So, you've done it. You bought that fancy drone you've wanted for years and, like me, already crashed into a tree on one of the first flights. Whoops!
Now you are ready to get serious and take your travel videos to the next level.
Shooting solely with a GoPro or vlogging camera has limits and now you can take your audience up into the skies to see your most recent vacation videos from a whole new perspective. Effective use of a camera drone will enable inspirational scenes you simply cannot capture from the ground.
Sure, when you flew your drone for the first time it was a thrill, but you're realizing that this is better than the remote-control cars you drove around as a kid. This is a gateway to expanding your artistic creativity and your dream is to master travel drone videography.
I want to help you get more familiar with your drone and realize all of its capabilities so you can create beautiful clips that you are proud of.
Are you ready to learn how to shoot better travel videos with your drone? Here are the 19 most important tips you need to succeed.
1.Cover Your Butt… Legally Speaking
First things first. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to learn the legal responsibilities and limitations of flying your drone in your city and country. You might be surprised how much this varies from region to region. Don't assume anything - especially when traveling overseas.
Sometimes you may need to purchase a pilot's license, or even do a training course. The rules are often different for "recreational" versus "commercial" pilots. But there is no universally accepted definition. Breaching drone laws can attract penalties ranging from hefty fines to jail time.
Don't freak out. Just take a look at this crowdsourced database of rules that cover 170 countries, and always keep in mind, this is not a toy.
2.Choose Your Takeoff and Landing Zones Carefully
This may seem basic. But it is important for more than the obvious reasons. Besides knowing the laws for flying your drone in the area you are in (eg. don't be too close to other people), being comfortable with your takeoff and landing area is vitally important. Look for a flat, hard surface with nothing that will catch on the propellers and allows the drone to land as level as possible. Think lawns with short grass, parking lots, and even the roof of your car (if you're very accurate). Soft sandy beaches are risky as the sand granules can easily get blown into the air vents causing permanent damage.
It can take a while to get the hang of it, but if your drone design allows it (such as a Mavic 2 Pro), practice handheld takeoffs and landings. This will give you added flexibility to fly in locations where there is no convenient turf, such as long grass, on a small boat, or even thick forest.
Remember to be mindful of others. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to be awakened at sunrise by the buzzing of your drone so you can get that perfect shot at golden hour!
3.Know Your Drone's Capabilities
Today's drones are packed with a vast number of features that can be intimidating to learn, however, it is worth investing your time.
Often the factory settings for "EXP" will not be tuned for a travel video expert. Tweak these settings to find what fits your style best. This includes knowing things like obstacle avoidance sensors, throttle input, height and distance restrictions, gimbal sensitivity, and camera settings. That last one is vitally important as you want to ensure you don't waste flights and precious battery life for a poor result by not considering things like shutter speed, saturation, motion blur, and other essential settings.
Learning about all the different options your specific drone model can offer you will make you a smarter artist, capable of producing dynamic aerial cinematography that will make Spielberg give you a virtual high-five. If you don't know where to start, YouTube is your friend.
4.Mix Ground Level Footage With Your Drone Shots
Yes, you'll be amazed at the versatility a drone can bring to your travel videos, but this must be tempered with creative contrast in mind. A 10-minute video of stunning 4K drone shots will be beautiful, but will it be captivating? Mixing the aerial shots with ground footage from a DLSR or GoPro camera will give your audience different points of view and make them feel as if they were with you on the trip. Interplay these different perspectives together throughout the video to keep the viewer's attention and keep them guessing at where you will take them next.
5.Take Some Risk To Get the Best Shots
So, I have harped on you to be mindful of your surroundings and fellow humans and we need to add wildlife to that list as well because flying too close to animals is a big no-no. With that being said, I strongly believe in the phrase, "you have to risk it to get the biscuit."
Flying close along the face of a cliff with a stunning ocean scene in the background will add movement and depth to your shot. Finding a tight fit between trees will make that shot of the forest that much more compelling. In order to pull off these kinds of shots, you'll need to turn off obstacle avoidance otherwise the drone will work against you.
Please use extra caution because it is easy to get overly adventurous and could result in your drone having a serious accident. I learned this the hard way in Alaska by flying too close to a waterfall… without turning off obstacle avoidance. Before I knew it, the drone sensors took over control of the flight and landed in the nearest spot… a pool of water, which destroyed a good portion of my valuable travel footage!
With that caveat out of the way, here's a little inspiration of what you can achieve by pulling off epic (and risky) "fly-throughs":
6.Incorporate Movement & Strong Subjects Within Your Shots
Incorporating controlled movement in your shots will give the audience more to focus on and help unfold your narrative. This is something that you will see in all of your favorite travel videos, especially in drone shots.
Flying along a majestic mountain is nice, add to that frame you (or a friend) running along a trail as the drone passes over you… much better! The strong human subject makes the scene more relatable - the viewer can imagine themself in that moment.
Instead of shooting a beautiful wave breaking, try capturing a surfer riding that wave, and strafe along with them - the perfect combo. These types of shots can be done in many ways and we talk about some of those with our next point.
7.Master These Basic Shots
Like anything else in life, cinematic drone photography has layers of knowledge to master. 99% of the travel videos you see will have drone shots and 99% of those use these 3 basic shots:
This is pretty self-explanatory, but cannot be understated. The reveal shot may not only be the most utilized shot in drone videography, but also the most important and impactful. The reveal can happen in a couple of ways. You can start with the camera down (bird's eye, discussed later) and slowly tilt the gimbal up to reveal what the main focus of the shot will be. You can also start outside the view of the primary subject and pan or slide it into view. Another way is utilizing objects in the foreground to hide your subject and flying past, over, or around them to reveal the grandiose scene that lies beyond.
The Bird's Eye
This is an important shot because it can add an element to your travel video that you simply cannot get without a drone… or possibly a helicopter rental.
Fly high over the area you are filming and aim the camera straight down. If you are shooting a beach this is a great way to break up the water and the shoreline, think split screen. The waves crashing on the shore will also add movement to your shot, which we touched on already.
The Fly By
A versatile and visually stunning shot. Imagine a friend standing on the edge of a cliff and you fly towards them from afar. They are small at first but get bigger as the drone gets closer. Then it seems as though the camera is going to hit them before it flies by them leaving the scene beyond them in view. Some tips for this shot: fly faster for a more intense shot, turn off obstacle avoidance (so your drone doesn't swerve out of the way), and practice, so you don't collide with whatever you are flying by.
8.Utilize Intelligent Flight Modes
This might seem like cheating to some, but almost all modern consumer drones have intelligent flight modes built into them. These shots are useful for many reasons, but mainly they allow for the shots to be completed as smoothly as the AI allows. These include:
Manually pick a center point and radius and the drone keeps that centered while orbiting the point.
This is the drone's version of a selfie. You start with the drone in front of you with the camera facing you. Then the drone will pull back and up keeping you centered and revealing the scene behind you.
Perfect for following moving objects. Someone running on the spine of a mountain or sandy beach. A car driving along a winding stretch of asphalt. It will keep the object in the frame and follow it (up to certain speed limits).
I'm a big fan of this setting. It takes time to set it up but allows for really creative shots when done properly. You can fly your drone to different positions, changing the camera angle, height, and view - then save that point. The drone will then automatically retrace those points allowing you to tweak the shot along the way, without needing to focus on navigating. You can also save these points on more recent drone models and come back to fly the exact same path at different times, such as showing the changing of seasons or a day to night hyperlapse, which leads me to the next shot…
We all know what a time-lapse is right? Good. A hyperlapse is just that, but with the movement of the drone adding another element to the shot. You set your start and end points and the drone follows that flight path taking a photo at a predetermined interval (1 sec, 3 sec, etc). Once complete, the drone will automatically combine that raw footage into a smooth video for you. Amazing!
Different drone brands and models have different intelligent flight modes built-in. These are just some that I use most commonly. Be sure you know which ones your drone offers and practice them to get the most out of your filmmaking.
9.Essential Filters and Accessories
These are additional items that I use and recommend - vital tools to navigate the path to travel video nirvana.
Neutral Density (ND) Filters
To capture a truly smooth cinematic video with your drone, these are a necessity. ND filters fit onto your drone's camera lens to restrict light coming in, resulting in an eye-pleasing motion blur. They can be used in a variety of ways to control the lighting. Check out this in-depth guide.
Get at least 1, but maybe even 2 or 3 depending on your needs. Drone batteries take a long time to charge and only last around 25-30 minutes on the high end. Running out of battery when golden hour comes around with the perfect light is a lesson you don't want to learn on your own. Trust me.
These will come in handy when the inevitable crash happens. Yes, it happens to all of us and there are very few ways to get your hands on more when traveling, so best to plan ahead and bring at least 2 extra sets of propellers.
10.Whether or Not You Should Fly
Not all times are ideal for flying your drone, crazy right? Assuming you do not want to lose your valuable investment, it is best to fly in ideal conditions. Checking the weather and not risking your drone during a rainstorm or strong wind warnings is not just highly recommended, but downright sensible. There are variables at play here and as you get more experience and get to know your drone better, you can make judgment calls, but overall it is better to err on the side of caution. One app I rely on all over the globe is UAV Forecast. It will automatically find your location and tell you the wind speed, cloud cover, chances for precipitation, and more.
11.Learn To Fly Smoothly
This point cannot be overstated. Filmmaking with smooth video rather than jerky movements will set your travel videos up for success and millions of YouTube views, guaranteed. But seriously, practicing your flying skills is the best way to hone in on smooth piloting and unwanted camera movement.
If you feel that your panning motion and gimble turns are too jittery, then have a look at your settings to reduce the sensitivity. Utilizing the intelligent flight modes is a smart way to assist you in your smooth flying when you're starting out. Not only will smooth camera work be well received by your viewers, but it also allows for easier post-production.
12.Use Different Speeds To Mix It Up
I don't think this is considered by most people just starting out with drone videography. Remember what I discussed before about taking risks? Flying close to an object at a rapid pace creates a dramatic shot for any travel video. High speed also works well when flying low over a body of water or a field. Flying slower can produce a soothing or majestic effect, especially with reveal shots as it creates anticipation for the viewer.
Experiment with the differences between 24fps and 60fps (frames per second) and you'll find the latter is better for slow-motion action (when dialed down in post-production), while the former creates a cinematic feel. A higher framerate takes more storage space and reduces motion blur. Trial and error are the best ways to figure out what suits your desired effect.
Mix and match different speeds to your videos for stylistic contrast, so you don't end up creating a beautiful 4K yawn-fest.
13.Start With a Soundtrack
Memorize this axiom:
Post-production is where the magic happens
You should nail down the style and feel that you want from your video before shooting any footage. So, spend those last few pointless days at the office that precede your next trip finding the perfect songs. It may seem backward, but that's ok. Reverse engineering your final cut by knowing which tracks you are going to use in the video will help you shoot in the desired mood and style.
Take the time to learn about color grading and transitions. Music and color dictate the mood of your videos. Mix in a few simple and fun transitions and you will be a master of the travel video craft in no time. Be sure to think about those transitions ahead of time as well, in order to ensure they are pulled off correctly.
14.Make a Flight Plan
This might be my number 1 tip for you. There are many reasons why a flight plan is a good thing to at least think about and even better make note of before each drone flight. Most importantly, it will save your battery life. My battery usually gets around 25 minutes of flight time. With a good flight plan, I can get the drone up and capture 2-3 shots in just a couple minutes, increasing my efficiency and leaving more battery available for shots that may come up that I had no intention of shooting.
Besides the ever precious battery life, it also helps you know the altitude and angle you want to shoot at, which types of shots you are going to capture, and what you need to watch out for during the flight.
Through the discussion leading up to the plan, you may even find some ideas that lead to an even better sequence of shots than you originally thought of!
15.Longer Shots Are Better Shots
This isn't true in many aspects of video and also isn't set in stone, but overall you will want most of your beautiful drone shots of wide landscapes to be in the 4-7 second range. Utilizing these longer shots is important for drones because of the number of visuals each shot will have within them. When you are flying high and taking in a lot of scenery, cutting from it in just a couple of seconds doesn't allow the viewer to take everything in. So don't be afraid to shoot a clip for 30 seconds or more and find the best segments of it to use in your final cut.
16.Shooting Around Sunrise and Sunset
These times are a drone videographer's best friends. The first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset define the golden hours and they are to be utilized regularly. This is due to the soft lighting that will add warmth and softness to your video content. Keep in mind that you are on the clock when shooting in this window, so your flight plan will be even more important so that you don't miss the perfect sunset colors and long shadows.
17.Watch, Read and Learn With Tutorials
To become better and better at flying your drone, you need to keep learning. There are many blogs and videos that take the ideas covered in this article to a more detailed level so find and devour them.
If you are just beginning and have a trip fast approaching that you want to film with your drone, go to the website or YouTube channel of your drone manufacturer and see if they have any video tutorials. I use the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom and DJI offers a handy introductory video for flying and learning the basic controls. Start from the beginning and keep improving from there. The more you learn and practice flying the better you will become. I find the process addictive - coming back to challenge myself to be better with every flight.
Ideally, you don't want to learn how to master your drone in an exotic location… you want to capture it! Always fly at home first, and master your skills so when you're on location, it will be easier and less stressful.
18.Research Videos From Previous Travelers
Unfortunately, you aren't the first person to go to Bali and shoot a travel video of your 2 weeks on the island. Don't be discouraged by this! Go to YouTube and watch as many videos that you can of others who have been before. Recognize the locations that come up over and over. Find out which beaches are best for the golden hour. Imitation is the best form of flattery so don't be shy in doing the research to make sure you maximize your time and create the best travel video that you can. You might even find a better way to shoot something, making your video someone else's guide one day.
19.Safely Store and Travel With Your Drone
With all the ways there are to ruin your drone during a flight, it would be a shame to not take the proper care to transport the drone to the shooting location. There are several ways to do this depending on your preference.
I recommend the "double bag" technique. I use a travel-friendly backpack that also holds my other electronics such as laptop, camera, gimbal, charging cords, and extra batteries. Within this backpack, my drone and controller are in a 2nd bag that I can remove for lighter travel and transit. Not only does this add extra protection for the drone if the bag is dropped or gets squashed by heavy items lying on it, but when traveling by air, on a bus, or train, I can keep the backpack near me for extra security.
Photography backpacks are also well-suited for drone transport and can feature hardcovers or padded compartments to securely hold all items and accessories. If you're willing to make a serious investment, Vanguard offers a range of highly functional, reliable backpacks. It is a smart investment to protect your drone and you'll get many years of use out of it.