20 Awesome Tips To Make You A Better Drone Videographer
20 Drone Videography Tips
We know that as more people are getting into filming with drones, it's also supremely frustrating for newbies to crash their first new drone and make expensive mistakes. To help you all get better-quality footage and prevent accidents, follow our collection of the most practical and powerful drone videography tips.
First of all, become familiar with the most-important fundamentals of using drones to film:
1. Insure it.
As aerial photographer Simon Osbaldeston has said, "Consider the cost of the camera mounted on the aerial-filming unit, and prepare yourself to lose that camera. What goes up absolutely must come down, and it won’t always come down to plan."
That's why you need to buy insurance for your expensive equipment: the lenses, camera and accessories. Plus, your quadcopter needs to be capable of carrying more than the maximum weight of your camera and other attachments so that you won't lose your insurance claim when an accident happens.
2. Carry an emergency-repair kit and spare parts.
You can do quick UAV repairs on location to save myself an extra trip later to re-shoot after an accident. Some of the most-needed extras you always should have on hand when you go out to shoot are:
- spare propellers
- fully charged backup batteries
- an additional electronic speed controller for steering and braking like this one
- new lenses
- electrical tape
- screwdriver set with extra screws
3. Make your personal aircraft waterproof to protect it in bad weather.
Water can kill your aerial-filming unit fast, which happens to many an ill-prepared videographer when it rains unexpectedly or the device ends up in a lake. Luckily, it's not hard to waterproof photography drones with this guide. Essentially, you remove all the inner components sensitive to water and coat them with a waterproof element like Corrosion X, Rust Oleum’s Never Wet or a similar product.
This YouTube video explains the process is more detail:
4. Always check the weather forecast before you fly.
The worst drone-operator obstacle is the wind. It's hard to predict, can ruin your shots completely, can cause you to crash, and the worst part is that you can't fight it.
Check when a storm is on the way and don't fly right before the storm when the gusts of wind are likely to be the worst. Experts say to avoid any winds faster than 20 miles per hour, but realistically, winds less than 10 miles per hour are perfect for smooth footage.
5. Invest in a good first-person-view system or "FPV."
The professionals always have a handheld monitor with them to check the live video from the unit in real-time on the ground. It may be a screen attached to your transmitter, an iPad, video monitor or FPV goggles. The DJI Lightbridge is a great one, for example.
Of course, you need to keep a friend with you as a spotter to check your flight path and look out for flight obstacles while you're monitoring the footage. It's way too easy to let the footage distract you so much that you lose your bearings, and then you'll quickly lose the quadcopter too.
6. Start out flying in open spaces.
Don't put yourself in a position where you have to maneuver your flying camera in between trees, buildings or power lines that you're likely to crash into. Never fly it out over water without checking how much flying time you have left in your battery! Otherwise, it will plummet straight into the water when your battery dies because you didn't have time to land it.
This part is super important because most units only have an average flight time of 15 minutes per battery charge. I always spend time testing the maximum flight time by setting a timer to start at takeoff so that I know in the future how far I can go in one run and how much time I'll actually have before I have to land. You can't plan shoots without this knowledge.
7. Test out all your camera settings on the ground before you fly.
Let's face it; your battery isn't going to give you enough time to play with your camera settings much while you're flying. When you're up in the air, you have to focus on capturing the action and not crashing your aerial-filming unit!
Start by making some test shots on the ground. DSLRGuide by Simon Cade advises using these camera settings the DJI Phantom 4:
- Under the style menu, choose "custom" and enter these values in this order from left to right: -2, +0 and +1.
- Turn on 3D noise reduction.
- Leave "center point" off.
- Let the grid settings stay on "none."
- Keep the histogram and video-caption selections off.
8. Know when to start filming.
To make it easier to edit your video, begin recording your film right before you take off and don't stop until you land because sometimes these are the most intriguing shots you get. You want to capture everything so that you don't miss getting an "accidentally brilliant" moment on film. Even if you crash by accident, it's better to have it recorded on your memory card so that it wasn't all for nothing in the end, right? That's an exciting movie!
9. If you're landing your UAV in a difficult spot with people around, bring a friend as a spotter to catch it.
When you don't have room to land and people or other objects are too close for comfort, here's the easiest and safest way to land your remote-controlled airplane in tight spots:
Bring it down slowly so that it's just about one foot over your spotter's head. Then lock it into that position by hovering right there. From here, your spotter can easily reach up and grab onto the bottom, holding it while you switch it off.
10. Plan your shoot well before takeoff.
Simon Osbaldeston, founder of Diffuse Photo, describes how you need to visualize the whole shoot before you get in the air. You can do a test run with a lightweight action camera to double check the points of view, pick the best lens and prepare your settings and exposure mode.
Only after you become more confident with your equipment would I recommend that you start refining your filming technique in the air with these next tips:
11. Understand the pros and cons of flying with automatic settings.
Does your UAV fly in GPS mode on automatic settings? Compare footage in automatic and manual modes and you will find that often manual settings yield smoother panning in your videos. When the quadcopter is constantly "auto-correcting" its position and stability, it can create jerky movements in units like the Phantom 4.
Now, let's look at playing with different angles.
Don't make that same, classic-but-boring video of a simple takeoff and look around the landscape as if you just took an elevator up and around a bit. You don't want to throw in any random aerial shot into your film without having a purpose for each scene that adds to building the story and helping the audience connect to your subject.
12. The bird's-eye-view angle is where you point the camera straight down when it's directly above a captivating object, usually a person lying down, for example.
13. The tracking shot is where you have your flying camera keep pace with a moving object, which works as long as your personal aircraft can fly as fast as whatever you're shooting. You shoot the subject from the side, capturing a profile shot of them as they move.
14. The crane shot is great for capturing something or someone leaving at a high speed. Film from the moment of takeoff and go straight up at exactly the same time that the object you're filming speeds away from you. Then the camera can capture it for a longer amount of time even as it slowly disappears from sight into the horizon.
15. Remember that your aerial-filming device doesn't need to constantly move for you to get great footage. Different footage adds distinctive types of emotions to your video, so consider:
What are you trying to make the audience feel with the video? If you want to add excitement, energy and fast-pacing to your video, then keep moving and chasing the subject. However, if you're trying to show simply how vast something really is -- conveying awe, loneliness of a subject or quiet -- then it's much more powerful to keep your quadcopter stationary, hovering in place.
Then work on these filming subtleties:
16. Avoid too many shadows.
Don't face the sun because then your propellers can cast shadows on the camera lens. Also, aiming at the sun will create an overload of contrast in your footage that will make the darker areas too dark to see clearly and the bright areas look blown out.
Solve this issue by continuing to spin the camera around until you see the best angle in your handheld monitor, which will be facing away from the sun.
Also, you can wait until the sun gets lower in the sky around sunrise or just before sunset so that you have better natural light to capture video from more camera angles.
17. Learn how to master shake reduction.
When you see a wobble in your videos, it means that the propellers are out of balance. Unbalanced propellers damage the internal components and engine bearings. Next thing you know, the propellers turn slower, reducing the total flight times. You can also have a gimbal to keep your camera level to the quadcopter's movements for more shake reduction.
You can get much-higher video resolution after using something like the Tru-Spin prop balancer.
See this YouTube video for a clear, step-by-step explanation on how to do it right:
18. Choose more personal angles.
Flying at lower altitudes where you're closer to subjects creates incredible footage. Nobody knows this secret on interesting camera angles better than Chase Guttman, a UAV photography expert named the "Young Travel Photographer of the Year." He told Droneybee.com that:
" ... the best photographs aren’t at maximum-flight altitude. The aerial-photography sweet spot exists a matter of feet above your head. At this height, you can create clean but nuanced imagery with foregrounds, middle grounds and backgrounds capable of guiding your viewer through a unique visual experience. It’s also at this height where you can best capture the unseen. Just out of reach of the longest selfie stick and the lowest hovering helicopter, drones can capture what no other technology is typically allowed or capable of capturing. That’s particularly liberating in a world where 350 million photographs go to Facebook daily."
Finally, we have to mention that you must follow your local laws to avoid having someone sue you for filming somewhere you shouldn't have. These last tips will protect you in court and can even help you create a job out of aerial filming.
19. Are you making a profit from your footage? If so, follow these rules:
Anyone who is selling their footage or otherwise making money from it falls under the category of someone who has a UAV for "commercial use." In most countries, you'll need to have a license. That also means any footage you share online with ads attached to it is also consider filming for profit and also requires a license.
If you're just doing it for fun with no profit involved, then you are free to fly your remote-controlled camera almost anywhere, and you won't need a license as long as you avoid airports, public crowds and most private properties.
20. To get your license to do quadcopter filming as a job, follow these steps:
As long as you are at least 16 years old, then you can study for the test you'll have to pass at an official exam center. You take an aeronautical-knowledge test to prove that you understand how to operate the aircraft and that you know all of the airspace restrictions you have to follow.
Once you get a license, you must renew it every two years since drone laws keep changing.
All of the complete details on this process in the United States are on the Federal Aviation Administration website.
Drone Videography Tip : Conclusion
Try out some of these drone videography tips today to stop wasting your time with taking shots you can't use and start making epic, movie-quality videos that you can feel proud to share.