By Roger Sollenberger
Intimidated by drones? You’re not alone. Although there still aren’t a lot of resources that guide first-time pilots from a photographer’s point-of-view, it’s surprisingly easy to get started. With the limited space I have, I’d like to offer a few critical tips I wish I hadn’t had to learn on my own.
Get a drone that can carry a GoPro, hands-down the best small camera on the market. The 3D Robotics IRIS+ is a great entry point at $750. Also, 3DR’s drones are fully autonomous: They can fly themselves so you can focus on the shot. For aerial video you’ll want a gimbal, which hangs from your drone and stabilizes your GoPro. And optionally, but highly recommended: an FPV monitor. FPV (first-person view) lets you see what your camera sees in real time.
Start slow. First play with altitude, then practice landing. When you’re ready to fly, keep the drone facing out so you’re both looking the same way. Orientation is one of the biggest challenges for new pilots: When you turn the drone to face you the controls invert, and if you’re not experienced things get confusing quickly.
Get the shot: tips
Plan ahead: Think of where you want your shots to start and finish, like storyboards. Remember, battery life up there is limited. If the GoPro points straight ahead its wide field of view might catch the propellers in the frame. To avoid, turn camera angle down a few degrees.
Fly with cinematic intent, combining copter positioning with camera operation. The two interact. For instance, don’t just rise over your subject; rise up while tilting the camera down. In fact, motion and perspective are the two biggest strengths of drone photography, so it’s good to remember how speed and perspective interact. The higher you are, the faster you have to fly if you want people to perceive motion.
So advanced it’s easy
3DR’s advanced technology makes pro aerials easy. Simply draw a flight path on your Android tablet and your IRIS+ will fly itself, freeing you to work camera tilt. Follow Me mode lets you go completely hands-free: 3DR drones can follow wherever you go, keeping the camera centered on you to capture your every move. Even make Follow Me dynamic by retaking control of the sticks mid-flight—the camera stays on the moving subject as you fly manually.
For my best shots I flew my IRIS+ with Region of Interest on. ROI lets me choose a static subject, like a water tower, and fly around it freely while the drone keeps the subject in frame. This mode is also great for eye-popping parallax: Think of that water tower with a city skyline sweeping across the background.
Drone technology and camera technology are on converging courses. And 3DR has made it all incredibly easy—not just to get flying today, but to get the shot.