Aerial Video Production: Drones in the Spotlight

In the past it was often prohibitively expensive to plan for large scale aerial shots. Cranes, helicopters, and other complicated and time-sensitive setups were often needed for anything that required both height and movement. In recent years, many of these shots have been taken over by equipped drones. Aerial video production can be achieved through drone technology far more affordable, conveniently, and safely — but there are some special considerations as well.


The Benefits of Aerial Video Production

•Large landscape and real estate overviews. Commercials and company videos often find it useful to provide wide, aerial shots of their properties. These aerial shots provide a better overview of their company and their offerings, and also add an element of professionalism and style to their video. Commercials can use wide aerial views as a way to establish a location or a scene.

•Establishing shots in entertainment. Television shows and movies frequently use aerial video for establishing shots, action shots, or other scenes. Aerial shots are taken any time extremely large settings need to appear on the screen at the same time, such as during battles, or natural disasters.


•Action and tracking shots. Aerial shots may also be used to track action as it moves from place to place, such as a suspect running from rooftop to rooftop in a crime show, or a person walking down the street during a commercial. Action and tracking shots are traditionally done with steadicam systems, but these need to be placed on a track.


Drones Provide a More Cost-Effective Solution

Drones are far less expensive than other shooting options, such as cranes and helicopters. This opens up many options for a production, from commercials to television shows — and large productions, such as the show Ozark on Netflix, have now started using drones almost exclusively for their aerial shots. By providing a more cost-effective solution, more of the budget of a production can be transferred to other areas, such as acting, audio, and post-production. All of this together provides a more professional production at the end while still staying within a budget.


Drones Are More Flexible When Shooting

As noted, drones don’t just provide aerial video shots that are static — they can also be used for tracking shots in the hands of a well-trained pilot. This means that drones can be used for very creative shots that were previously prohibitively difficult. In the past, when actors needed to be “followed” by a camera, the camera either had to be handheld (which meant that it was limited by the person following and shooting) or had to be on a track (which meant that a track had to be built and the shooting had to be on that set track). Drones provide many different opportunities for shooting, as they can pass through small areas and they can be used freely without a track. This creates the opportunity for many new, inventive, and innovative shots to be completed.

But that isn’t the only flexibility available. Because drones are less expensive than cranes and helicopters and because they don’t require any particular setup, they can also be used on-the-fly. They can be used more extensively throughout a production (rather than for a small set of scenes), and they can be more fully incorporated into a shooting schedule. Working with drones opens up a variety of opportunities for a production, especially productions that are relatively small scale or that are operating on a budget of time, money, or both.


Drones Are Easier to Operate

When helicopters and cranes are utilized, it often requires many specialists. Helicopters need pilots and cranes need heavy equipment operators. While drones still need professional pilots, these pilots are able to maneuver and position the drone far more easily, which means that shots can be achieved more quickly and more reliably. Not only is a re-shoot of a shot less expensive with a drone (as mentioned above), but re-shoots also occur less frequently and are less likely to be time-consuming.


Even inexperienced drone pilots can usually use drones safely even if they may need some additional practice to get clean shots. For companies intending to do multiple productions, it can be worthwhile to teach an individual to pilot a drone.


Drones Are Safer for a Production

Many of the concerns regarding aerial shots are not due to the shots themselves but because the shots can be quite dangerous. An aerial shot in a helicopter, for instance, puts everyone in the helicopter at risk. Even a minor accident could cause some injuries and even minor injuries will do two things: they will delay shooting and they will raise insurance premiums and other costs. Drones are far safer for production, as if a drone does crash it’s simply a matter of repairing or replacing equipment. This can be done both affordably and quickly.

Increasing the safety of a production cannot be underestimated. Any production can have injuries and losses and it can be devastating, not only financially but also to crew and cast. Increasing safety through the use of drones can benefit the entirety of the production, from the feeling of the cast on set to the insurance premiums that the production company has to pay.


Drones Can Be Used for Inexperienced Productions

There are times when those who are otherwise unfamiliar with video production may still be called upon to produce video. Real estate agents may need to highlight properties or local businesses may need to script and create commercials. In these situations, the company wants something that doesn’t look low budget even though they may actually be working with a very low budget — both in terms of money and time. Drones can be used as a solution to this.

Drones can carry high-definition cameras and capture wide-scale, sweeping shots that audiences are used to seeing only in professional video production. Through this, companies can create the illusion of having a much larger budget than they actually do. Drones can also do some very unique things with their technology such as capturing 360 shots or even having their shots translated into a 360 interactive video. All of these things together deliver value to a business that is attempting to do more with its limited budget and time.

Though a professional quality video should usually be shot by a professional video company, drones can also be used by inexperienced individuals with some practice and investment in drone technology may be suitable for companies in real estate industries and similar. Companies that frequently do internal company videos or training videos, such as construction companies, may also ultimately see some value in investing in drone-based technology. Drone-based technology can also be dual purpose, as it can both be used to create videos and also for general maintenance.


Potential Concerns When Using Drone Technology

Though drones themselves are accessible and affordable today, there are a few reasons why a video production may want to work directly with a company that specializes in video and drone services:

•Drones have weight limitations. Though a standard drone may be able to carry a light camera, it takes specialized drones to carrier heavier, professional quality equipment. For a high quality shoot, the right equipment had to be used. This is equipment that is both specialized for drone use and that has the right balance between quality and weight. The drones that are being used may also be very expensive but still more affordable to rent for a shoot than to purchase outright, especially if they are only going to be used for a few scenes.


•Drones need a talented pilot. Drones can be very difficult to control, especially by those who are inexperienced. Not only are they controlled remotely, but their special hovering mechanics require extremely delicate piloting. Many drone pilots need significant practice before they can reliably pilot a drone, let alone get a specific type of shot using one. An inexperienced pilot may be able to get a good aerial video shot, but they may not be able to achieve a smooth tracking shot.

•Drones have changing laws and regulations. The legal and regulatory system is still catching up to the use of drones and depending on your area there may be some things you need to do to make sure recording with a drone will be legal. These are issues that are likely to go away soon.


Drones are an excellent example of a technology that gives companies — even small businesses — leverage when they are competing with larger organizations. For video productions, smaller video productions are able to produce high quality results through the use of drones. For larger productions, large companies are able to leverage drones to get more out of their budget, increase the safety of their production, and improve upon the overall look and feel of their product. But because drone technology is still relatively new there are still some considerations that need to be made and experts that have to be consulted. Both technically and legally, there are some issues with drones that are still being worked out, and that could potentially cause some issues if they are not fully explored. As time goes on, these issues will resolve and the technology will also improve.


Article by Joe Forte, co-owner and producer at D-Mak Productions, a professional video production company based in Phoenix, AZ that specializes in producing corporate, commercial, digital and branded media content.