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How to Make Your Drone Footage More Cinematic

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Sebastian filming with drone

In this blog I’m going to share eight essential drone movements I like to use to make my drone footage more cinematic. What I love about drones is that they give a sense of scale and perspective to a scene. If used correctly and not overused, drone movements can really help step up your filmmaking game to new heights.

 

8 Drone Moves For Cinematic B-roll

 

1. Cinematic Drone Move: Push in or pull out 

  • Push-in shot

So first up, the push in. Just like a gimbal push in, I often use as a drone push in as an establishing shot to show the location that the characters are in. When using this movement, decide what is going to be the central focus of the frame and how high off the ground you want the camera to be. If you want to create a sense of speed and action, get close to the ground or fly through objects such as windows, under bridges or close to obstacles such as trees and walls.

If you want to create a sense of scale with this movement, film from higher up and tilt the camera down slightly.

When setting up a push-in shot, before taking off I decide where I want to start and finish. Then I’ll take off as close to the start point as I can. I always make sure that the camera is in front of me, never behind me  - otherwise, it can be very hard to control the drone and it’s easy to lose sight of where it’s positioned in relation to you. When deciding where to take off from, the most important thing is that the drone is in front of me.

  • Pull-out shot

Next is the pull-out shot which is the same as the push-in, but in reverse. I often use the pull-out shot at the end of my film to help resolve the story and make the audience feel like they’re leaving the scene.

I also like to use the pull out shot to show the subject and their surroundings by starting as close to the subject or surrounding area as I can while still being safe, then zooming out to reveal where the subject is.

To mix it up I sometimes bring the drone up to give it some height to really show the scale of the environment. This is great when filming in vast landscapes as it shows how small the subject is compared to the huge landscape. 

 

2. Cinematic Drone Move: Tracking

There are three main tracking shots you can use when filming with a drone, these are the follow track, the lead track and the sidetrack.

  • Follow track

First up is the follow track which is where you film from behind your subject as they’re walking or running.

When filming this type of tracking shot you have to be really careful not to fly the drone into your subject. To avoid this, I like to fly slightly higher than the subject so that if they suddenly stopped, the drone wouldn’t go flying into them. 

  • Lead track

 Next is the lead track which is where you film the subject from in front of them and follow them backwards - keeping the same distance between the drone and your subject.

If you’re filming your subject at a low angle or at eye level using this movement, make sure you don’t suddenly stop the drone otherwise the subject will go straight into it and it will hurt.  

  • Sidetrack

 Then we have the side track which is when you film your subject from their side as they’re walking, running, riding, driving or even flying. 

If you want to add a sense of speed to this shot, film in a location where there are objects in the foreground, such as trees, between you and the subject or close to the ground.

 

3. Cinematic Drone Move: Aerial Pan Shot

Panning shots are typically filmed using a tripod. In this case it’s filmed with your drone. It’s achieved by rotating your drone left or right and is especially useful if you’re filming an establishing shot of say a cityscape or landscape.

When panning left or right you can also move the drone forward or backward to make the movement more dynamic.

 

4. Cinematic Drone Move: Parallax

This is when you orbit around the subject or building, keeping them in the same place in the frame so that they’re not moving and the background is - creating what’s known as the parallax effect. This movement is especially powerful with a drone if you’re filming your subject up a mountain, say, or on top of a building, as the scenic background parallaxes around the subject and looks spectacular.

This is one of my favourite moves when filming people in vast landscapes as it really shows off the scale and dramatic nature of an environment. Just remember to keep the movement slow and steady when you’re orbiting the subject otherwise it can feel a bit chaotic and take away from the cinematics of the shot. 

 

5. Cinematic Drone Move: Pedestal 

This is when the drone is flying up or down without moving the camera at all, and it’s strictly relying on flying. Pedestal shots are often used to establish a location, show statues, monuments, and even views above the clouds. This can be as easy as going straight up and down with your drone.

You can also add a tilting movement to this shot as you get higher or lower to keep the subject in the centre of frame.

 

6. Cinematic Drone Move: Reveal

There are three main reveal shots I like to use when filming with a drone, these are the tilt-up, the rise and the dolly.

  • Tilt-up

First is the tilt up which is when you’re flying close to the ground, the camera is pointing down. Then as you’re flying forwards or backwards you tilt the camera up to reveal the view. I especially love this shot when you’re filming over water - it looks amazing!

  • Rise

This is where you start as close to the ground as possible and approach an obstacle whether that’s a tree, mountain or house, going straight towards it. Then you slowly start moving upwards with the drone until you almost touch the obstacle but instead you continue upwards until you reveal the view.

This is my favourite all-time drone shot as it can be hard to do but when you pull it off and see the results it puts a big smile on your face.

  • Dolly 

This is when you start filming from behind an object in the foreground that’s blocking the view, whether that’s a tree or a house and you fly the drone left or right to get past the object to then reveal the view.

 

7. Cinematic Drone Move: Top Down 

This is when you point the camera down on your subject. There are three variations of the top down that I like to use when filming which are the follow, rotate and pull back.

  • Follow

The follow is when you’re filming the subject from above and you keep the subject in the centre of the frame as you follow it around.

  • Rotate

The rotate is where you film the subject from top-down again, keeping the subject centred. Then slowly rotate the drone.

  • Pull back

The pull back is when you start close to the subject and slowly pull back to reveal the subject and the subject’s surroundings.

 

8. Cinematic Drone Move: Fly over

This is where you start further back and above the main subject and then you move towards it, with it in center frame and as you approach it, you tilt the camera down to keep the subject in the middle of the shot. We see this movement a lot, from commercials to music videos to TV shows. When filming a fly-over I start by choosing one object or specific landscape and focus the whole camera movement around that subject. Fly-over shots are great for placing your subject in a geographical perspective and showing the scale of the area.

 

Mastering Cinematic Drone Movements

Drones have revolutionised the world of filmmaking by offering a unique perspective and scale that was previously difficult to achieve. The eight essential drone movements discussed in this blog - Push In/Pull Out, Tracking, Aerial Pan Shot, Parallax, Pedestal, Reveal, Top Down, and Fly Over - can significantly enhance the cinematic quality of the footage. Whether you're a seasoned filmmaker looking to step up your game, or a beginner filmmaker who's just getting started, mastering these movements can be a game-changer in producing breathtaking visuals.

 

Best Cinematic Camera Settings

The key to unlocking cinematic drone footage often lies in the camera settings. Many beginner filmmakers face the challenge of capturing professional-quality footage, hindered by incorrect settings leading to poor exposure, lack of motion blur, or unsteady shots. The solution is straightforward: mastering the right camera settings. Adjusting elements like frame rate, shutter speed, ISO, and aperture can dramatically improve the quality of your drone footage. To simplify this process, I've compiled a Drone Cinematography Cheat Sheet. It's a handy guide with essential settings and tips to enhance your aerial videography.

Download our Drone Cinematography Cheat Sheet here and elevate your drone footage!

 

Make Your Drone Footage More Cinematic

Making your drone footage more cinematic is an art that combines technical skill with creative vision. To elevate your drone videography, start by focusing on smooth and deliberate movements. Avoid abrupt changes in speed or direction, and use slow, steady motions to create a more immersive and professional look. Another key aspect is understanding the importance of lighting. Film during the golden hour—shortly after sunrise or before sunset—to capture warm, soft light that enhances the visual appeal of your footage. Composition is also crucial. Apply the rule of thirds to frame your shots and consider leading lines or natural frames to add depth and interest. Additionally, experiment with different heights and angles to discover unique perspectives that standard videography cannot achieve. Don't forget to post-process your footage. Color grading plays a significant role in setting the mood and style of your film. By adjusting the colors, contrast, and exposure, you can significantly enhance the emotional impact of your scenes. Lastly, invest in good quality equipment, like ND filters, to control exposure and avoid overexposed footage on bright days. By combining these techniques, you can significantly improve the cinematic quality of your drone videography, turning ordinary aerial shots into captivating visual stories.

 

Best Drones For Documentary Filmmaking

When it comes to documentary filmmaking, the choice of drone can significantly influence the quality and impact of your final product. The best drones for this genre combine high-quality imaging capabilities with robust flight performance. Leading the pack is the DJI Mavic series, which offers a perfect balance of portability and exceptional 4K video quality. Its Hasselblad camera with a 1-inch CMOS sensor captures stunning, detail-rich footage, crucial for the depth and clarity required in documentaries. For filmmakers seeking a more compact option, the DJI Mini-series stands out for its ultra-light design and 4K video capabilities, making it ideal for capturing footage in remote or hard-to-reach locations. If budget is less of a concern and professional-grade cinematography is the priority, the DJI Inspire series is a powerhouse, with its ability to support multiple camera options, including the Zenmuse X7, which delivers superb image quality and cinematic color grading. Selecting the right drone for documentary filmmaking depends on balancing factors such as image quality, flight stability, portability, and budget, ensuring that the chosen drone complements the storytelling and your creative vision as a filmmaker.

 

Written by Sebastian Solberg

Sebastian is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose credits include One Breath and the BAFTA-nominated film The Eagle Huntress. His passion for fostering emerging talent led to the creation of the Documentary Film Academy, an online community and educational platform designed to empower the next generation of filmmakers.

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