Remote Control Aerial Cinematography

Impossible Made Beautiful

Based out of Atlanta, Georgia, Yonder Blue Films offers low-altitude aerial cinematography via remote operated helicopters. We specialize in capturing breathtaking images and adding value to your production.

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Aerial Ingredients: Subject Movement

This is the second entry in a series of posts we're calling "Aerial Ingredients."  In this series we'll be sharing some lessons we've learned while filming low-altitude aerials.

Adding movement to your subject is a great way to add a lot of visual interest to your shots.  Even something as basic as a warehouse can be spiced up by adding a moving forklift to the shot.  A moving subject can motivate the camera and copter move.  And this is a tip that applies to all types of filmmaking. 

For an example of subject movement, presented below is a demo we shot last year (can't share any recent material yet).  We had the opportunity to test out the MicroLite HD transmitter from Nebtek, so we contacted our friend Bill Rich who arranged a brief test shoot with his friend Heather Williams.  Heather is incredibly talented, and was so fun to work with.

Heather certainly looks cool next to the bike in the photo above, but she really shines when she's flying through the air, which can be seen in the video below.  It was a fun morning of filming a moving subject.

Catching Air with Heather Williams from Yonder Blue Films on Vimeo.

The movement of the subject motivates the movement of the camera in most of the shots shown in our test video.  And by moving your camera with the subject, you avoid frame jitter.  Have you ever noticed how much jitter you get when quickly panning across a scene?  Some folks also refer to this as a strobing effect.  That jitter is present in a lot of the shots in the video, but by giving your eyes something to focus on, a subject that is moving in sync with the pan, you don't notice the jitter at all.  If you watch the video again and look at the background, rather than the moving subject, you'll see what I'm referring to.  This issue is present in all cameras, and there are ways to combat it, but the most natural way is to give the viewer something to focus on or slow down the pan.  This is especially important when shooting at lower frame rates, like 24p. 

In the world of aerials, following subject movement is much easier when it's a 2 person operation.  One person can concentrate on moving the copter with the subject, and the other person can concentrate on moving the camera with the subject. 

While you can't add women on motorcycles to every shot, you can certainly come up with creative ways to add movement to your subject.  Try it on your next shoot, you'll be glad you did.  If you enjoyed this article, please share it.  More to come...


Aerial Ingredients: Lighting

This is the first entry in a series of posts we're calling "Aerial Ingredients."  In this series we'll be sharing some lessons we've learned while filming low-altitude aerials. 

There is definitely some overlap between what makes a good shot on the ground and in the air.  Many of the guidelines for good ground based video can be carried over to aerial cinematography, such as good composition.  We're going to take a look at some of the similarities and some of the additional ingredients for a good aerial video shot.  Our first topic is lighting.

Screen grab from Dewees Island video footage.

Good lighting: Lighting plays a very important role in aerial cinematography.  Sunrise and sunset is generally a great time to capture beautiful footage.  When scheduling a shoot, it’s important to schedule shots that will benefit from these time periods, and schedule the rest of the shots for the remainder of the day.  Typically you want to shoot on a sunny day.  Waiting on clouds to move can slow the process down.  There are some limitations to shooting in a dark environment as it is harder for people to judge depth in the dark. 

Below is a video with some highlights of a shoot on Dewees Island near Charleston, SC. We shot a lot of footage on this short trip, but the best shots took place the evening we arrived, the following morning and that evening.  The light was great during those 3 chunks of time.  Compare the bird footage from the opening shot, to the bird footage that appears later in the video. 


Summer on Dewees: Aerial Highlights from Yonder Blue Films on Vimeo.

Shooting every shot during "golden hour" isn't realistic, but with good shot planning, you can maximize your time.  The dock jumping shots took place midday, and that was a time that made sense for those shots, so we scheduled them accordingly.  You don't have to schedule every shot down to the last minute, but be conscious of putting yourself in the right place at the right time. 

When time allows, a scouting session can be very beneficial.  Apps like Sun Seeker will help you determine where the sun will be at certain times of day.  That way you'll know if a particular shot or subject is best for sunrise or sunset. Here's a demo from the developer:


Another great asset on any shoot is local knowledge.  For the Dewees shoot, Judy Fairchild made scheduling easy.  She's a longtime resident of Dewees Island, and is the owner of Dewees Real Estate.  Her extensive knowledge of the island and network of island residents made this shoot a lot of fun.  If you're not familiar with an area, it's great to have someone there who knows it backwards and forwards - especially someone as nice as Judy and her family. 

We hope this post was helpful.  If you liked it or know someone that would, please share it like crazy!  If we get enough interest, we'll continue to share more posts like this - we've got a long list ready to go.  Thanks for reading.

Note: There's a post on MultiRotorForums for this article.  It can be found here.



The next flying rig for Yonder Blue

So we've been brainstorming our next camera flyer...

A little history: Our first big camera hauler was a Cinestar 8. It served us well. We wanted something bigger for flying the Red Epic. So we built a Vulcan flat octo with 15 inch props (and later added their awesome Mantis arm in place of the leading arm). Our most recent reel includes a mix of shots from the Cinestar and the Vulcan. Every shot in that reel is from either a hacked Panasonic GH2 or a Panasonic GH3 (we've flown plenty of cams, but these are by far the most popular for us). We've flown the Red on a handful of shoots, but most folks opt for having us fly smaller cameras. DP's like Epics and Alexas, but producers that control budgets like whatever is the most affordable. And we've seen a GH3 color-timed to match an Arri Alexa, and it worked well. And with the 4K GH4 on the way, the future is looking bright and LIGHT!

We're looking to build a new rig, and on this one we're taking the "less is more" approach. We want to build a rig that is ultra-portable, and targeted towards the cameras we typically fly. I see us continuing with the GH3, adding the 4K capable GH4, and also throwing our Blackmagic Pocket into the mix. We've only used the Pocket for ground work so far. We travel a lot, so having a rig that is smaller, lighter, and packs down faster would be a big benefit.

So here's what I'm considering, and I'd love to get some feedback. For some parts, I'm pretty set on what I will go with, for others it's still "up in the air."

The Frame: I'm leaning towards another frame from Vulcan UAV. Why? Several reasons actually. First, their frames are tough. Baggage handlers have given our gear a beating at times, so having a tough frame is important. I already have plenty of spare parts for our octo, so it makes sense to build a frame that can use the same spares. You can fold the arms for packing. Customer support is great. Their frames are VERY adaptable to all types of layouts and accessories.

The Layout: I'm likely going to build this out as a Y6 or a X8. I need redundancy, so no quads. I want something that's more portable, and we've already got a large octo, so coaxial seems like the smart bet. Many folks I respect have praised the benefits of coaxial. So that means it's either a Y6 or a X8. I'm leaning towards a Y6. With the Y6, I could fold the front arms back towards the back arm and pack it in a mid sized pelican case.

Motors: Looking at three brands - Avroto, KDE, and Tiger. All three brands make quality motors. There are some white Avroto motors that would be nice in the hot weather that we fly in. KDE has recently released multi-rotor motors and first impressions from folks have been good. Tiger (T-Motor) is obviously very popular, and they have a wide variety of options (they help manufacture the Avroto line). Really we couldn't go wrong with any of these.

Flight controller: We've been very happy with the Hoverfly Pro. I have an extra board that needs a home, so this will likely be the way I go. I usually fly in manual mode - 95% of the time it seems. And in manual mode, the Hoverfly Pro rules. It also flies really well in auto-leveling mode. I'd consider the new MK or SuperX as an option too. But I've got over 3,000 flights on Hoverfly Pro and it just works really well. I'm considering 6S lipo power, so I'd have to regulate the voltage to the Hoverfly.

Batteries: MaxAmps for me there. I have a fair amount of their 4S batteries, so it is tempting to build something based off 4S batteries. But many of the motors I like are tailored to 6S voltage, and there are some potential efficiency gains there. The choice of voltage will be a tough one. Also, with the Hoverfly Pro, you can't power it with a 6S battery, so you have to step down the voltage that is going to the board (ESCs still get full voltage though). What concerns me about that is that if that voltage regulator fails, well... that's a bad day. So I would need to go with a high quality voltage regulator and possibly wire up two for redundancy.  I will power the system with 2 flight batteries at a time for longer flights and redundancy.

Props: The wooden Xoar props have been good to me. I think I'll give the T-Motor carbon props a go on this build, or something similar.

ESCs: Depends on the flight controller, but Turnigy Plush have served me well in combination with the Hoverfly Pro. Programming them is easy with their card.

Camera gimbal: There are a lot of gimbals on the market. We used parts from here to modify our original Cinestar gimbal to make roll and tilt brushless. And we've gotten smooth shots from this setup. It's driven by an Alexmos board. I have had some reliability issues with the Alexmos, and I find the tuning to be time consuming. The results are good though. Don't get me wrong, Alexmos brought brushless to the masses, and for that I am sincerely grateful. BUT, I'm ready for something else. I want something with easier tuning, that's well engineered, and can accept a variety of small to mid-sized cameras. The gimbal that checks off all of those boxes is the Movi M5 (the little brother to the M10). It's due for release in March.  The only other gimbal tech that has really caught my eye is this, but information is currently scarce because it isn't available yet. I know there's other tech too being honed in a workshop somewhere - I think the next month or so will be very interesting in the gimbal technology department.

Gimbal mount: Allied Drone's Echo. I use it now - works well.

Prop mounts: Foxtech quick detach prop mounts. SleepyC of RC Groups told me about these and he gave them high marks.

Those paying close attention will note that there are some key pieces of gear that I left out, radios for instance. But we have plenty of gear that will make the move to this new rig. We are big fans of our Futaba gear, and since we have 3 of their transmitters I don't think I'll switch. If I did, it would be to a Jeti like this. Those that own them say they are worth every penny. I'd like to try one out.

If you read all of this post, I commend you and thank you. If you leave a comment, then many thanks to you. Fly safe.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, this has been posted at and has recieved a lot of feedback.  Please comment there.

All the best,
Ben Rowland, Yonder Blue Films



GH3 VS GH2 (Video)

Photo Credit: Danny J Kirsic

We recently picked up the Panasonic GH3 for our copter arsenal and wanted to share a comparison between the GH3 and our faithful GH2. While this post is meant to showcase the images and features of the two, much of the following is inexact science and biased towards the necessary features and settings that help us make these cameras fly.  

Our hacked GH2 was the first camera we flew on our Cinestar 8 multi-rotor, mostly filming with Nick Driftwood's Orion v4b patch. The patch is stable at 24p and handles the endless motion of the moving copter well. The GH2 packs a major punch when it comes to image quality and its size and weight allow us to keep the copter in the air for extended periods of time. See the video below, which was shot entirely with our GH2's: 

Panasonic's GH3 is a larger body than its predecessor and comes filled with new features for both video and stills. Its size will continue to get us laughed at by those unfortunate few who judge cameras based on size rather than image quality. Depending on what record mode you choose, the new body offers bit rates of 72, 50, 28, 24, 20, 17, 10 and 4Mbps. For our testing, we shot 24p at 50Mbps with the GH3's new QuickTime wrapper.  

To roughly match bitrates, we shot with Chris Brandin's 44M patch on the GH2. Both cameras were set to "Standard" with Contrast=0, Sharpness=0, Saturation=0 and Noise Reduction=0. White balance was matched in every shot. All footage was filmed with Panasonic's 14-42 kit lens. See the ground-based test below.

Note: This test is not exact science. While it won't answer every question about how the two cameras compare, it's an accurate representation of what a GH2 and GH3 look like side-by-side when shooting with comparable bitrates and settings. Feel free to discuss your opinion on the two camera images in the comments below.

Note: Head over to and immerse yourself in everything GH2 & GH3. It's a great community full of people striving to make these little cameras shoot the best image possible. Please take the time to donate!

How does the GH3 fly?

The GH3 flies nearly identical to the GH2. We didn't put a timer on it, but two parallel 4S batteries got us well over twelve minutes on the CS8 and we only brought the copter down because we wanted to check takes. As with every camera, mounting and balancing the GH3 on the Freefly 3-axis gimbal provided initial challenges, but the adaptability of the gimbal allowed us to place the camera to our liking. (We do recommend a right-angle HDMI adapter.)

Below is some ridiculous GH3 footage from our Cinestar 8 multi-rotor. This footage is for testing purposes only. We dialed in picture settings by shooting on "Standard" with a -4,-2,-2,-5 configuration. The images were graded in Apple Color. Enjoy!

This GH3 Test Footage showcases some of the SICKEST moves we've ever flown:

The image below is a comparison of the original .mov file and graded frame from our GH3 test shoot.

Features we like about the GH3 that the GH2 doesn't have:

1080p at 60fps: The $16,000 Canon C300 doesn't even offer this. (There are a lot of things we like about the C300 though.) Ninety-percent of the time we shoot at 24P, but now we have the capability of shooting over-cranked without having to stick a different camera on the copter.

Clean HDMI output: The GH2 takes footage shot at 720p60 and converts it to interlaced when an HDMI cable is attached. Shooting and monitoring at 60p on the GH2 without an FPV camera is impossible. The GH3 takes care of this ridiculous quirk and allows us to monitor our over-cranked footage.

The new QuickTime wrapper: We can review footage the instant it has been transferred to a computer. For those of us still killing it in FCP7, the .mov files can be dropped directly into Compressor for conversion. Also, no more hoping clients have VLC player!

Extended Battery Life: A day of shooting (from the copter) can now be accomplished with two batteries instead of five or six. But at $80 a battery, we can't wait for the Chinese knockoffs.

Faster Auto Focus: Able to focus at 240fps, the GH3 does a nice job with its faster autofocus functionality. There is still some "searching" when tracking an object. Will we use this feature in the air? Not right now. We set focus to infinity in manual mode, but as gimbals evolve and longer lenses become part of our setup, we've got a camera capable of tracking moving objects. 

Features we don't like about the GH3:

The Electronic View Finder: It's horrific. The EVF casts a magenta tone over the image and is far from sharp. Focusing is tough. Fortunately, the camera's bright and vivid OLED touchscreen makes up for the EVF miscue.

Wifi: It's a very cool concept that allows realtime viewing and control of settings on iOS or Android devices. However, at the time of this posting, it's missing a ton of features that would actually make it useful. The iPad image freezes when recording begins, meaning you can't see anything the camera is recording. Also, recording can only be stopped at the camera itself, unless you set a specific time limit on a shot. You cannot review playback of video. The iPad recognizes video files are present, but will not allow review. For now, there are too many flaws that make Wifi more of a hassle than solution. 

GH2 or GH3?

Both! Yes, the GH3 offers new functionality. Much of which help us meet client needs. But the GH2 has years of testing and patches under its belt, making it capable of producing an incredibly beautiful picture. We'll continue to keep both cameras in our bag...while waiting patiently for the GH3 to be hacked.

Comments or questions? Email us through our contact page or find us on Facebook and Twitter.


Xoar carbon fiber props

We've recently been fortunate to try out Xoar's new PJP-T carbon fiber props on one of our multirotors.  We want to share our first impressions of these beauties.  And they really do make quite the first impression - they look great bolted to brushless motors mounted on carbon fiber booms.

They're ridiculously light and very strong.  They only weigh 12 grams!  That's less than half the weight of Xoar's popular beechwood props (which we use on our heavy lifter Cinestar 8).  We put them on the prop balancer, and they're spot on.  There's no need to balance them because they're ready to fly.

And how do they fly?  Really well. The light weight allows the multirotor motors to react quickly.  When it inevitably gets windy, quick reactions are important.  And when you want maximum flight time, every gram counts. 

If it sounds like we're gushing over these props, it's because they're worthy of the praise.  Are the Xoar carbon fiber props worth the investment for your multirotor?  If you want the best, absolutely. 

Comments or questions? Email us through our contact page or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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