UAVs or drones are becoming increasingly used for film and television projects in the place of more traditional and expensive technologies. Until recently, if you wanted to capture an aerial or high-angle shot, you would have fairly limited options available to you, but camera drones have changed the way in which film and TV production companies can now perform aerial cinematography.
Besides being more affordable than hiring specialist filming equipment, drones also allow for a greater degree of flexibility, and open up new possibilities for unusual, original, and groundbreaking aerial filmmaking. In this article, we explore the various drone filming techniques that emulate the classic shots of cinema and television, and can be used to make your production stand out from the competition.
Drones vs cranes
It’s a familiar sight for modern audiences – the scene ends and the camera pulls back and upwards to reveal the surrounding environment, all in one smooth motion. This type of shot has traditionally been accomplished through the use of a camera crane, but can be equalled and often bettered by a skillful drone pilot and camera operator.
Where cranes and jibs can be cumbersome, expensive, and time consuming to use, drones are not hampered in this way and are exceptionally quick to deploy and highly flexible in the accuracy and range of shots they can capture. Furthermore, there are many shooting situations where there simply isn’t a feasible place to position a crane, but drones can fly almost anywhere.
Sequence shots are long takes that cover anything up to an entire scene. There are many famous examples in television and movie history, but they are notoriously difficult to execute and sometimes bring the audience out of the immersive viewing experience as they can feel forced and a little awkward.
Drones can be used for aerial sequence shots as they can perform nimble movements like those taken with a Steadicam, but have the added benefit of being able to move in all three axes.
Drone dolly shots
Dolly shots are widely used in film and television productions, but require that the ground beneath the dolly track is fairly even and level. Drones can be used in their place to capture ultra-smooth footage, regardless of the terrain underneath. This is of course also true for tracking shots and dolly zooms.
By their very nature, dolly shots tend to occur close to the ground, but with a flying camera drone, you are free to capture shots at elevated heights. So whether you want to track high up over a crowd or perform an aerial dolly shot along a cliff edge for example, with drones you are really only limited by your imagination.
Fly-through shots are those where the camera travels through a small space, such as a window or doorway. They are hard to perform with traditional camera equipment as whatever equipment or crew the camera is attached to also has to move through the same space.
By using a drone instead, it’s relatively simple to film a fly-through shot as the camera is only connected to the drone itself. These shots still require a great degree of precision and a careful assessment of risk, but assuming there is no wind shear and the pilot can position himself in the correct place to maintain unbroken line of sight, these shots are very achievable.
Bird’s-eye view drone shots
Often seen in large crowd or battle scenes, bird’s eye shots are usually used to give an overview of the scale of a scene or to emphasise the motion of a moving crowd of people. If the shot is not static and needs to move with or over the subjects, this would traditionally be achieved through the use of a helicopter.
In these situations, drones can perform any manoeuvres that a helicopter would, but have the added benefit of being smoother, less intrusive, and more flexible in the types of top-down perspective shots they can record.
One of the most difficult shots to perform with a drone is the orbital shot. This is where the camera rotates around the subject in 360º from an elevated angle. They may at first appear simple, but in reality they require constant, precise tweaking by the pilot.
All pilots must perform figure-of-eight manoeuvres without GPS assistance during their flight exam – this means they are all well practised at orbiting around an object. A first person view (FPV) camera and monitor showing what’s directly ahead of the aircraft can help, as can real-time monitoring of the aircraft’s position on a digital map. Some drones even allow you to set a waypoint and circle around it at a predetermined distance.
Aerial point of view shots
Whether they depict what a superhero sees as they fly, or perhaps the trajectory of a missile, moving aerial pov shots are always highly memorable. They are one of the lesser used shots in film and television, but when they are required, drones provide the perfect platform to do so.
Drones allow for a smoother shot than those taken from a helicopter and when sped up, maintain their stable appearance. You can get an idea of what can be done with even a simple GoPro in this popular and amusing drone video.
As you can see, drones can accomplish more or less any cinematic shot seen in TV and film productions over the last century, and as operators and pilots become more familiar with them, it’s likely that new types of shots will soon be invented and seen on our screens.
If you would like to chat with us about our aerial filming services and the types of high resolution drone shots we can capture for your film or television production, please give us a call on 01273 921 991 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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