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.