In this article I will share information on how to get started flying DJI Drones, as well as accessories that i fine useful. These simple steps are crucial in the process of going from a novice with DJI equipment, to having a great understanding of all its features and how to make your aerial videos seem more professional.
Whether you are an FPV pilot looking to expand your fleet, or a complete novice to drones looking to get a new perspective on the world, this article covers useful tips and essential steps to developing your skills as a DJI drone pilot.
Understanding the Regulations
The very first thing you should do is to check your local laws on drones.
For instance, the UK requires that you register yourself as a pilot which costs £9 a year and requires you to pass a test online (as of May 2020). It’s not a difficult test at all, only took me 40 mins to complete. There is a whole host of rules that come along with this which can be found with a simple google search.
One of the main rules worldwide is that you are only permitted to fly in certain areas. If you are near somewhere like a prison or an airport, chances are you might be flying illegally and could be prosecuted if caught. DJI has a feature called ‘Geofencing’ which either notifies you saying that you’re in restricted airspace and will either tell you to fly with caution, or not let you take off at all.
Before getting your drone, check if you can actually fly in your area, or wherever you intend to fly, before purchasing to avoid disappointment. You can check this with websites such as ‘https://www.noflydrones.co.uk/’.
Which DJI Should You Get?
Download DJI App
The next step is to download the official app that pairs with you DJI drone, ‘DJI Go 4’. Just search it in the App store on your phone.
By doing this, you can not only make sure you’re ready to go as soon as you get the drone, but you can also familiarise yourself with the app so you don’t get overwhelmed the first time you go to fly. You also are required to create an account with DJI, so doing this before you have your drone will cut down on your set up time the first time you go flying.
There is a ton of online tutorials on how the App works, so I won’t go into detail here. Familiarising yourself with the App and all the interesting features the DJI drones have, will flatten a lot of the learning curve when you know what you’re doing before you even get the drone, allowing more time to get those perfect shots instead of trying to grasp the feature-packed apps.
Once you have received the drone, with everything unpacked and all the batteries charged, it’s time to connect your drone to the App for the first time. I’d recommend doing this first at home, with the propellers off.
The reason for this is because you’ll most likely have to update the drone the first time it’s turned on which can often take a while. Leaving the propellers off is crucial because any user error or potential bug with the software (although extremely rare), could see the motors start up when you don’t want them to. It’s an easy precaution to take that could save you a trip to A&E if something were to go wrong.
Once the updates are finished, it’s time to get used to the drone. I highly recommend going to a large empty field. The last thing you want to do is try and launch it in a small garden with no experience flying it, where it inevitably gets enveloped by a tree and needs sending off for repair. Being in a large open space gives you the most chance of having a successful first flight.
On your first few flights, I’d suggest trying some easy manoeuvres (such as straight lines, circles and figure of eights) at just above head height. Light inputs on the sticks are key as full inputs are not necessary for the drone to respond. Practicing being smooth with your flying is essential for that cinematic look when it comes to taking videos. Once you are more familiar with flying the drone, try flying further away whilst looking at the screen to build your confidence in the drones capabilities.
Once you are used to the drone, you can start delving into some of the various modes such as the “Quickshots”. You could explore the various modes by standing in the middle of an empty field, tracking yourself to better understand what they do and when you could use them.
You could go one step further, attempting to get some photos and videos. Try making what might be a mundane environment interesting, paying particular attention as to how you might edit the clips together. Going home to look at some of this footage will give you an idea of what you like the look of, and what areas to improve on.
Useful Accessories For DJI Drones
- ND filters – These are explained below, but essentially are sunglasses for the lens of the drone. This allows you to get the optimum settings when recording videos to allow for smoother looking video.
- Carry bag – I found this useful to keep all my equipment in one place, allowing me to store extra batteries, a charger and my spare SD cards.
- SD cards – The internal storage in the drone is probably not enough. I would suggest getting a few 64GB cards, this should allow you to record a few batteries worth of footage without running out of storage, as well as having a back up if you lose one or it fails. Before purchasing, look at what specification DJI recommends. If your SD card isn’t up to the task, the recording either will not work or stutter when playing it back. I have an article explaining the specs of SD cards and which ones to buy.
- Micro SD card carry case – Avoid leaving your SD cards loosely in a pocket or bag. They are easy to lose/damage, potentially costing you all of your footage from your day of flying.
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- Microfibre cloth – If you’re swapping out ND filters, the lenses tend to get fingerprints on them. A quick polish with a cloth eliminates the chance of getting home to find your photos/videos looking out of focus from a greasy fingerprint.
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- Spare phone cables – The DJI drones come with an abundance of cables to connect to your respective phone/tablet. I always keep the other cables in my carry bag just in case there’s an issue with my phone, meaning if i’m with someone else and they have a different connector, I can always use their phone as a backup.
- SD card reader – DJI drones like the Mavic Air allows you to transfer data via USB-C but the drone has to be turned on to transfer the files. I prefer using an SD card reader because it’s much faster.
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How to Improve Video Quality
ND filters are not required, but a popular trick to get “smoother” and more “cinematic” footage.
To get the most out of ND filters its best to use the manual mode when shooting video or even photos. This allows you to set shutter speed manually.
The reason for using ND filters is down to the 180 degree rule. To put it simply, it means you want your shutter speed double the speed of the frame rate (FPS).
The example above is trying to capture a video at 4k, 30fps. Because of this, I want my shutter speed to be double the FPS which would be 1/60th shutter speed.
This allows for motion blur in the footage that is similar to how we perceive movement in real life, adding for a smoother look in your videos.
If you were to do this without the correct ND filter your image would be over exposed and ruined.
By using the right ND filter, it reduces the amount of light entering your camera, and the image is no longer over-exposed.
This also works for images, if you want motion blur in an image when shooting a moving object, you would have to lower the shutter speed. Without an ND filter your image would be overexposed.
Choosing the Right Quality Settings
The highest quality setting is preferred whenever possible. This may seem like a no-brainer but you may be limited if your SD card capacity/speed is inadequate, or if you don’t have a computer that can process and view the video.
It’s okay to drop the quality to 2.7k or even 1080p, this could still produce a nice image, and many Youtube videos are only uploaded in 1080p anyway. The post-processing/editing is more important.
Adjusting Gimbal Settings
The motion of the camera gimbal on stock settings can tend to be a bit jerky – not what you want when trying to be smooth during filming. To eliminate this, under the advanced settings in the gimbal tab, adjust gimbal speed and smoothness to what you prefer. This means when adjusting the angle of the gimbal, the camera will move slower and when you let go of the adjusting wheel on the back of the remote, it won’t come to a jerky halt.
For example, on my Mavic Air, I slowed the camera speed all the way down to 8, and smoothness increased up to around 20. This is based on personal preference, so play around with these settings to get the desired look that you want.
Learning All the Flight Modes
The DJI drones have a lot of different flight modes to help you get the shot you want. I found the ‘point of interest’ (POI) mode useful for clean orbits of an object, as well as the tripod and cinematic modes for getting smooth lines. They are worth experimenting with so you can get an idea of which mode you might use in different situation.
Getting The Shot More Than Once
You may think you have the perfect shot but when you go back to edit your video, you may find that you were slightly underexposed or didn’t get the perfect line that you wanted. If you have the time to make another pass, it’s definitely worth repeating the same shot again, making sure you have the exposure, angle and flying path perfect so you won’t be disappointed when editing.
What really sold me on my first DJI drone, the Mavic Air, was sample videos on Youtube. This allowed me to see the capabilities of the drone, as well as how someone else managed to push the drone to such an extent. Looking at other people’s videos and trying to imitate them for practice is vital if you’re chasing a cinematic style, benefitting your flying skills as you start to piece together how others are getting certain visuals that you are trying to replicate. Once you’ve mastered doing this, it’s much easier to begin mastering your own unique style.
What to do after you’ve got photos and videos?
I’d suggest editing your videos so you can get more from your footage. Even something simple like changing the exposure can make all the difference to the video, with a bit of contrast and brightening some shadows really adding some lost detail from the original video. I like to add video transitions, alter the colours and fix some of the issues in my unedited clips.
There are a few free options if you don’t know where to begin, such as “DaVinci Resolve” and “HitFIlm Express”. Both have good support bases, with many tutorials and support pages to help you iron out any issues and develop your editing capabilities. If it’s your first time editing and you don’t want to pay for a video editing software, it’s a great place to start.
As mentioned previously, shoot in the best quality your computer can handle. Going through 4K footage is quite demanding, meaning it will be harder to work on because it’ll slow things down a lot.
Whilst there are free software for editing photos, consider professional applications, such as CaptureOne, Lightroom or Photoshop for your images. Lightroom is very easy to use and just a few hours messing around with the various settings can see some bland photos come to life. Lightroom also has an ‘auto’ feature that applies settings it thinks suits your photos. So, if you don’t want to put the time in editing your photos, simply apply the auto features to elevate the quality of your shots, as the example below demonstrates.
If you are going to edit your photos after you’ve taken them, I’d recommend shooting in raw (DNG). This allows you to manipulate the image more after it has been taken because the photo has more information compared to a JPEG that gets compressed when taken. Photoshop and Lightroom are £10 a month, so if you’re an infrequent user you can just buy a single month whenever you want to edit photos. If you want a professional image, I’d strongly recommend learning some basics in Lightroom so you can really push the quality of the images you’re taking.