I’ve done some traveling and also posted a few drone tutorials up on Youtube. And so, I’d like to give you more than a few tips on how to enjoy flying and shooting with your drone while hopefully mitigating the loss of one in a foreign country! I’ll try to make each point as light-hearted, simple and concise as possible to avoid a massive wall of text. Sprinkled throughout are a few links which will hopefully make the content more digestible. All gifs are my personal captures. I hope you find it useful for your next trip, whether you are a beginner or a pro.
– Aerial Film and Photo –
Phase 1：Preparation （Before leaving your house!)
A. Practice and Prep those Moves
For videographers (like me), it’s nice to have a list of cinematic moves in mind. This will save you some battery life and you can do multiple takes more efficiently. For both photo and video, composition is definitely key! If you are interested, I made a Full Tutorial Video with 71 Cinematic Drone Moves with an Excel Spreadsheet version. Mastery of your drone will come a long way as you travel more.
B. Get a Bag, Travel Light!
Yes, yes, I know you bought 40 accessories for your drone but traveling involves an activity called WALKING and lots of it! I can’t afford assistants to carry gear so I focus on things I really need. I make sure they fit in my bag and that I can carry them for hours if needed. Some essential gear imo – drone battery cases (for safety and airports), storage for your files, and spares cables/props. DJI recommends 5 Bags & Cases for the Mavic depending on your current use case. I personally have 23 Awesome Mavic Accessories with a backpack. Drone tracking devices also help bring you some peace of mind but at present it can be tough to figure out which one will work perfectly for you.
C. Lockers for Famous Tourist Spots
Some big attractions like Disneyland or tourist-filled theme/waterparks won’t allow entry for drones but they’ll usually have lockers just outside so you can pay to store your drone. It is good to inquire beforehand so you may choose to leave your drone at the hotel instead for that day.
D. Research Drone Laws and Battery Guidelines
As boring as this sounds, we need to look up some legislation since every country varies in drone regulations. Fortunately for us, DJI has a pretty concise yet complete DJI Flying Tips Page. Here you can find drone laws, local policy links, GEO zones and even battery instructions laid out conveniently to help you plan for that drone field trip! Some countries also make things easier by giving us a map of where we can and cannot fly, such as Singapore’s No-Fly-Zones map. Keep in mind that other places need permits to fly while certain cities also have specific by-laws where you just can’t fly anywhere at all! Furthermore, do remember to check airline LiPo policies with DJI Airline Baggage Battery Policies, noting whether hand-carry or check-in luggage is preferred and what means of storage is recommended. Lastly, there’s also the very useful FAA FAQ for (Drone) Batteries when visiting the USA.
*Extra Tip for the HARDCORE Dronist!
E. Micro-Planning Your Shoot (Sun Direction, Weather, Crowd)
It is ideal to plan when and where you will fly your drone. Last time I checked, the sun moves around quite a bit… and so you don’t want to be taking pictures of a cool building with the sun right behind it. Your drone flight itinerary may also depend on which days will have a forecast of rain/lightning. Flying on weekdays may give you less people to worry about but then more cars on the roads if shooting a city setting. I personally use Google Earth or Google Maps to help me with these.
Phase 2: PRE-Pre-Flight
Have you ever driven to the perfect spot with perfectly clear skies only to realize your Remote Control hasn’t been charged? OCD can be pretty useful here to ensure you’ve fully charged your drone, RC, goggles and phone/tablet. Also keep in mind that some countries won’t have a 3-prong wall outlet (buy a converter or borrow one from your hotel) and that a few remote islands that I’ve been to have zero electricity. Power banks are a must for these trips as your back-up power source.
B. Snacks and Hydration
Stressing out about crashing your drone makes you hungry. Stressing out about your family wanting to leave you behind because you haven’t nailed that perfect shot/clip makes you thirsty. I don’t recommend alcohol use prior to drone flight, but do eat and drink whenever you can!
C. Wind and Weather Forecast
As drones are normally flown outdoors, I recommend looking into a few weather sites before leaving your resort’s room. Strong winds on elevated ground and ocean beachfronts can be pretty scary. DJI’s drone tech is excessively good at stabilizing but we all prefer taking less risks, right? If you’ve had your drone drift away, you know how it feels!
If you’re into vlogging or have seen the top Youtube vloggers, they incorporate a lot of supplemental footage to immerse the viewers in your specific location. This is both resource-dependent (get your spouse to film you, you’ll need an extra camera or two) and time-dependent (preparing gear and setting up tripods/Ronin stabilizers). It can make for some awesome storytelling, however! To give examples: get shots of leaving your room, taking the transit and getting off, walking to drone flight location, setting up and turning on your drone, initial flight and hand-catching your drone. If interested, Youtuber Peter McKinnon is a master of B-roll.
Ode To Fall
Phase 3: Actual Pre-flight
A. Don’t Force It!
Drones may be worth every penny, but they are still pretty expensive for lay people like us. You may be thinking “I’ll never come back to this country so I have NO CHOICE but to fly regardless of conditions”. Cities have a lot of interference especially when your drone is closer to the ground and will screw up your drone’s positioning systems. Before flying or even while low hovering, I always check the IMU and Compass Sensors state on the DJI Go App. Fog can also freeze up your propellers and there’s also very cold weather chewing up your battery life. So, let your drone live to fly another day when unfavorable conditions are present.
B. ND Filters and Recommended Settings
Sunlight will almost always be our main source of light and ND filters are a must-have! My footage before I got some look pretty jittery and not as cinematic as I’d hoped. DJI also has a pretty comprehensive Drone Camera Settings Infographic for dialling in the perfect shot to complement the boatload of Youtube tutorials with the usual video settings (1/60 shutter, 100-400 ISO, etc.) so I won’t discuss them here. For drone movement settings, I use this quick and easy guide and hope you find it helpful too!
Now, this won’t be a legit guide at all if I didn’t mention the dreadful “S”-word. There’s bystanders, birds, buildings, branches, balloons, bunnies and all sorts of crazies we all need to consider before lifting off. Some people are generally curious about drones – feel free to share your love for drones with them! I’ve had kids swarm all over me as I show them some live footage. On the other hand, be respectful to those who are disinterested. We are responsible for the safety of everyone and everything around us and our beastly drones.
The Lion City
Phase 4: Fly and Shoot
A. Do a 360!
Not you but your drone, silly! I suggest getting to the highest legal altitude then panning/yawing your drone to a full circle and see everything. I know there’s that huge skyscraper or teal lake in front of you, but you may be missing out on another epic landscape right behind you. If you’re doing a video of just one spot, shooting 360 also helps viewers immerse themselves better with some B-roll-like stuff and they won’t get bored with the same view.
B. Take Multiple Takes
Trust me, just do it. At night, you’d rather go through a few of the same pictures than have what you thought was the perfect one but with photobombers. Your second picture may have less cars/traffic on the road or your first one wasn’t really focused correctly. Try a variety of drone moves when filming as one of them might be the better choice when editing time comes. Clouds can also get pretty annoying, especially for smaller drones with less low-light capability so take a few shots with different settings. And, if you have the time, try changing out your ND filters before and between flights when sun-hiding clouds move fast.
C. Where Can I Fly From/To? (Flyable Space Limits)
Traveling means you will have a huge variety of “flyable” space which you can make the most of. A sandy beach or cliff will give you a lot of open space to play with so move your drone directionally (forward/back/left/right) as much as you can. For tighter moving or flyable areas, you can still shoot cinematically by flying vertically (up/down) or hovering combined with pan/yaw and some camera gimbal movement.
D. Framing and Details
Framing a shot is crucial for any photo/video to stand above the rest. When shooting people and vehicles, you don’t want to be too high from the ground as they will look like ants and miniature toys. A huge temple may be shot from afar and symmetrically in the center of the frame. With photography, portrait shots can make that huge impact you were going for (pretty please don’t portrait shoot a video!). And as for video, a top-down shot will almost always look amazing (see SkyPixel)! If you already have a story and sequence in mind, framing each scene will definitely help to deliver that story to your viewers. If possible, learn to edit your photos and videos so you can artistically crop when needed.
*Extra Tip for the HARDCORE Dronist!
E. Think of Post-Production
Most of the awesome photo/video composers think of the edit stage while they are capturing. Are you doing a quick montage of 40 clips for a 10-second intro or just one long scenic landscape for those 10 seconds with a Title? Will you use a longer luma transition between two clips or whip quickly from a sunlit to sunset shot? What fancy Photoshop/Lightroom-ing will you do once you’ve taken these multiple photos? Are you trying out a Droneception piece? Thinking of these will save you both time and storage space in the long run.
| Outro: Drone Insurance
Yes, it’s a thing… and presently a very vague thing. Yes, it MAY cover you out of your home country. Be sure to contact your insurance company for all the specific details first to help you decide whether you should fly your drone inside that batcave or not.
ULTIMATE FINAL TRAVEL TIP!
Please do not sell your drone if you run out of money and max out your credit card while traveling. Would you sell your baby so you can afford a trip back home? I wouldn’t think so.
Thanks for looking into the guide! May the winds be ever in your favor!