With the onslaught of access to drones in the past few years, it is easy to find aerial footage of nearly anything imaginable. With aerial drones as cheap as a few hundred dollars, for instance, the new DJI Spark, or even the Mavic Pro, 4k, hd, and high quality images are as simple as a push of a button, or simpler due to the Spark’s new features that uses hand motions to take pictures. With the innovative technology comes the skilled and the unskilled videographer trying out their skills in the skies.
While nearly anything in the air looks incredible simply because it is a new vantage point that most people never experience, there are ways to improve the look of the footage to make it better. Having flown multiple Phantom drones, I have noticed that under certain conditions, the footage looks more cinematic. It wasn’t due to the settings as much as it was how the light hit the sensor and at what time of day it was shot.
For most video shoots, I prefer the evenings when the sun is starting to go down and beautifully illuminates the landscape. Adjusting settings internally, such as using CineD, or a other cinematic film styles can help, however, from my experience, nothing works better than taking advantage of the “golden hour of sunlight. I like using the sun to highlight or backlight my scene and get a nice lens flair across the lens. Usually, the image is set to record flat, ISO at 100, and shutter speed at double my frame rate, typically 60 or 120. Using this hour of sunlight works really well with all DJI products and seems to be a “sweet spot” for DJI camera sensors. I have never had the same success when shooting at 1:00 p.m. using neutral density filters to cut down on light, or even backing down the shutter speed to cut down on light.
The footage always looks too sharp and digitally compressed. That has been my experience with DJI drones, and without spending lots of time color grading the footage, the evening and early mornings have always made my footage look more professional than any other hour in the day.