St Andrew’s Quay by drone

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So Saturday morning I had a couple of hours free to do some droning, so I needed to go somewhere local. There are a few parks nearby (and at 8am they’d likely have been pretty quiet) but I wanted to try something a little bit different. There’s an old area of docks on the side of the Humber that has some interesting old buildings and architecture so I decided to go have a play there. 

I’m looking upon all my flights at the moment as a learning process – I’ve flown drones before but never camera ones, so I’m not expecting to go out and get amazing footage straight away. Well I certainly learnt a lot today. 

Lesson Number 1: Gimbal Limitations. I’ve mentioned a few times in previous posts how impressed I am with the Xiaomi gimbal – and I’d like to preface my next statement by saying that I still am, the stabilisation that it provides even in heavy winds combined with the GPS assisted flight is nothing short of astounding. I’ve noticed a few times that the drone in the air will be rocking all over the place but the footage is rock solid. But that’s with the drone high up in the air, half a mile from whatever I’m trying to film. Transpose that to 10ft off the ground and 20ft away from the building I’m trying to record (yeah I know, I should be 50m away but it’s derelict and falling apart) and suddenly the wind knocking the drone a foot or so sideways is very, very noticeable. I mean this sounds pretty obvious now I’m typing it but it’s something to bear in mind. You can see some examples of this in the video above. 

Lesson Number 2: Stop Recording! I’ve done this a few times now, and I don’t know whether it’s specific to the Mi drone or a general thing, but if you turn the drone off without stopping recording video either in the app or via the remote you’ll lose the clip that was recording at the time. Now the Mi helpfully splits video into handy 5min chunks so you shouldn’t lose everything you’ve done, but if you’re filming something important this could easily ruin your day. So don’t do it! 

So given these two points it’s perhaps not surprising that I wasn’t hugely happy with the footage from Saturday, especially since I managed to lose a sizable chunk of it (including what could have been a couple of pretty cool shots). I started off by flying far and high to get some establishing shots and then came in closer for what I was hoping would be some quite dramatic shots. Quite a lot closer, as it turns out. 

From a couple of hundred metres out into the Humber I flew a really long descent over one of the buildings (abandoned British Sea Fish Industry offices if you were wondering) coming in fairly close to the top of the roof. This one actually worked pretty well technically, but the flat face of the building doesn’t really lend itself to this kind of shot. It would work well as an establishing shot I think, and it was fun seeing how brave I could be flying it across the top! 

I then spent a little time flying around the Lord Line building at the head of the quay, including a long track across the massive ‘LORD LINE’ lettering and around the corner of the building that would probably have looked great if it hadn’t been in the lost footage. Flying between two of the buildings also looked quite cool, though they were a bit too far apart for it to look really dramatic. I then tried a long reveal shot up the side of the Lord Line building where there are some inset windows. 

This probably would have looked quite good but the wind was so strong the drone was getting blown all over the place, making the footage very wobbly. I managed to salvage a few seconds towards the end of the reveal where a flock of seagulls took off and flew in front of the drone. I tried a similar shot with the pumping house opposite but with the same problem, only exacerbated by having the sun behind the building. With a bit of playing I could probably have got a good angle for this (shining through the windows maybe) but it was so wobbly I decided to move on. 

Before I’d got there I had one shot in particular in mind that I wanted to try. There are a few buildings where the roof has fallen away completely, leaving just the skeletal frame and I wanted to fly up and out the building through the frame. Unfortunately the building I wanted to fly from is now boarded up so I couldn’t get in there. So instead of taking off from inside the building I now had to drop down from above it, using the camera pointing straight down for position and then fly back up again. I’m not ashamed to say that I bottled it a little bit – I did fly right down into the frame but I didn’t drop below the level of the surviving walls for fear of losing the drone. In theory if that happened it should have flown up to 30m and returned to home but I’m not happy relying on the automated features that much. I like to be able to take control if I need to. That said the shot came out quite well, though once I was clear of the building it was awful windy. 

Once I’d started breathing again I made sure I had a few stills in the bag then dropped the drone back down to head back to the car. I’m actually getting the hang of handheld landings (and takeoffs) quite well now. It’s pretty scary the first couple of times but saves bouncing the landing gear off the ground or dousing the camera in wet grass. Plus it looks pretty cool. In my head. 

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