Flying a Drone

Flying a Drone

(Chinese version published in Chinese edition of Auto, Motor und Sport, China)

When I am doing camera work I always want to be as free as possible. In an earlier writing I already explained how to keep the camera stable, so you don’t need a tripod. No tripod means you can go quickly to any place that gives the best shots!

“Going any place” got a new dimension for me when “Planet Earth” came out on DVD. I was amazed and captivated by how they filmed the biggest trees in the world, from the bottom straight up to the top. I was puzzled how that camera movement was done. “The Making Of” revealed the mystery: a camera was attached to a hot air balloon! A very complicated and jaw-dropping shot. But shots like this are not complicated anymore!

Only recently a very attractive addition to the filming tool kit became available and affordable for almost everyone, from the professional shooter to the enthusiast amateurs: the drone. It makes such shots easy and seems to give the ultimate freedom in camera placement.

Personally, I am not very interested in flying high over a landscape. Every now and then it can be good as “location shot”, but everything becomes tiny and distant too, details are too small and get lost. I much rather fly low and put the camera on places where things can still be seen close, but from an angle that is unexpected. The favorite move would be to start low, as if the camera is on a tripod, and then, following a moving subject, move the drone up a few metres, revealing the environment, and giving the viewer the feeling to be lifted up.

A drone shot is more interesting if it reveals something; start with something normal, and after a few seconds reveal the unexpected element making your audience go “wow!”.

Although I had just a few minutes to film it, I tried making a shot like that in the next video for Mercedes. Check around 35 seconds, with Chinese rally driver Joe Zhou talking to the camera. But there are more drone shots in the video that turned out nicely. :)

Of course, ultimate freedom we still don’t have with the drone. You can’t fly everywhere. They are noisy. You need to be really careful not to damage it, and especially not to damage people around you. I learned the hard way by cutting myself twice when I tried to fly the drone indoors. The blades are small but very sharp I can tell you! A drone doesn’t always obey your commands, there can be a delay, satellite interruption, a wind gush… so always keep safe distance. If you set the drone camera to the highest resolution (4K), you can still get closer by zooming in when you edit, without losing sharpness. Be smart, practice a lot. it’s big fun too!

Happy droning, happy shooting!