Are Drones Right for Your Project?
Do you have to have aerial video or aerial photos? If your answer is yes, then an unmanned aerial vehicle might be a good option. They are a low-cost and effective way to get the shots you need, especially if you are on a budget for a short film, a promotional video, or real estate job. If you just think back five to ten years ago, most of the aerial shots we are achieving with drones today were not possible, at least in a practical manner.
In many cases, aerial drone shots are unexplored territory for the low-budget and indie film-making community. This all stems from the fact that these types of aerial shots are like nothing we are used to seeing in lower budget productions. (Which makes sense, because previously we would never associate low budget with cinematic aerial shots!) The slow cinematic movement of drones (in small places) is something that is completely new to video, and is something that even helicopters can't do effectively.
Learning to Fly
There is a learning curve with drones, but after ten or so practice flights you should have enough coordination to achieve basic aerial shots for your project. Just remember to stay within your means and don’t try any shots you are unsure about.
A small drone can often replace a lot of large and heavy equipment on set. (Jibs and long dolly tracks are an example of this!) It is much easier to haul a drone in a small case or backpack to a remote location than it is to haul a jib or dolly. In many cases jibs and dollys would also require a lot more people to operate them properly as well.
When Not to Use a Drone
There are other cases where a drone might not be the best choice for a project. Weddings are a good example. Drones may be great for getting aerial pictures of the location or of the bride and groom before the service, but I would never recommend to use one during a service. The fact is that they are just too loud and distracting for a scenario like that.
Anything with dialog will obviously pose problems, because again all you will hear is the humming from the drone. Some drones don’t even record audio because of this.
A drone will also obviously put out a fair amount of wind, nearly all of it directly below. Normally this shouldn’t pose much of a problem, but if you are trying to capture shots directly overhead of someone (which really isn’t recommended for safety reasons) know that a lot of wind will be pushing down on your subject. Drones may also startle any animals nearby (or cause dogs to bark) so always be mindful of any wildlife around you when flying.
Flying Drones Indoors
Unless you are really well experienced, having logged 100 or more flights, I don’t recommend indoor flights. Newer drones such as the DJI Phantom 4 and DJI Mavic Pro come equipped with a vision positioning cameras and sensors underneath the drone to keep it steady when it is close to the ground, even without a GPS signal, so this makes indoor flights much easier. However, I still wouldn’t recommend flying inside anything smaller than a larger maintenance garage or warehouse because things can just go wrong very quickly.