I wrote these drone filming tips for beginners because I found that other “beginner tips” weren’t actually for beginners. A lot of them jumped into editing and color correction and DLOG and whatnot. My guess is that the experts who wrote these articles have forgotten what it was like to film with a drone for the first time.
So here it goes. A list of tips for actual newbies. Get these into your head and then, you can worry about sharpening your editing skills.
Tip 1: Film in good weather.
This might seem obvious, but recording on overcast days often leads to dull footage. Unless your goal is to record gloomy scenes, you might want to limit your filming to sunnier conditions.
Tip 2: Record in the mornings or in the evenings.
Sunlight tends to be softer in the morning and in the evening. During the afternoon, it can become harsher and brighter. The problem with strong sunlight is that it can lead to overexposure. Details may get “blown out”, “clipped” and “whitened” if you are not experienced enough to control your drone’s camera shutter speed and aperture settings. Filming when the sunlight is softer makes it easier to avoid blown-out highlights.
Tip 3: Higher doesn’t mean better.
Most beginner drone pilots start off by recording a lot of aerial footage. Let’s face it, controlling a drone as it flies 120 meters above your head is pretty cool.
However, if your goal is to get great video footage, then you will need to change your way of thinking. The problem with aerial footage is that too much of it can be boring. Small and interesting landscape details get lost and you will often be left with 30 minutes of large fields or sprawling urban areas. It can all become very bland and “samey samey” to look at after a few seconds.
Try recording the sea as it laps against the shoreline. Try flying under a bridge instead of 100 meters above it, catching the reflections in the water as you go along. Maybe you should try flying your drone past those trees instead of above them? You will be pleasantly surprised at the footage you can get once you get over the novelty of high altitude flying.
It is also worth noting that the speed your drone is flying at is more obvious to the viewer when you are closer to the ground. This allows you to use different speeds for different effects.
Tip 4: Smooth and consistent.
Your drone footage will look unprofessional if you’re constantly rotating the drone and making jerky camera movements. Try and fly in a more consistent manner. Camera movements should be slow and steady instead of erratic. Start off by flying straight for a while without adjusting anything else.
Select your altitude and camera direction before you start flying towards the subject. Nobody wants to watch footage of you desperately trying to fix the camera angle at the last moment.
Your camera movements should look as though they are planned. Try and get at least ten seconds of footage without adjusting the camera or turning the drone.
Tip 5: Plan what you’re going to film.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
Before you send your drone up into the sky, you should have some sort of idea about what you want to film. Take a quick look at your surroundings beforehand and make a mental note of anything that might be interesting to record. That way, you won’t waste battery life randomly flying around and looking for stuff.
Do a bit of research by looking up photographs of the area on the Internet and checking the aerial view on Google Maps.
Typically speaking, a better plan will lead to better footage. You will also be getting the most out of your battery life.
Tip 6: Living things.
A field with a cow in it is more interesting than a field with no cow in it. A bridge with a person walking across it is typically more interesting than a bridge with no person on it.
Try and take advantage of the fact that humans are naturally interested in seeing other living things. Ask one of your friends or family members to take up a certain position if you think their presence will give you a more interesting shot.
Example: You plan on flying along the shore of an empty beach. Why not ask one of your friends to walk or jog along the shoreline so that you can catch them in the shot?
Important Note: In the above scenario, make sure that the person pretends as if they don’t notice the drone. If they are staring up and smiling at the drone as they jog along the beach, the scene is going to look a tad bit unnatural. Unless there is a reason for them to look at the drone, the actors in your shots should completely ignore it.
7. Film interesting things.
This is a run-on from Tip 6 and is probably the most important tip of all.
You’re flying your drone around at 100 metres and filming the landscape below. It’s all pretty interesting, right?
Well, it is… to you.
It is interesting to you simply because you are the person that is flying the drone. Do you think that Joe Soap is going to be as interested in this footage as you are? Probably not. He has probably seen a number of similar drone videos in the past.
We have all been guilty of this at some point of another. We get so wrapped up in the experience of flying a drone that we sometimes forget that our viewers want to see something interesting.
Is this a historic building close to where you live? Does your local town have some sort of distinguishing feature? Is there an event going on nearby? Has a new public building been constructed?
All of these things can be much more interesting to the viewer than random landscape footage.
This simple tip applies to pretty much all forms of photography and videography. Capturing interesting things will make your footage more… well… interesting.