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The Technical Side of Shooting Drones For The Cover Of A Magazine

Rotor Drone Cover with the DJI Inspire 1. Lit using PocketWizard Hypersync

Rotor Drone Cover with the DJI Inspire 1. Lit using PocketWizard Hypersync

I was hired by Air Age Media to shoot the insanely hot and sought-after DJI Inspire 1 drone. Creative Director Betty Nero asked me to create something high-tech and eye-catching. Though that’s something I regularly do, until you get to a location and see all the various aspects, you never know what you’re going to get to work with.

The shoot was scheduled for 8:30 AM, and I needed to shoot detail shots and some flight shots as well as the cover. I had people from DJI and a couple of very experienced operator/pilots to fly for me. The Inspire 1 is amazing, in that for a fraction of the cost of bigger drones, it can run with two operators. One to operate the drone and one to operate the 4K camera that hangs underneath, offering some outstanding opportunities for great shots from the copter itself.

A few delays in getting everything going, and it was nearly 10 AM by the time I was ready to shoot the cover image. It had rained up until we arrived, to the ground on the pad was wet. I decided to take advantage of the shadows that created and let the crew be backlit. I set up a Lumedyne 400 watt-second head into a medium softbox positioned just out of frame to the side, I was going to need all the light I could get, but I also wanted to show the angles of the Inspire 1, as well as the carbon fiber parts. It’s all subtle stuff, on a black frame with a white cover.

I also had to choose a shutter speed that would allow me to not quite freeze the motion of the props so it didn’t look Photoshopped in. All while controlling the background exposure to show some blue sky and a modicum of detail on the pilots. The Inspire 1 is the star, so it had to be up front. This balancing act is achieved by using Hypersync, a technology in the PocketWizard radios I use to control my flash. I won’t go into the details here, you can read about it on the PocketWizard Blog.

What you don’t get from this picture is that I shot it with a fisheye lens, so the drone is WAY closer than it looks. It’s almost giving me a haircut, a very scary and dangerous proposition considering those blades are carbon fiber. They may as well be knives. This is where an experienced pilot and the great controls built into the machine are critical. I kept having him get closer and closer, trying to get the sun in just the right place to shine through the back of the drone. I had ONE frame like this.

It was a great teamwork effort and the resulting cover is one I’m very proud of.


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