With so many drone pilots in the photography space, there’s no shortage of gorgeous overhead shots.
What was once a luxury for big-budget productions is now within reach for almost any business looking to boost the quality of their commercials or marketing videos with the help of a drone photographer.
Who doesn’t want awesome footage of a camera zooming over the ocean, catching waves breaking and surfers hot dogging? Or a sexy shot following the vertical lines of a skyscraper reflecting the sunrise?
This kind of camera work used to require costly equipment – like jobs, cranes and helicopters. Today, the weekend shutterbug has some type of DJI Drone in their toolkit.
Not Any Old Drone Will Do
Of course, not all drones are created equal – and neither are all drone operators. Drones range from hobbyist level “tech toys,” which can be as cheap as $40 to beasts that are capable of carrying cinema-quality cameras and lenses, such as the coveted RED camera. These bigger rigs often require two operators, one to fly the drone and the other to operate the camera.
In between, there are intermediate drones capable of shooting movie-level footage – 4k quality, which produces beautiful results. The major difference between the intermediate drones – think DJI, and those that cost $20k or more is the ability to carry a variety of lenses. Most intermediate drones have fixed-focus lenses, so getting jaw-dropping aerial shots is possible, but you won’t be able to control depth of field or do any zooms, like you would with a telephoto lens.
So before you hire a drone for your next video – whether it’s for your corporate video or a commercial, knowing the difference in drones and asking these important questions should help ensure you get the footage you want. And if the cost is too good to be true, then it probably is.
1. Does Your Drone Photographer Have a License?
Starting on August 29, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that non-hobbyists who use small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”) for business purposes get a license.
What makes this license important is that it helps ensure any footage captured for your project is legal and doesn’t violate restricted airspace or UAS laws. A licensed professional is also less likely to put your company’s name and reputation at risk by breaking airspace rules or flying the drone in places or times that would be disruptive.
With so many licensed operators – the FAA estimates their number will surpass that of licensed pilots soon. Please contact us to speak with one our FAA licensed drone pilots.
2. Did You Order the Hamburger or the Steak?
Just because someone has a drone — with a good-looking portfolio online, doesn’t mean that their equipment can provide the quality you need. Be sure to ask about the capabilities of the drone and the quality of footage their drone can provide. (See above.)
Also, you want to be sure that if you’re hiring two different directors of photography – one for the bulk of your footage and one for drone shots, that the quality of the work is the same so the final product is seamless.
3. She Can Fly, But Can She Shoot?
Flying a drone and getting beautiful footage are two different skills – and it’s important for whomever you hire to have both. A good drone photographer should understand how to manually control camera settings for lighting conditions, speed, and subject as well as to achieve the results that he or she is after.
Additionally, you’ll want someone who has a grasp of composition and pacing. While most intermediate drones offer incredible camera stabilization, resulting in smooth shots, a bad photographer can undo all of that clever engineering. Although the drone’s gimbal can normally correct for wind and shake it can’t correct for an inexperienced drone operator.
Imagine following a calm stream during sunrise, only for the camera to suddenly jerk to the left, taking off on a new tangent. This kind of turn – which is the signature of a novice operator, can ruin a great shot. The same goes for a sloppy turn versus one that’s graceful and smooth. The lesson here is: before you fork over any money, ask about their experience and for samples of footage they shot.
4. Look, ma, I’m flying!
Although it’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of a camera racing down a crowded street – over and over and over, think about how your drone footage will work in the story you’re trying to tell. Because drone shots can be so unique and dramatic, it’s easy to abuse them.
Aerial moments – while majestic, can be impersonal. Balancing those hard-to-get shots – designed to impress, with the intimate ones that people can relate to is important in creating a balanced corporate video, movie or brand story. Sit down with your director, producer, or drone photographer before shooting drone footage and make sure you understand how it will fit into the story you’re trying to tell.
5. Grab the crayons and draw your story first
An artist who can storyboard the shots for your production will maximize the time you pay the drone operator for. A storyboard is just a visual outline of your movie, giving you an inventory of shots you need. This is a much better scenario than sending someone out and getting a couple hours’ worth of random shots, hoping for the best.
So, if you want to open with a sunrise shot of the bridge by your company’s headquarters, then you can request that specific shot. Delivering a list of shots to the drone operator will help save you time, money and a lot of needless headaches.
The beauty of today’s drone tech is that productions that would’ve never had the budget to get these impossible shots now have this option available to them. By doing some basic research and asking these simple questions, you might spare yourself from hiring a newbie or sinking a ton of money into footage that isn’t telling the story you want.
Good luck and happy droning!
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Check out our drone footage reel!