Aerial Videography with the GoPro camera and Adobe Creative Cloud tools

GoPro cameras are all the rage these days. People are taking these versatile action cameras and capturing what they see around them in exciting ways. These small, lightweight cameras record the unique points of view of mountain climbers, scuba divers, car racers, bike riders, and surfers. They’re even sent aloft. I’ve been inspired by this innovative camera to find ways of capturing the world around me with a new perspective — specifically, aerial videography — and the tools available in Adobe Creative Cloud help me get the most out of that footage so I can share it with others.

See how you can use the GoPro camera and a remote-controlled helicopter to get amazing footage that you can fine-tune in Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

In the following video, I show you how to set up a GoPro camera, attach it to a remote-controlled helicopter, and get some amazing footage. I then bring the video files into Adobe Photoshop CC where I correct some lens distortion and apply color adjustments. Finally, I bring the footage into Adobe Premiere Pro CC and apply Lumetri color-correction effects to give the video a specific look that I find particularly appealing.

The DJI Phantom helicopter in flight, with a GoPro camera attached.

Figure 1. The DJI Phantom helicopter in flight.

Aerial videography basics

Getting started with aerial videography is easy and a ton of fun. The contraption I use to send the camera into the air is the DJI Phantom helicopter. This remote-controlled quad-rotor helicopter (or quadcopter) is designed to carry theGoPro HERO3 and provides a stable aerial camera platform (see Figure 1).

I’ve got mine set up with a camera gimbal and a first-person view (FPV) system. The gimbal provides a "steady cam" mechanism on the quadcopter and the FPV system enables me to see exactly what the copter is seeing. This setup is incredibly helpful when framing a shot. Although these features are useful, you can still get great footage without them.

For good aerial videography, the most important thing to control is camera vibration. Eliminate it as much as possible. The quadcopter’s rapidly spinning propellers can introduce high-frequency vibration throughout its rigid structure. If this vibration is transferred to the camera, then the camera lens will shake while you are filming. This vibration introduces what’s commonly referred to as the rolling shutter effect (or jello effect). You’ll end up seeing weird distortions throughout your footage caused by the movement of the camera over the frame exposure.

Connecting a GoPro camera to the DJI Phantom helicopter.

GoPro video settings

The GoPro HERO3 camera has multiple capture modes that produce amazing high-quality video. It can handle everything from ultra-high-resolution 4K video at a slow frame rate to WVGA (800 × 480) video at 240 frames per second (fps).

I get the best results using a 1080p resolution at 60 fps. The higher frame rate reduces the amount of rolling shutter effect and 1080p video is great for full HD footage. You can even go to a higher resolution if you want to be able to crop your video, or use post-production stabilization without upscaling. However, the slower frame rates can introduce more rolling shutter effects, so be sure to test these configurations on your own copter rig.

The GoPro has a video color correction setting called Protune, which automatically adjusts exposure settings to capture great video. It has presets for auto exposure, or low-light/bright-light conditions. There’s also a Protune RAW setting, which captures all of the video data without any color correction profiles. This setting is intended for post-production color correction and offers the most color depth. However, if you view an unprocessed RAW video, it will look really flat. You’ll need to use a video editing tool to bring out the rich colors in your video. Adobe Photoshop CCAdobe Premiere Pro CCAdobe After Effects CC, or Adobe SpeedGrade CC all work well with GoPro footage. These tools are all available to Adobe Creative Cloudmembers.

Capturing aerial footage

As I mentioned, a first-person view (FPV) system can be critical to achieving consistent, high-quality footage. Without it there is guesswork involved in aiming the camera at your target properly.

How you fly can greatly affect your captured footage. The DJI Phantom has two main flight modes: GPS mode and attitude mode.

  • GPS mode is the easiest to fly and has a return-to-home fail-safe in case it goes out of range or the battery level drops too low. However, when you are in GPS mode, the copter continually corrects its position based upon input from the controller. These corrections often result in a subtly jerky flight path. You probably won’t notice this when you are flying the copter but you will notice it when you view the footage later.

  • Attitude mode puts you in control of the copter; the GPS no longer controls it. If you tell the copter to go forward, backward, left, or right, it will keep moving that way until you tell it to stop. In attitude mode, controlling the copter can be more difficult but you can generally capture smoother footage. (The footage captured in this article’s video was captured in attitude mode.)

The DJI Phantom also has intelligent orientation control flight modes, which control the flight of the copter based upon the relative position to the takeoff location. This can be really handy in getting dramatic shots because the flight is always relative to the start position. This means if you press forward, the copter keeps going away from you, regardless of the copter orientation — so you can spin and fly a straight line at the same time.

Creatively massaging the footage

Once you’ve captured your flight footage, bring the video files into the Creative Cloud tool of your choice to make them the best they can be.

Import the video files into Photoshop and apply Lens Profile corrections to remove the GoPro’s extreme fish-eye distortion, or apply Camera Raw as a filter for color correction.

You can also pull these video files into any of the Adobe professional video editing tools. Although these tools are used to produce countless movies and broadcast television shows (Adobe Premiere Pro for sequencing, composition, and transitions; After Effects for cinematic effects; and SpeedGrade for professional color grading), they are also suitable for beginners who have an interest in video post-production. You can use either After Effects or Adobe Premiere Pro to apply stabilization, color correction, masking, or warp effects.

Once you’ve got the footage just how you want it, export it to your desired output format and start using your footage as you wish, whether it is for web videos or cinema-quality productions. For example, see the following fun "Battle of San Francisco" short I created using the footage that you saw me capture earlier. The sky really is the limit.

Safety tips

Be safe out there!

Fly responsibly. Radio-controlled aircraft may look like toys but people can get really hurt if you don’t fly responsibly. Always observe the flight area before you fly, avoid obstacles, and never fly over people. Use common sense so nobody gets hurt.

Turn your GoPro camera’s Wi-Fi signal off. The GoPro’s own Wi-Fi signal can interfere with the Phantom’s GPS signal, the radio-control transmitter, and possibly the onboard compass. All of this interference may affect flight performance.

Install the latest firmware updates on both your copter and camera. The latest firmware versions fix issues in older versions and add new capabilities.

Know the rules and regulations. In the United States, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are legal for hobbyists as long as they stay below an altitude of 400 feet and are flown responsibly. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restricts commercial use of UAVs. Pay attention to FAA rules and regulations before embarking on any commercial UAV endeavor. Other countries have their own rules; make sure you understand the rules that apply where you live.

Where to go from here

Nothing beats getting out in the open air and flying. Your footage will get better with practice. So get out there and start flying!

To learn more about specific techniques for working with aerial videos, definitely check out Russell Brown’s Take flight into the Adobe Creative Cloud series on Adobe TV, which covers everything you need to know to get started in remote-controlled aerial videography.

The following how-to tutorials will help you get started using these video editing tools:

To learn more about color grading with SpeedGrade, watch the Introduction to SpeedGrade video. For more information on color correction, watch this video on how to apply Lumetri color-correction effects to your sequences within Adobe Premiere Pro.

To learn how to use the GoPro camera to take aerial still photographs and then use Adobe Creative Cloud tools to do some creative things with them, see my article in the March 2014 issue of Adobe Inspire Magazine.

Thanks to Tony Weeg Photography for the photos of me and my GoPro setup.