Drones have risen in popularity among storytellers of all kinds, from journalists to commercial pilots to recreational flyers. The aerial view provides a unique perspective that captures wide shots of large areas and crowds of people.
News outlets use drones to capture footage of crowds and natural disasters while commercial pilots may use them to film locations like cities or construction sites. With options to capture video and photos, drones are an incredibly useful tool for any visual story.
Unlike a lot of equipment, not just anyone can use a drone. Sundance Media Group UAV Instructor, Douglas Spotted Eagle explains the top ways to get started as an authorized drone pilot in his session at the Post|Production World 2020 conference.
See Spotted Eagle’s full session from Post|Production World 2020 or continue reading for his top drone video tips!
Take the Time to Get Adequate Drone Certification Training
Caption: Certification from the FAA
The first step for any storyteller to become a drone pilot is to learn how to fly. All drone users are required to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Pilots qualify for 107 Certification if they are at least 16 years of age, speak English, and have no mental or physical issues that may impair the ability to fly their drones. If they qualify, drone users then need to pass a written knowledge test to obtain certification.
Find Your Niche in Drone Video
Once certified, the training isn’t over. Spotted Eagle recommends picking one niche, specifically one type of drone work, and becoming an expert. Because of the challenges of aerial production and the expenses for equipment, it’s important to master your work before moving on to something new. Once you’ve chosen your niche, apply at least 100 hours of training until the techniques become second nature and you are prepared to meet any challenge during flights. Once you’ve mastered one type of flight, then move on to expand your skills to another type. Some niches include real estate drone photography, wedding drone photography, commercial work, construction, and more!
Find the Proper Aircraft for Your Niche
Caption: A drone’s automated flight route
There are a variety of drones available with different features to fit your project. When picking a drone, you have to consider the drone’s stability, flight time limits, payload, and live stream/broadcast capabilities. You can use one with interchangeable cameras and interchangeable lenses, and also decide if you need your camera to shoot RAW or DNG.
In addition to the production requirements, your drone selection will also depend on the environment in which you will use your drone. Are you shooting in a windy city like Chicago or the dry heat of the desert? If you want to use your drone in the city, for example, you will need increased stability to manage the windy days, while a drone in the desert will need special cooling technology.
You will also need to consider any needed safety equipment and other software. Some drone pilots may need parachutes to ensure against harming people or property in the case of a crash, while other pilots may need to prioritize an automation feature that allows for accurate retakes in commercial productions.
Insure Your Drone Business
Drone pilots can face a lot of challenges, so it is important to protect your company and/or your drone from risk. Insure your business against liability and collisions with insurance, training, and appropriate certification and waivers. In the case that an accident does occur, insurance and safety measures may be the difference between a minor inconvenience and a fine of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Caption: Douglas Spotted Eagle demonstrates his drone in his P|PW 2020 session “Drones in Journalism, Broadcast & Commercial Production.”
Have a Policy/Operation Guide for Your Aircraft and/or Business
There are many restrictions for aerial production that ensure the safety of the pilots and the people and property that may be around, including maintaining certifications and logging certain activities. Drone operators should also be aware of municipal regulations that may apply.
Some required policies include logging battery usage such as tracking when batteries are turned on and off and when they are charged. Fortunately, there are batteries available that log that activity and more. Another policy requires that pilots flying over people must always have a waiver.
To ensure that you and your company are following proper procedures, Spotted Eagle suggests keeping a Policy/Operation Guide with everything you and your employees need to know while operating your drone.
Learn the Art of Editing Drone Video
Caption: Drone footage of Las Vegas. Source: Sundance Media Group
Flying your drone isn’t the only skill necessary for mastering your drone work. Once you’ve captured your footage, you will need to review and edit all of your material.
Start by cutting down all the extra, unwanted footage. Then, trim it down even more. Spotted Eagle suggests cutting out everything until it is just the WOW footage because “a very, very short awesome drone video is preferable to a short video of very cool.”
Through the process of reviewing and editing, drone pilots can learn what works best and what doesn’t, giving them a better eye for capturing better footage in the field.
Think you are ready to apply these tips in the field?
Sign up to join Douglas Spotted Eagle and his crew in the UAV Workshops offered at Post|Production World 2021 in Las Vegas this fall!
In addition to workshops, you can purchase a P|PW In-Person or Online Pass to join Douglas Spotted Eagle and others in their sessions on production, post-production, business, social media, and more! Check out the full program.