The use of drones in TV and film have grown exponentially and their uses seem to have no limit. From POV shots to easy crane/jib shots, a drone can add some incredible production value to a programme.
Otherwise known as UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), using a drone has many benefits both from the editorial side, and the production side when crunching the numbers. As always, my belief is that every camera/piece of kit is a tool to use correctly. Here are my top 5 advantages of using a drone.
To get those incredible dynamic shots, once upon a time you would have had to hire a helicopter or a crane/large jib. Now, you can recreate those shots using a drone. Their size means they are able to fly in areas that would never have been possible. Getting that low angle tracking shot just a few inches from the ground moving up to the height of 400ft in the air. One of my favourite shots is what I call the Country File shot – typically a presenter introducing the show and how amazing the local landscape is. This shot is usually from a drone that, when the cue is given, flies away and up in a diagonal climb to reveal the landscape behind the presenter. A shot never before possible until the drones took over. Drones can also be flown inside, through doors, windows or even flown autonomously through the use of pre planned waypoints. The list is endless!
Have you ever tried to set up a crane and gimbal in the middle of a field? It’s horrible! It takes a lot of time and people and often for the time vs reward factor, there’s not much point, especially if the shot you need is a 5 second shot.
A drone pilot can typically set up the drone and have it in the air within 10 minutes to get the desired shot. Not only that, the drone can cover multiple locations quickly with each flight giving the edit a plethora of smooth aerial and fake jib shots for them to use, impossible with other set ups. The savings made across a production can be thousands of pounds, often saving hours in rigging, filming and derigging.
If the weather doesn’t want to play ball on the day, not a problem. If time permits, the drone can be landed safely and await a small window of opportunity. Even if it’s a couple of minutes the drone can quickly take off, capture the shot and land.
3. 4K Capture
Typically, unless otherwise stated, I like to record all of my aerial footage in 4K. Yes, this may give you larger data files but going back to versatility, it’s completely worth it. The 4K file not only records at a larger data rate which is better for broadcast television, but allows the editors to punch into the frame with no loss of quality if editing on an HD timeline. What this means is effectively, you can give the editors two shots for the price of one. A wide shot in natively recorded, and a mid shot/close up if they punch in. Sometimes this is necessary for certain cuts, or just a nice option to have if you want the viewer to focus on something in particular.
Picture 1 (left) full frame still from 4K image. Picture 2 (right) punched in by 50% with no loss of quality on an HD timeline.
4. Application – more than just a drone.
As mentioned, drones can be used almost anywhere. Within my broadcast world, I’ve seen them on the news, music videos, factual entertainment programmes and sport. I’ve seen them used in construction and surveys.
For me, being able to grab a shot that wouldn’t have been possible for a production otherwise, is the best asset I could ask for. Flying over water or above a building or tracking a car allows for more dynamic and creative shots to tell a story, and typically, because they look so good, make it into title sequences and teasers.
At times however, a drone is not the best or safest option which is why I love the DJI set up so much. The DJI Inspire allows you to remove the camera on the drone and attach it to a handle, giving you a handheld gimbal. Walk this through a tight building or attach it to the top of a boom pole and walk through a busy street, and you’ve instantly got a drone type shot that is safe and flexible. This can also double up as a cheat jib shot. I always include my Osmo in the price of my drone gigs as it’s too good a tool not to bring along! More about this on my other blog about the DJI Osmo.
As a DV Director, part of my job is thinking around how to capture a story with the kit supplied for the budget of that production. But with the drone and the DJI Osmo, raising the bar of production value for a fraction of the cost of a helicopter and crew, is a win-win. Production stay in budget, and editorial get some nice looking shots.