Working in the “Run and Gun” style television industry, it is important that I can get excellent quality cinematic drone footage to compliment the shots I get from my other cameras.
I work for an outdoor and adventure TV show that produces a thirty-minute episode weekly, so I get to film with my drone often.
With the high amount of skilled drone pilots, quality cameras, and volumes of videos being posted online, audiences have grand expectations.
Here are my focus points for making sure that I am getting Cinematic footage when using my Drone:
- Have a plan – Even if it is a loose one, it is important to be able to think ahead about how your shot is going to look.
- Get to know your equipment – adjust it to your desired style to get smooth video
- Understand the fundamentals of video – get to know what effects changing aperture, frames per second and shutter speed will have.
- Learn to shoot on manual – although many drones have excellent automatic settings, it can be a huge disappointment when they made the wrong decision for you
- Framing – Remember just because it is from above, framing and picture composition are still important
- Lighting – It is important to remember that a lot of the portable drones have small sensors and lenses
- Spend time to learn how to edit – You can get the most incredible footage and if you do not know how to edit it will just sit on your hard drive and never get appreciated by anyone.
- Embrace the freedom that a drone can give your creativity
- Get opinions on your videos
In the next section, I will explain and give you tips for creating cinematic drone footage in far more detail how I apply each of these focus points to get predictable and consistent quality cinematic footage.
1. Plan your shots
When planning your shots, too many movements can spoil a sequence and make it feel jerky. If you can predict the movement of your subject and follow a smooth flight path it can ensure that you get a great cinematic result.
I film a lot of offroad motorized vehicles, whitewater kayaking, and rafting.
Although these kinds of sports can be unpredictable, I take the time to talk to drivers and athletes to figure out their predicted paths, where they might be speeding up or slowing down.
A lot of the time when I am filming, I try and break things down into approximately 10-second segments before I make a substantial change to the camera movement.
So, If I am following a vehicle from behind, I will count to ten before switching to an overhead follow, then ten again before switching to flying in front.
If I have enough time between my moves, I can be certain that I will have enough to make smooth edits.
2. Know your equipment
I always work towards making smooth-flowing videos.
I have set the sensitivity of my controls low and slow; it does mean that I must predict what I want the drone to do a little earlier and make sure that I can capture the action in time, but that comes with practice and getting the right expectations of your actions on the controller.
Get to know your surroundings and make sure that you are aware of hazards and obstacles.
Although many drones have good obstacle avoidance sensors, it is wise not to rely on them. In the best case, a fast stop can ruin a shot, or worse, you can crash your drone.
3. Understand the fundamentals of video
You will be in a much better position to make great-looking shots if you understand the relationship between Shutter speed, Frame rate, ISO, and aperture.
When getting started in video, it is common to get rough-looking shots because you did not set up correctly.
Remember to set your shutter speed to double your frame rate and you will be getting nice smooth video and natural-looking motion blur.
This is also known as a shutter angle of 180 degrees. ND or neutral density filters can help you to get this balance right.
ISO is important to consider for how noisy your footage will look. Knowing the difference between a high and low aperture will help decisions about the depth of field and focus.
4. Learn to shoot in manual
Understanding and controlling manual settings is crucial. It can be extremely disappointing to get your footage on the computer and find there is a big color change in the middle of the beautiful sweeping shot you just took.
If you set white balance and other settings up just before the shot, you can make sure that there are not going to be unexpected changes in your shot that are difficult to fix in post-production.
5. Work on composition and framing for your shots
Composition and framing can make the difference between a good and an amazing shot. I like to think “would this make a good photograph?” before I press record.
Even better if I can plan a series of what I feel would be good photographs throughout my sequence; things like the rule of thirds and balancing your frame can really help to draw the viewer into your work.
Many drones have options to display a grid on your screen, this can be a major help for rapid identification of compositional structure. Understand and use leading lines, symmetry, and patterns to make your compositions amazing.
There are many incredible photographers and videographers that you can find on social media platforms that you can draw inspiration from.
Combine this with reviewing your existing footage and considering how you can improve and evolve your art.
6. Shoot in the right lighting conditions
Often there is quite a lot lost in either the shadows or highlights because of the lens and sensor size of cameras on portable drones.
Putting some thought and planning into where the sun is in relation to your drone is a good idea.
Shadows from propellers can flicker on the lens and ruin a shot, and seeing the shadow of the drone in the shot can also be a distraction.
Have realistic expectations from your equipment.
If you want a drone with a big camera, it is likely that you may have to sacrifice portability and use a larger drone.
I have been using and love the camera quality of the Xdynamics Evolve 2, but it is not foldable and is large.
7. Learn how to edit
Good edits should take into consideration smooth movements and transitions and the ever-important color grading. I like to shoot on a flat color profile, so I can match colors to any other cameras I use on the shoot.
I feel a large part of what makes footage feel cinematic is how it blends in with the entirety of the video you produce. If there are substantial changes in color and composition it can be distracting.
Adding music to your edit can also make an enormous difference to the emotions it evokes and how your audience will receive it.
I also really enjoy adding sounds that I record on the ground. Something like adding engine noises, footsteps, or any other natural sounds to drone footage can create a wonderfully immersive experience for the viewer.
8. Embrace creativity
You have so many unique and eye-catching compositions that you can consider. Think outside of the box and get shots that are not only in the automatic settings.
You have an awesome 3-dimensional space to use. If you apply your own creativity, you can produce seldom seen and unique shots.
Consider using foreground and background to create depth. Big reveals from behind obstacles can get your audience immersed in your footage.
9. Seek feedback
I find it valuable to get critiqued and welcome constructive feedback on what I produce.
By posting on social media, communicating on forums, and getting direct opinions, you can apply what you learn to future projects.
Not everyone will understand your vision every time and do not become despondent with negativity, but it is helpful to gain insight into how others view your work.
Drones offer so much room for creativity. I am constantly fascinated by the relationship between science and art when we consider photography, video, and art.
The science of exposure, focus, and lighting will always dictate how your images look, so it is important to learn those rules.
Then you can consider breaking them.
For instance, lens flares from shooting into the sun, noise from shooting at a high ISO, and other broken rules can really add to what you create and how your audience feels about your footage.
I hope you have enjoyed the insights I have given you on what I have learned about creating cinematic footage with a drone.
I feel that drones have added an incredible asset to my filmmaking toolbox, not to mention how fun it is being able to fly these incredible machines.
I would highly encourage anyone who is flying a drone regularly and working on improving their skills to complete the Part 107 certification process. Not only will you be able to make money off your footage, but you will also learn how to operate your equipment safely and ensure the survival of this incredible industry.