTI. When the drone is in P-GPS Mode, it uses the drone’s GPS position to compensate for horizontal drifts caused by winds. This allows the drone to maintain a stable horizontal position, which greatly aids in making the drone easy to fly. Even if the pilot lets go of the remote control, a drone that is in P-GPS Mode should not drift away by much from its original location.
When the drone loses its GPS signal, it can go into P-OPTI Mode. In this mode, the drone can no longer maintain its horizontal position. This means that it can to any direction subject to external factors. However, the optical sensors of the drone still function to help it avoid obstacles. Keep in mind that a drone’s optical sensors are range-limited, and that they cannot identify obstacles that are barely visible or when the drone is in a dark environment.
3. Attitude Mode
A drone’s Attitude Mode is activated when it loses both GPS signal and optical sensor capabilities. It can still maintain its altitude using the onboard barometer, but it becomes extremely vulnerable to drifting. Flying in Attitude Mode can be challenging even for experienced drone pilots, as they must continuously compensate for horizontal drifts to keep the drone stable. Without any GPS positioning, the drone moves relative to its directional attitude, which may prove to be disorienting for the drone pilot. The tendency of the drone to drift and the difficulty of regaining orientation are the reasons why there have been several cases of drone flyaway due to pilots not being able to control the drone when it goes into Attitude Mode.
Despite the difficulty of flying in Attitude Mode, it is a flight mode that is preferred by many drone filmmakers. Photographers can avoid the jerky movements caused by constant GPS-aided compensation, resulting in smoother videos. Auto-braking is also deactivated in Attitude Mode, allowing drones to come to a smoother and more natural stop as soon as the pilot lets go of the controls.
4. Sport Mode
Simply put, Sport Mode was made for speed. In this mode, all obstacle avoidance algorithms are deactivated. It also allows the drone to fly at the highest speed that it can reach. GPS technology still works to keep the drone stable while it flies, but this mode relies heavily on pilot skill to avoid crashing into obstacles.
Intelligent Flight Modes
These modes are mostly autonomous, allowing the drone pilot to focus on framing and composing shots while the drone moves in a manner dictated by the Intelligent Flight Mode that was activated. Using these modes, drone photographers have managed to take thousands or captivating photos and videos that would have been very challenging if done manually.
1. Cinematic Mode
The Cinematic Mode combines the best features of DJI’s Positioning Mode and Attitude Mode to aid filmmaker in capturing the smoothest videos possible. In Cinematic Mode, the drone brakes in a smoother and more natural motion via its inertia, similar to how it behaves in Attitude Mode. The drone’s yaw movement is also slowed down, resulting in smoother rotational movements. This feature is available in all drones released after and including the Mavic Pro.
One of the classic autonomous flight modes available in DJI drones, TapFly allows you to direct the drone to any location on the map with just a single tap on the screen of your mobile device. The drone’s obstacle avoidance technology continues to be engaged while it moves. The drone’s movement speed and altitude can be set using on-screen sliders.
3. Active Track
ActiveTrack is also one of the most popular and oft-used Intelligent Flight Modes of DJI drones. Using a combination of GPS and camera technologies, the drone can be track people, animals, or vehicles without the pilot having to fly the drone. The relative location of the drone to the subject will vary based on the tracking mode, of which there are three that available to various DJI drones: Trace, Profile, and Spotlight.
In Trace mode, the drone follows behind the target while maintaining a distance that has been set by the pilot. If you want the drone to capture the subject from the front, then it must be in Profile mode. For a more dynamic footage, you can choose to activate Spotlight mode, which keeps the subject in focus even as you fly the drone in any direction.
As its name implies, QuickShot Mode is designed to allow for quick and easy capture of stills and video clips. In any of its sub-modes, choosing a subject for QuickShot is as simple as tapping on or drawing box around the subject. Although this mode seems simple, it offers an array of flight patterns to make your shots more interesting.
One of the most popular QuickShot modes is Dronie, where the drone flies upwards and backwards while keeping focus on the subject. If you have watched any drone video, chances are you have seen the Dronie mode in action. Rocket mode functions quite similarly, except it only flies straight upwards, true to its namesake.
Helix Mode makes for a more interesting QuickShot, making the drone move upwards while circling in a spiral pattern. Lastly, Circle Mode keeps things simple, with the drone making exactly one revolution around the subject it focuses on.
Tripod Mode is extremely popular with professional drone photographers and is especially suited for capturing up-close stills and videos. In this mode, the movement speed of the drone is reduced to 2.2 mph. The heavily damped controls allow a pilot to make very precise movements and keep the drone’s position very stable. This mode is heavily dependent on GPS signal fixing.
In this mode, you can specify a path that the drone will follow simply by drawing the pattern on the screen of your mobile device. The movement speed can be controlled using on-screen sliders, while camera movement depends on whether the drone is in Forward or Free mode. In Forward mode, the camera is limited to small left and right movements. If you want the camera to be able to move in any direction, then you need to activate Free mode.
Similar to Draw mode, you can specify a flight path for your drone in Waypoints mode. The major difference is that you only need to specify particular points that the drone will target. This gives the drone more flexibility to determine the best possible path from one waypoint to another. This also gives higher precision, as waypoints can be set using accurate coordinates. Should you need to repeat a particular flight path, you can even save the points you have set for future use.
8. Gesture Mode
Gesture Mode was very popular with the Spark but has since become out of fashion with newer models such as the Phantom 4 Pro and the Mavic 2. In Gesture Mode, the drone’s camera can recognize specific gestures that effectively act as commands for camera and drone controls. There is a wide range of possible gestures that can be used in this mode.
Many of the features of Gesture Mode were exclusive to the Spark, such as PalmLauch, which allowed you to launch the drone from your palm as soon as it recognizes your face. PalmControl, another Spark-exclusive feature, allowed you to control the drone by moving your hand in front of its sensor.
If you want to take a quick photo of yourself in Gesture Mode, you only need to use your hands to create a frame in front of your face. Conversely, holding your arms up and towards the drone at a 45-degree angle starts video recording.
Gesture Mode might not have been carried over to the more professional line of DJI drones, but it may be one of the reasons why the Spark has remained popular and charming despite the years.
9. Terrain Follow Mode
The Terrain Follow Mode is only available in DJI drones that have downward-facing optical sensors, such as the Phantom 4 Pro and the Mavic series. In this mode, the drone can maintain a constant elevation difference from the ground even as it goes up a hill with an incline of up to 20 degrees. The elevation difference can be set from 1 meter to 10 meters and will not work if the drone is traversing the terrain downhill.
10. Spotlight Pro
The Spotlight Pro mode is a much more sophisticated and refined version of the Spotlight sub-mode of ActiveTrack. This feature, which is currently only available on the Inspire drones, allows independent drone movement as the camera continues to track a designated subject. Spotlight Pro also has a Composition Mode that allows you to define an area on the screen. Tracking only commences when the subject enters this area.
11. Course Lock
In Course Lock mode, you specify a path in which the drone movement will be restricted. This means that you can only move forwards and backwards along the path. The independent camera controls will still allow you to move the camera in any direction as you traverse the pre-determined path.
12. Points of Interest
Points of Interests acts a lot like the Circle QuickShot Mode, making the drone move in a circle while keeping the camera focused on as selected subject. This mode allows you to tweak the movement speed, altitude, and the radius of the circle. The drone will continue to move along the circle until the pilot intervenes. If needed, the movement of the drone can be paused while maintaining focus on the subject.
Tips on using Intelligent Flight Modes
1. Check if obstacle avoidance is deactivated
In many Intelligent Flight Modes, the obstacle avoidance technology deactivated because the optical sensors are used to help the drone navigate the pre-programmed flight path. This means that you need to pay special attention to the drone while it executes your command, lest your drone end up crashing into a tree.
2. Save paths and waypoints for shots you want to repeat
Some modes, such as Waypoints and Draw, allow you to save the patterns you have come up with so you can reuse them for future shots. Although drone photography typically benefits from variations, this feature can be useful for more technical applications such as aerial mapping.
3. Combine different effects
If you are a fan of drone videos, you have probably noticed that the effects of many of the Intelligent Flight Modes mentioned above have been overused. For more interesting shots, you can combine different shot angles and altitudes. After all, almost all professional-grade drones nowadays have somewhat similar intelligent flight modes. It is the creative combination of these flight modes that can make a drone photographer stand out from the rest.
Taking aerial photos and videos is probably the most entertaining thing that anyone can do with drones. With the flight modes available in DJI drones, taking unique still sand videos will not require a high level of drone flight skill. Drones and sensors continue to get smarter, so we are eagerly looking forward to more innovative and creative in flight modes in the upcoming DJI drones.