In the last couple of years, drones have become much more affordable and easier to use for every YouTuber. That being said, viewers can tell the difference between a new pilot and someone who knows what they’re doing.
There are tons of drones for YouTubers to fly, but I’ve personally used DJI drones, starting with the DJI Phantom 2, then on to the DJI Phantom 3 Pro, and now the DJI Mavic.
I reference DJI drones throughout the article, but these tips can apply to piloting any consumer camera drone. Here are some tips that’ll help you achieve those cinematic drone shots to really make your YouTube videos and vlogs stand out!
Know Your Camera Drone
Before you start capturing the next aerial cinematography masterpiece, you’ll need to know how your drone works and what its limitations are.
Playing with all the settings and test flights will go a long way when getting over the learning curve of flying. DJI even has a feature in their app that allows you to fly a fake virtual drone using your real life remote controller so you can get used to the controls.
Fly At a Steady Pace
One thing new pilots frequently do when flying their camera drone is flying way to fast. In order to get nice cinematic shots, you’ll want to fly your drone at a smooth and steady pace. Flying to fast can cause your footage to look jittery and shaky.
The only time you may want to fly fast is if your landscape is huge and will benefit from that fast movement. An example of this would be if your drone is out over the water flying towards the beach, having the water go past the camera quickly (I’m sure you’ve seen this shot countless times in movies and TV shows).
Avoid The Tilted Horizon Line
When flying your camera drone, avoid filming YouTube videos with a tilted horizon line, which will make your content stand out for the wrong reason. Most of the time your drone gimbal will be level while flying, but in windy conditions or if flying at high speeds, your horizon line will inevitably tilt.
I don’t know why this happens, but it’s personally happened to me all the time on the DJI Phantom 2 and Phantom 3 Pro. You can fix this in 2 ways:
Gimbal Correction: For DJI drones, under the drone settings menu, there should be a gimbal submenu that allows you to change various aspects of gimbal movement. One option you’ll have is “gimbal roll adjustment”, which allows you to correct your horizon line to match what you’re seeing through your monitor.
Editing: If you’ve already filmed your tilted footage, there’s still a way to save it! Hopefully you’ve shot in 4K so you have those extra pixels. Take your drone footage and put it in your sequence. Using your motion effects tab, you can rotate footage in either direction until your horizon line is level. You’ll likely have to scale your footage up a tiny bit to cover those corners that are exposed from rotating your footage.
Filming Drone Videos on Intelligent Flight Modes
What’s great about camera drones is that they all come with built-in features that can help you get that perfect shot even easier. These features are called “Intelligent Flight Modes” on DJI drones and I use them all the time.
There are several different intelligent flight modes that each have their own unique function, but of the 5 flight modes I only use 2 of them, which are:
Point of Interest Mode
This is probably my most used drone flight mode as it allows you to set a specific building, object, or location as your “point of interest”. Once it’s set, your drone will fly continuously in a circle around your POI while you record video. I love experimenting with this mode as well, by having my drone move up and down creating even more dynamic/cinematic shots.
Follow Me Mode
This flight mode allows you to pick a subject, whether it’s yourself or your friend, and have your drone follow you automatically. Now be careful as you’re not fully piloting the drone here. So, make sure you’re flying your drone in a big open space.
Keep an Eye Out For The Weather
Mother nature plays a big part when it comes to filming YouTube videos with a drone. Things like rain, mist, or fog is weather you’ll want to avoid. Sunny or cloudy days will be your best for flying.
The wind also plays a big factor on flying drones. For example, some drones may only handle wind speeds up to 25 mph, so don’t fly in anything faster. Not only will your footage look like jello, but you also risk crashing your drone if caught by the wrong gust (I’ve seen it happen).
Also known as “Golden Hour”, this is the period just after sunrise and before sunset. As the sun rises or sets, it creates a beautiful golden glow that blankets the sky with soft light. Shooting at this time of day will always make your footage look stunning, whether you’re filming YouTube videos on a drone or your regular camera.
Filming Drone Videos with a Flat Picture Profile
For YouTubers who are experienced in editing and like to use color correction, you can also create nicer looking footage by shooting flat, which means to film videos with a “flat picture profile”. On DJI drones, this is usually referred to as “D-Log” under your camera’s settings.
Filming drone videos in D-Log may look weird at first because it desaturates the footage, creates less contrast, and is less sharp. However, what this actually allows you to do is get better color, contrast, and sharpness once you’ve brought your footage into post production for editing.
By shooting flat, you’re giving yourself more leeway in editing to add better color, contrast, and sharpness, which can make your footage look even more cinematic then if you were to shoot with a standard picture profile.
Shutter Speeds & ND Filters on Camera Drones
If you haven’t had a chance, check out this post on important camera settings for YouTube videos including shutter speed and frame rates, all of which apply to drones as well.
A mistake new drone pilots can make is to increase their shutter speed way past what it should be. With drones having fixed apertures, the only way to properly expose your image for a cinematic look is to adjust your shutter speed, which takes away all motion blur.
Motion blur is one of the main factors that helps make your YouTube videos look cinematic.
In order to keep your shutter speed down to double your frame rate, you’ll need something called a ND filter. ND filters are like sunglasses to your drone, allowing you to get a proper exposure on your image, while also keeping your shutter speed down to double your frame rate (i.e. if you’re shooting at 24fps then your shutter speed should be 1/50).
Another way to get cinematic motion blur without ND filters is by using an effect in Adobe After Effects called “Pixel Motion Blur” when editing your YouTube videos.
Pixel motion blur analyses your footage shot at a high shutter speed and adds cinematic looking motion blur. This is a great resource to have, but I highly suggest purchasing ND filters for your drone before resorting to After Effects.
Adding Zoom Effects When Editing Drone Videos
Ideally you’ve shot all your footage in 4K and are now editing in a 1080p sequence. Because you’ve filmed in 4K, you’ll also have a lot of extra pixels to play with. Adding a slow and subtle zoom when editing your YouTube videos can help make your footage look cinematic while also drawing the viewer in to what you’re showing them.
You can also experiment with your drone shots by adding the dolly zoom effect. This is where you fly your drone forward towards a subject but digitally zoom backwards to create a interesting shot that looks cool and can really capture your viewers attention.
Those are my tips for getting cinematic footage with your camera drone. Before you start making YouTube videos with a drone, be sure to research all the rules and regulations that come with flying drones in your area, as every region has their own set of rules. Flying safe benefits everyone!
VLOG NATION CONTRIBUTOR
Chris Monteiro is a Canadian videographer and drone pilot, who is passionate about creating dynamic digital content. An avid traveller, Chris loves to explore new places with his Sony A7Sii in hand and aims to tell engaging stories about what he captures through his lens.
Vloggers Mailing List
Subscribe to our mailing list and get our best content for vloggers sent to your inbox
Thank you for subscribing.