7 Tips for Cinematic Drone Footage

By: Chris Fravel, Drone Geek Productions

Today we’re going over 7 things you can do to capture the most stunning shots possible with your drone. These strategies are intended strictly for those of us looking to shoot video with our drone, but there may be some crossover for those who lean toward photography, so stick around even if video isn’t necessarily “your jam.”

1.       Plan Your Shots Ahead of Time

This is the first tip for you, but quite honestly it’s probably the most important when it comes to getting cinematic shots with your drone. The day I decided to plan my shots ahead of time for my projects was the day I saw the quality of my shots increase ten-fold. When you create a plan for how you want your shots to look and how you want your project to flow, you will find success during the flight and subsequent shoot becomes much easier to find.

I, myself, have created a table I use for every shoot where I map out how each shot should go. I print this table off and bring it with me to the shoot where I am able to physically check-off the shots I want as I collect them. This allows me to keep my thoughts and plan for my project organized without dedicating much thought to it during the operation.

Everyone works differently and this method may not work for you, so it’s up to you to figure out how to best plan your shots ahead of time.

2.       Always Pinch the Sticks

Largely there are two types of remote pilots: thumbers and pincher. I am a pincher and I suggest you be a pincher too. You may be thinking: “Thumbers? Pinchers? What in tarnation are you blabbering about?!”

And that’s fair. Here’s what I mean…

When holding the remote controller for your drone, there are two methods for manipulating the joy-sticks that are widely practiced by remote pilots. 

Thumbers take the pad of their thumb and place it directly on the top of each joy-stick. They then roll their thumbs in a counter-directive manner to manipulate the joy-sticks.

Pinchers take their index fingers and thumbs and pinch the joy-sticks between the pads of each of them. They then extend and contract their fingers and thumbs in synchronicity to manipulate the joy-sticks.

But why is being a Pincher better than being a Thumber? Well, it all comes down to dexterity and control. I learned, a long time ago, from Ken Heron’s channel that pinching the sticks gives you finer control over movements your drone makes because you’re controlling it from two points and not just one. Thumbers tend to see their motion limited and far more incidents of the joy-sticks slipping out from under them.

3.       Shoot at 4K and 30 FPS Whenever Possible

I’ll level with you. This one is controversial. Drones tend to have better footage when shooting at 30FPS because it’s just smoother, okay. When you shoot at 24FPS with a drone, you run the risk of the footage turning out a bit choppy and maybe unnatural looking as a result — and nobody wants that.

And here’s the thing. If you are putting together a project that will ultimately be presented in 24FPS, you can ALWAYS slow down the drone footage to 80.8% of its original speed and achieve the same look and feel of a full-speed shot at 24FPS.

Plus if you’re shooting footage with your drone to license, having it at a higher frame rate actually makes it more flexible for the buyer to edit when it is at 30FPS.

Yes. 24FPS is the cinematic standard. You get a cinematic feel when you watch something in 24FPS, but when you are capturing footage intended to be edited for a cinematic feel, you want to shoot the raw file at 30 FPS and slow it down more often than not.

4.       Make Deliberate, but Smooth Movements

When you are filming with your drone you want to “move with purpose.” When capturing a shot, make sure your drone is moving in a manner that seems totally intentional — even if you’re winging it. This may seem like it goes against point number 1, but the American Icon, Mike Tyson, said it best: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

You’re going to plan your shots out, but the fact is they aren’t always going to go according to plan, both for better and for worse. It’s important that no matter how far off the beaten path your shot goes that you focus on making each movement smooth and deliberate. Avoid the herky-jerky. Avoid sudden movements. Avoid anything that makes it clear you were not ready for the shot or don’t know what you’re doing as a drone pilot.

This is crucial to conveying a professional and cinematic feel from the footage you capture with your drone.

5.       Always Have a Pay-Off

Every drone shot should have a pay-off. The pay-off doesn’t need to be a big, dramatic reveal either. Your pay-off can be immediate in the form of an absolutely gorgeous view from beginning to end. However, some of the best drone shots start with a close-up of an object that results in the reveal of something awe-striking in the background.

Why is it important to always have a pay-off? Well, first of all, that’s the whole point of any multimedia project: you want people to look at it, listen to it, or watch it and learn or gain something from the experience. However, it’s also important to have a pay-off because, quite frankly, drone shots are not particularly entertaining or interesting unless they have a pay-off, immediate or otherwise.

I know, I know, a drone guy said drone shots aren’t cool. That doesn’t mean I don’t love drones and the views they give us. I do! But I understand that by themselves and without something interesting in them, drone clips are just kind of…meh. They are most powerful when used to supplement a story being told rather than being the storyteller itself.

6.       Do a Dry Run

Dry runs are key to getting the shots you want and making them look and feel cinematic. Get to your location 30 minutes to an hour earlier than you’re scheduled to and run through the shots if you can. Remember to conserve batteries according to the size and length of your mission. If you don’t have the battery capacity to do a dry-run of the shots the day of the shoot, then do them the day before your shoot. The conditions may not be the same, so the experience will be less consistent, but something is better than nothing.

Dry runs allow you to get a feel for your drone at the site in which you will be flying. You can learn more about your surroundings and better understand how to navigate them while also capturing the shots you need. Plus, if you don’t have a unique timeframe for capturing your subject or point of interest, you can take some shots that could end up being usable takes.

Practice makes perfect. Correction. Perfect practice makes perfect.

7.       Let The Shot Come to You

The last point is maybe the most important to a high-level output, but also to having fun. Let the shots come to you. If you’ve been flying drones for any length of time, then you have probably learned to just roll with the punches. You really can plan until you’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day, the only thing you can control is the drone and how you react to the environment in which you’re flying.

This job is high-pressure on multiple levels, so adding pressure on yourself is never wise when it comes to enjoying what we do. If you aren’t having fun when you’re flying, the chances of getting a cinematic and professional shot decrease drastically.

So, while you are responsible for flying safely, according to reg, and getting the shots your client or project requires, just remember to stay loose, have fun, and let the shots come to you. Sometimes the brightest moments of brilliance come in the moment and end up being the best shots you collect.

If you put these 7 tips and tactics into action while flying your drone to capture video, I promise you will begin to see an uptick in the quality of your drone footage and a more cinematic feel from them.

Just remember, everyone flies differently and everyone sees through the lens of our cameras differently. Do what is true to you, your style, and what you enjoy and you can’t go wrong.

Published by The Drone Geek

28-year-old Pennsylvanian armed with nothing more than a drone and a passion for sharing.

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