A Guide to Drone Photography/Cinematography for Architecture


Drone photography has been one of the biggest advancements in aerial photography and cinematography. Drones began making a huge impact on filmmaking in the early 2000s, but vast advancements in aerial and camera technology have dramatically increased the use of and demand for aerial footage in nearly every industry focused on digital content.

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The construction industry has begun implementing drones on construction sites as a way to get a birdseye view of a project, capture the finished building from a unique perspective and even be used in the actual construction of the building itself. But when it comes to architectural photography and cinematography, we are just beginning to scratch the surface.

Read on for ArchDaily’s Guide to Drone Photography/Cinematography.

Finding the Right Drone

Globally, drone sales grew an estimated 60% in 2016 to over 2.2 million, with revenue growth eclipsing $4.5 billion, according to research firm Gartner. Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) has emerged as the industry leader, representing 36% of the $500-$1,000 market in 2016, 66% of the $1,000-$2,000 market and 67% of the $2,000-$4,000 market.

Architect and author of the Architect + Entrepreneur book series Eric Reinholdt released a video in 2017 detailing the results of his research into the best drone for architects and designers. At the time of his video, he concluded that the DJI Mavic Pro was the winner. With a 7 km flight time, 4K 12 MP camera and 3-axis gimbal, the Mavic Pro is also small enough to fit into a small backpack after the foldable wings are tucked back into the body of the drone. Also coming in at a (current) price of $1,398 for the Fly More Combo (which includes an extra battery pack, case, DJI remote, extra blades, and much more) it can be seen as an affordable business investment.


DJI Mavic Pro. Image© <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mavic_(UAV)#/media/File:DJI_Mavic_Pro_(32613533582).jpg'>Wikimedia user Leigh Miller</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>
DJI Mavic Pro. Image© Wikimedia user Leigh Miller licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

But since Reinholdt’s video, DJI has released the Mavic Air. A more compact drone with the same specs as the Mavic Pro at an even more affordable price ($799, or $999 for the Fly More Combo), the Mavic Air is a professional-grade aircraft that fits in your pocket. Also sporting a 3-axis gimbal and 4K camera, the Mavic Air adds the capability to capture 360-panoramic footage with its 32 MP 360 camera.

DJI has a wide variety of drones across a range of prices, and as with most purchases of this price range, it is important to do your research.


DJI Mavic Air
DJI Mavic Air

Use Responsibly

Before you get started with your initial flight, it is also important to research your local jurisdiction’s rules and regulations on unmanned aircraft. It may seem a bit over-the-top, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has put in place safety guidelines to help you get flying as quickly as possible, and ensure that your drone isn’t confiscated after its first flight. You can reference this article for more information on the legalities of getting started with your new drone.

Photography

Aerial photography is definitely the most utilized aspect of drone use in architecture. Site photos are useful in predesign, construction photos can help keep an eye on the process and final images capture the essence of the design at a different level (literally). Here are a few things to keep in mind when using your drone for aerial photography in architecture.

When and where you are flying matters. Flying a drone in a dense urban area is a lot more dangerous than on a rural mountainside. Flying at night versus during the day is a great way to get those great nighttime cityscape shots, but as you might imagine, it is a bit tricky to fly a drone when you can’t really see it. Most drones do have head and tail lights to aid in night flight, but relying on seeing the lights from over a mile away maybe isn’t the best idea.

Most high-end drones come with some sort of gimbal technology for stabilization. A 3-axis gimbal will provide you more stabilization as it stabilizes over three axis (yaw, pitch and roll), while a 2-axis gimbal only stabilizes the pitch and roll. You might not think this makes much of a difference in photography, but compare it to taking a picture freehand versus using a tripod. Obviously, the tripod will eliminate camera shake and help you get a cleaner, crisper image. The same goes for a 3-axis gimbal.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to drone photography is perspective. It’s easy to get carried away when operating a drone, but you must not forget to analyze your drone shot just as you would with a handheld camera. A drone is simply another tool to utilize in the creative process. It just happens to also be one of the most fun.



Cinematography

The cinematic component of aerial photography is an often neglected aspect of drone usage that has the potential to make a major impact. Aerial cinematography is also perhaps one of the more daunting aspects of using a drone. In part because (much like a photo) a video very rarely ever comes out perfect directly from the camera. Even with the incredibly high-resolution images you can get from a quality drone, there is still a bit of post-production work needed to make sure the information shown looks the way it needs to. With video, that post-production workflow is not one that is known to most in the architecture industry. But therein lies the potential.

Drones offer the opportunity to experience buildings in a way that isn’t humanly possible without them. Video also has the power to enhance the experience of the design at multiple scales. Vast flyovers provide an expansive view of a building in its context. Flyarounds can provide an intimate examination of details at levels out of reach at a human scale. Flythroughs can provide a complete experience through a building by navigating between spaces.

With the correct drone, a sufficient amount of flight experience and a bit of creativity, You can begin experimenting with aerial cinematography to help elevate your design work. Check out this video from YouTuber Casey Neistat to see a great example of how to use a drone to capture spatial experiences from a unique perspective.

Keep Learning / Get Inspired

It should come as no shock that operating a drone is not easy. In order to get outstanding, high-quality content out of your drone, it will require time and effort on your part. But just like with any BIM software, there is an abundance of resources out there to help you get started with flight technique, post-production and inspiration. YouTube is perhaps the best place to look, as it is the world’s second largest search engine (and it is owned by the first largest, Google) and is the world’s go-to for “how to’s”.

Apart from tutorials and instructional videos, here are a few creators that often utilize drones in their content that will surely provide you with a plethora of inspiration: Casey Neistat, Peter McKinnon, Eric Reinholdt, Chris Hau, Matti Haapoja, Droneworks Studios.





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