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Drone Diary: Shooting a dance video really demonstrated the value of a flying camera

Unusually for me, there aren’t many words in this drone diary – mostly I’m going to let the video do the talking!

When I reviewed the Litchi app last time – an app that lets the drone fly completely autonomously on a pre-programmed path – I mentioned a plan I had in mind for a future project at that tumbledown castle.

The plan was to take a dancer there and shoot a dance routine from the air in a beautiful setting. This required the cooperation of the weather, but it all came together earlier this month. It was a lot of fun, and I think the result really shows the value of a video camera you’re able to position exactly where you want it – whether up high or down low …

Part of what drones have going for them, of course, is that they offer a vantage point not possible with a conventional camera. At this stage – when decent drones are still expensive enough to remain a relative rarity – there’s a wow factor to being able to shoot from the air.

But what I discovered on this shoot is that even when you want to shoot from more-or-less ground level, a drone takes the place of a lot of expensive kit and a skilled operator. Smooth tracked shots, for example, are traditionally done with either a dolly or a crane. Both very expensive pieces of kit requiring multiple people to transport and set them up, and a skilled operator to use them. A drone coupled to the Litchi app gets you the same result in a relatively inexpensive and highly portable package.

I did shoot some of the video from up high, including a couple of overhead shots.

But other shots were taken as low as the drone would go when flying autonomously – which was 16 feet. If I could have gone lower, I would have done. The value of the drone in these shots was its ability to emulate expensive movie-making kit rather than, specifically, the fact that it could fly.

I open the video by tracking a curved path around a tower, revealing the dancer within. You may recall me showing how I used Litchi to create the flight-path for this shot.

Here’s a still from that part of the video.

Of course, there is one thing professional film-makers have going for them: the budget to hire venues for their exclusive use. I wasn’t able to do that, so you’ll see some people in the background, but I must say that those there were super helpful in aiming to stay out of our way.

Litchi behaved flawlessly. The preprogrammed paths I created were all done on Google Earth from the comfort of my own home, and for the most part I was able to use them as-is. The only modification I had to make on the day– altering the centre point of the circles it flew – was to take into account the uneven surface of the ground, to give the dancer a flattish dance floor.

Ok, that’s enough words: here’s the video.

Many thanks to Monika Szpunar for her amazing dance work, and to Kevin MacLeod for the beautiful music.

As you may know from my Final Cut Pro Diary, I’m still new to video. I’m happy with the edit itself, but do want to do some work on the color, and perhaps introduce some effects. My workshop tutors at the Regent Street Apple Store told me they offer help with Final Cut projects on a drop-in basis, so I’ll be aiming to get some advice from them on relatively simple things I can do to enhance the look. If you’re an experienced Final Cut user and have any suggestions, do let me know in the comments.

Similarly, if you’ve created any unusual drone videos yourself, do share the links. And if this has inspired you to have a go at your own projects, check out my review of the DJI Mavic Pro.

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