If you are looking for stupid simple tips to step up your aerial drone filming game, this article will go right down your boulevard.
I know from personal experience that there’s a big hype around drone photography and videography these days. More and more of our video editing service orders contain at least a few scenes that are shot with a drone.
It seems like everybody has a drone, but you need to know how to fly in order to get those amazing shots.
While most of the times this kind of shoots will look pretty good and they really add more value to the overall look and feel fo the final video, there are plenty of cases in which the shoots looked pretty bad.
I was not able to use more than just 2-3 minutes out of 60 minutes of raw drone footage. That’s crazy!
Anyways, so if you want to avoid the rookie mistakes and learn how to handle aerial filming, stay tuned for these drone filming tips. Afterwards, I’m going to share some of my drone video editing process.
Drone filming tips
First things first. Let’s see how you can make the most out of your drone so I can relax later, in the editing room.
Like I always say, you can really make crips videos in post-production of the raw material lacks.
First and foremost you need to get used to your new toy.
Even though drones are not nearly as expensive as they used to be, they are still worth a considerable amount of money. So the last thing you want to do is to crash it, fly it into a building or a tree.
Don’t just buy it today and go on a trip with it tomorrow. Take it outside for a few days in an open space where there’s nothing that could go wrong and start learning how it works.
Most drones such as the DJI have a Beginner Mode which I highly recommend using. It will limit the speed of your drone as well as the radius it can fly around you.
You also have the anti-collision feature which is really, really helpful and it can be a life-saver. Don’t rely on it every single time as it may have some glitches every now and then. I found it to work great for avoiding big solid objects such as buildings, but for trees for example…….hmmm, not that good.
For taking videos your main goal is to fly slowly and have really smooth movements. That’s why most of the time, what you will be doing is just slowly fly it forward once you have your scene in the shot. Which leads us to the next tip.
Plan your shots
You want to always plan your shots. Take a look around and see what would look good on camera.
Which angles should you use? Where’s the sun positioned? What direction can you fly on?
Just think about how you want your final video edit to look like and try to film the shots that you will need to put together that video.
You can even have a short storyboard created if you want to be super organized.
Like I mentioned before, what I like to do right before start shooting, is to listen to the music I want to use in the video to get me in the mood. It just makes it so much easier for me to get into the groove and decide on the spot which scenes will look good and which not.
And I always try to film everything with editing in mind. I’m thinking about the opening shot that I will be using, the transitions, effects, templates that I use, and so on. And I just try to have a few different options to choose from for each of the scenes.
Calibrate your gimbal
This is something you want to do before you take off. I’ve seen drone videos that could’ve been great, but the horizon line was slightly off.
You always want to make sure the horizon line is straight and the best way to do this is by calibrating your gimbal every once in a while before you start flying your drone.
Shoot in 4K
I know it’s a pain to edit 4K videos, especially if your computer is not that fast, but sometimes it’s worth the effort.
Even though I’m always exporting edited videos in 1080p, the reason I prefer shooting in 4K is that it gives me more room to tweak the video.
So I can zoom in quite a lot without losing any of the quality. Or I can crop the video in Premiere if there’s something on the edges which ruins the shoot, such as the props if you are pointing your camera up a bit. Or maybe the landing gear if you are tilting your camera down more.
One common mistake that I’ve seen so many people doing is to fly the thing too darn fast. And these things can go quite fast.
But those cinematic looking shoots that you see in the movies are actually shot are very slow flying speeds.
Another benefit of flying slowly is that you can get that slow-motion feel without actually slowing down the video using video editing software. Not to mention that the risk of crashing your drone is much smaller.
The only way when you can fly faster is when you are shooting a scene where there’s a wide opening and everything is super far away. In this case, if you would fly slowly it would just feel like you are standing still.
Shoot more than you need
I guess this is something that you need to do all the time, regardless if you are using a drone, a DLSR or any other type of camera.
You want to have plenty of raw footage to chose from when you will be editing the video.
Obviously, as you get better at it your shoots will start to look better and will be able to use more and more footage from them.
I can tell you from personal experience that I use roughly 5-10 minutes from 60 minutes of raw footage I get from amateur videographers. So that’s a good piece of info to use as a starting point.
Making the right moves
There are a handful of principle drone flying moves that will get you covered in no time if you are just getting started with drone filmmaking.
If you manage to master these you will be able to create stunning drone videos effortlessly.
So, here are my top drone flying moves.
This one will set the scene really nice. Before you do this one though, you need to make sure there’s nothing above so you that you can fly up really high.
What you want to do with this one is to aim your camera straight down, looking at the ground and you start filming when your drone is hovering just 1-2 feet above the ground.
After that fly up to 400 feets or so to get a nice unveiling shoot of the surroundings.
As you go up you can also try to pan your camera up so that you get the horizon in the shot as well.
Just remember to move the drone really smooth, no rapid movements.
In this type of shoot, you have an object which is right in the center of the shot. It can be a stationary object or a moving object, but in the shot, it should look like it’s just sitting in the center of the image.
So what you need to do is have your drone do a 360 around it. This will give you a really, really cool aerial view of a structure.
It can be a building, a moving car or anything else. What makes these type of shoots really cool is that you will end up having everything moving really fast in the background, while your subject is sitting in the middle of the shoot.
Newer drones have intelligent flying modes which include doing a circle around objects so that could save you the trouble of flying it yourself.
This one is really cool too. If you have a subject which is moving really fast, like a car, a bike, a runner or anything else for that matter, you can use your drone to chase it.
You can do it either from behind or from the front. If you do it from the front your will have to rotate your backward.
You need to match the speed of your subject, make sure it is in the center of the shoot and just go with it.
To end the shoot you can let the object or the person pass you if you are shooting from the front, or you pass it if you are shooting from behind.
The Side Follow
This is very similar to the previous one. The only difference is that you have your camera looking to the side, and you fly your drone parallel with your subject.
Same as before you end the shot by letting your subject slide out of the shoot slowly. You can either slow down, speed up or fly up.
With this type of shoot, you want your camera to point forward and you simply fly your drone up.
But instead of going straight up, you go up at a 45-degree angle. So you are actually going up as you are flying it forward.
This works great if you are objects in front of you which are blocking the view over another scene. Because once you fly over those objects you get to see the full scene and unveil everything for the viewer.
Boy, this post is getting longer than I think. Time for a break. Here’s a cool video by Peter McKinnon, on making drone films more cinematic.
Film at sunrise or sunset
Natural light is super important in both photography and videography. It can make a tremendous impact in the way your shoots will look like.
One quick tip that I always recommend, regardless if you are shooting with a drone or not, is to film during the so-called “golden hour” or “blue hour”.
Don’t get intimidated by this terms. There’s nothing to fancy about them. They are used to name those times of the day when the sun is really close to the horizon line.
Golden hour is when the sun is just above the horizon – right after sunrise or before the sunset.
And the blue hour is when the sun is just below the horizon – right before the sunrise or after the sunset.
Some will consider the sun being just under the horizon as the golden hour too.
Here’s a visual explanation of everything.
Either way, my point is that your shots will look much better during this times.
You won’t have exactly one hour to film, it will be more like 40 minutes actually so you need to be quick.
Filming during the day works great as well, but if it is a really bright day there are good chances that the colors will look blown out a little bit. Even though the cameras you can put on drones are getting better and better, their small sensors have the tendency to overexpose the shot when there’s too much natural light coming in through the lenses.
Which leads us to the next tip…
Use an ND filter (if it is the case)
The whole purpose of using an ND filter on a drone is to get that blur cinematic look in your video.
Typically a done will shoot crisp clear images because the camera will have a super high shutter speed rate.
You will notice fuzzy things in your shots because of this, especially on surfaces that have a rich texture such as rooftops or the surface of the water.
By using a Neutral Density (ND) filter will darken a little bit the image and it will reduce the shutter speed, give the shot that nice cinematic motion blur.
Filters come in different intensities, so you want to pick a darker or less dark one, depending on how much bright the natural light is or how much you want to slow down the shutter speed.
Use a flat image style
If you plan on playing around with the colors of your video using an editing software, your best course of action would be to shoot it in a flat image style. Or in Protune, if you are using a GoPro.
This will result in greyish, washed out images, but it will leave you with more room to edit the video just the way you want it.
Of course, if you don’t want to handle this in post-production then just use the standard setting of the camera, or any other setting that you prefer and let the camera do its job.
If you are using a DJI drone with a Sony camera, you will find the D-Log option under the Picture Settings menu. Use that.
Composition and layers
The reason so many drone shots are lacking, even though the landscape and the scenery look great, and the overall shot is not a bad looking one, is because people don’t think about composition at all.
So you always have everything, the whole picture, in the shot right from the start. And there’s nothing new coming up, everything is so predictable and the viewer always knows what to expect.
You can change that by having layers. Always try to have a foreground and a background.
So if your main subject of the video is this nice and twisted road that goes through the mountains, you could use some trees or the peak of a mountain as a foreground that blocks the view of the road. Then you slowly fly over the top of the trees or over the peak of the mountain and you unveil the road. Kind of like ‘The Unveiling’ type of shot I was telling you about earlier.
You should always have new things coming up into the picture. It will make it less predictable and more interesting to watch. The viewer will wonder what’s next and it will enjoy the vide more.
If if you can, definitely do that in your drone videos.
Drone video editing tips
Alright, moving into post-production, here are my top tips for editing your drone raw footage into an awesome looking video.
Start with the audio
This may sound a bit weird, but I always like to start working on my drone edits after I’ve selected the soundtrack.
The reason I do it this way is that music helps me set the mood of the whole video and I will know which shots will work where.
It’s like preparing your workspace before you actually get to work.
Most of the times I use royalty free tracks, but you can also go ahead and get a paid service which gets you access to a bunch of different songs you can use.
Next step is to go through the shoots and get rid of all the bad footage.
Cut out anything that looks bad, shaky, jerky, with bad lighting, bad composition and so on.
Be very picky about the footage that you decide to keep and make sure it’s the best that you have available. Your final video edit will be as good as your raw footage is.
Avoid making a scene too long, otherwise, the video will be boring as hell. Shorter videos will always look better because you can concentrate only on the absolute best shots.
You will have a multitude of different scenes succeeding one after another. This makes the whole video so much more engaging and interesting to watch.
Don’t be hesitant to use b-roll footage from stock video sites where it makes sense.
Something that I enjoying doing a lot when I edit drone videos is to add just a tiny amount of zoom in or zoom out.
It will help you add a more dramatic and cinematic look to any shoot. It has to be very subtle though. Most of the times you can even tell there’s a zoom effect in the picture unless you specifically look for it. But it will make a difference in the way to picture looks.
The main reason I like to very slowly zoom in is that it helps draw viewers attention.
But you can use lots of zooming and get really creative with it. I like to use the so-called Dolly zoom effect – where you have a shoot in which the drone is moving forward relatively fast and you zoom out. It gives you that vertigo feel
It is something that you probably have seen before. Here’s what I’m talking about.
Color correction and color grade
Color correcting and grading really brings the video to life. Here you can get really creative with it and you can give it any kind of look you want.
Lately, I just like to try out a bunch of different LUTs – here’s a good resource – and once I find one which is close to the look and feel I am after, I start tweaking that.
Back in the day, I used to do it all from scratch, which works too, but it takes a bit more time.
But before that, in order to have all the scene look the same, you will likely need to color correct your shoots so that they all look alike.
That way, when you are transitioning from one scene to the other everything will look smooth. You don’t want to transition from a shot that looks blue-ish to one that has lots of yellow for example. Everything needs to be evened out.
The best way to start doing that is to pick the shot which looks best and try to make all the other ones match it. I like to use Lumetri plugin for Premiere Pro to tweak the colors. But this is just a matter of personal preference, you can use Premiere Pro built-in features and get pretty much the same results.
Add sound effects
Lastly, to take things to the next level, I really like adding sound effects that work really well with the videos.
This will totally change the overall feel of your video.
I’m talking about stuff such as nature sounds wherever they fit well. Maybe you are passive over a river or waterfall, or maybe you can add some wind noise or birds chirping or basically anything that matches your videos.
For more editing tips you can go ahead and check out this article.
Oh, this has been a long post and I still feel like there are other things I could have covered. It definitely contains a good list of tips for getting better at filming using a drone and it also gives you an idea about how can go about editing that footage afterward.
So to sum it up really quick, first and foremost you need to make sure you know how to fly the thing. Practice makes perfect so take your drone out as often as you can.
Remember to fly as smooth as you can and shoot more than you need. The more you shoot the better your chances of having better-looking footage. Try out some of the 5 drone flying techniques/principles outlined above!
If you can, definitely take advantage of the golden hour and use an ND filter for that nice, cinematic, motion blur effect.
Use a flat image style.
Then, import your raw footage into any video editing software of your choice and start cutting it.
Let me know how it goes!
Cristian Stanciu is a freelance video editor, owner, and post-production coordinator of Veedyou Media – a company offering video editing services to videographers, marketing agencies, video production studios, or brands all over the globe.