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Intimidated by drones? You’re not alone. Although there still aren’t a lot of resources that guide first-time pilots from a photographer’s point-of-view, it’s surprisingly easy to get started shooting with a GoPro drone like Solo. With the limited space I have for a blog, I’d like to offer a few critical tips for aerial photography that I wish I hadn’t had to learn on my own.
The gear: GoPro and a Solo — the only true GoPro drone
First: Get a drone that can carry a GoPro, hands-down the best small camera on the market. Your best choice is the new Solo, the world’s first Smart Drone. When we made Solo — and made it the ultimate GoPro drone — we asked drone users which camera they wanted to fly, and hands down it was GoPro — 50 to 1! GoPro makes the best and most popular action cameras on the market, and they’re only getting better — that’s why drones will continue to offer us incredible new ways of contextualizing our subjects. Aerial GoPro photography and video lends your images an enormous sense of scale, and with Solo’s dual computer intelligence, all this enormity can now come to you with a push of a button, delivered by a platform that weighs less than your laptop. 3DR’s Solo quadcopter for GoPro is incredibly easy to use, affordable and low-risk, and it delivers the incredible freedom of flight.
Solo is the only drone that out of the box delivers a live HD video feed from your GoPro straight to your mobile device. You can get a 720p HD live stream from half a mile away.
To start getting a great live video feed immediately, you can attach your GoPro directly to Solo using the GoPro Frame mount that comes with the drone, but for capturing video you’ll probably want to add the Solo Gimbal, a device that hangs from your drone and stabilizes your GoPro so you get perfectly smooth footage. We worked directly with GoPro to make sure the Solo Gimbal also gives you the ultimate GoPro experience: the first-ever drone that offers full access to GoPro controls in air, including start/stop recording and snapping photos — it even lets you change camera settings while you fly, and it charges your GoPro.
GoPro settings for aerial photography
Why do we recommend a GoPro platform? They’re the perfect camera for drones: cheap, light, reputable and they shoot incredibly high-quality footage reliably. Here are some tips about setting your GoPro up for aerial photography.
We recommend shooting in 4K whenever possible; that’ll give you the highest quality footage and the most flexibility in post-production. GoPros also have time-lapse settings for automated photo capture, so they’re perfect for shooting high-resolution still photos, too. Set this time lapse for every few seconds and you’ll automatically capture a series of stills for the duration of your flight. GoPro HERO3s and up all offer simultaneous photo and video capture, so you can shoot high-res stills while you’re shooting video.
As for tinkering with some other GoPro settings, you’ll definitely want to set the field of view as narrow as possible. This is because with aerial photos the subject is often relatively far away from the camera, and you may lose your subject entirely in a wide shot. And the “Protune” control enables access to more camera settings and also increases the bitrate at which the GoPro records. This means that you get higher quality footage, so we recommend always having Protune set to ON.
As for color settings, you have two choices: “GoPro,” which is highly saturated and makes the footage pop; or “flat,” which is best if you want to color correct your footage or match it with footage from other cameras in an edit. Start with “GoPro” for immediate eye-catching results; choose “flat” for more flexibility. Or you can also fly your GoPro with a PolarPro filter. These not only help with image and color, but they help reduce jello and can also mitigate those fluttering lines if the props get into the frame.
Speaking of: To prevent the props from getting into the frame, simply tilt your camera angle down a few degrees. The GoPro shoots so wide that if you’re aiming the camera straight ahead, it will likely capture the props, too.
Flying for great aerial photos
Start slow. Before ever going up in the air, please read up on everything that comes with your drone, and check out our extensive YouTube tutorial playlist for detailed and clear instructions and tips for flying Solo.
The first few times you take off, you might want to simply play around a little with altitude, and then practice landing. When you’re comfortable with the controls and ready to fly around, make sure you keep the drone facing out (flying “nose out”) so you and the drone are looking in the same direction. Orientation is one of the biggest challenges for new pilots: When you turn the drone around to face you (flying “nose in”) the controls invert, and if you’re not experienced things get confusing quickly.
Get the shot: tips
Here are a few small pieces of advice for first-time fliers.
Plan ahead: Think of where you want your shots to start and finish, like storyboards. Solo’s Smart Shots make this easy — you can set up the frames you want, have Solo memorize them and then film the whole scene for you. With Solo, you can get pro shots with the push of a button.
Fly with cinematic intent, combining copter positioning with camera operation. The two interact. For instance, don’t just rise over your subject; rise up while tilting the camera down. As you do this, the perspective shifts smoothly. This type of interaction between the camera and the platform is what gives aerial photos their life and makes the perspective unique.
In fact, motion and perspective are the two biggest strengths of drone photography, so it’s good to remember how speed and perspective interact. Think of a record on a turntable: the outer edge has to move at a faster speed to maintain its relationship with the inner edge. This means that the higher up you are, the faster you have to fly if you want people to perceive motion.
However, speed can also be a shot killer. You want your camera movement to remain steady and slow, or else you risk jolting the shot, a pin prick that bursts the bubble of a magic moment. This means that even if your subject gets out of frame, don’t panic; always try to correct the frame with smooth and slow camera movement.
Solo is the ultimate GoPro drone: So advanced it’s easy
Solo’s advanced dual-computer technology makes getting pro aerial shots incredibly easy. Solo can fly itself, freeing you to work the camera, or vice versa. If you want, you don’t need to do either — set up the shot you want, and Solo can do it all, the flying and the filming, with algorithmic precision that no human pilot can touch. Solo’s Follow mode lets you go completely hands-free: It can follow wherever you go, keeping the camera centered on you to capture your every move. As you develop your skills, you can even try to make Follow dynamic by retaking control of the sticks midflight — the camera then stays on the moving subject as you fly manually.
For my best shots I flew my Solo using the Smart Shots Cable Cam and Orbit. With Solo locked on a virtual cable in the air, you’re free to pan and tilt the camera without worrying about piloting the copter — Solo can even memorize the shot at each end point and fly itself from one frame to the next, while working the camera for you as smoothly and evenly as a seasoned pro. Orbit locks Solo in a circle around an object of your choosing (say, a water tower), for an iconic “wraparound” shot. This mode is also great for eye-popping parallax: Think of that water tower with a city skyline sweeping across the background. To get this effect, set the ROI and fly close in to your subject, making sure there’s a good separation between subject and background; this distance and scale will translate visually into a cool gliding movement and make your background appear dynamic.
Drone technology and camera technology are on converging courses. And 3DR’s Solo drone has made it all incredibly easy — not just to get flying today, but to get the shots you want, every time.