film-making with drone

Today we would like to give you a few tips and tricks for filming with the drone and show you what is most important to us when filming with the drone. Of course, we also address the current legal framework.

The perfect camera settings for your drone

In order to have full control over our camera settings, we naturally select the manual mode in the settings of our drone. So we can set exposure time, aperture and ISO according to our wishes.

When it comes to resolution, we usually choose the highest available resolution with the highest available frame rate in order to have the greatest flexibility in resolution and speed later in post-processing. In our case, that is 4k resolution at 30 frames per second. We usually edit our projects in 24 FPS, which gives us the opportunity to slow down the drone material again in the editing program.

Our drone, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, now also offers the option of filming in HQ mode for a cropped narrower angle and in Full FOV mode for very wide-angle shots. Depending on whether we want to take wide-angle shots or close-ups, we select the appropriate mode here. As far as the quality of the two modes is concerned, we didn’t notice any major differences.

Of course, we choose the iso as low as possible to avoid any noise in the picture. We achieve good results with a value below 400. We also try to keep the f-number as low as possible, since the drone achieves better results in the lower range. This value also depends heavily on your drone. Our DJI Mavic 2 Pro* manages to go down to an aperture of 2.8 and we always try to stay below an aperture of 4. So orientate yourself at the lower limit and test a little. On bright days, it’s particularly difficult to use a low f-number, as your image will quickly become overexposed.

Don’t panic, ND filters will help you here, just stay tuned and we’ll take a closer look at how they work in a moment. The exposure time is always adjusted to your frame rate when filming, as you have already explained in detail in our video about the exposure time aperture and ISO. For example, if you are filming with a frame rate of 30 FPS, set this to twice the value in the denominator as 1/60. If you are filming at 24 FPS, set the exposure time to 1/50. This setting is based on the 180° shutter rule and ensures cinematic motion blur and a cool cinematic look.

Finally, we make sure to always manually adjust our white balance to the circumstances of the day. On a bright day you can set between 5000-5600K, i.e. daylight. Of course, the drone also offers you some presets that you can work with and a final correction in post-processing is always possible. You should just be careful not to activate the auto white balance, as this would otherwise change the white balance in flight depending on the situation, which makes subsequent editing more difficult.

If this is possible with your drone, we will now set the H.265 codec for coding and D-Log M for the color. H.256 is simply a newer codec that has better compression. As for D-Log M, let’s look at that next!

D-Log M or HLG

D-Log M and HLG are the photo profiles you can use with most DJI drones, but what’s the difference? HLG is the so-called Hybrid Log Gamma, which uses the two color spaces Rec 709 and Rec 2020. This color profile offers you almost ready-made colors directly from the camera. This does not necessarily make the correction of these recordings easier, but you can use them directly. D-Log M, on the other hand, is DJI’s log format, which offers you the most flexibility in post-processing. In addition, you usually get a higher dynamic range here, which means you get fewer under- or overexposed pixels.

Probably the biggest advantage of D-Log M is that you get 10-bit color depth with the newer drones like our DJI Mavic 2 Pro in combination with the H.265 codec. This allows the camera to distinguish between 1.2 billion colors instead of 16 million. What do you need that for? Maybe you know that from YouTube videos that hard edges often appear with color gradients and separate individual colors from each other. This is because “only” the 16 million colors are used here. With 1.2 billion colors, i.e. 10-bit color depth, the transition would be smooth. So you avoid so-called “color bending”. In addition, the 10-bit color depth gives you significantly more flexibility in post-processing and you can also make strong adjustments without your material getting disrupted.

Color grading, luts and workflow for drones

If you have followed our advice and filmed D-Log material with your drone, then you probably also want to know how to edit it? Let’s just take a quick look!

We usually start our video material with it, in this case importing drone material into Premiere and interpreting it into the frame rate we are using. In this case, that means going from 30 FPS to 24 FPS. The material is already slowed down and thus also a bit smoother. Then we create proxies, which are easier to edit as placeholder files with lower quality, so we can work later without stuttering. As far as proxies are concerned, we are making an extra video for you.

Now we open the “Simple corrections” area in the Color workspace and display the vector scopes on the left. First, we use the two upper sliders to optimize the white balance of our video material in order to get the most realistic color representation possible. Then we use the lower sliders and pull all highlights to the upper limit and all shadows to the lower limit of the scopes.

From here there are no more limits to your creativity. You can use different luts to add some style to your footage, you can work on the contrast, add a vignette and speed up your footage. Of course you can also use a basic lut from the start to convert your material from D-Log to a finished color space. There is even a standard Lut for this in Premiere.

Control settings for DJI drones

It is super important for good and professional recordings that they are correctly exposed and free of wobbles and judders. Of course you have to practice a little to get this right, but we can also help out a bit in the settings of our controller to improve our recordings.

First of all, you should always display the histogram. Here, while adjusting the aperture, iso and ND filter, you can use the waveform to see whether your shots are under or overexposed. If the wave is on the left edge of the histogram and is even compressed against it, then your image is underexposed and you lose individual pixels that you can no longer use in post-processing. If the wave is on the right edge, the picture is overexposed and the corresponding areas are also gone. So make sure that the entire wave is distributed in the middle with a tendency to the right edge. This is how you get the best results. If you want to be on the safe side, you can also switch on the overexposure alarm, which marks overexposed areas with a zebra.

If you now go to the advanced settings of your controller, you can set the Max Gimbal Pitch Speed ​​to a value of around 15 and the Smoothness to around 20. This will make your gimbal and drone move slower and smoother and will really help you when filming. With that, the jerky changes of direction or adjustments should be history.

Accessories for filming with the drone

So before we come to the current legal framework, we would like to clarify the question again “which accessories are really worthwhile?”
Let’s get started with extra batteries. Extra batteries are an absolute must for us when it comes to filming with a drone! Usually drone batteries last about half an hour flight time, which is simply not enough for most applications. In this case, it is always better to swap the battery for a moment and start flying again instead of waiting for the battery to charge. If you then have several batteries, it is an absolute game changer to have such a charging cradle for several batteries. So you can easily plug in your controller and all batteries and don’t have to change them regularly.

Of course, you should always have one or two good SD cards with you. We ourselves are big fans of the Sandisk Extreme Pro or the Samsung Evo 64 or 128 GB. Some drones like our DJI Mavic 2 Pro offer internal memory, but with 8GB this is not enough to film for several hours. Therefore, if your budget allows, you should not do without extra cards. Since we have often had the case in the past that our drones do not recognize an SD immediately, we recommend that you reserve 1-2 cards explicitly for drone use. You then pack this empty into the drone and format it via the menu. So the card should work relatively reliably in the future.

As already mentioned, every drone setup also includes a set of ND filters. If we wanted to film during the day with an aperture of less than 4 and the appropriate exposure time of 1/60 seconds, we would almost always have an overexposed image. To avoid this, we use ND filters, which keep excess light away from the sensor like sunglasses. So we can film with our favorite settings even on bright days and don’t have to do without a low aperture or the right exposure time.

Our favorite ND filters are those from the Polar Pro brand, these come in 3 levels: ND4, ND8 and ND16 so we can use the right filter depending on the brightness. In our set, the respective filters were also included with a polarizer combination. Polarizers help you to remove reflections from your image, which are visible on lakes or other bodies of water, for example. They also darken the sky and ensure richer colors because less light is reflected on all surfaces. You can usually adjust the intensity of a polarizer by turning the filter until you like the resulting effect. We personally like to use the combination of ND and PL filters because the resulting images get a particularly cool look.

So in order to transport all your equipment you need a bag or backpack in which you can stow your drone, controller, batteries, filters and SD cards. We ourselves use the bag that came with the Mavic 2 Pro Fly More package. But here it has to be said that the bag is a little small, if you order the version with the smart controller, but if you decide on the standard control and use your smartphone as a screen, this is completely sufficient. And that brings us to the last point: For some DJI drones like the Mavic or the Mini, there are accessory packages with batteries, charging pods, bags and spare propellers available directly from DJI. These are actually always worth a look, so take a look.

Conclusion: filming with the drone

So now you know pretty much everything you need to start with the drone. You know how to set up the camera, which accessories are worthwhile, how you can then edit your film material and know the basics of the legal framework.

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