The Ultimate Philadelphia Aerial Video
Very soon after I got my hands on a DJI drone I knew it would be my new “thing”. The aircraft was Phantom 2 with a zenmuse gimbal ready to take a go pro on board. With help of my friend Marcin we installed a Hero 3 on board and got the thing in the air. I knew nothing back then about flying quadcopters (or any copters at all for that matter…) but after reviewing the footage from that first night I was absolutely fascinated at the world of new possibilities that has just opened up in front of me. Soon after I was flying a Phantom 2 Vision+ all over Philadelphia. I knew what I wanted to achieve. An aerial film showing all the wonderful locations this city had to offer. I was pretty sure something like that has never been done before (maybe for tv/movies but certainly not on the pro-sumer level).
It was a commitment. The best light for photography happens at sunset and sunrise. I dedicated most of June and the entire July of 2014 to getting up very early (sometimes around 4am to be able to travel to the location I wanted to film). Once the sun begins to rise you have about 20-30 minutes before the light gets too bright and “daylight” looking, loses its amazing appeal of the rich early morning color and saturation. This new routine shifted the order of my entire day. All my life I was a night person. I work best with no distractions at late hours (which is not unusual for a wedding photographer at all, most people I know in my industry would always stay up late and sleep until about noon of the next day). Now I found myself going to bed at 10pm on regular basis. It was exhausting for someone so not used to getting up so early but also very exciting. I could feel that I was on the way to something good. Every day after returning to my apartment from the morning shoot I would post a preview photo on facebook, like this one:
They would receive quite a bit of attention and a lot of questions about the capture process. People would comment that they have never seen Philadelphia from this particular angle or with the light I posted. To me it was an indication that maybe I was on the right track with the project. Once I had enough footage I started cutting the film together. I realized then what else I needed so I kept waking up early and going out to get some more…
Phantom 2 was certainly a great piece of equipment. After all it allowed me to create the above video… but it was far from perfect. The other part of the equation, the pilot – also certainly wasn’t perfect, not even very good. Just watch the very ending of “Fly like an Eagle” to see exactly what I mean. As you can imagine that was not the only crash. I broke several sets of propellers, damaged the gimbal, dented the drone body, broke the prop guards and even once sliced my fingers open (trying to very unskillfully catch the drone when it was about to crash…). Learn from my mistakes. Do read the manual TWICE and ideally – learn to fly with an experienced pilot next to you. It saves many headaches and a lot of money!
Losing equipment and a few bandaids on my hands were not enough to stop me. Equipment is replaceable, human skin heals! I was persistent and kept working until I had enough to put all of the above video together. I was constantly monitoring the weather and driving somewhere every day twice a day to find the best angle for the day’s sunrise and sunset. There were also a few blessed mornings when it rained cats and dogs… and there was simply no point getting up… so I had a break and could sleep in… but on those days I couldn’t wait till the rain and clouds go away because the desire to create and get to the end of the project was far bigger than the need to sleep. The world really does look different at sunrise and the late afternoon sun just makes everything look better.
Eventually the film was created. Looking at it today I know I would have done many things differently. I would process it better, I would fly smoother and I would be able to capture everything in stunning 4K resolution. Still, the final product made some considerable noise. Soon after it went online I started seeing the number of views go up. I also started hearing from random people about the video being posted or embedded on numerous Philadelphia blogs and websites like philly.curbed.com Recently I found it on Smithsonian.com – if you go to Philadelphia on their interactive map you will see the video as the only one posted from the City of Love – yaaay!
Last part worth mentioning is how much interest a drone flying around the city was generating in the middle of 2014. While working on this project I would be constantly approached by all kinds of people. Sharp dressed businessmen, kids, utility workers, cops, homeless and delivery services truck drivers alike. Most of them would say “wow..” and ask these two questions: “how high does it go?” and “how much does it cost?”. I tried to reply politely as much as I could but to those of you who received nothing but a grunt – I sincerely apologize. I am the kind of person who is able to concentrate on one task at a time only and sometimes I just had to chose between replying to you and not crashing the drone. I hope you understand!
Please take a look at my Guide to Stunning Aerial Imagery for a step by step roadmap to creating high resolution and high dynamic range images with your drone that can be printed in large sizes!