Over the past year, we’ve seen how drones have revolutionized major industries, and for this very reason, we are bringing you key insights from a leading expert in this field. We interviewed Mike Johnson of Journey Entertainment, a Director of Photography and editor who specializes in outdoor, wildlife, and underwater video.

How long have you been operating drones?

In 2014 I began working as director of photography on a new television series with a lot of international travel. Part of the story for each episode is about the location we visit. The initial plan was to rent a helicopter to shoot aerials from. Budget was not much of an issue for this, but location was. The very first trip was to the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan. Due to limited resources in country, and the remoteness of our shoot, renting a helicopter was not even an option. Logistically, a small drone was the only option to achieve our goals for that shoot, and has since proven the same on several shoots since. Using drones over full size helicopters also had the benefit of saving the production a large sum of money.

Why aerial footage?

I am a fan of capturing shots that are in some way not possible for a person to see in the course of “normal life”. Aerial footage can accomplish this if done right, especially with a drone. Creative drone shots tell a story that terrestrial cameras and helicopters simply cannot. A familiar subject can be viewed from a unique perspective. Multiple, seemingly unrelated subjects, can be visually connected in a way maps and flyovers cannot do.

“Drones are rapidly building a new industry of their own.”

Do you see drones revolutionizing specific industries?

Drones, more properly sUAS (small unmanned aerial system), are rapidly building a new industry of their own, impacting so many established industries in ways often unseen by the public eye. The role they play in film and video production has opened a new realm of possibility for even the smallest of projects. Beyond this, sUAS are gaining popularity in public service, facility inspection, farming and mapping, among many others. Infrared cameras are being used by law enforcement and search and rescue to locate missing persons. Fire departments are using similar platforms to inspect buildings for hotspots before sending firefighters into the building. Infrared, UV, and visible spectrum cameras are being used for facility inspections from cases as simple as looking for roof damage, to more complex operations of inspection high transmission power lines or air scrubbers in factory smoke stacks. Highly specialized cameras that were once very large and expensive, now small enough to be carried by medium sized drones, are used to monitor the health of crops. Similar laser-based systems, that too used to be very large and expensive, have been adapted to fit drones for highly accurate and detailed mapping. The one thing each of these applications have in common is a significant cost reduction versus traditional methods. sUAS are extremely efficient because they can launch and land just about anywhere, and require a crew of only two people in most cases. As with most new technologies, industries are still learning where drones fit in and what they are capable of.

Some of your personal tips for shooting.

A few quick tips for shooting with a drone:

1. Get FAA certified. Not only is this required by law for all commercial operations, there is a lot of very useful information every drone pilot should know.

2. Practice, practice, practice. Shoots can be stressful and because of that are a bad place to try new things. Practice in a calm setting where you can build confidence in your skills. Just be careful not to get too confident.

3. Anyone can fly a simple flyby or flyover. While these shots are often necessary, try to also take advantage of the small size drones offer and get in close. Do things helicopters can’t. Flying low and close result in an amazing perspective that many drone pilots simply do not capture.

4. Know your limitations. Even though a fraction of the price of a helicopter operation, drones still add up rapidly in cost. The drone itself, training, and insurance are all investments that should not be taken lightly. A crash resultant of irresponsible flying can result in being denied insurance coverage and revocation of FAA certification. Take risks, but only calculated risks well within your personal capabilities and the operational ability of your drone.

5. Think small. What drone operator doesn’t drool over a giant octocopter carrying a Red? That platform certainly has its place, but amazing footage can be captured by smaller systems that are easier to travel with and operate. Ultimately the quality of the shot comes down to the skill of the pilot and not the cost of the drone.


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