Guest Post: How to Get the Best Out of Your Drone Pilot

Syndicated from source by Video Production Shop.

I am a professional Director of Photography and drone pilot in the UK, and have been professionally flying drones for the past 6 years. During that time, I have filmed for some amazing projects with clients like the BBC, Channel 4, Mercedes and most recently I have been featured as a creative video supplier for Getty Images. I also co-run the production company SMN FILM with my wife, and we service clients all over the world.

Here is a snapshot of our work from the last year.

The drone industry is a fickle and ever-changing beast, and whilst the rules, regulations and laws around safety and operating procedures change on a yearly basis (in every country around the globe), one thing remains the same: The client has no idea about what is involved in properly planning an aerial shoot.

So I wanted to give you 5 tips on how to get the best out of your aerial shoot and your drone pilot. This is written from a client  perspective in mind, with no technical or camera setting jargon. But I hope this helps you think about how to plan and execute a brilliant aerial shoot.


1: Consider your shots

Before you even contact any potential drone pilots, think about what aerial shots will add to your film.

If you have a project in mind, think about what aerial shots you would like, of what subject, in what location.

Have a ‘shot list’ – however basic – you can give to a drone pilot, and they will be far better prepared to give you helpful advice on what is possible, or what might not be.


2: What you need to give your drone pilot

There are so many clients that I have had who have said, “We want some shots of the area, between this area, and that one over there” (about 3 miles apart). Which is not useful at all!

Every country in the world has different laws and restrictions on what drones are allowed to do. And the drone pilot in your shoot location will know exactly what these are, but you can get an instant response from a drone pilot by giving them the following address information:

 Address of Location:

–   A Postcode (if applicable)

–   Google Map screen shot

–   What 3 Words exact location (

For example:

Location – Ludlow Castle (postcode: SY8 1AY)

Great. But it is a BIG castle! So let’s have a look on a map.

There are plenty of open spaces within the grounds and there is a large open field directly to the north, but there is a road between the castle and the field, so the drone operator would highlight this, and say they can fly within the field looking south, but not near or over the road towards the castle.

What 3 Words is a fantastic tool for pinpointing exact (3 meter) locations. (designated by 3 separate word addresses.

Here are screenshots of 2 exact spots that the drone operator could take off from.

Your drone pilot will then let you know what the best and safest position to be is in relation to the subject. They will also let you know the best time of day to get the perfect shot.

Here is the resulting shot from a 6am aerial shoot of Ludlow Castle:

The biggest thing to consider for any drone pilot whilst filming is safety. Unless you have a fully “closed set” and are in full control of everything and everyone in the scene – generally the drone has to be a “safe distance” (different for each country) from any people, buildings or roads. If your shoot is in a built up, urban environment, your camera and drone movements will be a lot more restricted compared to if your shoot is in a big open space where you will have a lot more freedom of movement.

This leads us nicely to how to communicate your plans to your drone pilot.

3: Directing the scene

Is there a specific shot of some actors, or a vehicle that you want? What do you want the camera (drone) to do, and what do you want the actors to do?

–   Actor /  Vehicle movement

–   Camera movement

If you have specific shots you want to achieve and also the ability to run them a few times, then great. But also make sure you have a direct line of communication between your drone pilot and the actors or the vehicles, etc.

Asking the actors / vehicle to “reset” and prepare the shot again will take a few minutes, which means you will lose valuable battery time on the drone which will still be in the air. So, the quicker you can reset, the better.

An example is this shot: A Land Rover driving along a straight empty road in the Welsh Hills. The drone starts alongside the car, and swings backwards and in front of the car to reveal the hills beyond.

In this instance, I kept a direct line of communication by mobile and earphones to the driver, so I could say when to stop, turn around and come back.

4: Allow your drone pilot to be creative

Once you have had a few takes of your shot or shots, and you are happy, let your drone pilot have a degree of flexibility to shoot it again in a way you may have not thought of – this will often yield a great result and show you an aerial angle you may have never thought of!

5: Respect your drone pilot

I don’t mean that you would ever disrespect your drone pilot! But what you do have to do is respect their decision in terms of what is possible and still safe in the middle of a shoot, while the drone is in the air.

Every aerial shoot I have been on with a client has been the same. They will suggest or ask for a variation of a shot, while the drone is in the air, and the pilot is in deep concentration, focusing on a number of variables. “Can you just swing it over there, over that house, or over that road?”

The best thing to do is to have a planned shot list, and perhaps a “wish list” of alternatives if there is time or battery power that you pre-plan and give the pilot before the drone takes off.

If you wish to talk about any variations or new shots, given that every shoot evolves and things change, let the drone pilot land the drone, and then talk to them face to face, and let them weigh up the options of what is possible, and then let them shoot it. This will save valuable battery power!

If you would like any further information about drone flying, or even for help on how to think about how to include aerial footage in your film, then please get in touch:

Tom’s Bio:

Tom Middleton
Director / Drone Op / DOP

Tom has over 15 years experience working in professional multimedia production. Tom started his career working for Soho based production companies, as well as running a short film distribution company. He has lectured in film production for Staffordshire and Worcester Universities, and has freelanced for agencies, and broadcast productions since 2012. A passionate and highly skilled cinematographer, who brings unparalleled vision to SMN’s portfolio.

* This article was originally published here
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