Working with aerial footage can be a little different to other forms of video. In many cases it also allows a lot more flexibility if you know the right tricks.
Here are some simple techniques you can apply to get the most out of drone footage in your edit.
In many cases, reversing aerial footage can change the perspective of a shot so that it flows better in the edit or alters the narrative. Unlike other footage, most drone video can be reversed without it being obvious to the viewer that what they're seeing is backwards. Just keep an eye out for people, animals or traffic that might give it away!
For example, if a shot was captured flying towards and over a subject, reversing the clip will allow a dramatic reveal of the subject emerging from the bottom of the frame instead.
Likewise, a top-down shot can be reversed so that the subject grows larger in the frame rather than receding, or vice-versa. Play with reversal to see how it changes the feel of a clip.
A speed ramp is a great way to convey a sense of scale using a pull-back reveal shot, or to accentuate slow motion footage by framing it with sped-up segments.
Speed ramping is simply where we move from one playback speed to another by gradually ramping the speed up or down, rather than cutting.
Premiere and most other editing tools allow you to ramp speed smoothly like this using keyframes.
If footage is shot at 4K resolution and you're outputting at 1080p for YouTube or social media platforms, you can still make the most of that 4K data. Since 4K is double the size of 1080p, you'll be able to crop in on your footage without losing quality.
This can be used to hone in on a subject in the frame, create the illusion of multiple shots from a single take, or to accentuate zoom-pulls like in the example below.
Like many drones, my Mavic 2 captures 1080p footage at up to 60 frames per second, allowing for 50% slow motion on videos being produced at 30fps.
Slowing aerial footage down has a powerful effect. The motion feels even smoother and has a touch of the cinematic. Combine slow motion with speed ramping to create really dramatic effects.
Timelapse can also be a useful tool. It works best with long static or slow-moving shots, so be sure to brief it in from the start if you want to feature timelapse footage. But even shorter clips of 30 seconds to a minute can be sped up to quite effective 5- or 10-second mini timelapses.
So you've been delivered a batch of beautiful drone footage for your short film. You paid good money for it, so you want to pack in as much as possible, right?
Well, think twice about that. If you're producing a music video or an intense action sequence, maybe lots of jumpcuts are the right thing. But aerial video often works best when it's given time to develop. If we're swooping softly over a lake or up through the clouds, give the clip time to evolve with subtlety. Let a shot linger just slightly longer than your instinct tells you and you might be surprised by how much more powerful the experience becomes. Less is often more when it comes to editing aerials.
Music is a key component in bringing aerial footage to life. Soaring orchestral strings can accentuate the beauty of a natural landscape in warm tones, while electronic stabs accompanied by well-placed jumpcuts and a cooler, more contrasty grade will instantly create drama.
Your colour grade should marry up with the music to create the stylistic feel or mood that you're going for. When you hire me, footage can be shot flat or with a particular white balance, so be sure to include that in your brief if you have a preference.
Finally, drones don't record audio! So a delicate smattering of sound effects can help to draw the viewer into your footage. This isn't always the right thing and music is often enough, but worth considering.
Jamie Bellinger, Drone Pilot and Owner at BlueBee Media
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