Let’s face it, shaky drone footage is about as unpleasant to watch as paint drying on a wall…in fact, you can probably make a strong case that the paint is more intriguing.
Shaky and abrupt camera movements are the ultimate sign of amateur piloting and we don’t ever want to see them in your footage!
Got it? Good, now here are some tips and tricks to get your footage looking smoother than Ali in his prime…
- Stick to the 10 count. Once you commit to your line, stay with it for at least 10 seconds. Most edits consist of clips 2-5 seconds long, but we’ve been through many situations where a scene starts to develop a few seconds in, only to be spoiled by a premature turn or stoppage of recording.
- Hover, scan the area and visualize your shot. Don’t just wing it (no pun intended). Spending a little extra time hovering and formulating a line on your reference monitor can make all the difference between a smooth and unsteady shot. Try to stick with long, straight runs. Less is more!
- Practice, practice, practice. Generally we believe in encouraging our pilots to get out and practice for at least 10-20 minutes a day (pending the weather). This will help shake out those early flight jitters that might occur when you are ready to take off and film. In speaking with other pilots, we’ve come to the conclusion that it is not uncommon for a licensed pilot to burn off their first battery as a warmup before doing any recording or taking photos for a job. This serves as evidence of the importance in capturing clean, smooth shots.
- Develop a game plan. In most instances, a drone flight that stems from an idea for a video has been thought of before take off. Develp your shot ideas just like a producer would do for a Hollywood film. Try scouting the area, utilizing apps like Google Maps or The Photographer’s Ephemeris (our personal favorite) and sitting down to discuss the shots your client might be looking for. This can be the determining factor in gaining a repeat customer or not hearing from them again.
- Adjust your controller settings. This might be the most important point on this list. If we were better editors we would have moved this to the top of the list…but were not, so it remains in this spot. One of the easiest things you can do to smooth out those jerky movements early on is to adjust your EXP settings (if your drone allows for customization). By lowering the sensitivity your drone will be less responsive to subtle movements of the control sticks allowing the camera to pan in a much smoother manner.
- Learn the basics of proper camera settings. This topic can be tough when talking about most drones. With the exception of a select few, most drones have a fixed sensor, meaning the apature can not be adjusted and the only way to control the amount of light reaching the sensor is with an optional accessory known as an ND filter. These help adjust the amount of light coming through the lens…essentially adjusting the F-stop (more on this in a later blog). Some of the things you can do right away are adjust the frame rate and shutter speed. An age old trick to remember is SHUTTER SPEED=2x FRAME RATE. So if your shooting in 4K @ 24fps (traditional cinematic frame rate) you would ideally want your shutter speed to be 48…or as close to it as your camera will allow. Let’s say you want to slow things down a bit and shoot 120fps…your frame rate should be set at 240 (or closest to it). This will help eliminate the unwanted “choppy” look you may be getting in your shots.
This concludes our tutorial. We hope you have found some valueable information that you can use to help you become a better pilot. Of course this is not a fully extensive list, everyone has their own tricks that they’ve developed through trial and error. We encourage you to get out and practice, try new things and develop a feel for the controller. Flying a drone is like riding a bike, it gets easier with repetition.
We would love to hear your techniques! Sound off in the comments below.