How to create stunning cinematic video with your drone
In my continuing quest to help others get the most out of their drone photography and videography, I’d like to share a few tips and tricks for capturing video with your drone—ways you can make the video look and feel like you’re watching it on the big screen as a cinematic trailer. I mean let’s really make those drones with high resolution cameras shine. Just bear in mind that these steps are more applicable for drones that have altitude hold and automatic stabilization, such as a three-axis gimbal for better results.
Set up your drone camera
If your drone has a user interface on the remote or your mobile device, there’s a strong chance that you’ll find a settings menu for the camera. Within the camera settings menu you will find options for video resolution, aspect ratio, file format, color profile, and several other options.
Adjust the resolution and frame rate
The more expensive drones offer video resolution of 1080p or higher. When determining a resolution, consider your delivery platform. If you’re planning to make your videos strictly for Instagram stories, a 4K video file may be overkill. If you’re shooting for YouTube, 4K is a great option, even if YouTube will compress the video. Of course the higher the resolution, the larger your video file will be.
Frame rate is debatable on many levels. There’s the camp that likes the traditional motion blur of 24 frames per second. There’s the camp that enjoys the crispy “real life” look of 30 or higher frames per second. How much this matters to you depends on the look you’re trying to achieve. Shooting at higher frame rates, such as 60 or even 120 frames per second, gives amazingly smooth video and makes slow motion look even better. There’s no “best” frame rate. Set the frame rate to what works for your scene.
Manage the flight
Now that you’ve planned your flight pattern, step out and methodically execute your plan. When it’s time to start recording your footage, consider your movements. If you’re climbing to a higher altitude or panning left or right, you have to keep the movement smooth. I recommend wearing a lanyard around your neck that connects to your remote transmitter. I’ve found that it helps steady my movements of the throttle and navigation sticks. The remote’s weight is supported more by my neck than my hands.
Before starting your movement, begin the recording process. Clicking record before you start allows all your focus to be on the shot and the safety of your drone. Even though most remotes try to put camera controls in an ergonomic position, you can still have a stutter in your movement when trying to click a camera control simultaneously.
Ease into each movement. If you need a faster speed to elevate or pan, accelerate with ease. Don’t just slam the control sticks. Ending the movement is as easy as letting go of the control stick; the drone will continue its momentum and slow to a halt. Turn off recording when you’ve completed the movement.
Perform common cinematic movements
The DJI and Autel Robotics line of drones offer pre-programmable flight patterns, such as orbiting an object, following an object or pre-planned flight routes. Use these to your advantage. Just consider your pre-programmed flight patterns in your preflight planning.
The orbit feature is captivating in video. You can make the orbit even better by adding a slight yaw rotation or adding a gradual change in elevation. These subtle movements within an orbit can provide a more dynamic look to your scene.
The fly-over and fly-away pattern is a great way to transition between scenes. Like the orbit pattern, adding a gradual change in altitude changes the dynamic and mood. Altering the altitude by 15 or 20 degrees will be more cinematic.
Post process your video
This is where you add the final awesome touches to your footage. It requires you to have video editing software such as Adobe Premiere Pro or Apple’s Final Cut Pro. Before you yell at me about the cost of those software packages, I’ll tell you that you have some cost-effective options. You can get a free trial of Premiere Pro by checking out the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. After your trial, the package is $50 per month plus applicable taxes. You can also get a free trial of Final Cut Pro. Or you can try free software. The preferred free software for video editing is Davinci Resolve. As a matter of fact, some even prefer it over the likes of Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro.
When you’re beginning your video edit, take advantage of the color correction tools. Adjust the exposure, contrast, saturation, and even HSL secondaries. The way you adjust the color of your video also sets the mood of your final product. You can even use lookup tables (LUTs) in Premiere and Final Cut. LUTs, for a lack of better analogy, are like using filters in Instagram. They can be purchased from various third parties and imported into your application as a plug-in to use during your video edit. You can apply a LUT to your video and still adjust the simple elements of exposure, contrast, saturation, and so forth, further enhancing the look and mood of your video. For some videos, I also like to add cinematic bars on the top or bottom of the frame. You can get free templates here from VashiVisuals to use in your footage.
I recently received a cinematic light pack from PolarPro to try out in my videos, as they saw my video review of the Drone Trekker Back Pack and enjoyed it. Light packs offer another way to to liven up your video with tasteful transitions and lighting effects such as lens flares. What you see in my video below is the Helios light pack from Polar Pro. You can get this package for $29.99 and import the items as additional footage into Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro. It offers packs built for 1080p footage as well as 4K footage. The quality images, ease of use, and pricing makes this a great value.
Add the right audio
Adding audio to your video is what gives the video life. A fitting music bed and sound effects lift boring video to great video. If you’re going to use music, use music that is royalty-free or that you have written permission from the music owner to use. Check out third-party vendors online for royalty-free sound effects and music. Services such as AudioBlocks offer a great library for $100 annually. The addition of audio is all done in your video editor. Just drag and drop your files into your timeline and edit to suit your needs.
One last tip. Sync up your video with your audio bed. If you have multiple clips for a particular sequence or scene, use cuts to go along with the rhythm of your audio. You can even pan and zoom the footage from within your video editor based on the audio. I sometimes use onscreen text or motion graphics for footage and sync it with the beat. An example of cutting to the beat is below.
Tell your story
Cinematic video is an art form. Sometimes an unorthodox technique can produce brilliant results. Hopefully, these tips will help give you some fundamentals to apply to your creativity and tell an awesome story with your video.