INSTANT EXPERTISE is my stock in trade. So even though I've never used a drone in my life unless you count those old Cox .049-horsepower toy airplanes we all had as kids, my boss recently asked me to critique drone video footage taken by a client and offer some suggestions.
I watched the video, looked at what actual drone experts had to say on the Internet, and told our client why it stunk. Now YOU can benefit from my hard-earned knowledge and outside-the-box (read: noob) perspective, to make great drone videos that your friends and family members might actually be able to sit through twice.
Take it from me: it's about attitude, not altitude.
Think Camera First, Helicopter Second
The drone footage I critiqued was shot high above a body of water. For a few moments it was very pretty: blue skies, panoramic views, tiny boats plying limpid waters. But it went on that way for several minutes. Sometimes the drone turned one way, then another, or descended through a wispy cloud. But the boats stayed tiny, the sky stayed blue and I regretted staying for it all.
Drones allow us all to be Judy Collins, looking at life from both sides of the clouds. I understand that it's cool to experience the sensation of flight. But a few seconds goes a long way when your dominant elements (water, trees, horizon) are relatively static at those rarefied heights. Variation, pacing and perspective are essential tools in most forms of communication, including drone footage.
So going lower and closer can actually help make your high spots seem even higher and more interesting.
KEY POINT: I was surprised to learn that many professionals consider the “sweet spot” of drone photography to be just a few feet above head height. That's where you can give viewers the thrill of an unaccustomed perspective, while still being close enough to show interesting nuances: the lines of a boat, the snowy froth of its wake, the faces and emotions of its crew.
“Variation, pacing and perspective are essential tools in most forms of communication, including drone footage.”
Hollywood, of course, had this figured out by the time of D.W. Griffith, back when Wilbur and Orville were still getting the hang of powered flight. In fact, you can use many traditional camera techniques to enhance your own drone videos. Roll 'em!
Five Low-Altitude Camera Techniques
Try these old-school cinematic techniques and you'll add texture, variety and movement to your videos:
Fly-By Shots. Depth perception is enormously important to our sensory experience. Flying your drone closely past foreground objects conveys motion and interest. It also lends a sense of depth to vast open spaces.
Tracking Shots. Flying your drone laterally to shoot a row of objects or people in succession creates a dynamic sense of motion, as if you were watching telephone poles flash by through a car window.
Head-On / Tail-Away Shots. A staple of old action movies, these shots put your drone directly in the path of a moving object or person. Hover in place to film its approach -- then shoot it from the back as it goes by. A welcome change from endless panoramic shots, they can even be stitched together in editing to convey the feeling that the subject has just gone directly “through” the viewer.
Following Shots. A winding road or a boat’s wake makes an eye-catching visual, so skim along behind to catch the action. Some drones even have a “Follow Me” feature that automatically follows a specified object, for neatly framed shots without using your hands. That's perfect if you want to get footage of yourself in action, or feature up-close reaction shots for a human touch.
Pedestal Shots. Named for the telescoping vertical risers used to change the height of traditional studio cameras, pedestal shots start with your drone camera looking straight down at whatever it's resting on. As the drone slowly rises, more of the area below is revealed –- a great introductory shot that “establishes” your subject or locale.
In the course of my research I came to appreciate the skill and ingenuity showcased by dronists worldwide. Nothing beats learning by imitation, so check out videos you admire and borrow their techniques. One website full of fresh ideas is Dronestagram, featuring many of the best drone videos and stills. With a little practice, you might just go viral with your own great drone videos. | DC |