Home How To How to Shoot Aerial Videos Using A Quadcopter

How to Shoot Aerial Videos Using A Quadcopter

1.21K
0

22 Tips for improving your copter videos by Andreas Resch

This is the excellent and detailed 22 quadcopter aerial video, photography and filmmaking tips for beginners and amateurs originally written in German by Andreas Resch at Kopterforum.de and translated to English by the author for Quadcopter4k.com. Andreas 2 biggest passion is climbing the Austrian Alps and Filmmaking. He frequently takes his DJI Phantom Quadcopter up with him and films great mountain scenery like the video above. Thank you Andreas for your hard work! 

So you bought yourself a quadcopter. You went out and started flying and filming but now you are disappointed by the results, wondering, why your aerial footage don‘t look that great compared to most of the professional videos right here on this website?

Well, in that case, you should continue reading …

I‘m not a professional aerial photographer. I do this stuff just for fun, like most of you guys. But I‘m familiar with some basic filmmaking techniques and I learned a lot about aerial videography in the past view months. In this article, I‘d like to share this basic knowledge in a compact and easy form. Please excuse, if the wording of the article may sound sometimes a bit strange to you. I‘m not a native speaker, but, believe me, I really tried hard …

Back to topic:

Don‘t get discouraged by this list as some of these tips may not be applicable to you. Pick what you can execute enjoy your flight and forget the rest. As I said before: it‘s a guide from an amateur to amateurs, so in the end have fun, that should be most important thing rather than the results…

So, let‘s get this done … 🙂

How to Shoot Aerial Videos Using A Quadcopter

Jump To:

  1. Which quadcopter?
  2. Which camera?
  3. The right camera settings
  4. Balance your props!
  5. Buy a gimbal
  6. Optimize your gain settings
  7. Buy a FPV-system
  8. How to transport your copter?
  9. Search locations, that are really worth filming
  10. Search for dynamic motives
  11. Use the “golden hour“
  12. Use “special weather conditions“
  13. Consider which angles you want to shoot – before take off
  14. Shoot different field sizes, moving directions and angles as much as possible
  15. Avoid sudden changes of directions
  16. When FPV, when not?
  17. Handling proTune
  18. Stabilizing and editing GoPro footage
  19. Start video editing with selecting the right soundtrack
  20. Use as many “hard cuts“ as possible
  21. Avoid a long lead text, avoid the boring!
  22. The best export settings for your video

 

Part 1: Hardware

1. Which quadcopter?

If you are not already an expert in RC Quadcopter Kit building, I recommend the latest 2016 “Ready To Fly-System“ like the DJI Phantom 4. If you want to learn more about the DJI Phantom 4, Click Here.
 


DJI Phantom 4 Front
DJI Phantom 4 Front


 

Why is the DJI Phantom 4 the Best Quadcopter?

Reasons:

  • Everything you need to start with aerial videography is already in the box.
  • It‘s easy to assemble, so you can focus on filming instead of building the quadcopter.
  • It‘s relatively cheap
  • It‘s stable and really easy to fly
  • It comes with a 4K 12 Megapixel Camera
  • It‘s compact and lightweight – that means, it can be carried easily to nearly all corners of the world… all this without yaks and sherpas.
  • It looks like a cool miniature drone. In other words, the chance of getting in trouble is significantly lower, compared to a 8 KG monster copter.

To find out more about the DJI Phantom 4. Click Here.

If you have troubles with building or flying your Phantom, this site may help you: http://phantomguide.com
 

2. Which camera?

If you want to shoot high quality videos with a Phantom, your best available option was the GoPro Hero4 Black Edition. However with the release of the DJI Phantom 3, the 4K 12 Megapixel camera is actually very good.

But then if are interested in the GoPro Hero4. Read on if not skip to Step 6.

There‘s a easy reason for that: The camera is very light in weight, offers a fairly good video quality and (above all) nearly all available gimbal systems support this particular camera type (see Tip 5)

Compared to it‘s cheaper sisters, the GoPro White and Silver edition, the GoPro Hero4 Black Editions offers additional features such as proTune (see Tip 17) and Hybrid Modus“ (shoot pictures and video simultaneously). Especially suited for aerial footage, this camera offers even better video quality then the newer Hero3+, because it‘s optics is able to focused more in the distance.

If you want to know more about the GoPro Hero4, please read Abe Kislevitz‘s excellent article.
 

3. The right camera settings

Generally: If you are not so familiar with your GoPro yet, it might be a good idea to take a look into the user manual:

https://gopro.com/support/product-manuals-support

So, what are the best settings for aerial videography? – It depends …

If you don‘t use a gimbal (so far)

  • Resolution (RES): 1440p
    Zoom factor (FDW): Wide
    This mode records in the format 4:3 (and not as usually in 16:9) and offers the widest angle of all available modes. Therefore it is perfectly suited to eliminate movements of the copter in post production (see Tip 18)
    If you are filming with gimbal
  • Resolution (RES): 1080p
    Zoom factor (FDW): Medium
    A good compromise between picture quality and the accumulating amount of data (at the level, we are talking about, nobody really needs more than FullHD). Due to the reduced wide angle, the fisheye effect of the GoPro is not that distinctive.
    If you want to shoot still images and video simultaneously (hybrid mode)
  • Resolution (RES): 1080p
    Zoom factor (FDW): Medium
    proTune: unfortunately, this feature is automatically turned on in hybrid mode
    I personally shot 90% of my videos in this mode. Why? – I personally don’t care about the last bit of picture quality (for real good quality video footage, other criterias are much more important) and I still managed to get great still images as a result.
    If you want to shoot in slow motion
  • Resolution (RES): 720p
    Zoom factor (FDW): Medium
    Video standard: NTSC
    Framerate (FPS): 120fps
    For your next, big Hollywood-Blockbuster 😉 quality
  • Resolution (RES): 2,7k@16:9
    Zoom factor (FDW): Wide
    proTune: ON

If you‘re flying with gimbal and you are want to get the best quality out of your footage in post production, that‘s your mode!  In return you‘ll have to work with very large video files, which require a lot of workstation/computing power for editing.

Which frame rate?

In countries which use the PAL-standard (e.g. Europe), use 25, 50 or 100 fps
In countries which use the NTSC-standard (e.g. North America), use 30, 60 or 120 fps
If television format is not that important for you and you want to achieve the best video quality particularly for online video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, use 30 fps. You‘ll get the smoothest course of motion with this frame rate.
Different frame rates which use the same video standard (e.g. 25 and 50 fps) can be mixed without problems. Anyhow, avoid mixing PAL and NTSC-Videos! This will result in “stroboscopic“ movements.
Protune on or off?

Generally: Use this option only if you want to get the best available video quality and if you are willing to invest more time in post production, to achieve this goal (see Tip 17). For beginners I‘d recommend you turn it off.
 

4. Balance your props!

That’s the best way to reduce the infamous “jello effect“ in your videos (alternating deformations, caused by vibrations of the copter). Everything you need to know about prop-balancing is shown in this video tutorial:

If you still have problems with “jello effects” replace your standard props with the hardened Carbon Propellers.
 

5. Buy a gimbal

This is really an expensive toy for those who don‘t want or can‘t afford such an expensive aerial filming accessory. However, there is no better tuning possibility for your aerial videos, than a good gimbal, therefore it has to be be on this list.

What is a gimbal? – A gimbal is a remote head, which automatically compensates the movements of the copter.

A good and cheap system for example is the Beholder GoPro Brushless Gimbal Lite. For best results get the original DJI Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal including “Phantom Connection Kit“

Please note, that due to the higher weight, the average flight time of your copter will decrease to about 5 to 7 minutes!
 

6. Optimize your gain settings

It can happen to you, you may get a slightly shaky footage, even after installing a gimbal.

The reason: All available gimbals for the DJI Phantom Quadcopter compensate only two (of three) axes. The pitch axis (which produces an up-down-movement) and the roll axis (which produces a rotation) are usually perfectly compensated, after installing a gimbal.

What‘s still missing, is the so called yaw-axis. This can result in a slight, permanent left-right-movement of the image.

The effect, which is the result of an “over compensation“ of the internal NAZA-M flight controller, can be reduced by optimizing the “gain settings“ of your copter. Therefore, you‘ll have to install DJI’s NAZA M Software:

Next, you have to change the gain value for “yaw“ from 100% to about 80% (according to my experience) in the NAZA-M-Software (under “gain“).

While this will reduce the shaking. However, on smaller Quads (like the DJI Phantom) it‘s not possible to eliminate the effect completely.
 

7. Buy a FPV-system

As as the distance between you and your copter goes further and further, it becomes more and more difficult to actually view what the copter is actually filming and what not. It is still possible to get a “lucky shot“, but according Murphy‘s law, this happens very rarely …

A good way to increase the amount of great shots is to install a FPV-system, which allows you to watch in realtime, what your copter is actually filming.

A good start-up-system is the Fatshark Predator, which offers quite a good video quality for it‘s price.

So far this is the basic hardware requirements for your aerial video platform.

In the following two chapters, we will deal with some of the basic “cooking skills“ for aerial filmmaking … 🙂

Ok if you think now, your videos will get better, just because you spent a lot of money, you‘ll get disappointed pretty soon. A bad cook also doesn‘t becomes a better one, just because he buys himself a new, expensive frying pan. First he has to learn basic cooking techniques else his new, expensive gadget will be worthless …
 

22 Tips for aerial filmmaking

Part 2: On Location

 

8. How to transport your copter?

Depends on how you want to reach your target. If you travel by car, a box or a bag is enough. But if you want to take your copter out for a walk, it‘s getting a bit more tricky …

It‘s also possible to hide the copter under a conventional rucksack-rain-cover to protect it from water, dust and curious glances – Great for “run and gun“-missions … If you prefer a solution that provides more protection for your expensive quadcopter gears, its best to invest and buy a professional hard case, like this one:
 




 

Get the DJI Phantom 3 Hardshell Backpack from DJI Innovations

 

This may be an ideal solution for your next expedition to Kongo or Antarctica, however, remember to note that these cases weighs much more than the copter itself. So plan well ahead when travelling with professional hard cases.
 

9. Search locations, that are really worth filming

Filming at your own house or a safe and big park is a great way to start and learn how to handle your quadcopter – as long as you are not Hugh Hefner, the queen or the pope, nobody will be interested in your videos.

Therefore the ultimate tip for better copter videos: Find fancy locations!
 




 
Please note that it is illegal in most countries to fly an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle near most famous landmark or building without permission from the proper authorities. Please know your local aviation laws before flying.

Quite often you can find great locations directly in front of your door. Sometimes they don‘t even look really spectacular from the ground, but from the air, they offer great and fascinating views: An old, abandoned factory, the urban park, the industrial harbour, an old castle ruin, a big highway intersection … possibilities are endless.

It often helps to search via google maps for interesting, distinctive objects in your surrounding.
 

10. Search for dynamic motives

The biggest difference between film and photo is, that a film is able to show dynamic interactions. Shots without any dynamic elements will look boring pretty soon, because they don‘t offer any real advantage compared to a simple picture. Don‘t get me wrong: aerial shots from static objects like buildings or alpine scenery can look really great. But for an entire movie, it will be different.

Therefore: Try to get dynamic object into your shots!

This can be your family on a bicycle trip, your dog, retrieving a stick out of the lake, your juniors soccer training, your neighbor cruising around with his classic car, your friends skiing, mountaineering or climbing …

Moving objects like humans, animals or vehicles, are like colored spots in your records, they bring dynamic elements into them and make them more interesting.

Important note in this context (even if this should go without saying):

Always remember Safety Safety Safety. Know the fact that that your copter has 4 spinning propellers that can be dangerous and cause injury to people and property anytime! NEVER fly directly above bigger crowds or busy roads!
 

11. Use the “golden hour“

That’s the time after sunrise and before sunset, while sun is low. Shots at these times have warmer colors and create long shadows, which give them a more vivid and subtle look.
 


The Golden Hour DJI Phantom

 
Direct sunlight (especially at noon day) on the other hand, is a very hard and focused light, which creates deep shadows. Despite of best weather conditions, the colors of your footage will look pale during daytime.

Furthermore, you will tend to film shadow of a propellers hitting the lens of the GoPro more frequently around noon (depending, in which direction you fly), which can cause ugly stroboscopic interference-patterns in your shots.
 

12. Use “special weather conditions“

This may sound more trivial to you but it’s important!

For example: If you want to film some great panoramic shots from an exposed viewpoint, the best date for your project will be the first bright day after a departing cold front. At this time, most of dust and fog will be blown out of the air – which often results in a breathtaking clear view.
 


Quadcopter Fog

 
Then again, some really great shots can be filmed in bad weather. For example thunderstorms, soaring fog in autumn or after a heavy rain, snowflakes floating on a grey winter morning. The way light and shadows acts during such special weather conditions, can create great and truly unique moods in your film.

However take extra extra precaution during these times. If it looks too dangerous to fly, it is. So exercise common sense and good judgement.
 


slider2_3-0c97f7fd271bd96d9fcfaff3b21eb42b
 

13. Consider which angles you want to shoot – before take off

5 minutes of flight time (you won‘t get much more with a fully equipped phantom …) is not really much. Therefore it is recommended to plan out  the camera angles and perspectives you want to shoot – and in the order you want – before you hit the start button. Remember you should plan plan plan before executing.

A small example: Take off, then ascent to about 100 meters. A slow panning shot back to the ground, afterwords I will pilot the copter a view hundred meters in east direction to get a nice long shot of the castle ruin. Then follows a deep flyby which should end in a calm, circular motion around the old clock tower, then back to the ground … Something like that …

I always start with the highest angle or the shot, which is the furthest away. This gives me a bit more backup for my last shots, because I don‘t have to go back for such a long distance, when I run out of time.
 

14. Shoot different field sizes, moving directions and angles as much as possible

A tracking shot should not be always straight and forward. Lateral or horizontal movements can also look really great and can be easily shot with a quadcopter. Even more impressing is a circular tracking shot around an object. Anyhow, this method requires a bit of flight skill and training to master this flying technique, because you‘ll have to twist the copter while steering it sideways at the same time. Practise Practise Practise!

An extra-tip for high-speed tracking shots: Try to shoot them flying backwards (of course without FPV-glasses!) – so you can avoid, the rotors of the tipping copter from getting into the view of your gimbal-stabilized camera.

Furthermore try to shoot as much different field sizes as possible, so that you don‘t have to  arrange one ultra-long-shot after another in post production – this often looks a bit disruptive.

If you own a video camera or a DSLR with video functionality, take them with you, so that you can film some shots from the ground. The lenses of such devices usually offer a much higher focal length. So you can avoid endless fish-eyed GoPro-shots in your video.

If your gimbal offers a remote panning ability – use it! Try to pan slowly down, while you crossing the object when you are filming. This shows the proportions of the objects from different angles and gives the viewer an idea of the height, in which the copter is hovering.

If you are interested in further informations about field sizes, angles, field of view, movements and how to arrange all this stuff in the right way, you can watch the following guide:
 

15. Avoid sudden changes of directions

This looks uncoordinated and unprofessional. Try to achieve a smooth fade in and fade out during all turnarounds as much as possible.

Also avoid quick rotational movements, because this may result in a stroboscopic effect and your audience may get dizzy watching your film. If you start in a certain direction, try to complete the move as smooth as possible (unless you want to impart the impression of a drunken man, staggering along the street …
 

16. When FPV, when not?

Depends on how good you are in orientating yourself with FPV glasses. I personally use FPV only for long range shots. At high-speed and deep-flight manoeuvres, I fly with line on sight. Estimating the real proportions of the surrounding is quite hard for me when flying FPV, because of GoPros extreme wide-angle.

Anyhow, I think this may be different for each individual and everybody should try and find out which method is the best for him or her …

Okay, we are almost done. Shooting is finished, our copter is back on the ground (hopefully in one piece …). Pack up, let‘s call it a day!

Well, not exactly … The longest and hardest part is still in front of us – the so called post production (cutting, effects, dubbing) – a subject area that is at least as extensive and complex as the rest of the whole copter stuff.

In the following, last part, I‘d like to give a short overview about this huge section. It may seem hard and complicated for you at the beginning, but believe me: When you have learned how to handle your editing software and you have finally painstakingly finished your first self-produced, semi-professional movie, you‘ll start to really love it!
 

22 Tips for aerial filmmaking

Part 3: Postproduction

Generally, below I‘ll describe two different workflows:

A cheap “newbie workflow“ using GoPro-Studio (in case you want to use proTune), proDAD ProDRENALIN (for stabilization) and a video editing software of your choice.
A possible “semi professional workflow“ using Adobe Premiere CC, which bundles all required functions like stabilization, grading and cutting in one application. Because this program offers an extremely huge functionality, I‘ll just explain a few main advantages.
 

17. Handling proTune

What is proTune? – proTune is a (simplified) kind of RAW format equivalent for videos. The videos and pictures will be recorded with low contrast and without camera-internal re-sharpening to maintain the maximum contrast range and as much detail as possible from the original scenery.

As raw material, proTune-videos appear pale, blurry and unspectacular.

You can get out significantly more video quality by using this mode, but this requires “digital exposure“.

For beginners, this design step can be done in GoPros house-internal freeware named GoPro-Studio, which can be downloaded here:

http://shop.gopro.com/APAC/softwareandapp/gopro-studio/GoPro-Studio.html#/edit-templates

The following video tutorial shows you, how to get your proTune videos colour corrected in GoPro-Studio within a view clicks:

In addition to that, the software allows also to remove the GoPro-typical fisheye-effect and offers some basic video-editing-functionality. – This ideal for people who don‘t own a video-editing-software and want to try out it the first time.

A short overview about the functionally is given by the following video:

My advice is to use the software just for grading and picking out the best clips, which you want to work with later. The rest can be done with other applications that provides better results.

Anyhow: If you want to exploit the maximum out of your proTune videos, or if you want to create a certain “look“, no amount of filter-template can do this for you. You have to grade the footage on your own. How this can be done in Adobe Premiere, is shown in the following tutorial:

Beside the software, you need well trained eyes for this kind of workflow – in order to improve your videos and not making them worse …
 

18. Stabilizing and editing GoPro footage

The goal of this step is to reduce fast camera movements, in order to get a smooth and cinematic look. Beside that, we try to eliminate the typical GoPro-fisheye-effect. If we do our job well, our footage will look much more professional, than it actually is.

All this stuff can be done with the application proDAD ProDRENALIN, which can be bought and downloaded here:

http://www.prodad.com/
 

19. Start video editing with selecting the right soundtrack

Before I start cutting my aerial footage in my editing software, I will first pick out an appropriate background music. The reason for this is quite easy: I always try to cut my videos according to the beat of the soundtrack (which is impossible, as long if I don‘t have one …)

Therefore, I put the music I have chosen into the timeline of my video editing software and play it the first time without video. At all distinctive beats, I place a mark into my timeline (In Final Cut Pro with the key M – maybe it works similar in your application …) Afterwards I will try match all my scenes exactly to these marks, which means, that my cuts will be synchronized to the beat.

Of course it‘s also possible to cut sometimes between the beats – what will definitely not work, is to cut always a view milliseconds before or after the beat. This sounds and looks asynchronous to us and disturbs the synthesis of audio and video in our head.
 

20. Use as many “hard cuts“ as possible

What is a “hard cut“? – In video editing, a hard cut is the change from one scene to another without any transition effects in between.

Why should you use as many hard cuts as possible? – Only with a hard cut you can see easily, if the cut achieves the desired filming affect or not. Scenes, which are quite similar in matters of field size, moving direction and picture-angle, can often not be placed after each other homogeneously.

The best way to solve this problem, is to switch to a clip with other field size. If this not possible (for example, because you disregarded tip 14 … ;), you can “cheat“ a bit with a simple transition.

For sure your editing software also offers a huge amount of spectacular 3D-, warp- and wipe-transitions.

My tip: Forget them all! Maybe this was “cool“ in the 80s, but today, it just looks amateurish. Beside that, such transitions distract the audience too much from what is most important – your video footage.
 

21. Avoid a long lead text, avoid the boring!

Especially in the “Age of YouTube“, in which we are in, this rule is more important, than anything else! On most video platforms, the visitor will only give you about 20 seconds. If nothing interesting is happening during this time, they will click and move on to the next video.

What does this mean to you as an editor? Avoid a long lead text – nobody is interested in that. Radically shorten your text as possible. It is better to offer a short, entertaining 90-seconds-clip instead of 10 minutes deadly dullness.

If you have good and a great shot, kick the good one out of the clip. As soon as the viewer clicks on the scrollbar below your video, you did something wrong.
 

22. The best export settings for your video

If you still reading up until now – Thank you and Congratulations, you are nearly there!

Now let‘s hit the export button and show the world your new masterpiece! To avoid any unnecessary loss of quality during this final stage, you can find below the best export settings for most common video editing applications:

For Youtube-HD-Videos:

  • Codec: H.264
  • Resolution: 1920×1080
  • Frame-rate: 30 or 25 fps, depending, if you are working in PAL or in NTSC!
  • Bitrate: 8.00 Mbps
  • Audio:  AAC, 320 KBit/s 48 kHz, Stereo

For Vimeo-HD-Videos (as long as you are not a Plus or PRO member…)

  • Codec: H.264
  • Resolution: 1280×720
  • Frame-rate: 30 or 25 fps, depending, if you are working in PAL or in NTSC!
  • Bitrate: Variable, 5.00 – 10.00 Mbps
  • Audio:  AAC, 320 KBit/s 48 kHz, Stereo

Details about vimeo compression you can find here: https://vimeo.com/help/compression

Note: Even if the resolution on vimeo videos is lower than on YouTube, the quality is better on this platform. Resolution is not everything 😉

As Backup for your computer:

  • Codec: H.264
  • Resolution: 1920×1080
  • Frame-rate: 50, 60, 30 or 25 fps, depending, if you are working in PAL or in NTSC!
  • Bitrate: Variable, 30.00 – 40.00 Mbps
  • Audio:  AAC, 320 KBit/s 48 kHz, Stereo

For encoding, I recommend the Adobe Media Encoder. This application works pretty quick and offers a very good quality.
 

23. Did I forget something …?

Maybe one last point:

Watch as much professional copter videos as possible. Quadcopter4k.com offers a huge amount of real great stuff – try to learn more filming techniques and apply them!

Connect with other people who are sharing your passion for aerial filmmaking. For example on http://phantompilots.com you can find a lot of them.

Apart from that, I wish you a lot of fun and good luck with producing your videos!

Looking forward to the results! 🙂 If you have managed to film great aerial footage using the tips in this article please submit your video to Bestquadcopter.com

If you are not already an expert in RC Quadcopter Kit building, I recommend the latest 2016 “Ready To Fly-System“ like the DJI Phantom 4.

 

DJI Phantom 4 Front
DJI Phantom 4 Front

 

About the author:

Andreas ReschAndreas Resch is working and living in Graz/Austria as team leader for an international plant engineering company. Aerial videography is the ideal combination of his two biggest passions: Mountaineering, Photography and filmmaking.

You can watch some of his latest productions on his website:
 
 
 
Please visit:

http://andreasresch.at/

https://www.facebook.com/Andreas-Resch-Nature-Photographer-231996359564/
 
 

(1205)