Coney Island: Behind the scenes with Keith Hopkin and Chris Kaczmarzyk

Photographer Keith Hopkin and drone pilot Chris Kaczmarzyk team up to create some stunning aerial videos. Droneblog talks with this aerial video team to learn more about their background and how they created the Coney Island video.


Tell us about yourself and your background.

I was born and raised in New York City and grew up curious about technology. Despite my father’s warnings not to touch new gadgets he brought home I would usually get my hands on a screwdriver and take them apart – computers, cell phone, toys, cameras, TVs. Somehow I was able to reassemble them back to working condition. In addition to my family owned day-to-day business I am repairing machines, drafting or operating a point-to-point router CNC machine.

Growing up near JFK airport I loved watching the monstrous airplanes flying overhead and wanted everything to do with flying. I am able to fly a full scale airplane, but need to invest more time and money to complete my license and further collect my flying hours. For now I can at least fly RC Helicopters.


How did you get started flying drones?

Before flight controllers and drones became affordable I flew nitro-fueled model helicopters. I learned a lot about flying and by the time flight controllers with GPS and multi rotors hit the market I was able to quickly build up a fleet of copters for a variety of remote aerial tasks.


What type of drones and gear are you flying?

My drone fleet currently consists of multirotors scaling from 330 to 1300 and I continue to build up. I have been a loyal DJI customer since their first consumer flight controller – the Ace One.

Helicopters: Trex 450 w/ Naza-h, Trex 500 w/ Naza-h, Trex 600 w/ WKH, Gaui x7 w/ Ace One.

Multirotors: Phantom 2, 450 Spider Quad Naza2, 550 Hexa Naza2, S900 Hexa A2, Skyjib x4 A2, Skyjib Octo WKM and recently added the Inspire 1.


What is your favorite drone to fly and why?

The Inspire 1 wins for its simple, up-to-date flying technology and its 4K camera. It is loaded with similar features at a fraction of the cost compared to my SkyJibs. It’s also easy to transport and quick to complete a preflight check.

For fun I prefer the 450 Spider FPV Quad and when I am not filming or lifting any weight the 450 Spider Quad wins for its overall sense of flight which is why I do it.


What’s your favorite project you’ve done with a drone? Why?

Because I love flight so much I really enjoy every project just the same. Each project also brings unique challenges. Every shoot has loads of preflight preparation of the gear as well as mental concentration for the piloting itself.


Please share your story on what was involved in shooting the Coney Island video (drone, camera, pre-flight checklist etc).

We were required to shoot with a GoPro camera for the client. Because of the location we chose we needed to be pretty mobile and quick to set up and shoot. The Phantom 2 has good flight time so it was considered for this project. Weather and time are always a factor so we always have to keep an eye on that. Finally safety in a public space is very important so location and time of day was chosen for pedestrian safety while framing the shots.



In 2012 I started a GoPro Meetup group in NYC. One of the first people to join was Christopher Kaczmarzyk who has been flying RC aircrafts for the last 8 years. I was somewhat familiar with large hexacopters being used in big budget productions but didn’t realize how quickly this tech had started to hit the consumer market. As a GoPro enthusiast and filmmaker I was intrigued by the possibilities here. Before using any gimbals the footage was choppy and pretty much unusable. As soon as Chris showed me footage with a gimbal I was blown away how smooth and stable the footage looked. This was an immediate game changer for aerial video.



Recently we worked on a 4K video project for Ambarella who provide the enabling processing technology inside of many consumer camera devices including the GoPro Hero4 camera. We took the opportunity to head down to Coney Island early one morning to take advantage of the calm, open space and shot a bit of 4K footage. It’s such a unique part of the city and most importantly a relatively safe place to fly in on a cold winter morning. We were met with some occasional gusts of wind but overall we were pretty happy with the results.



Coney Island

Hero4 Black, 4K, 30fps, Phantom 2, Lightbridge

Last year we were shooting some footage in upstate New York and had removed the landing gear on the Phantom to keep it out of the shot – a frustrating problem when shooting a wide lens like GoPro. So we had the smart idea to land the craft in our hand. WARNING:DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!! Those blades might look harmless but they are spinning pretty fast. In the following clip I am reaching for the base and am about to receive 4 stitches worth of slices on my first and middle finger. Funny thing is I bandaged up my hand , continued shooting and didn’t realize the severity of the cuts until hours later.



Here is the cut we put together from those shoots. Pun intended.


Shot with Hero3 and various DJI copters:


Now that Chris just got an Inspire we no longer have to worry about landing gear getting in the way 🙂

The Meetup group spent an afternoon in Brooklyn shooting a motorcycle sequence featuring some aerial footage. At some point I wanted to try handheld shots so we left the camera on the gimbal, and held the copter. It did the job but I really started to think somebody should start making handheld versions. Months later I started seeing handheld gimbals for Gopro starting to hit the market.


[GoPro Meetup Motorcycle Clip]


Keith, Challenge as an aerial director?

We’ve tried to come up with a communication system that makes sense. I’ll take note of a really cool looking movement and we’ll come up with a name for it so that we can repeat it later. Speed has also been difficult to describe. With precise readouts on the monitor I can call out something like 2km/hr. Things can get pretty confusing!


Keith, Final thoughts?

Keith: If you are going to post your drone video please don’t leave the original sound of the blades spinning. It is the most hideous sound over beautiful images! Also, this is not a toy. People are doing some really risky, stupid things and posting them on YouTube. Use some common sense people!


Other links:

GoPro NY Meetup:


Keith: | Twitter/IG @KeithHopkin