The buzzing contraption that once wreaked havoc on set has now become a respectable piece of film and photography equipment.
Drones have been used on blockbuster sets like The Greatest Showman, and A Quiet Place, and indie projects such as Unsane. Nat Geo’s 2018 Photographer of the Year was a drone pilot, and even New York Times Photographer Josh Haner has taken to the skies.
The drone is more maneuverable and affordable than any camera platform preceding it. As a result, filmmakers are using it in place of a crane, a jib, a dolly, or a helicopter, while photographers are discovering new perspectives and vantage points.
Drone technology is improving, fast, and we’re on the verge of significant adoption in the media and creative fields. We believe now is the best time to get familiar with the newest camera platform on the market, so we decided to share some of the best resources for getting into aerial content creation.
For Getting Started With Camera Flight
If you have not yet taken any steps towards learning how to fly a drone, you have two big considerations: time and cost.
A drone kit with a decent camera costs upwards of $1,000, and many purchasers are often disappointed to find out how difficult mastering the controls can be. You’re not only controlling a hunk of flying metal along three-dimensional space, but you have to simultaneously move the camera.
Use these guides and resources to determine whether the investment is worth it.
Fly Before You Buy
Many instructors teach introduction to aerial cinematography classes and actually provide the equipment. You can get a feel for the controls and the different types of drones before committing to the investment.
- Dart Drones, one of the the biggest drone training programs, has a network of instructions stationed in 40 different cities across the U.S. Their classes are not focused on photography and cinematography, but they’ll still give you a feel for the equipment.
- UAV Coach launched in-person courses across the Southeast of the U.S. They have videography-specific classes, as well as courses dedicated to the technique of drone operation.
- DJI Photo Academy is a touring pair of aerial photographers, who give classes in most major cities across the country. If you have the patience to wait until your first class, this is a great start with DJI-specific instruction.
- Women Who Drone host a monthly introductory workshop in the New York area. The classes are catered toward content creators, so you’ll be learning how to control the drone with the end-frame, in mind.
After just one flight, you’ll get the sense of the learning curve involved and be able to assess whether this is a skill that you’re willing to train up.
Teach Yourself the Basics for Free
If you already have your hands on a drone, you can get started with free online DIY tutorials and walkthroughs.
- Before diving into lengthy tutorials, read a few overviews to set your expectations. The Drone Girl has a cursory Getting Started Guide; Film Independent has a Ten Things You Need to Know about drone photography; and Digital Trends put out a short-but-sweet no-bullshit listacle of what to expect as an aerial photographer.
- DJI has a Youtube channel dedicated specifically to DJI Tutorials for each of their products. If you’re working with a DJI product, this is the easiest way to teach yourself the basics.
- UAV Coach has put out an extensive guide on Aerial Videography. It’s a bit basic for the experienced filmmaker, but it is a thorough resource for how to control a drone-equipped camera.
- My Drone Authority has a massive 10,000-word drone buying guide for people interested in buying and flying camera drones. It covers safety precautions, licenses to fly a drone, and which features to pay attention to.
- 3DR’s Aerial Photography e-book, which has shot breakdowns from professional aerial photographers and influencers, is a great a way to familiarize yourself with working with the new perspective.
Drones are much harder to crash than most people believe. Most will hover in place if you just drop the controller, and drones with sophisticated cameras are equipped with sense-and-avoid technology. You just need a basic grasp of the controls before having to take it to the field.
Take a Course
If you learn better with structure, there are plenty of online courses you can take that will teach you the basics of drone control, flying camera control, or both. These courses and field guides were written by some of the first pilots in the industry:
- Udemy is an online learning platform that connects teachers and course-creators and students. If you take care to read the reviews, you can easily find affordable drone flight or aerial photography courses. Youtuber and professional aerial cinematographer, Bruce Geddes currently has one running for under $100.
- CreativeLive also offers courses, but rather than being a simple interface between students and teachers, they ensure that their instructors are fully vetted, and the best for the courses that they’re teaching. Currently, Adobe® Certified Expert Jeff Foster if offering a course on aerial photography and cinematography.
- Erich Cheng’s Aerial Photography and Videography isn’t an online course, but it’s a comprehensive field guide that you can take with you where you’re practicing your flying. His book advocates “learn-by-doing” so you can follow along as you’re logging your first 100 hours of flight.
With the commercial drone market growing at breakneck speeds, you might decide you want to start a drone business side-hustle. If you get started with an online course, you can ensure you have the right groundwork to take your hobby in whichever direction you’d like.
For Leveling Up
Learning how to control the throttle, yaw, pitch, and roll of the drone is the easy part. The hard part is manipulating the drone in a way that helps you create a gorgeous composition.
As the field of aerial cinematography grows, the number of resources accessible to new pilots also increases. You can learn from professional pilots on blogs or engage with peers in online drone communities.
Follow Professional Blogs and Youtube Channels
Hollywood drone companies and professional aerial filmmakers and photographers regularly release pro-tips and detailed tutorials that will help you level-up your aerial cinematography skills.
Here are some of our favorites:
- Drone Film Guide, by Glasgow-based production company Captain Cornelius, is a video series that teaches you how to photograph and film like a pro without highly-technical skills. Their tips will help you make small tweaks in how you fly to get more cinematic shots.
- FromWhereIDrone has an entire library with advice on every part of the aerial content creation process (pre, during, and post production). They offer high-level advice as well as nitty-gritty tips and suggestions.
- French Drone Director Sebastian Wöber’s Shoot Aerial Videos Like A Pro Video Series. Sebastian, also one of the founders of Cinema5D, is a writer, director, content creator and, as of more recently, a drone pilot. His video series documents his biggest takeaways as he was teaching himself how to fly a drone just a few years back.
- DJI’s drone-specific extensive guides are well-written, thorough and comprehensive, but they’re only useful if you’re flying one of their products.
- Aerobo’s blog focuses on showcasing what can be done with drones as camera platforms. While we don’t typically provide technical walkthroughs, we do offer high-level advice from professional aerial cinematographers on how to tell stories with flying cameras.
If you don’t want to learn online, don’t hesitate to reach out to your favorite drone photographer or cinematographer. Many drone owners look for ways to monetize their hobby, so they might be quite willing to show you the ropes.
Join Online Drone Communities
The drone space is still niche, so there isn’t an overwhelming number of online communities and publications to choose from. On the handful of forums that do exist, however, drone pilots of all levels regularly engage and are open to providing tips and feedback on one another’s work.
Here are some of the best communities on the internet for posts, support, and feedback on your work:
- Reddit has several subreddits for drone enthusiasts and aerial photographers. /r/aerialphotography focuses on photography and videography applications of drones and helicopters. /r/drones/ is for news, but also has a healthy number of creatives sharing their work and asking for tips on achieving one cinematic effect or another. /r/multicopter is for drone enthusiasts and has more content surrounding building and upkeep of drones.
- AirVuz is a social media platform that’s designed for sharing drone video and photography, so it’s a great destination if you’re looking for inspiration. Don’t be discouraged by their barebones website– they have one of the biggest repositories of aerial film and photos on the internet, all organized and tagged by subject.
- Skypixal is similar to AirVuz, except with more tutorials, tips, and videos. Skypixal has a more user-friendly website, and better organization of their user-generated content.
- Meetup is a great place to find like-minded people. Search by your city to find people to meet up with (NY + NJ have a meetup group with over 3700 members). If there’s no local drone photography community, start a new one.
Constantly Expand Your Craft
I think one of the privileges of being a filmmaker is the opportunity to remain a kind of perpetual student. — Edward Zwick
Audiences are bored by convention. The best filmmakers aren’t entrenched in the techniques and technologies in the past; they’re constantly looking for new ways to tell a story. The more you can expand your toolset, the better equipped you’ll be to surprise audiences.