Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly referred to as drones, are one of the most exciting developments in photography over the last few years. Being more advanced, accessible, and affordable than ever before, a growing number of creators and enthusiasts are using drones to explore the world from a new perspective. Captured from uncommon viewpoints, aerial landscapes and cityscapes are fascinating to look at making them the perfect subjects for cinemagraphs.
Drones have become a recurring discussion in our forums and community group on Facebook with many Flixel artists inspired by the breathtaking views from our aerial gallery. Drone technology can be intimidating for beginners, which is why we partnered with 3 Flixel artists — Jason Teale, Gastón Oliva, and Peter Boldsen — to share some of their experiences and tips for getting started with drones and aerial cinemagraphs.
Cinemagraph by JTeale
“Drones can give a unique perspective and angle on any landscape cinemagraph but there are some things that you should be aware of. First, you must fly when the conditions are absolutely DEAD CALM. The reason being is that even the slightest gust of wind will move your drone and throw the whole thing off. You may not notice it at first but you surely will in post. Your drone’s camera is stabilized but that is not always a solution to wind gusts.
The second thing is that tripod mode on your drone does not steady your drone like an actual tripod. It sounds stupid but I have had some people ask me about that when they see it in the options. So again, best time for drone cinemagraphs is when the weather is dead calm. Tripod mode helps you steady the controls of the drone but does not help if the drone is being blown around by the wind.
With that being said, the question then becomes what can you shoot? and that also greatly depends on where you live and what kind of drone laws are there. In many countries you are not allowed to fly in the city or near populated areas, roads, or people. Thus, coastal shorelines are always great places to start practicing. If you fly above or looking back at the shore, these will certainly create some more interest.
Finally, the big thing that I have learned is to be patient and explore. Drone photography is something new and very cool but it is a lot more complicated as you are flying your camera a hundred meters off the ground. Do your best to explore the area and find repetitive movement. Look for elements that move and maneuver your drone to capture it.”
— Jason Teale, Photographer living in South Korea
Cinemagraph by Gastonoliva
“My experience and experiments with cinemagraphs and drones was born out of my insatiable curiosity and need to experiment with new ways of expressing myself. Due to the regulations in Spain where I live, I was disappointed when I first bought a drone; the permitted flying zones were very limited and the penalties were severe. Last year, however, a new drone law passed and it was then that I decided to give aerial photography another chance.
After spending a lot of time studying the market, I decided to purchase a DJI Mavic Air. After several hundred hours of flight, I can assure you that it does not disappoint! Like all cinemagraphs, stabilizing your drone while recording is extremely important. Despite the DJI Mavic Air being a relatively small drone, the incredible flight stability together with that of the 3-axis gimbal results in ideal aerial shots to be used for cinemagraphs.
I think that having the ability to record in 4K 30fps at 100 Mbps using a drone that when folded, fits inside the pocket of any coat, and the simplicity of Cinemagraph Pro is the ideal combination for anyone interested in adding aerial cinemagraphs to their portfolio.”
— Gastón Oliva, Photographer from Spain
Cinemagraph by ixhumni
As Jason Teale and Gastón Oliva mention, you must be aware of the drone laws in your chosen airspace before taking flight. If you aren’t sure what the rules and regulations are, UAV Coach offers a master list of drone laws categorized by state and country. The drone industry is evolving quickly so it is recommended to conduct your own research as some countries’ laws are clearer than others.
Even aside from learning the controls and staying up-to-date on the latest policies, preparing for flight can be unnerving for beginners. It’s one thing to know how to fly your drone but another to ensure your footage is looking sharp and meets your expectations while doing so. For more artistic applications of aerial footage including cinemagraphs, applying your knowledge of digital photography while flying is key. From gear to best camera settings and more, Peter Boldsen walked us through his beginner’s guide to creating drone cinemagraphs.
Cinemagraph by Boldsen
Drones and Accessories
“If you’re interested in aerial photography, I recommend using a drone that is capable of 4K video recording. I have used a DJI Mavic Air and now have a Mavic 2 Pro, both of which are suitable for aerial cinemagraphs. Always make sure your drone is charged before flight and be prepared with extra batteries; a car charger is a great help.
It’s a great advantage to have polarizing and neutral density filters. You will need to use a ND filter during the daytime to lower the shutter speed and get more cinematic results. I also recommend using ND filters to keep the f-stop between f/2.8 and f/5.6. In this range, you will get the sharpest image on a Mavic Pro 2.
If you capture an elevated landscape that shows sky as well as land, a gradient ND filter will usually balance the light beautifully. You can also use a polarizing filter to intensify the reflection or dial it 180° for saturated colors. If you’re recording over water and want it to look clean and saturated, use a polarizing filter to see though the water and get amazing colors. I use various PolarPro filters.
You can use a smartphone, iPad, or a monitor such as CrystalSky to ensure your footage is looking sharp during flight. I recommend making or purchasing a sunshade hood to shield your monitor from direct sunlight so you can get a clearer view. If you aren’t able to find shade, you can always use a blanket and/or small umbrella to sit under.”
Cinemagraph by Boldsen
Tips and Best Camera Settings
“Record 4K in manual mode so you can change the settings to fit the conditions. The weather and light can change rapidly so you have to be ready when you get an opportunity. If you record in auto mode, those changes can affect the brightness (etc.) throughout your entire video, resulting in a cinemagraph loop that isn’t seamless. Here are some other settings I recommend:
- Lock the ISO, usually to 100 when filming during daytime
- Lock the white balance or use one of the presets
- Use tripod mode and lock the gimbal to improve stability
- Turn on focus peaking to help you obtain a sharper focus
- Turn on the overexposure warning
- Turn on the histogram (and learn how to read it)
- Make sure navigation lights are turned off when filming at night”
“Water, nature, traffic, and people are great ideas for aerial cinemagraphs but you have to make sure you aren’t breaking any rules. In terms of perspective, a top down aerial view will often look great. Recording 20 second clips should to the trick.
The easiest way to create aerial cinemagraphs is to use Cinemagraph Pro. If you want more control when editing and are more experienced, you can do stabilizing, color grading, and perhaps run a denoise filter in Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects or Premiere.
Be responsible and fly safe! People that fly illegally just make it more difficult for the rest of us.”
— Peter Boldsen, Industrial Designer from Denmark
Cinemagraph by StefanPocha
Want to join the conversation? Check out the cinemagraphs and drones discussion in our forums to ask questions and share your feedback. If you have an idea for a blog post you would like to contribute to, let us know! We’re always looking for opportunities to collaborate with our community on content that educates and inspires other creators.