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The Visual Vocabulary of Drone Video Shooting Techniques

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Read Time: 4 min

5 Essential Aerial Video Shot Rules

Let's start by going over some basic aerial shooting rules that should be applied to all of these shooting techniques.

  1. Go Slowly
    Flying your drone slowly will not only convey that you have complete control, but it will also result in more cinematic imagery. Often slow movements give the impression you are shooting from a larger platform, such as a helicopter, and can add more to the overall production value of your project.

  2. Don't Rush Shots
    Make sure to take your time when recording aerial footage, and always be prepared to deal with unexpected obstacles or interference—wind gusts are a good example. It is also a good idea to always fly through your shots, giving you more footage and flexibility in post production. 

  3. Go Easy on the Controls
    Quicker movements with your drone will often result in 'jello' shake effects on your footage. Always accelerate and decelerate slowly with your drone to help reduce this unwanted effect.

  4. Plan Your Shots in Advance
    Pre-planning will not only help you get an idea of the shots you'll need, it can also help you optimize battery life when flying, because you already know the shots you need to get. Otherwise, you may waste a lot of battery time just trying to figure out what to shoot.

  5. Imitate Shots You See in Movies
    Imitate big-budget shots you see in movies, which typically have two axes of movement at the same time. An example would be flying backwards and downwards at the same time at a smooth, steady rate.

Drone Shot Visual Vocabulary

The building blocks of the drone photographer's visual vocabulary are the basic motions of the drone: fly in and out, move up and down, rotate left and right. In film-speak, we call those movements dolly, pedestal, and pan. They're where every shot starts, but there's lots more you can do with a drone:

Strafing (Trucking) Movement Shots

Strafing, or sideways movements, also work well for showing landscapes from a different perspective. Since most landscapes are shown on aerial videos with the drone moving only forwards or backwards, a strafing shot can stand out. It can also be an effective way to reveal cool features in the landscape.  

Orbit Movement Shots

Orbits are achieved by having your drone strafe to the right or left while pulling the yaw stick in the opposing direction. The yaw control is typically the control stick on the left side of the controller that controls the drone’s rotation. This creates an orbit movement, which can look great. It is crucial to go easy on the yaw control or you’ll end up spinning too quickly, spoiling the effect.

Fly-Through Shots

Fly-through shots can be quite cinematic, but they are also the most risky: you’ll likely be relying only on your controller screen (FPV) in order to navigate your drone. I wouldn’t attempt these unless you are confident in your piloting skills.

I’m not the biggest fan of these shots for creative purposes, anyway. When I see them, it is a tell-tale sign that the shot was filmed with a drone. I think this may distract your audience, making them think more about the risk of the shot, instead of noticing the cinematography. 

Gimbal Movement Shots

You can also try gimbal movements combined with drone movements to add another dimension to your shots. Doing this can give you up to three axes of combined movement. One of my favorites is flying forward while tilting the gimbal upwards to slowly reveal the landscape.

Parallax Play Shots

Add depth to your aerial scenes by taking advantage of extreme parallax effects, often with trees or structures closer to the drone, which helps provide a visual aid to the viewer for how large the surrounding landscape actually is.

360 Panning Shots

I don’t recommend just rotating on the yaw axis, or basically a 360 pan. This is because drones typically have a hard time being precise with this movement, and it can give the footage a whip-pan effect if you’re not careful. Or maybe you're making a dystopian near-future sci-fi thriller and that's exactly the look you want.

Get Creative!

Don't be afraid to create your own shot techniques by combing different shot styles together. I recommend you try filming an orbit shot and then changing it to a sideways strafe shot. Experiment!

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