The advent of compact drones has had an exciting impact on the world of photography. There’s now a whole class of photographers who use just a camera with wings (yeah, propellers, I know; it just doesn’t sound as cool), and even more who supplement their mirrorless or DSLRs with a drone.

Drone photography is highly accessible, with kits available for well under $1,000. With the DJI Mini series, you can shoot vertical photos, giving you even more compositional variety. Lightroom Classic can handle the files from these drones, including merging panorama and bracketed sets. 

So why look outside Lightroom Classic? ON1 offers a few things that can’t be done in Lightroom; for example, Sky Swap AI does a fantastic job of replacing bland skies, and includes a whole library of ready-to-go skies; you can use an alternate merging process for your bracketed photos with ON1 HDR 2023; and there’s a vast range of filters inside ON1 Effects, offering immediate results, such as Dynamic Contrast, Sunshine, or Color Enhancer. Note that some of the Effects filters are built into HDR 2023. 


ON1 Photo RAW is a one-stop photo-management and -processing application that offers a wealth of library tools, combined with all the available plugins integrated into the application. It’s a direct competitor to Lightroom Classic, and it’s available as a perpetual license or by subscription. With the plugins, you get each tool individually, with no integration, so you have to go to each one separately from your host program. Inside Photo RAW it’s easy to move from HDR to NoNoise to Effects, etc. 


Drone tech in the prosumer market is driven by the law. Different weight points mean that drone companies often create their product to sit just below a category point. For instance, the DJI Mini 3 Pro weighs in at a paltry 249 grams to skirt EU drone laws aimed at units that are 250 grams or more. That weight drives things, such as sensor choices, resulting in the use of a 1/1.3″ CMOS sensor rather than a 1″ sensor. 

The smaller sensor means a lower quality output and susceptibility to noise. For this reason, many drone photographers choose to bracket their photos, which means taking a series of photos with one setting changed between each photo, usually exposure. In the case of DJI, the default is set at 0.7 stops. It’s not a lot, so most photographers choose to set the AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) to 5 stops to get more range. 

These bracketed images are merged to create a new file with an increased dynamic range, which also helps with some of the noise issues, but not completely. You can already see we’ll be looking at ON1 HDR and ON1 NoNoise AI. In addition, we’ll look at Sky Swap AI and Effects. 


STEP ONE: To use ON1 HDR directly from Lightroom Classic, go to the File menu and, from the Plug-In Extras menu, choose Merge With HDR 2023. 

STEP TWO: There are many file options from which to choose, ranging from TIFF to DNG, as well as PSD. The default option is Smart Photo PSD, which will include the settings for both the original and edited versions of the photo in the file. This means that you can edit the file again nondestructively, after saving and closing the application. 

STEP THREE: The Create HDR dialog will open showing a preview of the results with the current settings. At the bottom, you’ll see the photo brackets in exposure order (notice that, in this example, the names of the files aren’t in order with this particular drone). The center photo is the EV 0.0 or middle exposure of the set. Above each photo are two circle icons: the first has a tick to include the image in the merge and the second sets the default image. 

STEP FOUR: Above the brackets are the settings. De­ghosting will remove artifacts in areas where motion has occurred between images. For example, the ripples at the top right of these images could cause ghosting. Turning on Show Ghosting indicates that there’s none in this merged photo, so we would leave Deghosting off. If we set the Deghosting to High, however, it does show that there’s some ghosting in the trees (indicated by the red highlighting), but it’s not enough to worry about. 

STEP FIVE: The Default Looks for the photo are: Natural, Natural Auto, Surreal, and Surreal Auto, and you choose the look you prefer from the preview. Here we’ve chosen Natural. 

STEP SIX: When you’re ready, click Save. The photo will open into the main HDR 2023 window. The main issue with the Natural option is that it requires some editing. It’s mostly haze; so color and contrast issues. You may prefer to go with Surreal, and that’s fine, but we’ll keep this version photorealistic. The AI Auto option makes the image far too bright for this image, so we set it to Manual. 

STEP SEVEN: For the background haze, we started by clicking Local in the Layers panel on the right. At the top, we chose the second icon from the left, and then the Linear Bottom Preset. We then dragged the gradient over the mountains. To reduce haze, we set the Haze slider to –43. To bring back the sky color, we set Highlights to –65. Finally, for more shadow detail, we set the Shadows to 7. 

STEP EIGHT: Back in Develop in the Layers panel, we set Contrast to 33, Highlights to –12, and Shadows to 11 to enhance the tone. We then turned on Recover Highlight Hue. 

STEP NINE: Let’s switch to Effects in the Layers panel. By default, this opens on the HDR Look filter. This is where you can mess with (or mess up) your photo. For now, we just increased the Glow to taste: a setting of 35 is nice for this image. 

STEP 10: Finally, we clicked Add Filter and chose LUTs. In the Color Grading category we chose Keen from the available LUTs, and set the Contrast to –10 and Saturation to 5. Click Done to return to Lightroom Classic. 


STEP ONE: Even though we were conscious of the sky as we edited the image in ON1 HDR 2023, it’s still very bland, so let’s swap it out. From the Photo>Edit In menu in Lightroom Classic, choose ON1 Sky Swap AI, then choose Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments, and click OK. This brings in a flattened file. 

STEP TWO: The UI will open. A glance to the right shows that the mask for the sky is ready. We just need to select a sky to get started. 

STEP THREE: Sky Swap AI 2023 ships with a large range of skies and, of course, you can also choose a sky of your own. From the internal library of skies, choose a category that suits your image and then a sky. Be aware of the position of the light when choosing a sky, but you can still go a little wild. From the OcuDrone Tropical Sunset category, we chose OcuDrone_Epic_Tropical_Sunset_09 sky. 

STEP FOUR: It’s quite dramatic, but it doesn’t quite fit the rest of our photo, so it needs some work. We started by choosing Model B for the Method. The most obvious thing is that the clouds aren’t reflected in the water. From the bottom of the panel, we turned on Reflection, changed the Mode to Soft Light, and set the Amount to 60 and Shift Vertical to 13 to reduce the blue from the replacement sky’s edge. The mask is spilling onto the island, but it’s not as noticeable with these settings. 

STEP FIVE: Your sky color will change the color of the landscape below. There’s a color selected in the Foreground panel, but it’s a little dark for our image, so we clicked on the eyedropper next to the swatch to activate it, and then chose a brighter area for our color directly from the image. Foreground sets the intensity, while Distance sets the gradient area; we used 65 and 30, respectively. Edges control where the change point from sky to foreground happens, and 40 looks good here. We still have an issue with the mountain edge, but we can work on that next. 

STEP SIX: The mask line for the sky is practically perfect. It’s probably one of the easier masks to make. The downside is that it sticks out like a sore thumb. There’s a spot in the water that’s affected by the sky mask, so this needs care as part of the process. First, we used Shift Horizon to find a better sky position; –7 looks good. Next, we used a combination of Fade Edge (–10) and Shift Edge (–49) to find a good balance on the mountain edge. This softens the edge by fading the sky into the mountain in a pleasing way. It looks like haze on the mountain, which would be natural as we saw at the beginning of the edit. Finally, we set Scale to 16 to get a better fit on the sky and reflection. Click Done to return to Lightroom. 


Lightroom Classic’s Denoise feature is world-class, with one caveat: it only works on full RAW data. On the other hand, ON1’s NoNoise AI will work on everything. From the Photo>Edit In menu, choose ON1 NoNoise AI 2023. You can edit the original file, or choose to edit a copy (assuming you don’t have any Lightroom Classic settings you want to apply first). 

Honestly, the default rendering is always good, so that’s what we’ll go with here. 

Left: Before; Right: After ON1 NoNoise AI 2023


STEP ONE: Using ON1 Effects, you can add a few finishing touches to your photo. Open your photo from the Photo>Edit In menu into ON1 Effects 2023. 

STEP TWO: Presets are normally selected, so click Filters at the top. For this image, we clicked on Glow and, from the Presets that appeared, we chose Black Soft. 

STEP THREE: We need to fade the effect, so in the right panels, we went down to the Glow section and reduced the Opacity to 75%. Note: Don’t confuse this with the Layers Opacity slider higher up in the panel. 

STEP FOUR: Next, we clicked Add Filter in the Layers panel and, from the menu that appeared, we chose Curves. 

STEP FIVE: In the Curves filter, we clicked a point about 3/4 of the way along the curve line and dragged it up to brighten the image. 

And that’s it for this edit. 


ON1 Plugins have a ton of options not easily reproduced in Lightroom Classic. While you can do most of the looks in Photoshop, it’s tedious. There’s also a lot of added value; for instance, the skies that come with Sky Swap AI are worth the price of the plugin. 

One other thing that isn’t quite as quantifiable is the fun involved. There’s a lot to be said for going beyond corrective editing and getting into creativity. When you compare one of the base bracket files with the final image, they’re a world apart in just a few minutes. 

KelbyOne members can get a 20% discount off their next ON1 purchase via the Perks section on their member Dashboard. Safe flights, everyone!

This article originally published in the October, 2023 issue of Photoshop User magazine. ON1 Photo RAW 2024 is now available.

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