Flying the DJI Air 2S at night [Expert insider tips]

I don’t think there is a better drone for flying at night than the DJI Air 2S. This drone performs amazingly well in lowlight situations regarding how it flies and the quality of the photos and videos you can collect. In this article, we will cover all of the important aspects of flying the DJI Air 2S at night so you can fly with confidence and stay legal at the same time.

To fly the Air 2S at night, you must complete night training from the FAA and fit a small anticollision strobe light. Recording in RAW and using the Intelligent HDR technology will help you get the best content possible in lowlight situations.

Plenty of extra dangers also exist when flying your drone at night, including the inability to keep a direct line of sight and the increased risk of collisions with fine branches from nearby trees.

Here is everything you need to know about flying the DJI Air 2S at night.

Can you fly Mavic Air 2S at night?

According to the FAA, you can only fly the Air 2S at night if you have a part 107 license or take night training from FAA. The drone must also be fitted with strobe lights that can be seen from 3 statute miles.

Flying a drone at night also involves slowly expanding your comfort zone until you can safely and comfortably fly using primarily the first-person view of the drone and limited visual contact.

The Mavic Air 2S comes with navigational and status indicator lights that allow you to see where the drone is and the current status.

It does not come with anticollision lights which will satisfy the FAA regulations but you will certainly be able to see the drone from a reasonable distance just by using front LEDs and status indicators.

Rules for flying your Air 2S at night

As of writing in June 2022, the law states that you may not operate a small unmanned aircraft system at night unless:

  1. the remote pilot of the aircraft has completed a knowledge test or training following section 107.65.
  2. All the small unmanned aircraft have been fitted with anti-collision lights that are visible for at least three statute miles and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.

You may want to reduce the intensity of the anticollision lighting because you may deem it safer for the drone under the current operating conditions. Under the FFA guidelines, this is perfectly suitable.

The same rules apply if you want to fly in civil twilight hours, considered 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset in all US states apart from Alaska.

If you want to know the best way to satisfy the strobe conditions for the Air 2S check out my full guide here.

The Air 2S performs well in low light conditions

The Air 2S performs very well in lowlight conditions and has many features that will keep you safe, including advanced piloting assistance and sensors for keeping you away from danger.

Safety feature – APAS 4.0

The advanced pilot assistance system is a feature available only in normal mode. The aircraft will continue to respond to your piloting commands but will plan its path according to stick control inputs and the environment.

The drone will avoid obstacles by flying above, below, or to the left or right of the obstacle.

This feature makes night flying easy as it is much easier to avoid obstacles, obtain smoother footage, and provide a safer flying experience.

When the advanced pilot assistance system is enabled, the aircraft can be stopped by pressing the flight pause button on the remote control or tapping stop on the DJI flight app. The drone will hover for three seconds and then await further commands.

A word of warning: this feature may not work properly when the aircraft is flying near a limited Geo zone and is disabled in intelligent flight modes, so be extra cautious.

This feature works best in high light environments and extremely dark environments (less than 300 lx), limiting the effectiveness of this advanced piloting system.

Sensors

The Air 2S has forward, backwards, downward, and upwards-facing sensors that will keep your drone as safe as possible by alerting you to any potential hazards nearby.

The forward, backwards, upwards, and downward vision systems consist of two cameras that can work out the distance of stuff using binocular vision.

The Downward vision and infrared sensing systems help the aircraft maintain its current position and hover more precisely. The infrared sensing system particularly helps if the drone is flying in an environment where the GPS signal is unavailable.

Intelligent HDR technology

A smart high dynamic range technology on the drone automatically blends many shots.

The best part about this capability is that it allows for much more subtle details in the photographs and boosts the dynamic range of the images without the need for postprocessing.

If your drone has clever HDR technology turned on, your lowlight images will have considerably more detail and depth in the highlights and shadows.

Hyperlight function

The DJI Air 2S aircraft supports the Hyperlight function, which can be automatically enabled using the SmartPhoto function.

Hyperlight optimises photos taken at night or in lowlight situations. The camera parameters are optimised for scenes that feature sunsets, blue sky, grass, snow, and green trees.

The high dynamic range uses an adaptive dynamic algorithm that determines the optimal parameters and selects the best image from multiple layers.

If you have purchased a DJI Air 2S and want to use it in low light conditions, you’ll be pleased to know that it is well suited for flying at night.

Getting the best night photos with the Air 2S

Many of the default settings for taking pictures and videos with drones are optimised for when a lot of light enters the camera lens because they are designed to fly and capture pictures during the day.

For instance, the sensor’s high sensitivity causes the ISO level to rapidly ramp up in lowlight conditions, which causes a lot of noise in your image. Using our drone’s manual settings and figuring out exactly what needs to be modified can circumvent this.

What you need to know is as follows:

DJI AIR 2S low light settiings

Shoot in RAW

The RAW file is a version of the image that has not been compressed. It has much more information on the scene and gives you more detail.

This detail is especially crucial when photographing at night because you will be utilising a lot of postprocessing to improve the image. The raw format gives you much more data to work with.

Lock the gimbal

A drone’s gimbal is a crucial component. It effectively counterbalances any turbulence or movement-related vibrations that get through and to the camera while the drone is flying, resulting in smooth footage and videos.

Turn off LEDS

The DJI air 2S has forward-facing LEDs, and I recommend you turn them off. The LEDs are reflected on different surfaces and are particularly visible in lowlight and nighttime settings.

Cine mode

Utilise modes that keep your drone as steady as possible.

The DJI Air 2S cine mode limits the flight speed making the aircraft much more stable during shooting. Trial different modes that keep your drone steady so that you can maximise your nighttime photo and video capture with minimum blurriness.

White balance

Many people leave their white balance on auto, but if you want complete control over your colours and outcome, you need to start fiddling with white balance.

A Kelvin temperature white balance value is required to pick the optimal setting. The Kelvin range will vary from 4000 to 7000 due to the night sky’s abundance of blues and purples. Start with a 5500 Kelvin setting, which will give you a consistent, realistic night sky colour while keeping the foreground colours.

Keep on playing with the white balance, and you are happy with what it looks like in lowlight settings.

Bracketing options

Simply put, two (or more) images shot at various exposure levels are stitched together using software to make a superior lowlight image.

I recommend choosing a two-stop difference during nighttime drone photography to offer yourself the best chance of shooting good high dynamic range photos.

After using a bracketed photo option, you’ll need to combine the photos with software like Photomatix, Aurora HDR, or Luminance HDR for postprocessing and photo modification (FREE).

Postprocessing

One of the most useful ways of getting the best photos and videos in low light is to know exactly what tools are at your disposal in postprocessing.

Here are all of the things that I do to make sure that my nighttime drone pictures are something I am proud of:

  • highlights down – a lot of artificial lighting can be too bright
  • shadows up – highlight darker areas of the photograph
  • Sharpen highlights – sharpen the edges, so they are crisp and clean. Postprocessing can sometimes blur and deaden the edges of your image
  • noise reduction – have a look at the dark areas of your photograph and use simple noise reduction algorithms to remove the dots and noise
  • colour balance – at night time, the dominant colours of purples and blues you can create a cinematic feel by warming up your image using a yellow filter and pushing the blues into the teal range.

Summary

This article covers everything you need to know about flying your DJI Air 2S at night in lowlight situations.

The Air 2S is a fantastic drone, maybe one of the best, for flying at night. Its intelligent flight features and the fantastic camera options for taking photos in lowlight mean that nighttime flying has never been easier or more fun.

However, you must always ensure that you are flying within the local laws and regulations to ensure that you have passed all of the appropriate tests and that your drone is fitted with a strobe light visible from three statute miles.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones. His favourite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!