June 20, 2015

Thoughts on Shooting with the 4K DJI Phantom 3 & Grading the Footage to Look Awesome

Eric Thayne Phantom 3 Professional Footage
In early April, DJI announced massive updates to their popular Phantom lineup of consumer drones. Two months later, the verdict is in. The Phantom 3 Professional is an excellent piece of equipment, that is, if you can work within its limitations.

I was contacted recently by Eric Thayne, a filmmaker and musician based out of Provo, Utah. On a recent trip to Kauai, and armed with DJI's Phantom 3 Professional, Eric took to the skies above Hawaii's "Garden Island" and came back with some lovely 4K aerial footage. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on both shooting with the stock DJI camera and how to grade the footage. 

First up, check out Eric's awesome footage of Kauai:

Here are Eric's thoughts on shooting with the stock camera built into the Phantom 3 Professional. While it's obviously capable of producing some lovely, highly-detailed 4K footage, it does not come without a set of quirks. Like most modern cameras, however, those quirks have some basic solutions and workarounds:

For best image results, shoot in manual mode. Shooting in auto exposure tends to overexpose the picture, creating artifacts that you can't get rid of and highlights that you can't recover. Plus, if you're panning or tilting, the exposure will change in the middle of the shot. You have to use the ISO and shutter controls to get the exposure you want.

Personally I prefer to underexpose slightly. Without an ND filter, it's near impossible to get a perfect 180 degree shutter angle in bright daylight, so you just have to get as close as you can without overexposing. Of course, you'll want to turn your in-camera saturation, contrast, and sharpness all the way down so you have as much control over the image in post production as possible. 

Eric also shared some stills from the ungraded footage to give us an idea of his starting point in the grading process:

Eric Thayne Phantom 3 Professional Footage Ungraded
Eric Thayne Phantom 3 Professional Footage Ungraded

As well as some quick thoughts about how he graded the footage:

In post, I used all stock Adobe Premiere plugins—mostly RGB curves. And lots of masks to section off areas of the image to treat separately, especially the sky. I even used masks to create fake shadows in some shots, in order to help the composition and direct the viewer's eye to the focus point.

Have any of you had the chance to fly and shoot with the new Phantom 3 drones yet? If so, share your shooting and grading processes with us down in the comments. Also, feel free to leave any questions for Eric down in the comments as well.      

Your Comment

36 Comments

wow, great footage. i just got my polarpro nd filters in and will shoot something the next days. its really almost impossible to get rid of the rolling shutter at a normal daylight shot if you expose over 1/150th. and since its a fixed f2.8 lens you will have to get the nds. will try to shoot and compare it with the 1dc and see how it compares when it comes to grading.

June 20, 2015 at 5:57PM, Edited June 20, 5:57PM

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Gabriel Hyden
DOP / Director
88

The nd filters will be really nice. I'll be getting some too. Unfortunately didn't have them for this video as the aircraft arrived the day before we left, but definitely won't do that again!

June 21, 2015 at 12:31AM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

the whole footage is very wobbly, exposure varies. Wonder how much stabilisation was used in post? Is the camera setup for close focus? Or why is it so "unsharp" in the distance? I'm thinking to upgrade my phantom2+Gopro4 combo to inspire, but I get better quality footage from my current setup.
Shots are very nice.

some samples:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9hvmJSW5Gw

June 20, 2015 at 6:54PM, Edited June 20, 6:55PM

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Poly
189

Yeah I realize the footage isn't perfect. Being that the phantom arrived the day before we left for Kauai and this trip was my first time flying one, I was really just figuring things out most of the trip. No stabilization in post on any shots. Some of the wobbliness (is that a word?) is because of the high shutter and some because of the wind. Which, as a side note, the phantom 3 performs incredibly in high wind.

June 21, 2015 at 12:38AM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

yeah that has to be it. I use ND on gopro for daylight. Do you feel the new cam is better then gopro 4?
thanks :)

June 21, 2015 at 7:37PM

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Poly
189

Yeah I have the gopro 4 and I much prefer the camera on the p3. For one, not having to correct the lens warping in post is really nice!

June 22, 2015 at 10:18AM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

I don't think it is very wobbly at all. In fact, the word wobbly doesn't even come into my mind. It looks quite smooth and professional to me. For the first time using it, I would say you pretty much nailed it. Where is it even a little wobbly? The opening ascending shot is fantastically smooth. I am enjoying that shot and not even thinking about the camera. And the fly over the water and stream is very stable. I shoot with a Steadicam rig, so I think I know wobbly footage when I see it.

March 28, 2016 at 1:26AM, Edited March 28, 1:28AM

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Nice I like it !

June 21, 2015 at 1:04AM

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Menelikk
Computer Scientist/Film Director
215

The footage looks great

June 21, 2015 at 1:04AM, Edited June 21, 1:05AM

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Menelikk
Computer Scientist/Film Director
215

The resolution is very nice, no doubt. But the color leaves something to be desired.

June 21, 2015 at 12:03AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1025

The video looks absolutely beautiful and yet I'm starting to get a little sick of all the aerial footage thats literally flying around the internet. It feels like I've seen it all.

June 21, 2015 at 5:39AM

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Paul-Louis Pietz Pröve
director / dop / editor
400

Thanks. Totally know what you mean. And it's unfortunate for aerial video pros because since it's becoming so ubiquitous, it's hardly impressive anymore... Guess we all just have to keep innovating and doing new things!

June 21, 2015 at 4:35PM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

Nice I like the colour (yes thats how colour is spelt ;) grade, and the moves.

June 21, 2015 at 9:52AM

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Thanks Simon!

June 21, 2015 at 4:36PM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

That's like saying the correct spelling for Rome is "Roma".

Color = United States. Colour = Every other country.

It depends on where you are. Personally I find it annoying when people in the US spell it that way since it's not (technically) correct. Same as calling Rome "Roma". Makes sense IN Italy...not so much in Alabama.

Grammar cop, over and out. :)

June 22, 2015 at 4:51PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2157

Not sure your comparison is apples for apples because Roma - Rome the difference is their native language is not english where as Colour - Color is English to English.

I think Color came about due to lazy spelling that stuck.

June 23, 2015 at 12:23AM

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Hi Eric,

Really nice work. I've got a phantom 3 and have customised the colour settings to something similar to yours - a log type image.

I'm still getting alot of noise, grainy footage when I shoot though.

Could you share any tips that might help?

I did make one video that has come out really nicely - https://vimeo.com/130602783

June 21, 2015 at 11:51PM

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For example what were your manual settings for each of these two images you've provided - Thanks, Henry

June 21, 2015 at 11:54PM

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Thanks Henry, and nice video. All I can say is make sure you expose properly. Pull up the histogram to help you get it just right. If you underexpose and have to brighten your shots in post you're going to see some noise. Also try to keep your ISO as low as possible. A high ISO is definitely going to introduce noise into your shot. Hope that helps!

June 22, 2015 at 1:46PM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

Great work. I've got the P3P and have trouble getting the footage sharp again after shooting LOG, with sharpness saturation and contrast turned down all the way. It feels like it's 'too far gone' to get it to look good again here and there. Thoughts? (havent filmed with it all that much due to bad weather so might just need to test more)

June 22, 2015 at 8:47AM

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Is it just me or does the DJI p3 camera, just like the go pro, tend to go purple in the shadows? Is it as prevalent in this cam as it is on the hero 3 / 4 footage?

Nice piece and some great shots. Hope you guys got to enjoy the island some too!

June 22, 2015 at 12:57PM, Edited June 22, 12:57PM

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Raymond Linares
Founder / Filmmaker / Cinematographer @ BES Films, Inc.
154

Thanks Raymond, we definitely had a good time! I haven't noticed purple in the shadows on anything I've done with the p3. If you're referring to the final video, I did add a lot of red in the shadows to get the look I wanted.

June 22, 2015 at 1:49PM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

Thanks for sharing Eric, I have been shooting with the Phantom 3 for almost a month now and have been trying to get a good flat image for grading. This definitely helps!

June 22, 2015 at 4:08PM, Edited June 22, 4:09PM

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Brandon
DP/Editor/Director
88

Happy to help, thanks for your comment!

June 24, 2015 at 11:54AM, Edited June 24, 11:54AM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

Great location, good videographer but the camera is still at consumer level camera, what wins here are camera moves, compositions, locations, edit...
it would be nice to have a 422hq prores out of that camera and better props/motor balance (you can do it manually).

June 24, 2015 at 12:11PM, Edited June 24, 12:13PM

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Roberto Mettifogo
Director.Dop.Colorist.
326

Lovely camera work. I also have a P3, and have a tip to share that would have improved this footage further: get yourself a Kodak 3 x 3" Neutral Density (ND) #96 0.90 Optical Gelatin Wratten Filter. They are fairly expensive at $70 a piece, but they are perfect for bringing that shutter speed closer to 180 degrees.

The gel weighs almost nothing, so won't disturb the gimbal at all. You just have to cut a circle and drop it in behind the P3 camera's clear glass filter. You can get 4 filters out of one 3x3 gel.

June 24, 2015 at 1:22PM

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Dan McComb
Director
81

just came home from a Musicvideo shoot and it was nice working with the P3 for the First Time, the Polarpro ND´s Definitly helped, it was really really windy that day and it still was able to get a good picture.

Also tried to match it to the 1DC CanonLog and yeah i gotta work a little more on getting Profiles for the P3 that Match better, its kinda hard to get close to it in Post but its definitly doable if you get it right.

in general its cool to be able to do a Video like that all by myself (i got paid 800 euros and couldnt hire any crew)

heres a privat link from half of the video: (i just edited and graded this real quick yesterday)
https://vimeo.com/131697019
pw: face

hope you like it

June 24, 2015 at 4:42PM

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Gabriel Hyden
DOP / Director
88

Footage looks great! Awsome music video.

What kind of res and framerate did you use on the P3P?
And paired with Log-profile i guess, what sharpness, contrast and saturation?

August 13, 2015 at 10:26AM

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Hi
I did this little edit couple of days ago:
https://vimeo.com/131622353

I had the polarpro UV-filter on and I`ve tried with the ND`s aswell. I got a much better picture but still I had the exposure changes which I hate. I talked to a friend yesterday that flyes the inspire1 and he had the same problem at first but then he worked it out. He said that the ISO/Shuttermenu that you have in the DJI pilot app
on the left side had to be visable when you are recording and the problems were gone. When he`s done filming he removes it and autoland because the buttons for auto takeoff/landing are hidden when that menu are visable. Anyone tried this?

Must be some kind of bug?

June 25, 2015 at 6:58AM

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Marcus Undhagen
Videographer/editor
1

June 25, 2015 at 9:55PM

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Hi
I did this little edit couple of days ago:
https://vimeo.com/131622353

I had the polarpro UV-filter on and I`ve tried with the ND`s aswell. I got a much better picture but still I had the exposure changes which I hate. I talked to a friend yesterday that flyes the inspire1 and he had the same problem at first but then he worked it out. He said that the ISO/Shuttermenu that you have in the DJI pilot app
on the left side had to be visable when you are recording and the problems were gone. When he`s done filming he removes it and autoland because the buttons for auto takeoff/landing are hidden when that menu are visable. Anyone tried this?

Must be some kind of bug?

June 25, 2015 at 7:14AM

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Marcus Undhagen
Videographer/editor
1

yep you gotta hit the exposure menu one more time after auto take off or landing, otherwise it will jump back to auto exposure

June 25, 2015 at 8:45AM, Edited June 25, 8:45AM

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Gabriel Hyden
DOP / Director
88

Swipe left on the shutter/iso menu and it will hide from view ;)

June 25, 2015 at 7:00PM

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Eric Thayne
Director | DP | Music Producer
158

Just got my Phantom 3 about 2 weeks ago, flew it in Colorado almost every day.. rolling shutter isn't as bad as I would think for using insanely short shutter speeds.. I've ordered the PolarPro filters, awaiting delivery...

If you have to run the Phantom 3 without filters, make sure to add some Motion Blur in post.. Highlights/Shadows can also recover quite a bit of highlight detail..

I'm making a short feature film using a combination of timelapse, the Phantom 3, and the GH4 and S900... it's been a ton of fun with quite a few challenges...

June 28, 2015 at 8:04AM, Edited June 28, 8:04AM

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Wow, beautiful job Eric!

June 30, 2015 at 3:20AM

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Here's some stuff I shot with Phantom 3 Pro in Colorado a couple weeks ago. My thoughts about the drone are on the youtube link. (BTW no post stabilization was done to this, the gimbal is pretty solid).
https://youtu.be/TZgEmANn7qI

July 13, 2015 at 5:22PM

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Matt Devino
Freelance Director/Editor/Cinematographer
100

Great article. This helped me out immensely for my Phantom 3 drone video of Manhattan Beach - check it out here: https://vimeo.com/140597171

Shot in 4K and LOG color profile, then graded with Premiere's Fast Color Corrector and RGB curves, as stated in your article. So thanks again for the tips!

October 1, 2015 at 1:36PM

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Scott McFarlane
Owner, smFilms
8