June 28, 2015

New to Drones? Here Are 10 Helpful Tips for Being Safe & Getting Great Shots

Sebastian Solberg Drone Filmmaking Tips
Drones are all the rage these days, and for good reason.

Not only do they allow for an entirely unique perspective, but the technology has become ubiquitous and relatively affordable. This means that, every single day, someone is taking to the skies for the very first time. Unfortunately, piloting a drone and operating the camera at the same time is far more difficult than it looks. Secondly, and more importantly, is the matter of public safety. Depending on where and how you fly, you could be unwittingly risking the safety of people around you. That's not something to be taken lightly.

Luckily, UK-based filmmaker Sebastian Solberg has some helpful drone filmmaking tips that will help first-time fliers operate their new UAVs safely, and get great shots at the same time. Check it out:

Sebastian also shared a few more tips in writing.

  1. If it’s your first time flying make sure you practice in a field far away from people, cars, and houses. It’s all about muscle memory, so fly on a daily basis for a few weeks or months in different locations before using it on set. Practice, practice, practice.
  2. Depending on where you’re flying, check the rules, do a quick Google. For example, you’re not allowed to fly a drone in London unless you have a permit. But you can fly over the parliament buildings in Budapest no problem. As this is a new technology lots of countries are still catching up and don’t have any drone rules. Always use common sense when flying.
  3. The best results are produced when flying the drone slowly with long nice fluid movements. Get close to an object and slowly rise above it to reveal the amazing vistas in front of you.
  4. Never fly above crowds, it’s illegal and very dangerous. Just don't do it.
  5. Make sure you don’t fly above 500 feet or near airports. The last thing you want to be doing is crashing into a plane. Plus, altitude restrictions change depending on where you're flying, so again, make sure you Google UAV rules for wherever you're flying before you shoot.
  6. The drone really shines when you can get shots that aren’t possible with a helicopter. For example when I was shooting in Scotland I got a shot of the drone flying through a castle window and it looks amazing. Be creative and try and get shots that nobody has seen before.
    Sebastian Solberg Drone Filmmaking Tips
  7. Experiment with the settings on your camera that you’ve attached to the drone and see what results it produces. The more you can understand about this technology, the better equipped you’ll be as every shoot is different and may require a different look. For example if you film at 30 frames per second and then slow it down and convert it to 25 or 24 frames per second in post and the footage will have an almost dream like feel to it.
  8. Plan each shot before you take off. Each battery on a drone lasts about 15 minutes, so you want to maximize flight time. Like any shoot the more you plan the better the results will be (keep spare batteries on hand too).
  9. This is an obvious one but always check the weather conditions before flying the drone. Most drones are pretty good in wind, but if it’s super windy or raining and you don’t feel comfortable flying the drone, wait until the wind has calmed down or the rain has stopped. It can be unsafe to fly in high winds, and more than likely the footage will be unusable anyway, so just wait until the weather is more favorable.
  10. If you want to produce something amazing it’s got to start with a great idea. Always put the story before the tools. Audiences want to see people, stories, and experiences that they connect with on an emotional level. As filmmakers, we create content that entertains, moves, and inspires people. Drone technology won’t turn you into a great filmmaker but it will enhance your skills as a story teller and if used well will make your work shine.

So there you have it, 10 beginner tips for safer, more effective drone filmmaking. For you more experienced drone filmmakers out there, if you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before your first drone flight, what would it be? Share your answers with us down in the comments!     

Your Comment

11 Comments

A wonderful post. These beginner tips are really for everyone. It's easy to get overconfident with your drone, break a rule and then you crash. One mistake and you lose hundreds or thousands of dollars. What he says about getting the shot a helicopter can't get is exactly right. Anyone can fly a drone over a beach, city, forest, etc... I always try to push my skills to the limit as a single operator to get unique moving shots.

Here is a recent aerial video I shot in Hawaii for a bed and breakfast.

https://youtu.be/WSNJfshRFMw

June 29, 2015 at 1:34PM, Edited June 29, 1:34PM

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Jeremy Tremp
Director, Cinematographer, Editor
81

Awesome places and great camera movements with the drone, you are doing great job, keep going :)

July 10, 2015 at 10:08AM, Edited July 10, 10:08AM

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Jules Maussion
French Indie Filmmaker - Photographer
163

Awesome places and great camera movements with the drone, you are doing great job, keep going :)

July 10, 2015 at 10:08AM

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Jules Maussion
French Indie Filmmaker - Photographer
163

These shots are so inspiring, but I am still so intimidated by drones. All I can think about is me screwing up and CRASH! =( Still gathering the courage. But someday hopefully. I wouldn't mind doing a 2-man op and framing the shot however while a more experienced pilot flies it. I think that would be awesome!

June 29, 2015 at 2:18PM

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I have similar apprehension. If I ever get into this drone scene I plan on joining a Meetup, trying to get a bit of one on one mentoring and tips from someone in this hypothetical meetup, and practicing a ton in no/low risk situations until I feel confident.

June 29, 2015 at 2:30PM, Edited June 29, 2:30PM

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A. Broad
161

It's absolutely that easy to crash. I see a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon dropping 1000.00 and then crashing in the first week. They are easy to fly and difficult to master. I have been flying for about a year, first on the Phantom and now on the Inspire. On a shoot last month I got too confident and clipped a tree branch. Now I am without a drone for 6 weeks and probably a few hundred dollar repair bill. Takes patience and discipline!

June 29, 2015 at 3:50PM

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Jeremy Tremp
Director, Cinematographer, Editor
81

tree is the #1 drone killer, I saw two inspire 1 with arm broke off after colliding with the tree in separate incidents

I myself crashed inspire 1 to the tree and dropped to the ground, luckily only the rubber piece (connect to the plate) and some wire broke off as it was landing on grass area and not some hard surface.

Also, I would put insurance as the #1 priority list, if you cause damage to people/vehicle/property expect to pay a lot..

July 7, 2015 at 9:16PM, Edited July 7, 9:17PM

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Sebastian Solberg is great! Thanks for the article.

June 30, 2015 at 5:30AM, Edited June 30, 5:30AM

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Michele Konrad
Writer/Director
81

Sebastian is right... it's all about the muscle memory. If you automated flying in your mind, then you fly safe and can concentrate on the great images. What helped me as a beginner, were these 3 steps:

1. practise virtually: there is an App called 'QuadcopterFX Simulator' you can fly drones from first person perspective and the gimbal view. It helps a lot to get used of the controls and orientation. You can even simulate wind.
2. buy a test-drone: For 100$ you get the "QUADROCOPTER BLADE NANO QX RTF" a great agile little drone for practice (without camera). The controls will be the same as the quadcopters. You can crash into a wall and this drone will survive... it's meant to be. (byproduct: It's lots of fun flying this fast little thing)
3. Buy your camera drone (Phantom, Solo One,...) and practice.

have fun and fly safe :)

July 1, 2015 at 2:21PM

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André Becker
Cinematographer
74

What brand, and model drone do you recommend? What kind of camera?

July 10, 2015 at 4:16PM

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Reginald C Smith
Single and multi-camera director
81

Robert, thanks for the tips.
I have a question about tip #7
What is dream like feel looks like?
Could you explain more please or drop the link with the sample?
Thanks for your time

July 30, 2016 at 8:41AM

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tomk
81