My first ever drone flight was this year in January at Marina Barrage and I was super-excited about this new piece of kit, worried about the rules/regulations, and finally stumped when the first thing the drone said to me was “compass calibration required”, as I’d placed it too near the iron railing and couldn’t take off. Then, a security guard came to tell me to please not fly here as the top of Marina Barrage is a designated no-fly zone…
However, I believe I’ve been getting continuously better at flying my drone, better at filming interesting objects & better at editing my videos in post. I’ve now spent about 8 hours in the air (pure flying time as measured by the DJI GO4 app), which translates to about 30 minutes per week (or about 3 batteries for the Spark at about 10 minutes flying time before reaching 25-30% and returning home).
I really want to get better at flying & make better videos, so I’ve decided I’ll mix in a Flight Training episode now and then to update you on my progress. I’d love to get feedback on what I should/could do better or which techniques you’d find interesting to see. Obviously, if you’re just starting out, I hope this blog can be a helpful resource for you.
That being said, let’s get right to it.
I’m basing my flying/filming techniques on a few different sites, e.g. the nice people at Vimeo have a so called Vimeo Video School, and one of their entries is dedicated on how to make better drone videos. Similarly, if you look for specific flight manoeuvres on Google or anywhere, you may find a page that shows you which flight paths make for great video, e.g. this one.
In today’s session, I’ve flown/tried to fly some of the manoeuvres described – pls. have a look here and I’ll go into discussion of each one below.
Individual Flight Manoeuvres from the video
The Fly Through is one of the more advanced techniques & requires a bit of planning. Try to find an opening wide enough (e.g. through some leaves, through an ark, below a bridge, etc) to accommodate your drone. I’m happy with the Spark in this respect as it’s substantially less sizeable than other comparably able drones. Try to get a good view on where you want to go so you can judge your drones path from your position. If necessary, disable obstacle sensing – BUT pls. make sure you keep an eye on your drone and know what you’re doing. The benefit is obviously that your drone won’t stop in front of the window you’d been trying to fly through, but if you get it wrong, you could hit something and destroy your drone or parts of it. One thing you could try is going close to your fly through object, align the drones height/direction there, fly backwards a bit and then speed through. As you can see in the video, I wanted to do this with the trees, and didn’t align correctly which led to the awkward in-up-slight right-wait-through situation (and yes… obviously I could’ve cut that out of the video…).
The Dolly is super easy.
As much as possible, use the right stick only (in DJI standard configuration), don’t change the heading and go for one smooth take. Apart from being probably one of the easiest techniques to master, it takes a bit of planning & patience. Try to think ahead of where you want to fly/what you want to film and align the heading (it doesn’t really matter whether you fly forward/backward/left/right, as long as you stick with one direction). You’ll notice in editing that even small course corrections (left/right) operated with the left stick will stand out in the video. Try to fly any dolly shot for at least 4-5 seconds (counting 21… 22… 23… 24… 25… in your head) and force yourself to not change direction. You’ll thank yourself in editing when you can cut 0.5 seconds of the front/back of the shot and still have enough time for a nice transition.
The Reveal really depends on your scenery – if there is nothing except your main object, your only choice may be to point the gimbal all the way down and use the RC’s function for slowly pointing toward your object. (consider the gimbal speed though – this is a great instruction video on how to change it). If you’re lucky though, you can use any natural or man-made object that stands in the way between you and your object, e.g. the tree in the above picture stands between me and the Singapore skyline. Make it interesting for your viewer to create an element of surprise (e.g. trees are everywhere – boring, but the Singapore skyline is only here – woah!). I’ve been trying to get better at both ways of using this technique, and I find the most important skill to have for this is a good judgment of distance of your drone to the object so you don’t fly into it, yet are still close enough to get a great change in distance (from something a few meters ahead to a great panorama). I find that the drones obstacle avoidance doesn’t help much here, as it stops the drone quite abruptly (as it should), but this doesn’t look nice on video – as always, try to go for smooth transitions between different flight manoeuvres/directions.
The High-Pan is probably the first shot that people will want to try with their new drone. It’s one of the first instinctive things – go to maximum flight altitude (200ft/60m here), and take a look around! What could be easier?
Definitely true – but watch for some things, e.g. your turning speed. You could go ahead and try “pinching” your controls between thumb and index to better control the yaw rate (speed at which you turn). Do it multiple times if you have to. One interesting way to do a nice and controlled High-Pan that I like doing is instead of just turning the left stick, instead going to the left/right with the right stick and (with the pinching method) ever so slightly introduce a bit of yaw. The added benefit is that instead of “just” turning, you give the viewer the feeling of movement.
This is the last one for today, and – as I find – the most challenging of the techniques I’m talking about today. Obviously, you can chase anything that’s fast moving (or also just moving), be it a person, car, boat or whatever (although – never follow an actual airplane – there’s likely no single instance where you’re ever allowed to fly in close proximity to actual manned aircraft!). The difficulty consists in judging your object’s speed & direction, as well as trying to make sure you’re going in roughly the same direction as well. You can see this in the video – I’ve only managed to keep up for about 2-3 seconds and even then, you can see my propellers, it’s not 100% beautifully aligned etc. I’ll keep working on this one & update you one of the next times. In the meantime, you could try a sideways “dolly” to capture a moving object from a bit further away – this is much easier and allows time to focus & frame your object.
Let me know how you like these techniques and if you’ve been successful at mastering them!
As always, thanks for watching/reading & subscribing to my blog.
See you next time!
(*) – Yes, the top of Marina Barrage is a no-fly zone, not due to any legal situation (more than 5km away from the nearest air base, not in restricted air space, etc. etc.), but rather because it is private property and the owners have set a regulation to not allow drone flights there – this doesn’t show in the OneMap recommended by CAAS. You can, however – and the security guard pointed this out – go to the open field right next to the Marina Barrage & take off from there🚁
I’ve found time and again that the most practical place to get your info on where to fly is the Flywhere.sg site (if you’ve read this far, I strongly encourage you to bookmark this link), which also includes private no-fly-zones like the ones mentioned here (e.g. the top of Marina Barrage). An additional benefit is that you don’t need to set which zones you want to view each time you open the app and you’ll instantly see where you’re allowed to fly and where not. Shout-out to Jordanlys95 who built this awesome site!