July 19 2022

Tyler McCaul's Guide to Slow Shutter Aerial Motorsports Photography

Kendall Martin

Kendall Martin

My Name’s Tyler McCaul, I’m 32 years old, originally from Santa Cruz, CA but now living in Southern Utah, and I’m a professional Freeride Mountain Biker.

Shortly after I moved to Utah, I was riding lines by myself and having a blast but didn’t have anything to show for it... and it got me thinking.

Part of my job, aside from competing, is creating content for sponsors. If I can create content while riding solo or just for fun, it would change the game for me, allowing me more time to do what I love; downhill mountain biking.

I didn’t even know that autonomous drones existed until after I finished riding one day, opened my phone, and had an email from someone at Skydio asking if I would be interested in helping them do some testing of their new Skydio 2 while it was still in the beta stages.

I was so pumped because it was exactly what I needed; a personal film crew that I could bring wherever I went. I would send my footage and log data cards back to Skydio for them to assess and tweak the software to make it track better for mountain biking. It was fun to be a part of, and every time I think it can’t get any better, they come out with a new software update that improves it even further. The fact that Skydio uses real-world testing to enhance their software is what separates them from the rest to me.

It was exactly what I needed…a personal film crew that I could bring along with me wherever I went.

Tyler McCaul

Professional Downhill Mountain Biker & Content Creator

Skydio 2 following Ford raptor offroad

After my first flight, I thought it was the best thing ever. It’s what I had joked about for years before getting one, saying, “Imagine if we had our own personal drones that could follow us down these lines,” and then, before I knew it, I was holding one in my hands!

Slow Shutter Drone Photography

Recently I've been getting into capturing aerial motorsports photography. The autonomous car/vehicle tracking is so good on the Skydio 2+ that it can match the speed perfectly, which allows me to capture some incredible slow shutter/motion blur photos using the manual exposure settings within the Skydio App + PolarPro ND filters. It took me a little while to figure out, but I’ve got a pretty good formula for it now.

slow shutter aerial motorsports photography
Slow shutter 4K frame captured with Skydio 2+ and exported from the Skydio app

When I’m trying to get a photo like this, I shoot video in 4k, 24fps, and at a 1/48 shutter (sometimes down to 1/30 if I want it to enhance the effect.) This usually requires using the ND filters from PolarPro that magnetically attach directly to the lens.

Skydio Magnetic ND Filters by PolarPro

ND filters reduce the amount of light hitting the camera sensor, which means you can use low shutter speed without having an over-exposed image. Low shutter speed + movement is what adds motion blur to the image. Flying low and close to the ground also adds more motion blur to the image, which adds drama to your aerial photography.

Skydio footage with motion blur caused by ND filters
Skydio footage with motion blur caused by ND filters

I found that by shooting in video it allows me to scrub through the video to find the perfect moment

Tyler McCaul

Professional Downhill Mountain Biker & Content Creator

I used to do this in the burst mode photo setting, but I found that shooting video allows me to scrub through the video to find the perfect moment where the subject is sharp, and the background is blurred. Then I can take a 4k screen grab within the Skydio ap, which downloads it straight into my camera roll on my phone.

Sometimes I just share it as-is, but sometimes I’ll import it into Lightroom on my phone or computer and edit it just as if I were editing a standard 12MP photo. It’s a lot of fun and keeps people guessing at how the shot was taken when I'm riding solo.

Slow shutter aerial motorsports photography

I knew nothing about photography or filming when I started with Skydio and a big step for me was to learn how to use the manual camera settings. This allowed me to have more control over the lighting, frame rates, and motion blur so I could take my photography to the next level.

Learning to use the Manual Camera settings was easier than I thought, and luckily we live in an age where you can learn damn-near anything on YouTube so that’s where I started. I educated myself about frame rates, shutter speeds, ND filters and how they’re used. It made flying more fun since I had more control over the quality of my footage and photos.

How Smart are Skydio Drones?

A heck of a lot smarter than me! It's a really good tool to have for any athlete, hobbyist, or just someone who wants to try something new with drone photography/videography.

I like the autonomous Orbit Skill. I try not to use it too much in edits because it can be overdone, but I want to use it when I’m at the top of a big pyramid-like mountain top. I select myself as the subject and then set the drone to Orbit.

Tyler McCaul riding with Skydio 2

I can then adjust the diameter of the circle I want it to make, the height at which it’s flying, and the speed I want it to travel. It also makes for a cool effect to pull screen grabs from using the ND filters and techniques listed above.

Favorite Skydio Video

There have been so many. Sometimes I throw it in the air without much of a plan and don’t really know what I got until I review it. Most of the time it looks better than I could’ve imagined and does movements that would require a really good pilot to capture. I’d say my favorite shot was from an evening in one of my favorite riding zones that I thought was going to be a bust.

Tyler McCaul filmed by Skydio 2

It was about an hour hike to get to the top of the line I wanted to ride, and just as I got to the top a huge cloud rolled in and cut out all the light. What I wanted was that golden evening light, so I waited up there for about an hour, and just as I thought the sun had set behind the clouds, it peaked through at the horizon just enough to create some cool light. Those stormy/cloudy nights where the light barely peeks through at sunset are always my favorite.

Nothing Flies Like Skydio

If you’re on the fence about buying this drone vs. every other manual drone out there, I highly recommend the Skydio 2+. There’s so much you can do with these things, and I never get bored of it, especially with all the new software updates and cinematic Skills coming out.

slow shutter aerial motorsports photography

I mostly share my aerial videos/photos on Instagram or YouTube. I don’t use my YouTube as much as I should, but I've been thinking about making some drone videography/photography tutorials, so if that interests you then, get at me and let me know!

If you want to see more of the stuff I make with my autonomous drone, then give me a follow on Instagram or YouTube.

Slow shutter drone photo of f-150 offroad

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