The rise in popularity of unmanned aircrafts inspired epic, cinematic pans and establishing shots – sometimes even in low-budget exam films and indie passion projects.
Are you attempting to spice up your footage with epic drone shots too? While there's nothing wrong with the classic forest landscapes or bustling dystopian cities, it's hard to attract attention in the abundance of competition you'll face.
To stand out from the rest, you can turn to drone cinematography!
If you want to take it to the next level and become a drone filmmaker, read on.
And if you're still on the market for a drone, check out our guide on the best camera drones in 2021.
What is drone cinematography?
Flying a drone is fairly straightforward, but the art and craft of drone cinematography is a bit more complicated.
A cinematographer or DoP is the professional in charge of everything visual: the general composition, the lighting, the choice of equipment, camera angles and more. He or she is not just responsible for camerawork, but for all visual on-screen elements. Why would drone filmmakers be an exception?
Simply put, to become better at drone cinematography, you need to become a better cinematographer.
Why use a drone?
While drones used to be the niche of camera equipment, now more and more filmmakers are using them in new and versatile ways.
Drone competition is stiff, so why use a drone in the first place?
Some of these benefits might seem obvious, but there are some less known pros of drone cinematography.
Drones provide a new perspective
Let's start with the obvious right out the gate. Drones allow a new perspective that would be very difficult, and often impossible to get using handheld cameras.
If you think back on the opening motorbike chase of Skyfall, you'll see what I mean. How could you expect any ordinary cameraman to keep up with 007?
A bird's eye view or high-speed tracking shot is something drones have truly revolutionized. As a drone cinematographer, you'll have access to perspectives that classic filmmakers couldn't even dream of.
Drones let you get close to the action
Today's high-end drones can withstand just about everything: heat, cold, different weather conditions and even potential crashes.
This means you can fly your unmanned aircraft closer to the action than cameras have ever been. Checking out a volcano or shooting an action sequence on top of a moving train has never been easier.
With a trained drone operator, anything is possible. Need I go on?
Drones can save you money
It might seem incredulous, but using a drone can be a way to save some money on equipment costs. Drones will eliminate the need for cranes, tracks and jibs and generally take a lot less time to set up.
As drones get less expensive by the day, it's valid to consider: would it help your budget to invest in or rent a drone?
Read more about the 9 undeniable benefits of using a drone.
Drone cinematography techniques
Are you ready to rock this shoot? Here are our top drone cinematography tips and techniques to make you stand out.
Factor in the prep time
You're probably eager to get started and keep the shoot moving, but you need to schedule plenty of extra time for your drone operator to set up.
A test shoot before the shooting day will cut down the risk of technical difficulties halting the entire production. Mounting the camera also takes time – you can't rush perfection!
Make time for the necessary pre-flight preparation. Check the weather conditions and scan for any on-the-ground obstructions, and make sure your aircraft is ready for take-off.
Create a shot list
As a filmmaker, you'll always benefit from having your shots planned out before you start production. Even if you're only capturing a few shots of your hometown, you can still visualize your desired outcome.
Having your general concept planned out will help you create dynamic, coherent footage. This is the only way to ensure that you won't be missing a specific shot when you're editing your footage.
Don't be afraid to switch it up too! If you're going for a longer, immersive experience, you'll likely want to use a mix of footage from drones and other camera equipment. This doesn't have to break the bank, especially if you hire a drone instead of purchasing it.
Don't be afraid to use your flight software
While it's crucial that you can manually fly your aircraft, there's no shame in leveraging the inbuilt intelligent flight modes your drone comes with!
This can vary from drone to drone, but most drones do come with course lock, "point of interest", and some sort of subject-tracking mode. Don't forget to practice utilize return-to-home (RTH) as well.
Use drone shots creatively
Establishing shots are important for storytelling, and no doubt can be aesthetically stunning.
But they're far from the only valid use of drone footage!
Tracking scenes, epic battles and chilling reveals can be made even more interesting with the new perspective drone shots provide. Don't let the standard practice keep you from exploring your creativity.
Invest in your editing skills
Investing time or potentially money into improving your editing process really pays off in the long run.
While everyone has to start somewhere, it's still important that you continuously hone your editing skills and probably spring for professional software when your drone cinematography is making a profit.
Classic drone shots
After droning on (ha!) about how to use drone shots creatively, we gotta shout out to the classics: these are the top 6 most common drone shots.
1. The pan shot
A true classic, a pan shot is typically captured by slowly turning the camera left or right while it's mounted on a tripod or gimbal. On a drone, this is a neutral way of showcasing the surrounding environment.
Record the footage while hovering in place or slowly move forward or backward for an even more dynamic shot.
2. Tracking shot
A tracking shot is, as the name indicates, where the drone or camera moves parallel along with its subject. The shot can be harder to execute depending on the circumstances: you need to maintain focus on your subject while matching their speed.
Practice makes perfect! Track cars, athletes or wildlife if you want to become an expert at a tracking shot.
3. Pedestal shot
A pedestal shot is the perfect choice for indicating freedom or emphasizing the scale of mountains or buildings. With this shot, the gimbal remains unmoving while the drone flies directly up, or occasionally down.
4. The Orbit
The orbit is a flying maneuver where the drone rotates around the subject while potentially flying higher. The orbit is extremely cinematic, albeit a bit overused in certain action features.
5. Fly Over
The fly over should also be pretty self-explanatory. When you take your drone and slowly fly over a specific object, you really immerse the viewer into the environment. It helps put things in geographical perspective and shows them at scale too.
6. Reveal Shot
A reveal shot is a bit of a combination of the things above, as it hides the main object or subject in the first frames only to reveal it later.
A reveal shot can create memorable scenes with a 'wow' factor, but make sure you don't overuse them.
Relevant drone regulations
You simply cannot talk about drones without mentioning the relevant regulations.
As an emerging and evolving technology, drone regulations still are in constant flux. The drone owner and operator are always responsible for keeping in line with the rules, and they need to stay informed to avoid a hefty fine.
Inform yourself at your local aviation authority, like the CAA in the UK. Learn how to become a drone pilot, including tests and licenses required. Stay on top of where you can and cannot fly your drone – if you want to know where you can fly your drone in London, we got you covered.
Best drones to fly
If I say drone, you'll think DJI, won't you?
While DJI drones have dominated the scene for a considerable time, going with the brand isn't your only option. Even if you do, there are tons to choose from!
Here are three excellent drones to consider depending on your skill level and budget:
1. Parrot Anafi - great value for a beginner's drone
Surprise! Not a DJI drone, the Parrot Anafi is an amazing choice if you're looking for a cheap drone for beginners.
This lightweight, although a bit cheap, drone is perfect when you're still figuring out your controls and might bump into the odd piece of furniture or your neighbor's roof. (Mind the roof!)
The Parrot Anafi is resistant and super compact, with 5-axis stabilization and 3x zoom. The 180° tilt of the camera allows for creative control, and this little powerhouse allows recording 4K footage up to 30 fps too!
2. DJI Mavic Air 2 - a classic choice for intermediates
A better-known contender, the DJI Mavic Air 2 is outstanding in its price range for its crisp image quality and strong flying performance. Its improved battery lasts up to 34 minutes, and it can fly up to 68kph in Sports mode. It even supports 8K hyperlapse!
The Mavic Air 2's 3-way obstacle sensing sensors provide an extra layer of security, so you can sleep soundly at night.
This drone takes breathing 48MP photos, and 4K video up to 60fps.
3. DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 - a professional powerhouse
Looking for the cream of the crop? Look no further than the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0.
This visionary camera drone comes with peak imaging tech. It features a 1-inch 20MP CMOS sensor that captures every detail. The drone's camera has an excellent f/2.8 wide-angle lens designed for the professional creator.
DJI gave Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 pilots full control over their flying experience with a wide range of flight modes. Whether you want simplicity, control, speed or smoothness, you get it with this aircraft.
Want to explore more drones? We provide a much broader outlook and variety with our list of the best camera drones in 2021.
Ready for take-off, or still considering hiring a drone?
Take your drone cinematography to the next level by practicing the techniques mentioned and commit to taking your craft beyond just piloting your drone.
What is drone cinematography?
Drone cinematography refers to taking cinematic, planned-out video using a drone.
How are drones used in cinematography?
Drones are often used for establishing shots to introduce the location. They can also be used for epic tracking shots and more! Your creativity is the limit.
How do you shoot cinematic drone footage?
The answer to making cinematic drone footage lies in planning and practice. Think of your drone shots as a filmmaker to create video that stands out.