A Guide to Drone Filming
— May 6, 2019
In addition to being an increasingly popular hobby, drone filming and aerial photography presents a variety of benefits and opportunities for businesses and would be brands looking to capture stunning vistas and bring new perspectives to familiar and unfamiliar landscapes.
There can be a steep initial learning curve when it comes to getting to grips with drone technology and it is important to select equipment that is both easy to operate and will help you to capture the high-quality imagery and footage you want to include in your brand film.
Drones with a 720p camera will often be more than adequate for hobbyists, but for professional brand films you should be looking at using a 1080p camera at the very least. Some drones support additional camera mounting and if you have access to a drone like this, it is crucial to be mindful of the weight of your chosen camera to ensure that the drone’s flying capabilities are not impeded in any way.
Similarly, not all drones support additional features such as first person view (FPV) for example, so it is crucial to understand whether the capabilities of your equipment match up to your creative vision.
In this article, I want to take a deep dive into drone filming, starting with what the law says on using drones.
Understanding the Laws, Regulations and Guidelines
There are increasingly strict laws, regulations and guidelines related to drone flying in the UK. Professional drone operators are required to be fully licensed and have a PfCO qualification and individuals operating drones for personal use must be aware of the rules set out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). People have been prosecuted for breaking Article 241, Article 94 and Article 95 of the Civil Aviation Authority’s Air Navigation Order so it is vital to ensure that you have thoroughly read, understood and are in full compliance with all aspects of the Drone Code.
Some of your primary responsibilities when operating and filming using a drone include:
- Knowing how to fly safely
- Understanding all legal obligations
- Ensuring that your drone is flying below 400ft and remains in sight at all times
- Ensuring that your drone never flies within 50m of a person building or vehicle outside of your control
- Never flying a drone close to aircraft or near airports
- Ensuring that all imagery and footage does not break strict privacy laws and GDPR regulations
You must also plan appropriately for a variety of scenarios, including what you will do if your drone unexpectedly fails or runs out of power. Being fully aware of your surroundings is imperative to safe drone operation.
Piloting a Drone
It is important to be prepared to spend some time learning how to fly your drone in a safe and capable manner. Before planning any filming, you will first need to practice the fine art of taking off, keeping the drone steady, and landing. Only when you have got the basics mastered, you can start to introduce the tricky task of filming whilst flying.
Here are some of our top tips for piloting drones smoothly and safely in order to capture perfect drone footage.
Carefully Configuring your Drone and Camera
It is really frustrating to get a drone airborne only to realize that your equipment has not been appropriately configured. Drones have a variety of different settings that will help you to fly safely and film efficiently so you need to feel confident that your preferences and sensitivity settings are suited to your skillset. Configuring your drone’s inertial measurement unit (IMU) is vital because this will ensure that you always know where your drone is, which direction it is flying in and its speed. Additionally, if you are filming on a tight schedule you need to know that your camera is primed and ready to capture the footage you need and calibrating the gimbal will ensure that the camera remains stable and level throughout.
Make sure to check your ISO and aperture settings are appropriate for your filming conditions to ensure that your shots are exposed correctly and that your aspect ratio is set in accordance with what you plan to do with the resulting imagery and/or footage. 3:2 or 4:3 is recommended for images, whereas 16:9 is a standard video format that will help you to capture shots suitable for an engaging brand film.
The Importance of Carrying Out a Pre-Flight Checklist
Organization and preparation are key to effective drone operation and having a checklist featuring the most important aspects of your set-up will ensure that nothing is ever overlooked. Your checklist doesn’t necessarily need to be ultra-detailed, but it should be designed to give you the confidence that everything is ready to go.
Always Be Mindful of your Battery Levels
Many drone batteries are only capable of flight for a maximum of 15 minutes. It is incredibly easy to get caught up in what you are filming and lose track of the amount of airtime you have clocked up. Some drones will land automatically and safely as soon as the battery levels start to run low but many others do not have this capability and will quite literally come crashing down when they have run out of power.
Refining your Landing Technique
One of the trickiest parts of operating a drone is landing safely. Although it might take a significant amount of practice to perfect, as an essential aspect of safe drone operation, the time you invest here will always be worthwhile. Many drones have assisted landing capabilities, which can do all the difficult work for you at the touch of a button.
Once you have built up some experience of flying your drone safely and proficiently, you can start to introduce a plethora of more complex filming techniques into your skillset. These techniques will help you to create more interesting and visually stimulating videos.
Capturing Perfect Drone Footage
Flying your drone with skill and dexterity doesn’t guarantee you’ll capture good footage. As well as becoming a decent drone pilot, you’ll need to make sure your equipment is properly configured and learn how to fly smoothly and consistently so as to capture professional and smooth looking aerial footage. Here are some of our top tips and techniques.
Perfecting the Art of Panning
One of the simplest pans involves positioning your drone above your subject to capture the view from a bird’s-eye perspective that audiences rarely get to experience. Alternatively, slide-sides involve capturing your subject as it passes by whilst filming at a consistently steady altitude whereas fly-throughs involve carefully piloting your drone through a tight area or small gap.
It’s All About the Angles
Filming on the level of your subject will help you to ensure that everything is in focus and that you are capturing visually interesting shots that will hold the attention of your audience. We also recommend planning to give yourself some leeway either side of your intended shot, which will give you a bit more to work with during the editing process to put together a seamless film that doesn’t cut abruptly or feel jarring to watch.
Slow and Steady
Making careful, considered and slow movements will help you to create a professional film comprised of smooth shots that are enjoyable to watch. As you fly, focus on making a series of small adjustments rather than making any quick or erratic movements that will result in an unpredictable or unsteady shot.
Use of Filters and Features.
Some drones have a variety of helpful filming features, including functions such as center points that will help with shot framing. Filters can be fitted to some drone cameras to prevent overexposure in bright conditions. We recommend only considering filters produced by drone companies, however, as they have been designed to work with the sensitive center of gravity required for safe flights.
Finally, always make sure the footage you use is saved on to an appropriately sized SD card, as this will be of a far higher quality than that saved to the device you are using to operate the drone.