How did you get started flying drones?
As a keen photographer I had also dabbled in ground based videography, but could never bring myself to spend much time on it as the results were generally mundane. I then started to see some of the aerial footage out there, and like many people I was blown away. As I began to look into it more I realized there was a whole new world of cutting edge knowledge to try to conquer – everything from how to use a soldering iron through to trying to master sophisticated flying and gimbal operations. I spent many, many hours on FPVlab for instance, reading everything I could. I bought a palm sized quad and practiced on that for ages. I purchased a TBS Discovery, put that together and continued learning as much as I could to improve my skills. I was hooked and made sure I got out pretty much every day.
You are currently offering a Drone Videography course on Udemy. Tell us about the main topics you will be covering in the course.
A bit of background to why I have built the course first: Almost immediately into my RC life I started focusing on what works and what doesn’t work, both in the air and in the editing process afterwards for creating a great aerial production. Initially I tapped into my own experiences, discussions with my betters and studied what other people were producing from an aerial perspective. I also looked for more formal guidance for this from courses and online sources and I discovered at the time that there was almost nothing out there to help. I couldn’t find any common language to talk about how to set up effective aerial shots, what the outcomes are that we should be going for and what is the most impactful approach to editing the footage afterwards. In response to this I have spent a lot of time creating an aerial production framework to address this gap. This production framework is the common thread running through most of the course.
Use the link at the bottom
The main topics I cover in the course are as follows:
- An overview of some legal and safety considerations when flying and filming
- Choosing the right tools for successful aerial productions
- Some basic drone handling skills to master in preparation for flying to film
- Targeted outcomes for the footage - 10 “Video Dramatics” to try to achieve
- 7 Flying Patterns to fly to get your Video Dramatics
- Suggested pre-flight planning & flight day management activities
- 25 design principles to guide the editing of the footage
- A generic 8 step editing process (illustrated in FCPX)
Who will benefit the most from your course?
It is targeted at anyone that is keen on learning about how to make good aerial footage with a drone, ideally a multi-rotor. So you might be someone that has been flying for a bit making the odd video and now want to work out how you can improve what you produce in terms of pre-flight planning, in the air skills and editing on the computer afterwards. You might be new to everything and are particularly keen on aerial productions and want to know what you should be aiming towards.
What is the course NOT for?
Though the course touches on some things to look into from a legal and safety perspective, the course is not designed to be a guide on specific local drone laws or how to fly and film safely. These are areas that the learner needs to know already or that the learner must go and master before considering implementing any of the techniques in the course. Also – the course is not hardware specific and is not designed to teach about how to set up any specific drone hardware or particular handling skills for that hardware.
How can people get access to your course or find out more?
I am running a special beginning of the year promotion at the moment with the course in its launch stage. Follow this link here for 70% off the price. This link will also take you to full details on the course, a complete list of the 70+ lectures which includes over 6 hours of video content. 44 of the lectures have flight footage in them to support the teaching points. You can also see some sample videos of some of the lectures from that link. Additionally see here for an introductory video to the course.
What type of drones are you using for your filming and why?
I use a Team Blacksheep (TBS) Quadcopter – specifically the TBS Discovery Pro with a GoPro 3, and now a GoPro 4 on its integrated brushless gimbal. It is an excellent balance between being highly portable yet able to reliably deliver consistent quality aerial footage. Added to that, the quality of service and support you get from the TBS team makes it a pleasure to buy and then own.
What advice or tips would you give others who want to get started flying drones?
Read up as much as you can about things first. Find out about your local rules so you can make sure you are flying within them. Immediately start instilling a view to safety at all times and establishing what that is going to mean for your planned flying. Don’t forget to study Lipo battery management safety also. Going down the build-your-own route is a great way to expose yourself to a lot of the knowledge you will need. Additionally it will make it more obvious to you where the potential failure points are on your machine and hence you can do a better job of checking it and keeping it in good shape. Practicing flying with something small to begin with is a good idea – apart from the fact it is less costly to repair following the occasional ding as you hone your flying skills, I have found that some smaller quads are harder to fly than larger ones and that was a nice surprise when I upgraded. Try and find someone to practice with that has more experience – from your local flying club for instance. And a key piece of advice – take everything slowly – it normally makes for better footage anyway. It was one of the big revelations to me when I started flying with some very experienced pilots / aerial videographers – how much slower they approached their flights – particularly on any maneuvering activities.
Share an experience of a failure you had and what you learned from it.
More often than not it is the little items that can ruin your whole day’s (or even trip’s) flying and filming. I have been out where the $3 wire from my gimbal’s IMU board and the GoPro has failed, a $2 antenna has been cut or a simple velcro strap has snapped on tightening – all of which could prevent me from flying and filming. The first time it happened it did actually halt play and I made sure I topped up on spares of all of these things so that won’t happen again. Another piece of advice – get a filter for your camera, a piece of glass that sits in front of the lens. If it is a Neutral Density filter then it can be one of the most effective ways of reducing jelo, but most importantly it is an extra layer of protection to the all-important lens. I have found out the need for this the hard way.
Where do you see drones and drone technology in the future?
They are clearly going to have more and more intelligent automated functions and for instance I would like to see where the research on swarming technology leads. This will be particularly interesting in the area of aerial filming and photography. I can envisage a situation where you will be able to have 3 or more drones up in the air automatically tracking the same target and coordinating their footage, allowing you to synch it in postproduction to produce some very interesting effects.
Is there an aspect of drones that you’re particularly interested in at the moment?
Like most people I am keen to see where all of the regulations are going across the world. Additionally I want to see what is going to happen with the auto-piloting technologies – for instance automatic maneuvers for filming combining flight paths and gimbal control. Some shots are particularly difficult to pull off manually (e.g. a rising arc around a point target synchronized with moving the gimbal down as you rise up) and it will be interesting to see how technology can provide a helping hand, in a safe manner, for these kinds of things.
What was the best piece of advice ever given to you?
“When you are flying and your fingers are on the sticks, imagine you are an ice skater, not a boxer.” Without doubt this is the one piece of advice that has lead to the most improvement in the quantity of usable aerial footage that I capture.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Nothing to do with RC or drones and therefore not particularly targeted at our community, however I would recommend to anyone “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss. Not normally my genre, but a fantastic book. And as you enjoy it you have the pleasure of knowing that there is a sequel and it is even better.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I am a big fan of Trey Ratcliff – he is a world-renowned travel photographer. His big thing is HDR and I like his ethos around digital art: what you catch in the camera is just the start of the creative process – leverage everything technology has to offer to make something exceptional. He is also a fantastic trainer, as many people that have taken his online courses would attest to. Check his website for his new portal he has set up to bring master trainers and students together via streaming their in-the-field experiences using things like google glass. A cool idea and he is actually making it work. He has recently started using drones to collect footage and I am watching closely to see what he produces from them.