Flying out to Sea

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One of the reasons I’ve been wanting a decent camera drone for a while is for a project that’s been brewing in my head based around the East Yorkshire coast. It’s not the most exciting bit of coastline in the world, and it’s very flat but I grew up there and the combination of rapidly eroding cliffs and man made coastal defences has always interested me. The strange atmosphere of the dead end seaside towns and villages also intrigues me, though I feel like that’s probably not an airborne project. 

I’m not sure yet what form this will take, whether it will be still images or video but I wanted to have a go at using the drone around the coast and hopefully learn a bit more about using it too. 

I rocked up at Aldbrough cliffs shortly after sunrise and tried to take off, only to be greeted with the dreaded ‘compass interfered’ error. After a little bit of playing around I managed to take off from my hand – actually a lot easier than I expected. I’ve not tried a catch landing yet though. Once up as usual the drone was fine. The harsh lighting highlighted again the drone’s shortcomings in terms of dynamic range but that’s just a limitation I’m going to have to learn to work with. It was pretty weird (but cool) standing on top of the cliff and flying the drone below me – and pretty scary getting close to the sea. 

There’s some definite buffeting going on in the footage, but the wind was fairly strong so that’s to be expected. There was also some annoying horizon wonk, but as I’m shooting in 4K it’s not really an issue to correct it. At some point I’d like to shoot some moving subjects and try some of the higher speed filming modes (2.7K is 50fps and 1080p is 100fps) but there doesn’t seem much point at the moment – if anything I’m speeding footage up rather than slowing it down. 

I actually timed my first battery usage to see how close to the official time of 27 minutes I could get, and as it turned out the answer was ‘not very’, as I brought it in at about 34% after just under 16 minutes of uninterrupted flight. But in its defence it was a pretty breezy morning and pretty cold too – and LiPo batteries are not known for liking chilly temperatures. To be fair I was starting to lose feeling in my fingers by this point so it was definitely time to go warm up in the car. 

After Aldbrough (where I completely neglected to take any stills, d’oh) I headed up the coast a few miles to a village called Mappleton. Mappleton has an interesting defence spit that I thought would contrast quite nicely with the erosion at Aldbrough. Take off was much easier here, from a nice quiet car park and flying around the coast was strangely relaxing. There were a few folk on the beach so I didn’t get too low, though I did briefly lose sight of the drone 500m out and 120m up when I glanced down at the camera – but there was no loss of control or video feed so no need to test the auto return to home! The slightly higher sun (towards the end of the golden hour) seemed to give nicer footage with the Xiaomi sensor, which is something to bear in mind. 

I tried a couple of big manual (partial) orbits while I was out from the coast, and my skills there are definitely lacking – as can be seen from the last couple of shots at the end of the video they’re pretty clunky. Something to work on but also I need to try the auto orbit feature and see if that gives me the lovely smooth footage I’m after, even if I’m only going to use (or even fly) a few degrees of the circle.  

Once I got the footage home I spent a little more time than previously editing it together. I think about 25 minutes of footage has been cut down to about two minutes in the final clip and I also added some wave sound effects which I think work well with the footage. I spent quite a long while playing with colour grading too, which is a new experience to me (with video at least) – I’m learning all about LUTs and profiles. It took far longer than it should have done as it’s a new workflow for me but it should be a lot more efficient next time. 

I’m still really impressed with the drone and I feel like I’m getting to grips with what it can and can’t do a little bit better, and figuring out ways to work around its shortcomings. I’m really enjoying taking it to different locations to try different things, but I’m also looking forward to returning to some with a bit more of a plan. 

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