This is a guest post by Mihail at Drone-Supremacy.com – an enthusiastic drone-lover, working a regular 9-5 job, who strives to mix his passion for drones and technology into a beautiful drone blog/review website.
With more and more people entering the world of drones, it’s becoming natural to see drone footage from all over the world. Drones have become so accessible that now anyone can fly them. But flying the drone for fun is one thing – shooting footage that you can get a nice video out of, it’s a completely different story. While getting better at flying the drones comes with practice and only practice, in this article I’ll offer you a few tips that can teach you how to get better at filming from your drone.
1. Plan your movements & practice your lines
I always recommend planning your shot before you start flying. Ask yourself “What do I want get from this video?”, “Which angle do I want to capture?”. That way you can create a picture in your head of what you need to do and you will avoid many dangerous scenarios. I suggest to not improvise until you are experienced enough with flying and filming and feel very comfortable doing it. Instead, look at your environment and try to picture it on a large scale and work out what your movements are going to be before you shoot it. Going straight for that shot you want instead of just roaming around also helps you save some precious battery time, which is always a plus.
Of course, planning from the ground is difficult as you don’t get the whole picture from above, but at least try to have some kind of idea about your path and your lines. Once you have an idea about what you want to do – start practicing. You’re not going to get that perfect, dynamic shot from the first time, it’s almost impossible. You need to practice your shot so you can have a final result that is nice, smooth and steady.
TheHighTechHobbyist’s Additional Tip: Go to Google Maps and into 3D mode (click 3D at the bottom right) to find a perfect perspective of the image you want to capture:
2. Make a pre-flight checklist
Before you start flying always check your equipment. Preparation is key for success, and this rule very much applies for drones. You don’t want to miss a step and lose your drone because of it. Here’s a simple checklist to start off with:
- Check if your battery is fully charged
- Check for damaged or loose components
- See if your propellers are correctly attached and if they spin with no obstruction
- Check the landing gear for damage
- Make a calibration of the drone
- Turn on the camera and check your settings
- Check if you have your SD-card in (You have no idea how often people forget this)
- Scan for nearby people/cars/animals
- Start your drone
- Hover for a few seconds, check for any abnormal sounds/vibrations
- Take off
Those are just general steps that you can follow, but I recommend reading the specific checklist for your particular drone model.
3. Start slowly and don’t rush to fly high
By flying slow you are basically allowing yourself to capture the best footage almost always. Remember that you should also give your viewer some time to “explore” your shot and the surroundings. Slow shooting creates a more cinematic feeling and subconsciously increases the production value of your video by making it look more controlled and crafted.
Another extremely important aspect for getting a nice footage is the wind. The less wind there is, the more controllable the drone is. If you notice that the wind is 15-20 mph you probably won’t get a quality footage and you risk damaging your drone because of the strong wind gusts. Therefore I recommend flying lower, where wind speeds are not that high – that way you can capture some unique and very steady footage – such as this one (around the 0:40 mark):
Always fly with caution, and most importantly – with common sense.
4. Film long, steady, and smooth shots
Position yourself so your shot is as long as possible and as steady as possible, and try to have as little movement as possible. When you start editing you’ll need it – you probably don’t want to edit a footage that is constantly switching speed and angles. I’ve seen a ton of clips where the pilot is constantly moving the camera around, and it honestly ruins the whole viewing pleasure. So make sure to keep it simple, smooth, and follow your pre-made path. Always accelerate and decelerate gradually, don’t do it it suddenly, otherwise you risk getting “jello” effects, which can destroy the cinematic feeling of your video.
5. Give your shot some distance and slowly reveal the main object
Starting your shot with your main object in plain sight and moving from there on is a typical rookie mistake. You should always aim to “build-up” your shot – you might want to give some context first, some more excitement, so there’s something like a storyline in your footage. As you fly from a distance, you can then slowly start to reveal your object by flying smoothly over it, while keeping your focus at it. You can also do this as a pull back and fly backwards – this way the viewer will be given a level of anticipation of what is going to appear in the video.
TheHighTechHobbyist’s Additional Tip: Learn some great reveal shots. Here’s a great article going over some of the most important shots to master.
6. Always shoot for 10 seconds longer than you need to
A lot of the beginners make the mistake of ending the recording the second they get the shot they are going for. This error gives you no flexibility when you edit your footage after the flight. I guarantee you will never regret having 10 seconds more at the end of your footage. This precious time allows for nice transitions for your next video clip and gives you more material you can work with – you can use that extra footage, combined with nice effects and music to create anticipation for the next scene. Here’s one of my favorite drone footages ever, which in my opinion is edited to perfection:
7. Use “The Golden Hour” for extra awesomeness
The term “golden hour” is mostly used by photographers, and it represents the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. If the weather is clear, this is when you will be able to capture the golden soft light from the sun, which will make your landscape shot look a lot more professional, beautiful and dramatic. Add some perfect matching music and you could have a viral video.
During filming, always take the sun into consideration. Most cameras have low visibility in direct sunlight and a shot pointing straight at the sun will turn into a completely white screen. To eliminate this problem, you can (see point 8)
8. Attach PolarPro filters to your drone lens
PolarPro filters enable you to capture beautiful video when the light conditions are not optimal. They are typically used to reduce the shutter speed in order to create natural cinematic motion blur, to reduce the highlights, to remove the glare in bright sunny days and to improve the saturation and the contrast of your footage. In case you are filming fast-moving objects, ND4 and ND8 filters help reducing overexposure, while maintaining a faster shutter speed. In addition, when installed they also protect the lens of your drone. For many people they are considered an absolute must-have accessory when it comes to daylight filming.
Here’s a video demonstrating the effect of the filters in bright day conditions and the difference between the original lens and the filters:
9. Have no fear playing with your drone’s camera settings
Camera settings are going to play a huge role in how cinematic your shot is going to look like. I recommend filming as flat as possible, because this will give you the most dynamic range from your camera platform, and it’s also going to prevent the sky and clouds from blowing out. Also be sure to lower your shutter speed (if it’s adjustable) – this is going to help prevent the strobing effect you can get when you shoot at higher shutter speed.
However, camera settings is a good area in which you can experiment – don’t be afraid to try different settings and see what works best for you. Take the light and the weather conditions into consideration, adjust your camera accordingly and analyze your footage afterwards. Rinse and repeat.
TheHighTechHobbyist’s Additional Tip: In most situations, set your camera’s settings to shoot the most plain photos. Upping the saturation, contrast, brightness, and other settings will limit your ability to edit the photo in post-processing.
10. Take an Aerial Videography Course
If you are serious about upping the quality of your footage, I strongly suggest to take an in-depth online aerial videography course. As it’s a lot more detailed, it will allow you to gather a lot more information about every single aspect of flying and filming from your drone, so you can achieve cinematic look on all of your videos. The course will not only show you how the professionals are doing it, but it will also focus on things you probably don’t even (or rarely) think about – such as adjusting your line of sight or always being aware of the lighting angles. I’ve taken this course myself as a way to learn the specifics of flying a drone and filming with it even before I got my first quadcopter. After going through the whole course, I can warmly recommend it, as I believe it teaches you everything from A to Z that you might need in order to create stunning drone footage in a very nice and beginner-friendly way.
What you will learn during your online enrollment is how to use the different flying modes of your drone for your own advantage, how to fly in different flying patterns (such as The Elevator and The Crab), how to take off & land safely, how to edit your footage and synchronise your music with it and much, much more. All of this is divided into 77 different lectures with illustrations, including 6 hours of video materials with detailed explanations, tips on editing and effects and some nice sample footage that you can use for editing (in case you don’t own a drone yet).
The aerial videography course is suitable for complete beginners and intermediate flyers. If this sounds like something you’re willing to try – give it a go, you will not regret it.
Thanks again to Mihail at Drone-Supremacy.com for these great tips. Subscribe to the weekly newsletter to stay updated on more articles like this!