Aerial landscape video photography with drones
Drones have made a real revolution in video photography. What was once only achievable with high financial abilities by helicopters and planes is now possible for almost anyone. As drone technology continuously improves with varied and affordable prices, it is now easier than ever to create high quality cinematic grade aerial videos. There are many guiding lines regarding video and exposure settings, composition and other issues that can help you create stunning clips which I will discuss in this article.
Drone shot from Aletch glacier in Switzerland.
As I already wrote in my article about "Aerial landscape photography", it is basically pretty easy to understand that a better drone will give you more potential to create better videos. Important things you should think about in this matter include flight time, flight range, durability, camera quality, easy flight control and more. Buying a drone also has financial consideration, so deciding which drone you want to buy/use will ultimately be a conclusion of what you need within your financial abilities. I personally use the DJI Phantom 4 pro. It is currently one of the best consumer grade drones with 4K 60 fps video, relatively large 1 inch 20 megapixels sensor, 20-30 minutes flight time, 5-8 km flight range and variable flight options which are easy to use.
Video shooting settings
Much like shooting stills photos, in video you also want to get the best possible results, there for it is important to know what are the best settings to use (depending on your camera drone abilities).
Resolution - I usually go for the highest resolution the camera has, like 4K or Full HD. High resolution TV and computer screens are becoming more popular so there is no reason not to exploit it for the best with high-res videos.
Frames per second - I set the FPS to the highest. if you can get 60 FPS instead of 30 it gives you the potential to create slow motion clips, or simply slow down your video in case you moved the drone too fast while shooting.
Raw Video - High quality drones have the option to shoot video in "Raw" mode, similar to stills photography. It is usually called "D-Log", "Cinelink" or by other names. This shooting mode creates very "flat" looking videos because it makes the least compression to the video file and preserves more exposure and detail information, which you can later use to better edit the video. It is very recommended, but only if you plan to edit the video and you feel you can do it well. If you don't edit, it is better to use any other regular color mode you like.
I have a very detailed article about exposure settings in my "Aerial landscape photography" article. It mainly refers to stills photography, but I use the exact same settings of ISO, Aperture and shutter speed in video. Very shortly, I usually use low ISO to get clean shots with high dynamic range, relatively wide aperture (F/4-F/5.6) to use the lens sweet spot sharpness and the shutter simply balances the exposure. I also use the histogram and shoot as bright as possible without burning to have maximum information in the video file, again you're welcome to read about it with more details in the linked article above.
Composition and motion:
Landscape photography with drones has several similarities and differences from stills photography on the ground. In my "Aerial landscape photography" article you will also find composition guide lines for stills landscape photography with drones, which are absolutely very useful also for video. The big difference in video is the live movement and that is what I will focus on next.
Movement in a video is what really makes the difference and makes it come alive. If you have a great scenery, good light and good composition, all you need next is movement to add the live motion that makes an observer feel like he is inside the scene. The are many types of motion you can do depending on the scene and what you want to create. Some of the examples below can be achieved with automatic flight modes depending on your drone, I usually do it manually. It takes practice and good control of the drone to achieve smooth movement, especially if you're doing something more complex like moving in several axis at the same time.
Forward motion is probably the simplest and easiest motion you can add to your video. In almost any camera angle, forward motion adds good interest to the video. The camera angle definitely plays a big role, it can be directed forward along with motion, downwards overlooking the landscape and any angle in between depending on the composition.
In this clip you can see forward motion with camera facing generally forward as well. The motion ads a feeling of entering into the landscape.
In this clip you can see forward motion with camera facing down on a desert river landscape in Israel. This overview angle facing down can create beautiful imagery and compositions for areas which have interesting textures.
Similar to forward motion, backwards motion in pretty easy to do as well. Backwards motion gives the a sense of viewing the area in a constant wider view. It can also reveal a new view that was behind the camera and enters the scene while in motion.
In this clip you can see backwards motion with camera facing forward. This is Hunlen waterfall deep in the mountains of British Columbia in Canada.
In this clip you can see backwards motion with camera facing forward of Svinafell glacier in Iceland.
Circular motion creates a feeling of surveying the landscape. Either its a mountain top, a lake or anything else, it lets the viewer see the landscape from different angles. Circular motion is a bit more complicated than movements I wrote about so far, because it requires adjusting 2 axis simultaneously - liner right/left + rotation (yaw). It takes some practice to do it smoothly, but you might also have an option to do it automatically depending on your drone.
In this clip you can see linear left movement and right yaw movement that creates circular motion around the famous Kirjufell mountain in Iceland.
Up motion is also a great way to create movement that reveals a wider view of the scene. I like it especially when the camera is facing down on an interesting landscape filled with textures. It can also be good in different camera angles.
In this clip you can see straight motion on badlands desert landscape near the Dead Sea in Israel.
Up and rotate
When coupled together, up movement and rotation (yaw) movement create a very beautiful and dynamic motion. It is also more complicated because you have to control 2 motions simultaneously with good speed and do it smoothly.
In this clip you can see straight up motion with rotation over a forest in Canada.
In this clip you can see straight up motion with rotation over a snowy patch of moss field in Iceland.
forward and up motion
This type of motion is one of my favorites. It usually starts with a down angle view of an interesting texture landscape and gradually opens up the view to reveal a wider scene. It requires control of two things simultaneously - moving the drone forward + moving the camera angle upwards. This kind of motion also takes practice to get a smooth result.
In this clip you can see forward motion of the drone with upwards movement of the camera in Mont Blanc mountain in France.
I don't use side motion too often, but it can be useful according to the composition. a good example would be a vast mountain range, or a river stream.
In this clip you can see side motion with down angle view of a river in Iceland.
Shooting landscape videos with drones is awesome! You can create epic cinematic clips that were once only possible with planes or helicopters and were very expensive. It takes a lot of practice to get good results - you'll have to know your exposure technique well, develop a good composition style and master the control of your drone!
What ever you do - be reasonable and fly safe! Drones are getting more and more restricted these days because people with little experience and bad judgment do foolish things and risk other people's lives. Don't be that guy, enjoy your drone and fly safe 🙂