Why do we need drones?
I decided to start writing this article about drones because I've been avoiding learning about drones for a long time. I extremely dislike drones in my daily life. Whether it's one overhead near my home making me feel like I'm being spied on or whether I'm relaxing on a remote Hawaiian island enjoying the scenery when all the sudden some nerd sets off a drone and it's a real "BZZZZZZZZZZ" kill. The only footage of drones I enjoy is footage of eagles being trained to attack them.
Drones provide us with a great perspective we wouldn't otherwise have - and at a more affordable cost, in a more controllable vehicle than a helicopter or airplane, and in a smaller device that allow us access to travel to certain places we wouldn't otherwise be able to fit.
Aerial footage adds ENORMOUS production value to travel videos, nature documentaries, real estate videos, and other reality TV. My favorite aerial footage of all time is probably in nature documentaries, particularly ones like BBC's "The Hunt." Watching a cheetah chase down a wildebeest from above is the best way to see the brilliant agility and speed of a cheetah as it reacts instantaneously to the movements of its prey. Also, ocean drone footages has allowed us to see things in completely new ways since it's notoriously expensive to film stable footage on the ocean itself.
How are drones used in Narrative Cinematography?
The obvious answer is any way you like! Traditional aerial cinematography has been around for a long time and used in countless productions as establishing shots, point of view shots, B-Roll, credits - you name it. Now, drones have made aerial photography more accessible to filmmakers, and also greatly expanded the capabilities of aerial photography to go where no helicopter or airplane could fit (or descend to) before.
As exiting as it is, too much or misused aerial cinematography can actually make a movie/video feel slow and disengaging. In my opinion, drone footage is best used like traditional aerial cinematography to show a landscape - to make a character seem small by providing a "Gods Eye" POV, used as an artistic transition, or even a super hero or animals direct POV. Using drones on small budget productions for camera movements that aren't necessarily aerial (high altitude), but would require unaffordable equipment (like a dolly to a jib to a crane to a Steadicam or whatever) is a creative economic use for a drone.
Things to think about when picking a drone:
- WEIGHT: Most importantly, can your drone hold your camera! The payload will affect flight time and agility. The heavier your payload, the shorter your flight time will be.
- FLIGHT TIME: Flight times vary depending on the drone, battery power, and payload. Flight time usually varies between 10 and 30 minutes with averages around 18 minutes.
- FIELD OF VIEW (FOV): Know how many degrees the drone can angle horizontally and vertically and how far your gimbal rotates. ALSO - consider if you will see the rotors in your shot when looking up! **With some drones (like the Sarah Flying-Cam) you can be looking straight up through their rotors, but at 24 or 25fps, you would not see them!** Other drones (like the Freefly Alta 8) allow you the options of mounting your camera on top of the blades or below, giving you a wider range of view if you have sky shots or shots angled upwards.
- CONTROL + AGILITY: Most drones have software and levels of "Intelligence" - check what your drone has and what automatic functions might help your shoot go more smoothly. Fore example, using GPS and all kinds of smart stuff a drone with intelligence might be more easy to handle and can control steady hovering. Auto-pilot landing can also come in handy.
- WEATHER RESISTANCE: Make sure your drone is water proof, cold proof, whatever proof, if you're flying in extreme conditions.
- WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR: Vibration - test your done to make sure you don't feel vibrations in the image. Noise - it may seem obvious, but drones are noisy, if you're planning to sneak up on an animal or something, they may take a while to get used to the drone, chase it, or constantly stare at it & ruin your footage, when filmming animals allow time for them to get used to the drone.
- LEGAL STUFF: Make sure you have an FAA licensed operator and are not flying your drone anywhere illegal like into the White House front lawn.