Tips for better drone footage

Top 10 Tips for better drone footage:

Just about anyone with a multirotor these days can shoot video. Whether it’s a DJI with a built in camera, or your own build with a Gopro or DSLR, the amount of video out there is crazy. Take a peek at our drone footage tips to start dialing in your professional career to set yourself apart from the rest.

Inspire 1 Pro

1. It’s All About Stabilization

One of the biggest mistakes a new pilot makes with their new business venture is thinking they need a brand new, top of the line DSLR. It’s true, a GH4 or Sony A7 both have much better looking 4K look than a GoPro, not to mention interchangeable lenses. Resolution is important, but never sacrifice buying a more expensive gimbal because you are saving money for a slightly better camera. As soon as you introduce vibration or an overly aggressive pan, you just reminded every single one of the viewers that they are watching drone footage. Smooth and stable footage keeps viewers “in the moment.”

Keep in mind where your footage is going to end up. If your plan is to work with big budget projects, than a DSLR isn’t going to cut it. For any higher budget jobs, a RED or Alexa is going to be required.

More than likely, being new in aerial video, all your footage is going to end up on Youtube or Vimeo. Both Youtube and Vimeo compress videos so much that the minor differences in image quality really isn’t noticeable. Especially comparing DSLRs…

So if that is the case, spend your extra money on a smooth flying platform with a good gimbal instead of that more expensive camera.

Zenmuse X5

2. Use Correct Lighting

Sometimes this is out of your control. But if you can help it, try planning your shots around the “golden hours.” The “golden hours” are the hours right after sunrise and right before sunset. The sun appears redder and softer in comparison to the typically overexposed middle afternoon. Clouds and overcast can add creative elements to your shots as well.

3. Keep the Shots Dynamic

The key to having a professional looking video is constantly having a dynamic camera.  There is nothing more boring than aerial video from a drone that is hovering and aggressively moving the gimbal alone. The beauty of these new drones is the ability to keep shots moving.

Check out the video below. There is hardly a time when Devin isn’t moving the camera in some way. Whether he’s using a boom, flying a drone, or simply running, the camera is constantly in motion.

4. Rehearse Your Shots

There is nothing worse than missing the shot all together. If possible, practice your flight as many times as you can beforehand. That way, when the time comes, you can nail it. It might be a situation where you only get one shot. We just finished a segment filming a wingsuit base jumper. There really is only one opportunity, so either get the shot or get nothing at all.

5. Maintain Good Communication Between Operators

For dual operator to function smoothly, both operators need to be in constant communication, or have a clear plan for the shot.

Lack of communication can create lots of problems, especially with yaw movements. For example… you are filming a car driving and flying to the side of the car and parallel. If the car speeds up or slows down, which operator is going to compensate for that? Does the pilot slow down, or does the camera pan backwards? Or a little of both?

It is good to have an established plan or be in constant communication to get the best footage possible.

6. Have Extra Batteries

There is hardly a job out there that can be done in 20 minutes. Reshoots are common, so be ready for them. Charging a single battery takes way too long, so come prepared with an arsenal of extra batteries. They are much quicker to change out than it is to charge a battery.

All day shooting is common. Have enough batteries so you can shoot constantly while charging the extras. If you have two battery chargers and a good power source, you can typically get away with 5-6 batteries and shoot all day long.

Phantom 2 batteries

7. Shoot in the Highest Possible Resolution

This may seem a bit contradictory if you read #1 – Stabilization. But always shoot in the highest possible resolution, assuming you can do it with at least 24 fps. There are tons of benefits with shooting in higher resolutions, especially 4K.

Shooting in 4K provides tons of editing power. There’s a popular misconception – “Why should I shoot in 4K? No one has the displays or TVs to view it anyway.” While this is true, shooting in 4K offers a ton of post production power.

4K gives you the ability to post-stabilize a lot of unwanted shakes. This will only work to a certain extent and definitely will not fix your problems if you don’t have a good gimbal. But it helps a ton on those particularly windy days.

Higher resolutions also have great cropping options. Downscaling from 4K to 1080p offers a big crop factor and can essentially “zoom in” on a shot. If your camera has a fixed focal length, you can use the Ken Burns effect to add in a digital zoom.

8. If Possible, Add Emotion

What makes devinsupertramp on Youtube so popular? Not only does he do everything on this list, but he does an amazing job of adding emotion to his videos. His videos are constantly showing people high-fiving or laughing. It adds an engaging element to the viewers.

Now since this is a list for drone footage tips, this may not always be possible. But emotion is perfect in b-roll for any engaging videos.

9. Be Slow and Precise With Your Gimbal

This goes hand-in-hand with stabilization. Be very slow and precise when panning or tilting the gimbal. Jerky and sudden movements of the gimbal are very hard or impossible to edit out. Depending on your camera operator’s skill level, it might be best to error on the side of not moving the gimbal much until you’re 100% confident in both operator’s abilities.

Phantom 3 Standard Camera

10. KNOW when to say NO

You will undoubtably run into a situation where you know you should not be flying, but probably will. You can either learn the lesson the hard way, or know when to say NO. A client might ask you to fly over a populated area, over water, or in winds you aren’t comfortable with. Be honest and tell them you aren’t comfortable with the situation. 9 times out of 10 they will be wiling to work with you. Tell them the winds are too strong and the shot might not be as stable as you would like.

Directors are very good at pushing you to do a shot they themselves know might be risky. Maintain your professionalism, as nothing would look worse than crashing your drone in front of them.

About the author:

Jordan Rising

Jordan is a licensed commercial helicopter pilot, an experienced drone operator, and in his free time he flies wing suits off cliffs. He knows an awful lot about flight!

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