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Tips for filming with quadcopters

Tips for filming with quadcopters

Already own a quadcopter? More and more, you see people with remote controls and video goggles controlling small flying devices. These gadgets are easy to transport and allow you to get totally new perspectives of the world around you. Whether you want to view the ruins of a castle from the sky or fly over landscape as morning mists drift by, the bird’s eye view is great for discovering daily environments in a very different way. So it’s no wonder that more and more people are buying quadcopters.

Tilman Herberger, who’s responsible for software development at MAGIX, is a video enthusiast who’s been making aerial videos for years. He’s travelled all over the globe and is always capturing images of beautiful landscapes from up above. From these trips he has created unparalleled videos like the kind you see in professionally produced documentaries.

In this interview, Tilman tells us stories from his 5 years of filming experience and gives readers tips about the right equipment to use and about editing drone video footage.

How long have you been making videos with the drone? You were a sort of pioneer back then, compared to today What are the most common kinds of reaction from passers-by?

Homemade aerial devices have always fascinated me – as a teenager I would fill hydrogen balloons and make them fly like mini zeppelins.When the first quadcopter from Conrad arrived 5 years ago, it was perfect timing. It didn’t have GPS, a compass or height sensor, so it had to be flown by hand.A sudden gust of wind would blow the copter away, so I was always panicking and letting it fall to the ground. There are still quite a few broken bits of propeller lying on the lawn in front of my house…I usually try to engage curious passers-by and ask them if they’re interested in the device or if they want to try out the goggles. I almost always get positive feedback and meet nice people this way.If someone has an issue with me flying ín a certain location, I’ll stop flying, of course.But since I’m usually out in more exciting countryside areas and less in cities or touristy areas, there’s less potential for conflict. It goes without saying that flying near airports and public events is off limits.

man with quadcopter

Which type of drone and camera do you use? What equipment do you bring with you?

At the moment I’m flying the DJI Phantom with a GoPro3. It’s my third copter in the last 5 years and I’m very happy with it. It’s amazing how much the technology has improved and how much simpler the controls are now.

Today, any beginner can fly a drone with confidence. That’s very different to before.

Right now, I bring the following equipment when traveling and hiking:

  •  DJI Phantom Quadcopter
  •  Zenmuse gimbal (stabilized camera mount)
  •  GoPro 3 camera
  • Video transmitter
  • Fatshark video goggles for the “pilot’s view” during a flight
  • 4 batteries
  • Wind gauge
  • Charger, 12V auto adapter, some tools etc.
  • I keep all of this equipment in a sturdy transport case.

On hikes I just strap the Phantom onto the top of my rucksack on my back, so it’s easier to carry and is within reach to start using quickly.

And above all, you need model aircraft insurance, because you never know, something might go wrong…

How do you normally prepare for flying?

The most important thing is to have a fully loaded battery. You can’t let the battery get too cold either. This can be bit of a challenge in places like Iceland. Batteries rapidly weaken when it’s below 10 degrees, and that’s a real problem if you want to fly your drone over water or a glacier…

I also think it’s important to have a concrete idea of your flight route before you start. For instance, you could fly at a low height until you reach the edge of a glacier, then climb vertically, make a 180 degree turn and fly back. You can lose track of things if you don’t plan a route, and might be disappointed that your images don’t turn out as sensational as you’d imagined.

This is the checklist I use, right from the start:

  • When necessary, gauge the wind. From my experience a copter can be flown stably at a wind speed of up to 8 meters per second. That’s the same as a pretty strong breeze of 30km/h. I prefer not to fly in storms.
  • Look for a level starting point with at least 1 meter of room to move freely all around, because the copter can lurch a little to the side when starting off.
  • This is where I set up my start platform. It’s a small plastic box that I also use as a transport container. Using this is a lot better than placing the copter directly onto sandy or muddy ground.
  • Set remote control to the initial position and switch it on
  • Insert the battery. The copter warm-up phase will begin, and is indicated by the LED.
  • While it’s warming up, I clean the video goggles, screw on the antenna, insert the battery etc.
  • When the status LED on the copter indicates that it has initialized and has saved the GPS starting location (very important for an emergency return!), switch on the the GoPro and start the video recording.
  • Now you can get started – take a step back and step on the gas! The copter will speed up into the air.
  • If the wind speed’s high, I first turn the copter on its side to check whether it’s stable in all directions.
  • Then continue on with the flight itself using the video goggles. It’s a lot of fun!
  • I never let the copter land by itself, but prefer to grab it from the air. This is safer, because when landing on a rough surface the propellers can hit the ground and become damaged.

 

gear on mountain

What are the best locations to film using a drone, in your opinion? And where have your worst experiences been?

Personally, I get the biggest thrill when I can get new perspectives of breathtaking landscape. Like an eagle’s eye view of a river delta from 100 meters high that shows you its structures in a way that isn’t obvious from the ground, or a fast-moving flight over an interesting lava formation that appears more spatial because of the moving device than when filmed from a certain point.

Often smooth flights at lower levels are more exciting than those at greater heights. But they’re also more difficult, because there’s a greater risk of collisions with trees, cliffs etc.I’ve often been disappointed with vertical shots that move downwards. This perspective, like that of Google Earth, is not usually as interesting as a slanted, moving view.

I fly a lot using video goggles, so I can get a big shock when I turn around after a long flight and try to find my start position from the air. Sometimes it’s really hard to see – say if the copter is 500 meters out to sea. You have to figure out on which of the 5 cliffs in view you’re actually standing on. In which direction should I fly back? I can’t see a person because I’m so far away and don’t want to risk flying back to the wrong cliff and having to make an emergency landing because of low power.

At times like these it’s really important to have a second person who can see the copter without the goggles and help me control it.Sometimes I use the GPS-controlled emergency return, particularly when the battery’s nearly dead and I don’t have any time for experimenting.

What kind of weather is best for filming? 

There aren’t really any bad weather conditions – only a bad subject choice or flight planning. Of course, an ambient evening with long shadows and warm hues is great for a drone video. When the sun’s at midday you need to attach a small sun shade to the GoPro to prevent the shadow from your propellers from running across your footage. I have my friend Rainer Triebe to thank for this idea!

You can’t fly in rain or heavy fog. because the copter’s electric components are located behind the vents and the device will malfunction if humidity gets in there.

What tips do you have for editing the video? What’s the best way to deal with fisheye effect? What do you do when the rotor appears in your footage?

Post-editing a video is just as important as a good flight. But this doesn’t have to take long if you use MAGIX Fastcut

. I’ve worked intensively on its development.

First you need to make the cut – for instance edit a 5 minute flight down to 30 seconds. As a rule, that’s enough footage to show the best scenes without losing your viewer’s interest. I always start editing using an auto cut template, then view the selection and swap out scenes if I’m not sure about the material that has been automatically selected.

Colors in GoPro recordings often look better with auto-exposure or increased contrast.

I usually fly with the medium angle lens option in GoPro, so fisheye distortion isn’t really a problem. You can fix it using Fastcut, although I don’t always do this.

But there’s one effect I always use – video stabilization. Even when you’re flying smoothly, most footage will have slight lurches and wobbles. You can eliminate these completely using the video stabilization in Fastcut or Movie Edit Pro, and the result is a smooth, professional-looking video.

If the propellers appear above in the image, there’s not really much you can do about it apart from scaling it down. A solution is to have a good flight plan, as this effect only occurs with strong headwinds or high speeds in camera direction where the copter slants. This can be avoided by filming with the camera facing backwards or by lowering the camera angle slightly.It’s easy to do this using the video goggles.

Personally, I don’t mind if the propellers come into view now and then – they depict the reality of the flight, the wind and the atmosphere.

What’s been your funniest experience when filming with your drone?

My attempts at flying in Greenland a few weeks ago look hilarious: the copter’s reeling through the air as if it’s drunk. Without flying commands it flew at a steep angle, kept flying over to the side, made some weird curves and it took a lot of effort to bring it under control.It wasn’t much fun for me, though, because it nearly crashed against some cliffs several times.

The problem was the deviation between the magnetic north in the region I was filming in and the geographic (GPS) north. So the compass chip and GPS were sending different data about where north lay. The control system in the copter couldn’t cope and sent conflicting information to the propeller. Even with the GPS turned off, the Phantom couldn’t be controlled safely, so I didn’t fly the drone there after that. It’s a similar situation in New Zealand, although not quite as strong. So I’ve been able to fly there, but with care.

Author

Deborah has worked at MAGIX since 2005. During her studies in Communication and Film Sciences, she freelanced as copy editor of texts and video tutorials for the MAGIX products. Since 2012 she works in Product Marketing and she is takes care of the Webvideos and Educational department.

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