By Damian Hackett '21
For me, aerial cinematography combines three equally fun and interesting things: playing with cool toys (ie. drones), photography/videography, and video editing. Furthermore, a good aerial cinematographer can combine these three skills to create something that is pleasing for an audience to watch.
Taking videos and pictures from the air is nothing new: aerial shots have been a staple of Hollywood films for decades, but up until recently these usually required a helicopter or plane. However, in the past decade the rise of affordable, high-quality consumer camera drones has made this type of filmmaking accessible to a much greater number of people. Combined with the popularity of sites like YouTube, “drone videos” have exploded in popularity (according to Google Trends, searches for things like “drone video” have increased by a factor of 30 compared to ten years ago).
The first step in the filmmaking process is, obviously, filming. Once you have picked a location, and the drone is in the air, there are two things to think about: where the camera is pointing, and where the drone is going. On drones such as the DJI Mavic that I use, the camera is mounted on an independently controlled, 3-axis gimbal. This is what allows the drone to be flown at up to 40 miles per hour while maintaining a perfectly steady shot. The complete maneuverability of a camera in the sky, combined with a plethora of recording features, allow for almost complete creative control when it comes to filming. With things like automated tracking of moving subjects and obstacle avoidance, it’s not hard at all to capture beautiful shots, whether at the beach or skiing in the mountains.
However, capturing the footage is only half the work. If you are trying to make a finished product such as a short (few minutes) film with your footage, you need to edit that raw video down to something that is coherent and somewhat bearable to watch. This can mean taking as much as an hour of 4K video and cutting out the vast majority of it. Almost as important to the finished product as the video is the music: good music matches the feel of the footage and adds artistic expression. Matching the music to the footage can be a painstaking process: transitions need to be in time with the music, accurate the the hundredths of a second. The rest of the video editing process is completely up to the individual. Programs such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere CC allow for footage to be sped up, slowed down, reversed, spliced, inverted, color corrected, etc. in an endless amount of ways.
After anywhere from a couple of hours to days of work, it’s finally time to export. A couple of minutes later, the fruits of your labors: a crisp few minutes of 4K footage, ready to upload to YouTube, share with family and friends, or sit on your computer forever. And then it’s time to do it all again, hopefully better than the last time.
Here is some footage from a recent trip to Georgia (the country): https://youtu.be/PK6wzFWBhvo