I have been flying my DJI Phantom 3 Professional for the last four months. I recently came across a quote, I don't remember who said it, but it stated that “drones perform best when they are used in a way helicopters can not be.” I thought that was a very interesting perspective. Anyone can power on a drone and fly up to 300ft, but it requires skill and precision flying to be able to operate a drone close to the ground and gain a unique perspective that would be simply too dangerous for a helicopter. By no means am I a pro at drone flying, but I have prepared a quick list of tips and tricks from my flying experiences.
Here is my setup checklist when I arrive on location. Once I have completed this list then I am good to go.
- Check for hazards before the drone is unpacked
- Make a mental note of the wind conditions
- Turn on remote and powerup drone
- Attach props
- Calibrate drone
- Set new home point
- Check camera settings
- Face drone away from me
- Fly up and forward slowly
- Test drone controls to make sure everything is in working order
2. The Plan
I always try to plan out the shots that I want before hand. This ensures I know what I need in order to accomplish the shot and if there are any risks I need to be aware of. This also helps my spotter (I’ll talk about him more later) out as well, as he knows what I am doing and can tell me if I’m getting too close to an object.
3. Slow & Steady
To create camera movement while flying, I have discovered that slow, smooth moves often look best. I rarely use shots where the drone is moving fast, however, there are always exceptions. For example, if I was shooting a music video or following a car, you are cut quick and can’t use a 30 second drone shot. For the most part the slow moves look best and are used more often. I also tend to use this mindframe for setting up shots and getting the drone into position. I don’t like to whip the drone around as fast as it can go to line up a shot...this just increases the chance of a crash. Here are my most used type of drone shots:
Reveal: Nothing fancy here, basically flying up from behind something like trees to reveal a certain landscape.
Up & Over: This has become one of my favorite types of shots. The drone moves forward and upwards while the camera begins to point down, until you are completely overtop of an object. This shot is all about timing and the control of speed and adds dynamic movement to the shot.
Drone Dolly: Drones can fly high, there is no doubting that. I find that more interesting shots to be created with a drone are the ones where they are closer to the ground...almost like a dolly shot. I refer to a quote where someone said, ‘drones shine where helicopters can’t be used’. Here is a little clip of a piece I did while using the Phantom 3 as a dolly.
4. Fly With A Spotter
Having a second pair of eyes, not to peer over your shoulder to watch the image on the iPad, but to solely and physically watch the drone, is crucial. It becomes critical when you are flying in an area with many hazards. This releases a lot of pressure off yourself as you attempt to nail a certain shot.
5. Camera Settings
I tend to always shoot in the 4K 24fps mode. It provides the flexibility to crop in or add little push ins on the footage. I also shoot in DJI’s LOG format as it allows me to turn down the saturation and contrast. I later bring this back up in post. As far as the exposure is concerned, I jump back and forth between manual and automatic, depending on the settings. If I am flying near golden hour, I use manual to really nail in on the look that I want. During midday footage I feel the the camera does an adequate job at figuring out the exposure.
I know the above list may not be revolutionary news to a lot of you, and again I am no drone expert, but I have found keeping these things in mind have greatly improved my flying. Hope they help you as well.