Tips for Shooting & Editing Drone Videos (Guide for Beginners)
After purchasing your first drone, you may quickly realize you also need to figure out what to do with all the video footage you are capturing. I spent the first day with my DJI Mini 2 flying and capturing videos of our gorgeous mountain surroundings. When I used all my batteries up and finished, I realized that I needed to learn new skills as a video editor AND as a drone pilot.
You do not need to be a professional editor to create stunning videos with your drone, though capturing better footage and understanding a few essential editing concepts may lead to becoming one. Fortunately, my wife has been editing videos for over 20 years and gave me some pointers to get started. Here are some tips for editing your drone videos that I learned.
Creating good drone videos starts with shooting good footage. Thinking like a storyteller and using cinematic-type shots can get you footage that will turn into great videos. Add transitions and choose the right music that fits with the story you are telling. Finally, adjust the color settings in your editing software to achieve the look you want.
I consider myself tech-savvy and adaptable to learning new software, having used dozens of design tools over my career. Learning my way around another interface was not a big challenge for me. The software facilitates a creator by providing the tools needed for the job.
Learning a few fundamental concepts took me from trimming up video clips to developing stories for an audience to follow and engage. I have a long way to go in my journey, but I hope these tips help you get started on yours.
Tell a story with your footage
Consider what story you want to tell before and during your flight to capture footage. Maybe you see something while you are in the air that looks interesting enough to fly towards it. Rather than pitching full throttle forward to get a closer view, gently push the sticks to yaw and approach with more purpose.
This moment could lead to the subject of your story, no matter how simple it seems. Fly around your subject, move left or right, reverse back away to reveal its surroundings. Each of these different movements with your drone can capture your subject and be combined to tell your story.
Incorporate these moves with a view into the distance, the sun setting lower, some clouds moving by, and returning to your home point. When edited together, each of these clips becomes a scene, as simple as it sounds. Add in your take-off and landing, and you have a story.
This example pretty much sums up the story of one of my first waterfall videos.
Make use of aerial cinematography techniques
Boring video footage will result in boring videos. While it may sound complicated, aerial cinematography at its simplest is flying your drone in movements that result in capturing engaging footage.
The cameras and technology in drones today are incredible and aid the pilot with focusing on the flight controls while honing your skills with the camera settings. Set your camera in the auto-exposure settings and fly, practicing some essential aerial maneuvers that will elevate your footage.
Practice multi-axis flight maneuvers by combining multiple flight movements to create more dynamic motion visual interest for your video. Up, down, forward pitch, side-to-side, pan & tilt the camera.
Combining these controls can create more motion and improve a scene to engage your viewer. Here are some essential combination maneuvers to practice and integrate into your flights. If these maneuvers are new to you, it is always a good idea to practice in a wide-open area to avoid any possible collision hazards.
- 2-axis maneuvers combine two directions of flight. Rise and reverse flight can reveal a scene by throttling your drone up and in reverse at the same time. Start with a close-up shot of a building while flying away from it and slowly gaining altitude, eventually revealing its location. The scene may be a beach or mountains rising in the background.
- A popular flight pattern with drones is an Orbit, which takes some practice to fly smoothly. This maneuver involves pitching in one direction while yawing in the other direction, such that you are flying an arc or orbit around your subject. Many drones have this maneuver pre-programmed into the flight software as an automated function, making it easy to capture footage with this maneuver. You can master this maneuver manually, with some practice, and create some great footage, as well as refine your skills as a pilot overall.
- 3-axis maneuvers incorporate another direction or even a gimbal tilt to add more visual motion to your scene. Using the rise and reverse example, add in your gimbal angled low, slowly tilting it up across your subject while in flight. This combined motion will reveal both the subject and its surroundings from a different perspective and movement. Add a gimbal tilt to your orbit maneuver to show more of the surrounding area from the ground to the sky.
- 4-axis maneuvers require a lot more coordination, but with some practice, you can improve your pilot skills tremendously and create stunning footage to use in your videos. Starting with the 3-axis example, add a slight upward pitch along with the gimbal tilt to create opposing motion in your video. This complex maneuver can make a stationary subject, such as a building or tower have a lot of added interest through the visual motion your camera is creating.
These combined maneuvers are something to work up to to make your videos smooth and beautiful. With just a little practice, you will be flying like a pro.
Use transitions to help tell your story
Consider the flow of your story with the editing in mind. Thinking this way may take some getting used to and a few videos to get the hang of since it involves the end-to-end process from start to finish. Transitions are essentially how any two clips are put together in your story. Visually, transitions can be seamless or specifically show the viewer something new. Transitions can indicate a change in focus or the passing of time.
Seamless transitions can adjust focus on a subject between clips, viewing it from different angles or approaches. Each movement highlights a new angle or perspective. Use motion in each clip to emphasize your subject differently.
One of the great things about drones is their fluid movements, so use that to engage your viewers by putting clips together while in motion. Use those movements to create a scene from similar clips of your subject.
Transitions from one subject to another or illustrating the passing of time are other methods to tell your story. Perhaps you took flight in the middle of the day, but the sun is beginning to set when you are about to land your drone. Use that in your story to give the viewer a sense of time passing. Bring your drone down for a landing slowly, while focusing on the sun setting, or a subtle shift in the colors of the sky and clouds.
Creative transitions can be pulled from your footage, even when not deliberately shot that way.
Choose the right music and sound
Now that we’ve covered some drone flying skills to capture engaging videos, there are other aspects to pull into the process to create your final product. For me, music and sounds are two of the most valuable elements of a great video.
Most drones with built-in cameras do not capture sound while recording in flight, as you are only likely to hear the loud buzzing of the propellers. So, to ensure your video is engaging, you need to add in sounds or a music track to bring your story together for your viewer.
Music alone can tell a story, so selecting the right song may take some time. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available for finding just the right tunes.
How you plan to use or share your video will influence your music selection. You may need music free to be used across social media platforms, such as YouTube and Facebook. You will need royalty-free music and sounds if you plan to share your video on these platforms, or you are likely to be notified of a licensing conflict.
YouTube does provide some royalty-free music in its editing tools, but there are plenty of other sources if you want to edit your videos outside of YouTube, like iMovie for Apple iOS or DaVinci Resolve. Keep in mind that royalty-free music will not necessarily be free of charge. It just means that the creator of that music has made it available for broader distribution once you have the license made available to you.
Finding the right music is just the first step. Thinking back to telling your story, what is the mood or ambiance you want to convey in your video? Say you are flying high above the beach to capture the waves coming in with the sunset on the horizon. You may want the mood of your video to be more peaceful. Your music selection should complement that feeling.
Perhaps you are capturing a line of surfers riding large waves cresting and crashing onto the shore. Here a more upbeat or exciting tune may better complement the action in this scene.
These creative choices are entirely up to you as the creator. These choices can also make a significant impact on your video. That said, don’t overthink it and try things out. There are thousands of music selections available to you, and I have found myself going down the rabbit hole to find the perfect track.
You may also decide you want some additional sounds to help transport your viewer into your scene. The sound of waves for a beach scene, birds chirping in the background of a forest scene, or a light breeze for trees swaying, are all details you should consider for your video. These sounds should be complementary background sounds and not become the auditory focus of your story, so don’t overdo it.
Once your music is selected, now it’s time to combine it with your video clips and tell your story. Here are a couple of tips that will make your videos more fluid and enjoyable to your viewers.
- Well-composed transitions are crucial to visual continuity in your video. Although, when you also combine your music and sounds with your transitions, your story will fully come together. No matter what music you choose, you will likely have a beat or rhythm throughout that you will want to match your transition timing.
- Matching up the beat and rhythm may take some practice and careful listening. Fortunately, most video editing software has tools like sound meters to help you identify peaks in the volume. These are the beats you are looking to match. This technique is how you will create the seamless transitions previously discussed.
- Our brains process visual and auditory information together based on our real-world experiences. When you edit a visual transition to the audible beat of the music, the perception of that transition creates a natural scene for your viewer. Whether you choose to edit one clip with another or add in some transition effect like a cross-fade or dissolve, those clips should meet on the beat or with the rhythm of the music.
Adjust color and exposure settings
Color correction and editing are techniques that will improve your final video but may take some time and practice to master. There are many ways to approach this. Fortunately, there are plenty of tutorials
available and tailored to the specific video editing software you are using.
These tips may help you get started in bringing out the best colors and creating the look you want for your video.
- Make use of the auto-exposure or auto-tone feature that your software includes. This feature is programmed to look at data in your video files to determine the best settings for your video and make adjustments to align them to a set of standards.
Visual perception is very subjective, so these features may not produce the most desired adjustments for you, but they may show give you a starting point to continue adjusting until it’s just right.
- The same concept applies to the styles or looks available to add a simple 1-click edit to your video. Settings like vivid or noir can radically change the feeling and look of your video, but some can add more subtle changes to the color, brightness, and tone of your footage. These tools are a great way to see how the various exposure and color settings can manipulate your footage.
- One specific color control that is often not changed when using the auto-exposure or auto-tone features is saturation. Saturation is essentially how rich or flat the color in your footage is. A little bit of saturation can go a long way to bring a more natural depth of color to your video.
Be careful with this, as adding too much saturation can also add noise and make your scene look more like a technicolor nightmare. Lowering saturation can remove or flatten color and make your scene dull. It’s all up to you as an editor and the style you are trying to achieve.
Once you get a feel for what each of these color and exposure controls does, begin adjusting them for yourself from the baseline settings to create your look and style. Start with small, incremental changes to see what the effects are.
Keep in mind, you can always reset changes you make, so if you feel you have gone too far with your saturation or exposure setting, reset and try again. This process is truly an art form on its own and takes time to master. Don’t be discouraged too quickly and have fun with it.
Develop a workflow
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, learning to edit videos is a journey and requires practice to master. I have a lot to learn yet, but I have developed a personal workflow for editing the hours of video footage I’ve captured with my drone. While somewhat simplified, here’s a summary of my workflow.
- Watch and edit your drone footage to keep just the best clips. What I mean here is finding a 5-10 second segment of a smooth flight pattern, where your subject is in focus well-framed.
- Arrange the clips on your timeline in the order you want to tell your story. You will have more footage in these clips than will make it to the final video.
- Select the music you want to use and add it to your timeline. At this point, your video clips will far extend the end of your music track.
- Trim your clips further to create the transitions between each clip, matching the rhythm and beats in your music. Starting from the beginning of your timeline, watch and listen to identify the first transition or break-point and trim your clip to match.
- Repeat this process for each subsequent video clip until you edit the video timeline to match the beginning and end of the music timeline.
- Once you are satisfied with the story you are trying to tell, go back through each clip to make color or exposure adjustments to ensure the video looks consistent throughout.
- Before exporting your final file, go back through and add any effects, titles, or other graphics that you may want.
Practice and experimentation will get you editing videos like a pro and creating fun and engaging videos to share with family, friends, and the world. The journey is the fun part, so get out there and fly more!