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How to pull off five essential drone shots and uplift your videos

Story & Heart
October 7, 2015 by Story & Heart PRO

Drones can produce some amazing, jaw-dropping shots — but they don’t always happen easily. We enlisted our pals and Story & Heart filmmakers from Saint West Filmworks to share their secrets on how to produce five killer drone shots, so you don’t have to spend years investing in flight school.

1. The fly-by

The fly-by is a “Swiss Army knife”-type shot that works well for quick cuts or sprinkling in some fun to a B-roll sequence. The trick with the fly-by is to set your framing before your subject appears in the shot, and coordinating the movement of the gimbal in relation to the movement of the aircraft. And be sure to set your camera operator’s pan and tilt speeds in relation to the type of shot you are pulling off.

2. The reveal

The reveal is aptly named — it’s really just a good ol’ fashioned reveal, only this time, it’s from the sky. If your gimbal allows for it, be sure to adjust your ramping speeds to create a smooth finish to your reveal shots. You will want to slow those down and make sure to bench test with the camera you plan to use before you fly.

3. The chase

The chase works as a great closing shot — especially when combined with a long ascension — or as an action punch, which provides ample speed ramping options in post (check this useful primer on speed ramping in Adobe Premiere). The timing on these shots is the most difficult aspect to contend with, but a great place to start is setting up your shot about 20 feet or so away from your first target (where you want the shot to begin), which will give you plenty of time to get your direction and speed squared away.

4) The high-pan

The high-pan shot is primarily used to showcase landscapes and the proximity of a subject to its surroundings. Once you lock in your favorite portion of the view, be sure to run your shot left to right and right to left multiple times, so you can afford yourself a plethora of options in post.

5) The explorer

The explorer is all about making the most of what you see when your bird is in the sky and you’ve suddenly got vision for miles. Always be aware of just how much power your batteries have left so that you have enough juice to get your drone home.

Now that you’ve soared through some drone shots, you may want to venture further into the world of drone filmmaking: head to the Academy of Storytellers and equip yourself with this extra handy infographic, the “8-step checklist before you take your drone to the sky,” so you can push your videos to infinity and beyond.

And just as Matty Brown answered your questions on transitions, the Saint West crew will be responding to your community-submitted questions in a follow-up post in two weeks, so be sure to add any and all drone-related questions you have to the comments section below.



I'm new to Drone filming. Do you ever just fly the Drone, or is every shot obsessively preplanned? The first scene I made looked ok to me, although it doesn't employ your best practices: ( no color corrections I'm an amateur hobbyist )

Saint West PRO

If you are just getting started in the world of aerial cinematography, I would recommend having as much fun as possible while learning as much as you can about the flight characteristics of your platform. In fact, we didn't add the camera on our first multi rotor for about 5 months. That was back when tuning your flight control system was much more important, these days there are so many "out of the box" options that make it very easy to achieve smooth, steady flight characteristics with little effort. If you are already proficient and comfortable with your rig, don't worry too much about obsessively planning each and every shot. We will typically have 2-3 shots in mind per flight at most. Once we have achieved what we came for, we switch gears and go into "explorer" mode, which was the last tip we covered on this tutorial. As always, practice makes perfect. Have fun out there and be safe!

Article19 PRO

you forgot "do you really need an aerial shot?" the answer to which, 99% of the time, is "probably not!"

Story & Heart PRO

We're right there with you. Drone shots — like slider shots, gimbal shots, etc — have way more impact the less they're used in a film.

Iain Anderson PRO

I'm not Alex, but if you're in FCP X you could use DriveX from CoreMelt (CoreMelt DriveX powered by mocha) to track and add 3D text. If you're in PPro then you'll want to use After Effects.

Disclosure: I make a lot of videos for CoreMelt, including the DriveX tutorials, but I'm not on commission. :)

Gold Creative PRO

Very useful, thanks, and Mr Article 19 sorry they wasted your time, sharing they experience with you.


Saint West PRO

Nice to hear you found it useful RG! Let us know if this triggers any additional questions in the future! Happy flying!

Drone South

The most dramatic shots are when the camera moves in 2 or 3 directions at the same time. Notice how good your fly-by looks. As the camera is moving forward, it turns to the side and then down all at the same time. A locked gimbal fly-by is the easiest and I use it the most but is the least dramatic. Try to plan how to get 2 or 3 directions at the same time. Ascent with a slow pan. A sideways chase that pans as you pass the subject. etc.

Always make slow smooth turns even when you are getting into and out of position. I can't tell you how many times my camera was catching an amazing shot and I made a quick turn to set up the next shot and ruined it.

Saint West PRO

Great advice, we can't agree more! All those wasted shots.... if we had just continued to pay attention to smooth operation of the gimbal. Nowadays, we try and get the most out of our flight time and stay super attentive during the whole flight, literally until we are about 5 feet off the ground preparing to land. Can't tell you how many awesome shots come from the landing process. Thanks Drone South! PRO

Also watch out for rolling shutter when panning. If you go to fast with FPS at like 24fps, you will get a stuttering effect of things moving like cars, boats, etc... Keep it slow and smooth, can always bump speed up in post. PRO

Another is the Pull-Out reveal. I use this to showcase something like a building or scenic overlook. I start close in on the subject, start with a slow back on my right stick to start the aircraft moving backwards, and an up movement on left stick to start a climb and I will slowly pan the camera down to keep my main subject in frame. Ideally you try to shoot for a 45 degree climb backwards and upwards. You can do it at differing speeds. And I'll do the reverse as well where I start high and come in close.

If you are shooting things that have other things like people and cars in them, it's important to keep in mind the speed in post that you want to run it at. Hence why I do these at differing speeds so that I don't do one and speed it up 400% and everything on the ground is screaming unnaturally fast. But if I do a fast pan out, and only have to speed up say 130%, then it looks normal. Don't forget about reversing footage and having items go in reverse like cars and people.

Eric Goldstein

If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking out Autoflight Logic's Autopilot software.

The challenge of these shots is flying, maintaining focus / frame on your POI and panning at an appropriate speed. I greatly enjoy using the Autopilot software to focus on an item (e.g. set the focus point to be the hole at golf course and then flying from the tee box or focusing on a house, etc., and flying over it.

There's a series of videos on how to use it, but here's the one on Focus:

Team Adcor Plus

@teamadccor Thanks for the very useful tips and reminders. I find that filters also play a big part in setting the tone and slowing down shutter & stutter!

Benjamin Swift

What drone(s) would you guys recommend? I'd be a beginner if I get one, but do have some RC aircraft experience. I'm looking for something relatively affordable as well. Thanks!

Saint West PRO

Hi Benjamin, I know this is a tad late but the drone you choose should depend on your needs. Since you mentioned affordable, we would highly recommend the DJI Phantom 4 or the 3DR Solo. Best of luck!

jens ufer

Great video as always. Well done. I missed the probably most famous shots realised with drones.
It is the "Top shot". You know it from google earth. The camera is looking directly down to the earth. This shot is especially great when you fly over bridges or high buildings.

Dan Peters

One of my favorite shots is the "orbit". This is where the subject remains in the center of the screen while slowly traveling around in a circle or arc. I accomplish this by moving the drone sideways while inputing drone rotation in the opposite direction.


I use this shot to reveal something and also send a viewer some chill. Hope you enjoy.

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