UNC Professor of Multimedia Steven King shares his best practices for shooting aerial 360 videos in this post, which originally appeared on Steven’s blog on Medium and is being shared here with his permission.
Capturing aerial 360 video that is stable, well-stitched and works for headset presentation is difficult and requires creative problem-solving skills because there are not many off-the-shelf products for flying 360.
The main idea is to get stable video. This requires a good pilot, a stable flying platform (drone), a vibration dampener and a gimbal that works for 360 cameras.
Audience and output (Headset or Browser)
If your output is in the browser, you can get away with less-stable video. Some 360 Video that works on youtube can make people sick in a headset.
Think through the best way to use your camera. What is the minimum distance and is the lens too wide to show a broad overhead shot.
Most importantly is to calculate the payload of the drone for a safe flight.
Time to publication (Speed of workflow)
With all 360 production there are different workflows but adding a moving drone can add time and effort to get quality video to your audience
If you are only using a 5–10 second shot from far away, you can use the more economical options but if there will be objects in the foreground or if you are going to use multiple shots multiple times through out the video then the video needs to be stable and well stitched.
High Production Value
For high resolution or 3D video it requires a large flying platform like the DJI Martice 600. We worked with a company in South Korea to build a custom, stable 360 rig that stitched 12 Gopros. This produced some excellent, high quality footage but the workflow of working with 12 cameras is not ideal.
Recently, flew the Insta360 Pro on the Martice 600 with the GimbalGuru 360 Air Platform which is the ideal setup for a high-quality production. This gives a smooth flying platform and stable, well-stitched video. We added a Gopro Hero 5 to the top of the drone so we could add in the sky and remove the drone in post production.
The drone, batteries, cases and camera put this at about $20,000 so this is not economical for most local news organizations. It is also a large and heavy case.
For a more economical option we have had the best results flying a 360 camera where the lenses are attached or in the same camera like the Gear360. A google image search shows a lot of options that people have tried. Some have had success with what I call the sandwich mount where you have one camera pointing below the drone and one pointing up. We tried this with the Solo 3DR and the Kodak SP360 cameras. Because there is no gimbal and the cameras vibrate separately, I found it difficult to stitch and it was horrible to view in a headset.
At minimum, you need to find a way to dampen the vibrations but ideally you also have a gimbal. I suggest the Moza 360 gimbals but calculate the max payload for your drone and make sure that camera and gimbal are within that maximum. (Most drones can’t handle this weight)
A dampener is also necessary to cut out the vibrations. Here are several home-grown solutions but basically you need a free-hanging platform that is stiff enough to not move when the drone does.
If you are using the Gear 360 and a Phantom or Inspire, you need to get the camera at least 10 inches from the drone so the drone props do not block the view. Each camera is different so this takes some trial and error. Use the live view on the phone to test this before flying.
Ideal Economical Setup
Prosumer Drone (Phantom 4, Inspire or Gopro)
Gear 360 generation 1 or 2
Solutions to solve this problem is constantly changing and we are always trying to make it better with every flight. If you have had success, please post how you did it below.
Disclaimer: It is not recommended that you add non-standard equipment to consumer drones. Be sure to check the ratings and payload before flying.