Drone Filming Techniques and Tips

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Commendium have used the following drone filming techniques for a number of different projects, from archaeological purposes to record the setting of a site, to documentary footage for television. Each of the projects we use the drone for will require different techniques and outputs. One of the best tips for any drone filming is to keep it simple. Don’t move the camera too much and if it needs to move, do it slowly.

Planning shots or flightpaths in advance will improve efficiency, which for drone filming is essential. Generally, flight times of between 20 and 40 minutes are achievable, so maximising your actual recording time in the air.

When planning your flights, Google Earth is your friend, being able to see the sites in rudimentary 3D is very useful to gain an idea of the layout of the land and even to draw paths of where you expect to fly. Other very useful websites to check are http://www.noflydrones.co.uk/ in order to see where there are airspace restrictions and https://notaminfo.com for any NOTAMs during your flight period.

Different Filming Techniques

As Commendium carry out different projects, here are some tips for the type of flights:

Archaeological Setting and Recording

Try and fly in a straight line, keeping the horizon in the shot in order to get an overview of the surroundings. Orbit shots can be used to focus on particular elements. Height of the flight is important – you need to be able to capture the locality as well as the main elements of the archaeological area. Make sure you fly high or low enough to capture these – may take a couple of runs to get it right.

Photogrammetry 

This is one of those specialised drone filming techniques that requires you to capture photos with a certain amount of overlap, generally in a defined series, with the right colour balance. There are some apps to help you do this, notably Drone Deploy (www.dronedeploy.com) and Pix4d. These types of flights require a certain, consistent altitude in a manner that gets the best overlap between photos. It can be done manually using a 5-second time gap between photos. The difficulty arises when you start having large terrain elevation changes in the area (such as a valley and a fell).

Broadcast Film

This is probably the most difficult technique to gain – videography skills are needed as well as flight skills. Sometimes you will find the best shots are the most difficult to achieve. It requires a pretty steady hand if you are operating the gimbal during flying. My best tip is to go slowly, set your yaw rate and gimbal rate to ‘slower’ settings and plan your shots in advance. Colour, exposure, white balance and frame rate are all important here – it may require a test flight or two to get this right. Some shots can only be done once, such as filming a demolition or a sporting event – so make sure you are fully prepared with your shot and timing planned well in advance.

Indoor flights

We do fly drones indoors frequently, particularly caves. This can be tough – no GPS assistance, no uniform walls or barriers and low light combine to make it very difficult. Expect sharp changes in direction due to updrafts and side drafts  – keeping a positive control on the drone at all times is essential. During a recent filming expedition in Slovenia, we were flying in a deep, collapsed cave that was open to the sky. This caused the GPS signal to intermittently drop out – lesson learned that day was to just bite the bullet and fly without GPS assistance for the whole flight, negating any weird control issues.

Tracking shots

Again, a difficult drone filming technique to master. You generally only have one chance at getting this right (although a friendly subject may allow re-do the route the item you are tracking a second time!). Coordination with the subject is key – make sure they know what they are doing – speed, direction and route changes need to be discussed beforehand, if possible. Do a run-through test flight beforehand to make sure the route is safe (trees, pylons, other people and objects etc). Your focus may be on the subject, rather than your surroundings during the shot. Try and remain aware of obstacles – a competent observer or two is definitely needed for these shots – one to keep an eye on surroundings and one to keep an eye on the drone.

Mix it up – break the rules

Just don’t break the CAA rules!

My final filming technique: there is no reason why you can’t hold the drone for low-level shots. No need to fly it if you can walk along with the drone in your hands. This can allow for some really beautiful shots, but beware of sudden direction changes – gimbals can only work at certain speeds!

Don’t be afraid of mixing it up – some of the best shots I have seen have thrown the above techniques out of the window, but require an immense amount of skill (or luck) to achieve. Flying backwards from the perfect location can sometime help frame the shot better – moving away from the subject to a larger-framed shot keeps the focus on the subject better.

Keep an eye out for some of our drone footage on various documentaries, or our 3d models being shown on TV.

Any tips?

If you have any other tips on drone filming techniques that you would like to share – drop us an email – enquiries@commendium.com. We can see about adding them to this article.