Aerial Filming

Drones… love them or hate them, they are playing a larger part in all our lives. You may remember in the news back in March this year, a drone crashed into a British Airways flight on its way to Geneva, fortunately causing no problems although, according to the Telegraph near misses between drones and aircraft have quadrupled in the last year. Amazon prime air will, in the future, promise to deliver your package by drone within 30 minutes of ordering… I mean, that’s just brilliant isn’t it. In winter I could get my ice-cream delivered in that time and it will still be frozen.

You’d be hard pushed to find a commercial film these days that doesn’t use aerial drone technology to get those beautiful shots that swoop in, giving you an incredible view from overhead. I’ve recently got into Game of Thrones (yes, I know I’m late to the table with this one but it was worth the wait) and there are some incredible shots in this programme using aerial drone technology to film. I think my favourite was season 4, episode 9. For those that have seen it, I’m talking of course, about the incredible overhead shot of the battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings. Another is the moment in Wolf of Wall Street where the shot starts on the coast, moving in to capture an aerial view of the pool party at a Hampton’s beach house, shot on a Canon C500 mounted on an otocopter drone.

Of course, the use of drones is also fraught with problems. Anyone can fly a drone as long as it weighs less than 20kg and you’re not using it commercially. That said, you can’t fly it within 150 metres of a congested area and 50 metres of a person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of a pilot, making it fine in your own back garden but not in public parks and the like.

Well of course here at FPS Media we like to be at the cutting edge of filming and, of course, within the law so we chose to partner with Nick Bayston of Merlin Flying Cameras. Nick is based in Hitchin with his wife, Louise, their 1-year-old daughter and their 2 Bengal cats. He is also an active member of ARPAS, the Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. Nick and I have much in common including our love of photography and gin and tonic (not whilst flying though, obviously!) I asked Nick what got him into working with flying cameras and drones. He told me, “It all started back in 2013 when I was searching the internet for outdoor activities I could do when there wasn’t enough wind to fly a kite.  Whilst I was looking at a remote controlled aircraft website, I saw a quadcopter with a camera attached. As a keen photographer, and with an interest in aviation from a young age, I thought this is perfect!” I asked Nick why he liked using this type of medium for filming and photography. He told me, “I particularly like to get shots from angles no-one has seen before. And I love people’s positive reactions when they see the footage. Especially when it’s somewhere they may have lived/worked/visited for years…. and yet we can still amaze them.”

So, I’m a budding photographer and I’ve got a drone – surely I can get into this right? Erm… no! If you want to fly and film with drones commercially you need to train much like a pilot. Nick tells me about his own training, “In early 2014 I signed up for pilot school with Resource Group Unmanned Aviation (one of only two training providers at that time). I passed 5 online exams before ground school, then had a final written exam in which I scored 99% (the highest mark they had ever had). I also had to pass a practical flying exam at an airfield in the Cotswolds. Following that I produced an 85 page Drone Operations Manual which I submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) along with an application for permissions to operation commercially, which were granted about 6 weeks later. I am required to maintain pilot competency and apply to the CAA for a renewal of permissions every 12 months.  I am one of the few people allowed to fly at night.” Wow – so pretty tough going to get your license and then to keep it!

So, aerial drones are the future but where is the future in aerial filming? Nick believes that the use of drones for aerial filming has a very bright future. Advances in technology will bring more camera options, longer flying times, improvements to autonomous flight capabilities etc. Continuing safety enhancements will allow the CAA to relax some of the regulations (at least for professional operators). People often think of high-level aerial filming, but I think there’s a lot of potential for low level flight, both indoors and outdoors.

You can see some of the incredible work that Nick has done on the FPS Media website and also on Nick’s own website. Right… did someone say something about Gin and Tonic… Nick… Nick!! Tune in next time to hear our thoughts on 3D artistry and hear what our resident 3D artist, Csaba, has to say on the subject.

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