Drones used to be out of the reach of the average person. Strapping a camera to a piece of aircraft and capturing video was outrageously expensive. But with the advent of consumer drones from innovative companies like DJI (even GoPro is getting into the drone game now), aerial photography and cinematography is available to everyone.
At Pro Church Tools, we picked up our first drone a couple of months ago: the DJI Phantom 4. Since then we’ve been testing it out, putting it through its paces, and seeing how easy and user-friendly flying it would be. We’ve also learned a great deal about aerial cinematography itself and the uniqueness of shooting video from a drone’s overhead vantage point.
In this article I want to share with you 3 of the biggest lessons I’ve learned shooting with a drone, as well as 7 different shots we capture most often flying our DJI Phantom 4.
3 Ways To Shoot Better Video With A Drone
1. Recognize your drone’s limitations
The main camera I currently shoot with is the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K. The first camera I ever shot with was the Canon Rebel T3i. Both cameras capture better image quality than the DJI Phantom 4 camera. Yes, even though the Phantom 4 boasts 4K video resolution, the quality of the image just isn’t very good. Think about it this way, if you have an iPhone 6S or greater, your mobile device also captures 4K video, but the image isn’t exactly feature film quality.
There is so much more to image quality than resolution. Here’s a short list of items more important than resolution: dynamic range, low light performance, depth of field, and lens quality. In each of these cases, the Phantom 4 underwhelms when compared to a DSLR, Micro Four Thirds, or cinema camera.
Of course, just because the Phantom 4 camera has limitations, doesn’t mean you can’t still use it to capture beautiful images. The following two items will help you capture the best drone footage possible.
2. Shoot with D-Log or D-Cinelike Profiles
The Phantom 4 comes with a pair of picture profiles intended to maximize the camera’s video capabilities. Both of these picture profiles (D-Log in particular) will help you capture a flattering image, thus giving you more flexibility with color correction during the editing process.
We use FilmConvert for all of our color correction when shooting with the DJI Phantom 4. FilmConvert has camera packs made specifically for the DJI camera on the Phantom4 and you can toggle between D-Log and D-Cinelike depending on which profile you used.
3. Shoot only during magic hour
This is the biggest tip that I can share with you in terms of shooting better video with your drone. Keeping in mind that the video quality of consumer drones is limited, it’s important to stack the deck in your favor as much as possible — especially in terms of lighting. To do this, I take our drone out to capture video only during magic hour (the period just as the sun is rising and setting).
During magic hour the sun is low on the horizon and the light is very soft and even. There are no harsh shadows. This is always the best time of day to shoot video. I use an app called Rizon to determine exactly when magic hour begins at my current location.
Now that your drone is set up and you’re ready to maximize the video capabilities of its camera, here are 7 types of shots that we aim to capture every time we take our drone for a flight.
7 Drone Shots To Use In Your Next Video
1. The Fly-By
The Fly-By requires you to fly your drone past an object in the foreground. The closer you can get, the better. Heck, fly through something! The Fly-By only works when you have a foreground element to fly past, but it works even better when you have a beautiful background to reveal.
2. The Follow
The DJI Phantom 4 has a feature called Follow-Me. You can set yourself as a target and have the drone follow you around as you jog through the countryside or drive your car down the street. Even if your drone doesn’t come equipped with this feature and you need to execute it manually, the Follow-Me shot is an aerial staple. In the example below you can see us following a winding road.
3. The Gentle Rise
To execute The Gentle Rise, position your drone camera facing directly downward, place your drone on the ground, and begin slowly flying directly upward. This type of camera movement works exceptionally well for establishing shots. When your drone is close to the ground, the footage you’ll capture will be more abstract looking (vineyard example below), and as your drone gets higher, you’ll begin capturing beautiful aerial views (winding road example below).
4. The Lateral
The Lateral shot is perhaps the most basic shot on this list, and yet, it can produce the most stunning scenes. The Lateral produces footage that basically looks like a never ending slider. Keeping your drone low to the groundor higher in the air produce different, but equally compelling footage.
5. The Look Down
The Look Down is another type of shot that works perfectly for establishing shots. The Look Down is also a unique shot because it has a purposefully limited vantage point. Execute this shot by pointing your camera directly down to the ground, and don’t fly too high. Keep the vantage point limited to what’s in the frame directly beneath the drone.
6. The Neverending Crane
The Neverending Crane is simple. Place your drone on the ground. Face the camera forwards looking towards the landscape and begin flying upwards — forever.
7. The Super High
Perhaps the most obvious drone shot on this list, The Super High has only one qualification: fly your drone as high as you feel comfortable (and is allowed by local regulations). The Super High shot will give you an aerial view that is unlike any other. It’s majestic. It’s panoramic. It’s super high.
The DJI Phantom 4 costs as little as $1199. The new DJI Mavic Pro costs even less at $999. The new GoPro Karma costs $1099. Consumer drones have become very affordable and are perhaps one of the easiest ways to increase the production value of your videos. Of course, that is if you know how to maximize their capabilities.
Have you shot video with a drone? What’s your favorite type of shot to capture? Share it with me in the comments below.