10 Tips on Filming with Drones

Published by Matthias Süßen on

In the past, aerial photography or filming was only possible with a large budget. Thanks to inexpensive entry-level drones, it can now be used by almost anyone. At the end of the last year I bought a drone and have been using it regularly for filming and photography ever since. In this article I give you a few helpful tips for beginners to photograph and film with flying cameras.

Drone rules in Germany. Image: Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur (BMVI)
  1. Check legal issues: Drones are affordable for everyone today. In 2018 alone, 934,000 drones were sold in Germany. Among the pilots, however, there are some black sheep who do not follow rules that should be taken for granted. As a result, complaints from private individuals who were filmed unsolicited in their garden or on the balcony became more frequent. In Germany, legislators therefore felt compelled to establish clear rules for the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which came into force on 1 October 2017. The diagram on the right clarifies the most important regulations in Germany. The worldwide regulations (without guarantee of correctness or completeness) can be found on the map in the appendix of this post. Irrespective of these predictions, the following naturally applies: Safety first. Never lose visual contact with your drone. It is even better to take a friend with you. So the pilot can concentrate fully on the recordings, while the accompanying person makes sure that the drone does not get too close to any obstacles.
  2. Plan your flight: The new regulations determine quite clearly where you are allowed to fly and where not. But unfortunately the exact boundaries of nature reserves and other no-fly zones are not always visible from the ground. A good flight preparation is therefore essential. In my opinion, Map2Fly is the easiest tool to use on your home computer. It offers drone pilots a good overview of the requirements in their planned flight area free of charge. Mobile apps, which I have described in this article, help on the way.
  3. Choose a good take-off/landing area: Take-off and landing are now semi-automatic for many models. Nevertheless (or just because of that) you should choose the take-off and landing site carefully. Otherwise, obstacles such as trees or buildings, passers-by or an animal whose hunting instinct was waved by the flying object can ensure that the first flight begins or ends with a crash landing. Search for a flat take-off and landing area. Keep away from possible obstacles and avoid dusty surfaces, high grass and windy corners. If you like, you can get yourself a special drone landing site. The mats offered are mostly foldable and fit into every backpack.
  4. Improve your drone flying skills: If you see professionals at the joystick, everything seems to be very simple. They steer their flying cameras through the air with a soft touch. But all beginnings are difficult. Because with drones you move in three-dimensional space. The aircraft can move in all directions (up/down, forward/backward, left/right). This requires a little skill and practice. Therefore you should take your time in spite of all the aids which the aircraft and the control app give you. Because the automatic obstacle detection does not always work reliably. And even if you use an automatic flight program, you must be able to intervene at any time to avoid collisions and stop the drone’s autonomous flight. Practice with your drone and take a close look at the flight behavior of your device. At the beginning, I would avoid flying in difficult weather conditions. Because photo or video recordings in snow, wind and rain are a challenge even for experienced pilots.
  5. Improve your photography & camera skills: If you have a good command of the flight, familiarize yourself with the different shooting modes of your drone. The manual or Youtube videos will help. If you own a DJI drone, this video is helpful. Despite all the really great automatic modes that the aircraft have to offer, one thing is still true: Even a drone is only a camera with which you can take good or bad pictures. So get familiar with the settings as well as the control of the camera suspension (of the gimbal). Because both the camera itself and the aircraft on which it is mounted can be moved in all directions, you should be careful not to pan it too fast. Usually, scary movements provide the most beautiful shots. You should keep your fingers off the zoom function of your drone. Most devices have only a fixed focal length lens. In order to enlarge the image section, these devices use a digital zoom. However, this is only an artificial enlargement of the detail. In order to seemingly cause a magnification, the camera only uses a part of the sensor and displays this area full screen. Of course, the quality suffers from this. If your drone only has a fixed focal length, you should avoid zooms. Fly closer if necessary.
  6. Think about a story: Drones deliver spectacular shots from the air and it’s really fun to film or photograph with these little things from unusual perspectives. It’s easy to lose sight of something essential: As a filmmaker or photographer, it’s your job to tell an exciting story. So define the goal of the film. Create a rudimentary story board. Think about the most important scenes and shots you need to tell your story. Good stories live on the fact that they have a hero (= main character), a strong beginning, a middle part as well as an end with resolution and/or summary.
  7. No aerial shots without a reason: Good storytelling is the be-all and end-all, no matter whether you want to shoot a photo series or make a film. So don’t bore your viewers with confused and incoherent shots that only live from being shot from an unusual height. Because the effect wears off quickly. So think about when you need aerial shots and when other camera settings might be the better choice. Settings rotated with a smartphone can round off the film project as an exciting reverse shot to the aerial shot.
  8. Think of static shots: Drones deliver dramatic and fantastic motion shots. But even here you shouldn’t succumb to the fascination. Because constant movement and changes in viewing direction do not correspond to natural viewing habits. In the long run they are rather irritating. So make sure you shoot some static shots. They radiate a royal calm and help the viewer to orientate himself in the image space.
  9. Avoid fast movements and extreme heights: Of course, drones are first thought of flying at high altitudes. And of course I tested my drone extensively during my first flight and tried out the maximum altitude allowed in Germany (100 m). To limit the drone to these flight altitudes, however, would mean only partially exploiting the potential of the devices. Because shots from very low altitudes are at least as exciting. That can be the flight over the lake, the sea or the meadow next door. Try it out. No matter if high in the sky or flat above the ground – with a drone exciting pictures from the bird’s eye view as well as from the frog’s perspective are possible. Of course, everything should be well considered. Unmotivated and fast changes of perspective confuse and bore fast. Well thought-out changes in settings paired with a successful editing technique increase the tension.
  10. Don’t Overuse: Probably the most important recommendation (apart from the safety precautions and the legal requirements). Use drones in a dosed manner, otherwise the effect will be lost. Aesthetics is more than just decoration and should always serve a purpose. Planned and sensibly used, drone shots from unusual and surprising perspectives can add the finishing touch to your film.

Drone Laws For Every Country In The World (Recreational Use Only)

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All information are without guarantee for completeness and correctness.

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Matthias Süßen

Matthias Süßen arbeitet als freier Journalist, Blogger und Trainer. Er berät Medienunternehmen und wissenschaftliche Institutionen im Bereich Social Media, Mobile Reporting, Online- und Videojournalismus. Hier bloggt er zu seinen persönlichen Interessengebieten Fotografie, Reisen, Wissenschaft und Technik, Online-Journalismus sowie zu Themen der Lokalgeschichte Ostfrieslands.

1 Comment

finn · 23. July 2019 at 15:34

Tolle Hinweise zu dem Filmen mit der Drohne! Möchten in unserem Büro solch eine zur Vermessung einsetzen. Die Topographie von oben spart uns viel Zeit bei den Arbeiten an Ort. Wahrscheinlich könnte eine Genehmigung benötigt werden. Für die Tipps recht danke!

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