5 Tips for Better Drone Video

Fly High

If the conditions allow, fly it high. The higher you fly your drone the better perspective you can create when filming. Showing a lot of context around your subject creates a grand sense of scale. Most drone cameras will also film video at a more cropped frame than if shooting photos. So, if you are alternating between photos and videos of the same subject, you may want to position the drone for photos of your chosen subject and shoot all those first. Then fly a little higher once you are ready to shoot video. You don’t need to worry about having too much space in your shot since you can always crop the video once you edit. Also, if you are going to be uploading the video to social media sites, like Instagram, the video may be cropped even a bit more once posted. Be mindful of where you are flying and be sure to follow all local and FAA rules.

Shoot Longer Clips

When you are filming be sure to take long clips of the action you are trying to capture. The video above is a great example. This video is 39 seconds long. I knew I wasn’t going to use all of that time in the final video but I wanted to capture as much of the action as possible. I can choose later what’s important and what to save or what should be cut. In this scene, I wanted to capture the moment of waking up and enjoying the day’s first sip of coffee. Once this clip was added to the overall video I only used about 1-2 seconds of the entire piece. Another benefit to filming longer in this clip is that I could conceal the drone controller. I positioned the drone where I wanted it, then went inside and left the controller on the kitchen counter, came back out with my coffee, then went back it to stop the video. I’m often flying the drone and shooting video on my own. So, if I’m the subject of the video it’s best to conceal the controller if possible.

Shoot More Than You Need

The Frozen Shore of Lake Michigan Near Evanston, IL

I can’t overstate this enough : always shoot more video than you think you need. It never fails, you shoot a bunch of video, get really excited about, get home and upload the files, then realize; damn I don’t have as much here as I thought I did. For some reason, when you are filming it always feels like you have more than you really do. Not every clip is going to be great either, so you may find that some of what you shot is out of focus, or there was someone or something in the scene you didn’t want. If you have more clips, you have more options. Shoot the same subject from multiple angles as well. Just because you think a particular angle is going to be the best it might not be once you see it on your computer. Plus, having multiple angles will allow you to have more editing options at the end of the day. Shoot more, it can’t hurt, and will most definitely help in the long run.

Capture or Create Movement

Movement in a video shot is sexy. Make sure you are either capturing a moving object such as a person, car, boat, etc. or creating movement around that object. If you are filming from directly above, ask your subject to move through the frame from top to bottom or left to right. If the object you are focused on is stationary, create movement by flying past that object, orbiting around it, or flying directly down toward it. You should never be filming a static shot of a subject. If you are going to do that, you may as well just take a photo. Not all drone footage needs to be shot from high above either. The clip above was shot with the drone about four feet off the ground. I walked from behind the drone and through the frame. For added movement, I whistled for my dog at the same time and she came bursting through right on cue……she’s a good girl.

Take Your Time

Job Lake Outpost Cabin in Northern Ontario

The most important tip I can share, is to take your time. Especially if you are new to drone flying and shooting video, you will need some time to practice and learn how to not only operate the drone but also operate the camera. The added stress of shooting video with a drone is that you typically only have 15-20 minutes of flight time per battery charge. I fly a DJI Spark, which is a pretty small drone. I get about 13-15 minutes on a full charge. That may sound like a lot of time, but once you select the subject of your video, take off, position the drone, then start to film from different angles, that time goes by very quickly. Your best move is to do some pre-flight planning. Think about the subject you want to shoot, walk around and look for any obstacles like overhead wires and trees and develop a plan for how you want to capture the video. Pre planning the flight and how you want to shoot the video will help make your flight time more efficient and be much less stressful as you are flying and filming.