Using Quadcopter Photography for Incredible Aerial Footage
September 22, 2014
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In the past, aerial photography required prohibitively advanced, large-scale technology. Time in a helicopter or the purchase of a Skycam — systems used for wide shots of football games — are both exorbitantly expensive. Now, quadcopter photography is replacing these pricey methods with a simple, remote-controlled aircraft.
Photographer Jacob Kupferman, interviewed recently on climbing photography, makes extensive use of a quadcopter in his work, including in an action video about the Dartmouth Outing Club. The versatility and maneuverability of a quadcopter make it unbeatable for videoing action in any location.
Quadcopters are remote-controlled helicopters featuring four horizontally oriented rotors, in place of the one that a typical helicopter uses. The controls are simple; advanced programming coordinates the rotors so that they move the craft in any direction. One of the most widely used quadcopters for photography is the DJI Phantom.
Gear for Quadcopter Photography
Crafts like the Phantom are designed to mount a camera on the bottom. The mount should include a gimbal, which keeps the camera's lens aiming horizontally when the quadcopter tilts.
It is possible to mount a still camera, but it's far easier to use a video camera like a GoPro or the cameras available from Phantom. Video from a smooth-flying craft is incredible, and you can extract quality stills from these high-definition clips.
The final, crucial piece of equipment for top-quality quadcopter photography is a first-person view (FPV) system. This is like the viewfinder or LCD screen on a regular camera; it shows you the camera's perspective as you fly it. While it is possible to take video simply by watching the craft itself, it's often much easier and more effective to use FPV. This is especially helpful for projects that don't guarantee you a direct line of sight to the craft; with enough experience, you can pilot it through the FPV regardless of what may be blocking your view.
Practice Makes Amazing Videos
Fly your craft as much as you can. While quadcopters are not particularly difficult to keep in the air, piloting them smoothly is a skill that comes with practice. The more fluid your flying, the better your video will be. At first, smoothness is attainable only by moving very slowly to avoid lurching and over-correcting. In time, you will be able to move the quadcopter quickly but evenly, following the action no matter how unpredictable it may be.
Commercial Quadcopter Use
Unfortunately, commercial quadcopter photography (and any other commercial use of unmanned drones) was banned by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in June. The ban is temporary, expected to last only until the FAA can develop regulations, and does not apply to recreational operators. Until then, fly on.
Photo credit: Flickr