Drones. You either love them or hate them.
And I totally get that.
On the one hand I struggle to think of any technology recently that has impressed me more than the sheer quality of video footage you can get out of consumer drones. It is incredible and I love the extra dimension it gives to my photography.
But I have also seen enough inconsiderate (and often prohibited) behaviour from drone pilots that makes me hate them.
I’ll save the deeper debate over the use of drones for another time. Instead, this post is going to provide you with some tips. I’ve been flying for about two years now and here are a few things that I have picked up along the way.
Unsure if it’s safe to fly? Go with your instincts
There are various apps out there to help you determine flying conditions. Personally I rely on UAV Forecast which provides a whole host of weather, satellite and other localised information.
But regardless of which app you use, there is no substitute for common sense.
Even if the app tells you its OK to fly, follow your instincts. Deep down you just know if it’s a good time to fly or not. It can be hard to fight that urge when you desperately want to capture some aerial footage but don’t take unnecessary risks with respect to the weather or location.
Do your pre-flight checks slowly
I vividly remember my first drone mishap. I was in Iceland and found a great location to fly. The scenery was superb but the light was changing quickly and so I went through my checks, albeit in a bit of a rush and with the adrenaline pumping.
I took off safely, held in a hover position and it was only then that I realised in all my excitement that I had forgotten to screw the joysticks onto the controller. Thankfully on this occasion the only thing hurt was my pride.
Pre-flight checks are an essential routine to go through and, because of that, over time you can slip into autopilot (excuse the pun) when doing them. Take your time.
Watch your GPS home point
My second mishap came in the Maldives. I took off from the edge of a jetty over the sea and my Mavic Air correctly recorded this as my home point.
Long story short but during the flight it completely lost signal with the controller, returned to the home point, and began to descend – but about three feet away from where it took off on the wrong side of the jetty.
I had to pluck the drone out of the air to save it from a water landing in the Indian Ocean.
The lesson here? Never take off right on the edge of cliffs, lakes, jettys, etc. The technology is good but do yourself a favour and allow for some margin of error when setting the home point.
This is a biggie for me (and everyone else). Probably the biggest.
I hinted at it in my opening: always be considerate. Now that means different things to different people but generally speaking that means I avoid flying where there are people and especially not at popular tourist spots.
Sometimes I will even make others aware that I am going to fly as a courtesy.
Just because it is legal to fly in a certain location does not necessarily mean it is the right thing to do so I generally err on the side of caution. Like it or not, they are loud and annoying (at least when they take off) so bear that in mind before disturbing the peace and respect the environment and those around you.
Leave the video running
I wish I had learnt this from the outset.
I used to continually stop and start my recordings depending on where I wanted to fly and what scenes I wanted to record. The result would be returning to the computer with a dozen clips to sift through and inevitably stitch back together.
This became increasingly time-consuming and painful until I started to let it all flow. Now I just hit record from the moment I take off and leave it running. Importing just the one file per location makes life a lot easier when it comes to editing.
Shutter speed and frame rate relationship
As a rule of thumb, set your shutter speed to twice that of your frame rate. It doesn’t have to be exact but close enough.
24fps is widely regarded as the universal norm for cinematic footage in which case this requires a shutter speed of 1/50s (because 1/48s isn't possible).
Now on a sunny day if you shoot at 1/50s you will likely end up over-exposing which is why ND filters will help you achieve the desired shutter-speed in bright conditions. I own a set from Polar Pro which I recommend you check out.
Fly backwards (carefully!)
This tip is not particularly intuitive but once you know it about it, it’s hard to go back.
Have you ever shot footage and, as the drone pitches forward, you sometimes catch the front propellers in shot? Simple solution: fly backwards! Personally I also prefer the look of such footage and it can be reversed in post if necessary.
But do so carefully and make sure that your drone has rear obstacle detection and avoidance. That footage won’t look so great if it ends up with you flying into a tree.
Got any tips you’ve picked up with your airmiles? Comment below!