Make it Roll

A drone does not bank into a turn like a traditional aircraft, it remains level as it spins in the air to change direction. Even if the drone banks slightly to counteract the wind the camera gimbal keeps the video level.

A cluster of communications antennas along Mauna Kea Access Road in the sunset
A cluster of communications antennas along Mauna Kea Access Road in the sunset

The resulting video from the drone seems flat to me, a sense of something wrong, I expect a little roll while turning.  I find myself struggling with the resulting imagery, what do I do with this?

It is not only aircraft that bank into a hard turn, even an automobile does this on a properly designed roadway.  If the car does not truly bank, we passengers naturally lean into the turn to counteract the centrifugal force.  We expect to lean into a turn, while a drone does not.

How do I restore that roll in the drone video?  

Simple… Add the roll in post processing, simulate a more traditional aircraft banking into the turn.  My Mavic Air shoots 4K video, there is a lot of resolution to work with, it should be no problem! 

 Zooming the video modestly, about 20%, allows some margin beyond the video edges for cropping.  I can then rotate the image by 5 or 10 degrees without clipping.  Adding some key frames to the video clip in question allows the amount of roll to change through the clip as appropriate for the turn.

The result is quite dynamic, restoring the illusion of flight for the viewer.  I find the edited video far more engaging while not violating the viewer’s expectations.  No need to go wild with the effect a few degrees will do it, I find that plus or minus five or eight degrees is enough.

I find myself adding the effect to video clips filmed in straight and level flight, adding a little panning to the video to further simulate a turn.  Again the result is simply more dynamic, engaging the viewer.

Can I take this idea one step further?  Of course!  A couple of the shots in my last video, Chasing Fogbows, were not taken with a drone, rather a camera on a tripod shooting time lapse from a hillside. Looking out over the landscape the shot could be from a stationary drone.

I apply a little post processing to one fixed shot in particular, a modest zoom, pan, and roll to the video.  The result looks like it was shot with a drone, fitting into the overall theme of the video alongside the real drone imagery.

I find it odd that I have not seen this effect used elsewhere in drone video, someone must have figured this out before me. Just something that I found obvious and figured out how to do for myself, quite happy with the result.

I am slowly learning the art of editing video from a drone.  I find that subtle changes made in post processing have a huge effect on the final product.  A little roll? Just one more thing to add to the very long list of little details to consider while editing.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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