By Paul Archer
In my experience with drone cinematography I have noticed that there’s a standard set of moves which deliver the best cinematic results.
These 5 simple moves should not only be the basis of your drone shots, but they can also be used successfully in professional creations.
Before I list these for you, let me give you a small bonus with 3 tips to help you get better shots:
- Always cut the video when the drone is already moving – There are exceptions to this rule, but most of the time you want to start the cut while moving, either the drone or tilting the camera to create a more powerful effect.
- Using custom flight modes at the right times – By custom flight modes I mean things like “orbit flight“ and waypoint flight modes present in most camera drones these days like DJI Mavic or Phantom 4. Don’t try to do a circle on your own when you can do a perfect one with the tools available to you. Same way, you can set some waypoints and then control the camera movement and simply focus on that. Don’t make things harder for you! (It happens often for me to forget)
- Move/tilt smoothly – Moving your drone smoothly and tilting the camera without sudden interruptions will allow you to record more usable footage, even though you may not have planned to do it.
Bonus tip: When returning home with the drone, try to still record and capture some basic shots, as you may just need them later (there’s never enough footage).
I strongly recommend checking out my guide on how to pick a camera drone if you want to get the proper quadcopters to do any of these shots.
The 5 drone shots you need to know
The Tilt Reveal
This is probably the simplest shot most people recognize, but I’d say the most effective one.
How to do: Tilt your camera up with the drone either moving forward, backward or sitting in the same spot.
This move can be used successfully for certain introductory reveals, for example:
- Flying above a desert and then tilting up only to reveal a beautiful city landscape.
- Flying above a lake (close to the water) and then raising the camera to reveal the mountains surrounding it.
- Having the camera facing forward, tilt it down and reveal a beautiful sight (like a port or a boat, or a certain building).
This move is mostly done to put an emphasis on depth and is usually used with a subject in front and a landscape in the background.
How to do: Start behind your subject of choice and fly past it to reveal the background.
There are many different variations you can do with this, like combining it with the previously mentioned “tilt reveal” and create an even stronger focus on the background or subject.
Ideas to use it:
- Fly in front of a music band while going towards them while going towards a background object like a mountain, for example. This will make the Foreground subject (the band) seem like approaching very quickly while the background is still in its full glory.
- Fly towards the side of a lighthouse and ho past it just to reveal a beautiful rocky sea side.
- Fly towards a girl (and slightly go above her) while the camera is level with the ground and when almost above her, tilt the camera down and
The Side Follow
How to do: Pretty self-explanatory: you follow your subject from the side (although this has many variations)
The side follow is usually used when you want to focus on the actions of a specific character or create a stronger feeling of movement.
What concrete situations can it be used in?
- Introducing a character or a car– Let’s say in a movie where the subjects starts running along a road and enters the frame through the left while you’re slowly moving the drone towards his direction. Same can be done with a car or any other moving object. You can also make the subject enter from the right side of the frame while he’s running.
- Keep the subject in the center and fly the drone at the same speed as the subject. This helps to put the spotlight on the subject and his relation (or isolation) with the environment.
- Reveal a foreground subject – fly the drone from left or right until the subject (human, monument, tree, etc.) comes in the frame (keep the drone close to the subject but far from background (while keeping everyone safe).
Tip: It’s probably not a good idea to fly towards a fast car from the direction it’s coming, because it won’t stay much in the frame.
The “side follow” can be also made with automatic tracking options in many modern drones (I would think Mavic pro) and it will automatically follow the subject sideways (and not only).
The helix (and orbit modes)
This is probably my favorite, yet the most complicated to do manually.
I know I said these will be simple shots, but don’t kill me yet.
There is a simple version of this that can be made automatically with most drones over $500 these days.
How to do: Rotate the drone around a focus object while raising its altitude.
How do you rotate the drone around an object smoothly, though?
As said before, you can use the “orbit around” flight mode that can be found on most drones and then just press the left stick up to raise the drone while it’s doing a perfect circle around a target.
Where can the helix and orbit modes be used:
- Real estate – when trying to present a house from more than one angle. This will create a feeling of 3D and will keep the subject in focus.
- You can do the helix move to reveal something over a mountain. Start with the drone oriented parallel with the mountain and go around and above it to reveal what’s behind.
- Rotate and reveal with a skyscraper/ tower and show the city/landscape behind it. Make sure you respect regulation, because flying in most big cities is forbidden.
This is probably the best way to let the audience know the shot was taken with a drone. Not only that, but you can create amazing composition with this shot (both for photo and video).
How to do: This one is truly simple, all you have to do is go above a subject and orient the camera down. But is it that simple?
How can it be used:
- Start low above a subject and raise the drone (you can also rotate it slightly without creating dizziness)
- Reveal some persons walking on the beach (start by following their trails from above) and make sure to fly when the sun is low in the sky to also capture their shadows on the ground.
- You can use this to reveal landscape, either by going straight up, or in any direction and maybe put some text over it.
These being said, the more you go out in the field and test things, the more you’ll learn.
So get a bunch of batteries, a few friends, and start practicing these 5 drone shots until it becomes your second nature.
I love quads and UAV’s in general. Being the founder of DronesBuyer.com, I plan on making it the go to place for most things drone-related. I have still much to learn and can’t wait to exchange info with the community.