Featured photo by Stephan Louis from Pexels
The Mavic drone uses your smartphone as the display on the controller.
It’s one thing to learn drone flight controls and be confident in your skills; it’s quite another to be an over-confident newbie — and I was just reminded of the difference.
After my dizzyingly-successful first flight, I couldn’t wait to take my new little Mavic Mini 2 drone out for another run — this time to see what flying in the “golden hour” would give me and to try out the ND (neutral density) filters I’d just received from Amazon (these are the ones I got). And, I wanted to get above the trees to be able to see the river at the foot of our backyard. (Four hundred feet is the legal ceiling for these drones, but our trees are nowhere near that tall.)
I’m making good time on Drone Launch Academy’s Aerial Video A to Z course with instructor Alexander Harris. I’m in the editing and post-production chapters and I’m anxious to try out what I’ve learned about color correction and post-production. (They instruct both in Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro video editing software — I use Final Cut.)
Based on what I’ve learned, I’m using the slow “Cine” setting to record more sweeping cinematic views. I’m also thinking about and planning what I’m going to shoot before I fly, and trying to construct the final film with shots in some kind of logical order (which becomes a lot easier when you have a plan before you shoot!)
My second and third flights went quite well and boosted my confidence in flying immensely. The stability of the little drone didn’t hurt either. I’m not sure how “cinematic” my movie turned out to be, but it was progress…
Here’s what I came up with (if you’re on your computer, set it to full screen and turn up the volume):
What did I learn this time?
- Don’t overdo the post-production (I scrapped all the adjustments twice and started again…)
- Make sure your tiny ND filter is securely fastened. (I thought mine was, but it fell off during the flight and it was only thanks to my eagle-eyed wife that I got it back!)
- In general, use shorter movie clips instead of long ones and don’t show the same subject over and over again — it could make for a boring video.
- Use YouTube’s native uploader for higher-resolution results instead of the video editing program’s export/share functions. Export the finished video file with high-resolution settings to your desktop and then upload directly to YouTube. (Consultation with more-experienced drone pilots on the private Aerial Video A to Z course Facebook page helped me discover this.)
For my fourth flight, I was already thinking of flying the little drone through the woods and past the river in our backyard.
Perhaps I was getting overconfident because, along the walking path, the trees are tightly packed and the branches are low. But because of my total flying experience of a day-and-a-half (sarcasm) and the drone’s stability (not sarcasm), I felt I could fly between them and I’d end up with a great video.
Flying through the trees went well although I had to slow down frequently to make sure the propellers didn’t hit the foliage. This produced rather jerky footage, but that could be cut out later when I assembled my little film. Once through the trees, the river appeared to my left.
Have you ever noticed how relaxed and happy lazily moving water makes you feel?
As I got to the river’s edge, my relaxed and happy mind shed all reason as I envisioned lovely video footage of the streaming water from above. I flew it carefully between the branches and out over the riverbank.
I sensed impending doom almost immediately.
First, I lost sight of it behind some tree branches. When my eyes found it again, it was hovering over the water but drifting slightly in the same direction as the current. I certainly didn’t want it in the water because I might not get it back — and even if I did, the electronics would be fried…
It started to drift quickly and uncontrollably away from me and with the flow of the river. I felt like I was watching something precious float helplessly to the edge of a waterfall. The drift was confusing me and my attempts to control it sent it in the wrong direction — dang it.
At this point, I even called out loud, “I’m losing it…”, to no one there.
Finally I just yanked the control lever to one side to get it away from the water and it went crashing into the river bank beneath my feet!
I jumped down the bank like a parent rushing to save a child and found it nestled among large tree roots, mud, and good-sized boulders. I picked it up carefully and asked it if it was OK — it said it was…
There were no broken parts — only one small scratch and with a little brush-up the dirt was gone and it was as good as new.
But I wasn’t.
That had been a close call and my confidence was a little shaken. I just picked up my gear and walked back to the house.
What did I learn this time?
- Don’t be over confident! I tried something that I hadn’t researched and nearly paid the price.
- The drone company, DJI, publishes guidelines for flying over water and its not recommended for beginners. There is something called a Vision Positioning System that needs to be turned off if you’re going to fly less than two meters over water or it will do exactly what my drone did — follow the water reflections…
- And… YouTube is a great place to do research on flying and in this case, how to fly over water — lots of other aspiring pilots have shared their experiences and they’re all available to us at the press of a button.
After a bad experience, they tell you to get back in the saddle quickly, and I was back flying again the next day — but not over water!
I lick my wounds and get back in the air to work on some new objectives: shooting in 4K, using the camera gimbal to try some top-down shooting, and keeping the ND filter securely on the drone!