Traveling with Spark: Cinematic Shooting Tips and Tricks

Guest Contributor: Ignacz Szabolcs

Ignacz Szabolcs is a professional drone photographer from Romania. He started drone photography and videography back in 2014. In 2015 he won his first international contest. Till 2017 his pictures have been published in international magazines, books, galleries and also won 2 international contests. Visit his website.


My name is Ignacz Szabolcs, and I’m a professional drone pilot from Romania. My first experiences with DJI products came in 2013. Since then I have owned a DJI Ronin and Ronin-M, Osmo, Inspire 1, Phantom 4 Pro, and finally Spark. Having so much confidence in DJI as a company, a lot of this equipment was pre-ordered without hesitation.

So for this article, I wanted to talk about my latest DJI acquisition’s capabilities. This year I spent my holiday in Greece, and I was curious as to how my Spark would handle the journey regarding both photo and video quality. Since I’m used to the high-quality sensor of a Phantom 4 Pro, I felt slightly apprehensive relying solely on Spark for my holiday snaps. I also wondered whether I could make professional looking footage with just Spark alone. Well, the short answer to that is a big fat YES, but let’s have a look at how I did it.

Traveling With Spark

When it was released, I bought the Fly More Combo from the DJI Store. Being able to control the drone with a physical controller (RC) is a must when you want to have precise and full control, not to mention the extended transmission range. I’m a firm believer that having a minimum of two batteries is a must for any drone. But for Spark, I recommended having three. I should also say that the dedicated travel bag is an excellent addition to adventure with since it fits perfect two extra batteries, Spark (with a battery attached) and the RC comfortably.

However, one thing was bothering me before I set off. I wondered if I’d have any problem at the airport baggage check-in. Fortunately, I had no issues, and the travel bag is small enough to take as carry-on luggage. A piece of safety advice though: always leave the batteries in a state of charge (SoC) below 30% of their rated design capacity when traveling.

For Photos:

Tip: Do a quick search of your trip

Always do a quick search of your destination before your trip, so you know what’s waiting for you when you get there. I usually use Google Maps to discover the most exciting places way before the journey starts so that I’m equipped with some local knowledge when I arrive.

Tip: Be creative and make your pictures interesting

Being safe is always a priority (Related:10 Drone Safety Tips for a Safe Flight), but I’d wager that when you’ve mastered how to fly your drone and know it inside out, you can dispense with the propeller guards as they’re more for training purposes. Also, they weigh Spark down and may contribute to the dreaded Vortex Ring State or the Wobble of Death, which makes footage shaky and is even more dangerous, ironically.

My motto has always been “be creative and make your pictures interesting.” But it also helps a lot if the locals are open to new ideas. My experience of Greek people is that they’re super-friendly and inquisitive, always lending a hand to help.

At first glance, my first picture shows a small harbor with dozens of small boats and yachts. But if you look more closely, it’s more much than that. The story behind this is that I asked two car owners on ‘Jaws Island’ to stop their cars for a couple of minutes.

Now set your imagination free and try to see what I wanted to capture. Can you see? Two alligators are showing their teeth off, and the cars are their eyes. I named the picture “Eternal Fight.”

Tip: Plan your trips and return to the same spot if it’s worth it

Spark’s flight time is between 11-13 minutes, but this little island was so unique looking that not making a 360 panorama would have been a sin.

So the following day, I returned with a full battery, and I managed to take 34 photos which finally got stitched end the result is just insane. I made a little planet view too!

Tip: Use Sport mode to capture fast-moving objects

 I’m used to higher speeds when flying with my other drones. Spark’s cruising speed is at around 5m/s. Using the remote controller, set the Spark to Sport mode so you can reach your desired height and destination faster at a speed of 50m/s. In Sport mode, you can’t face the camera 90-degrees down so just set it back to normal mode when you want to take a shot straight down.

Always use Sport mode to capture fast moving objects. In this particular case, I wanted to get the mesmerizing white tail of the jet ski cruising in the Aegean Sea. I call this composition, “Water Snake.”

The fourth picture is called “The Carrier” and shows a ferry boat carrying some cars from one shore to another. I think this shot allowed me to capture a moment in time, without freezing reality. I wanted to make a visual suggestion of motion instead. The waves behind the boat have already reached their peak and are starting to curl downward. I think the sense of movement is palpable.

The fifth picture is entitled “Duo” and shows two boats staying almost motionless. But it’s much more if you look closely. You can sense the quiet thrumming of the sea far below; the enormous shadow of the seemingly still green waters engulfing them. The boats are floating on a green sheet of plastic.

Note: All these pictures were touched up in Adobe Lightroom, with adjustments to brightness, exposure, and contrast, etc.

For Video

At the moment, Spark only allows 1080p 30fps video shooting options. In my video, you’ll see some shots from Evia Island. Hopefully, in the near future, Spark lovers will have the option to choose 24p and picture profiles too.

Tip: Don’t use Sport mode while recording video

Don’t use Sport mode while recording video. You’ll just end up with the propellors getting into the frame with shaky footage. Always fly in normal mode, and if you want to film something steady, turn on Tripod mode. To be honest, I don’t like automated functions, so I do everything manually depending on the situation.

Can you tell? No color grading in this video.

Note: Always keep your drone within a line of sight, to ensure you fly safely. It’s useful to have a spotter too so that when you’re flying, somebody is watching the drone at all times.

Is it worth owning a Spark?

For me, it is, without doubt, DJI’s product of the year. If you travel a lot and want to have your drone with you 99% of the time with the convenience of getting up in the air in under 20 seconds (that’s how long it takes for me to launch the Spark), then it’s a no-brainer. Why not go for the Fly More Combo for a fuller experience?

For professional photographers, Spark would be perfect with RAW, 24fps video settings, and picture profiles. But it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve pro-level results with Spark. It depends only on your creativity and knowledge to maximize its full capabilities. What’s that saying about the best camera is always the one you have on you? Well, for Spark, the best drone is the one you have with you at all times.

 

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