Interview: Capturing Drone Footage from a Novice’s Perspective

I was pleasantly surprised that my good friend, Adam Melnyk, based in beautiful Vancouver, Canada purchased a drone in August 2018 with the intention to capture and license stock footage.

During the past few months, Adam has been extremely active capturing aerial content. I’m curious to find out how he’s getting on and pick up some knowledge, especially since many of us (including me) are also considering purchasing a drone.

I’m sure you’ll also benefit from the insight even if you already have some drone experience under your belt. Here’s a compilation of some of his latest aerial drone footage.

Without further ado, here’s the Q&A:

Interview with Adam Melnyk, Novice Drone Videographer

1. Please tell me a bit about yourself and your experience as a stock creator?

I’m 35 and live in Vancouver, Canada. My experience with photography was originally from a High School course in the late ’90s (film days and start of digital).

About four years ago, Alex visited and brought along his Nikon D7000 and introduced me to the world of stock photos. A few months later, I purchased a Canon 6D and after some practice, I was approved by Shutterstock as a contributor. I’ve been contributing stock photos since then and only recently have I turned my attention to stock footage [link to Adam’s Shutterstock Portfolio].

2. How long have you been capturing content with your drone? How did you decide on which drone to purchase and why?

I purchased a drone at the end of August 2018 and have been actively capturing footage since.

I spent a fair amount of time watching and reading online reviews. The DJI came through as the clear choice in terms of options, reliability, and build quality, in my opinion.

The new DJI was a good choice for me since:

  • Very portable;
  • Has intelligent flight options including obstacle avoidance; and a
  • Decent resolution camera.

Price was certainly a factor since even the least expensive enthusiast-drone costs about US$700.

I considered purchasing the Mavic Pro but it’s about $175 more expensive than the DJI, even though is has a similar image quality (both shoot in 4K), based on some of the reviews I have seen regarding quality control issues, it reinforces my decision to go with the Air.

Capture
Source: https://www.dji.com/mavic-air
3. Which key lessons did you learn right after using it a few times? Did you watch any tutorials?
There is already a great deal of content on YouTube in regards to drone care, flying tips, drone settings, and other relevant information.
I watched a wide variety of reviews and tutorials regarding the DJI before and after my purchase. Before un-boxing, I would highly recommend watching such tutorials on battery care, basic flying tips, and videos regarding other users’ mistakes.
Also, I would recommend carefully reading the manuals prior to your first flight and understand your responsibility to fly so as to not become a hazard to aircraft, as well as avoiding regulatory issues [more on this in the next question].
4. Are you concerned about breaking the law (generally speaking) when flying your drone?
In short, I am more concerned about an accident actually occurring. Regulations depend on where you live so check your local authorities. Most of the regulations in Canada are fairly common sense, and even in the city, there are places to fly safely.
However, there have been situations where I was tempted to fly in a questionable area, but luckily, I dispelled that notion without learning the hard way. My level of cautiousness has been raised due to the awareness of the disastrous consequences of a potential drone strike.
I would just advise drone pilots to be aware of the airspace that is overhead, and to the proximity of your drone to other aircraft.
5. Briefly describe your post-processing workflow?
This may get a bit technical so try to bear with me!
Preliminary
At home, after a preliminary view, I’ll delete any clips that don’t have smooth cinematic camera movement, are poorly composed, or were part of a setup-shot.
Adobe Premiere
Subsequently, I’ll take those clips into Adobe Premiere, cut them, and insert them into a sequence with the appropriate frame-rate. On a side note, I would recommend understanding how you’re going to use the shot before editing, and that way you can use a higher frame rate which can be slowed down in post.
LUT Colour Grading
After cutting the clips, I’ll use a LUT (Look Up Table) that I have pre-made, or make a new one. If you’re not already familiar with the term, a LUT is an algorithm used to change the colours of a video. LUTs can be used for a number of different purposes, from correctly displaying ‘flat’ footage to exporting video for film printing.
Exporting
Some final tweaks will go into the preset, then I export using Adobe Encoder. I try and match the source bit-rate to maintain high quality 4K so the customer has the option if they choose. In addition to using Premiere, I’m also creating settings in After Effects for a quick noise reduction workflow.
Keywording
Lastly, I’ll keyword the files using StockSubmitter prior to uploading to the agencies I mentioned earlier.
As you can see above, even though I’ve only recently started (have not had any sales yet), I’ve had to learn quite a few technical skills to bring out the best out each clip to be licensed as stock footage.
6. Which agencies do you upload your clips to and why?
I currently upload my clips to: Shutterstock, Pond5, AdobeStock, Dreamstime, 123RF, Storyblocks/Videoblocks, and BigStock, using the StockSubmitter tool to optimise my workflow.
From my research and reading on forums, Shutterstock, Pond5, and Videoblocks are the agencies that should generate the most revenue for video. I have looked into BlackBox but haven’t made a decision.
[Here’s a link to Adam’s portfolio at Pond5 and Shutterstock]
7. What are your goals for the next 12 months?

I’m taking advantage of the favourable early autumn weather in Vancouver to shoot as much as I can before it starts raining for months on end. Just in the past week, I’ve submitted over 100 videos!

I aspire to submit 50 videos a week, but I see 20 as being more realistic, and that would put me just at over 1000 videos by this time next year (Oct 2019). More specifically my goals include:

  • Continue learning new stock footage techniques;
  • Shooting content that is both marketable and useful;
  • Optimising my workflow;
  • Scouting new locations.

I would hope to achieve the above within the next year, which should lead to some regular sales.

I should have plenty of new and great material in the next few months since I regularly ski at Whistler in the winter/spring. I’ll also be travelling to Cancun, Mexico in February 2019 where I take my GoPro Hero5 and capture awesome scuba footage – see below.

8. How would you advise someone with little experience that is considering capturing drone stock footage?
Shoot Locally
Firstly, I would ask them what they are hoping to shoot and why. I am fortunate to live in Vancouver, which has the Pacific ocean, mountains, rain-forest, and city all in one place. This lends to capturing stunning footage with a variety of content without travelling further than literally down the street. This includes a large refinery which I’ve captured a few times that may be used for all sorts of video projects.
I have seen plenty of drone footage though that is shot in places that are less than eye-catching from the air, and depending on where you live, it may be difficult to obtain useful/good-looking content without doing your homework first.
Useful > Beautiful
However, as my friend Alex reminds me frequently, stock isn’t only about capturing pretty subjects, it’s mainly about offering useful content to buyers. While I partially agree with him, in my opinion, with such a saturated market, one should make sure your content can compete by making it look attractive.
Cost Considerations
The other thing to consider is cost. While a drone like the Air will have a base cost of US$900, you’ll have the added expense of extra batteries which cost US$300, SD card, US$35, and filters, US$70, so it all adds up. Not to mention you should probably purchase insurance of some sort and some places require operators to have a drone license.
Do your research

I would advise fellow contributors looking to get into aerial footage to:

  • Do their research by watching the experience of others on YouTube and reading forums;
  • Scouting out locations as well as researching what is already out there for sale;
  • Understanding the restrictions in the geographic location they are planning to fly in.

Perhaps most importantly, they need to ask themselves what kind of content they want to/are able to produce and whether it will have a good prospect of success when it comes to sales.

9. Lastly, how much do you expect to make from your drone footage in the next year?

I can’t answer that because I don’t really have much experience with stock footage. I’ve seen from other contributors that have “lucked out” and made $3k+ off a single clip that was licensed multiple times when it went viral.

I’ll just say that I would expect to make less than $500 by this time next year, but it’s hard to tell as I’m not sure which types of footage will be most interesting for buyers. However, with continued submissions I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sale or 2 as soon as the next 3 months, but would expect that many in 6 months for sure. If it goes longer than 6 months with no sales, I may have to re-evaluate the content I am submitting since it may not be as commercial as I thought.

I’ve made just over $3k from Shutterstock alone with my stock photos over the course of 4 years in a portfolio of under 1,000 images. So that has paid for the drone investment and new camera gear with some left over.

I have other sources of income unrelated to stock, so I don’t depend solely on stock photography / footage. I suppose that relieves some of pressure, plus I can shoot more of what I enjoy and if it doesn’t sell it’s no big deal.

NOV 5, 2018 UPDATE:

Well Adam, looks like I brought you some good luck as happy that you’ve told me that you’ve just sold your first clip on Shutterstock and for 4K resolution – “One of the entrances to the underwater caverns at the Dos Ojos cenote near Tulum, Mexico”.

Congrats! Hope for many more in the coming months/years. Here’s a link to the clip. 

Capture


Thank you, Adam for you insight! Valuable information and hope to see you in action next time I visit you in Vancouver!
Should you have any questions below for Adam, please comment below. In addition, please comment below if you’re already a drone contributor or is considering becoming one in the near future!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’m determined not to waste my life away as a corporate drone and have devoted five years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others before it’s too late.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

Check out my new photo review service, where I’ll help take your images to the next level and get them sold regularly!

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