Filming from above — shooting with drones

Tom Middleton – shooting with drones

Today we are going to make an excursion into the fascinating world of shooting with drones. Almost ten years ago the first usable camera drones appeared and nowadays drones have become an indispensable tool for most film shootings. The use of drones brings along several unique advantages as drones can for example access small and tight places where helicopters can’t get in and it is also way more cost efficient than using helicopters.

But before we delve deeper into the topic, we would like to introduce you to an expert in this field: Tom Middleton, a drone filming specialist, DOP, and co-founder of Lush Films, a British video production and video marketing agency, who shares with us some useful tips for getting the best out of a drone shoot.

Tom Middleton
Tom Middleton

Since the start of Toms aerial career, he has developed a passion and unique vision for capturing the natural world and has had his work featured on BBC, and Channel 4, and has most recently been featured as a creative video contributor for Getty Images.

“With drones becoming more intelligent, smaller, better quality and cheaper – it has made the aerial industry much more accessible for consumers, hobbyists, and professionals. But there is an underappreciated art to capturing jaw-dropping beautiful, emotional and cinematic footage and this is where I like to think of us – as artists.”

Tom has been flying drones professionally for almost a decade and with this experience he has summed up a list of valuable and useful tips that will ensure a successful aerial shoot:

1 Get the right information from the client before you reach the location on shoot day

Before you agree costs and confirm the job, it is essential to get the following information from the client:

THE LOCATION: The post code is necessary, so that the pilot can start research the area and see if the job is even possible (e. g. Google Maps is a great help to check out the location first).

Google maps screen shot
Example from a shoot: This first Google maps impression shows that there is plenty of space around the ArcelorMittal Orbit, there are no public roads around the structure, so there is a safe flight zone running 180 degrees around the East side of it — but bearing in mind there is a small building directly to the East, which we would need to keep the safe distance from.

THE BRIEF: What is the subject doing? How close are buildings, actors etc. The pilot needs to know what the actors are doing, and what the camera needs to do in relation to actors. At this point the pilot can raise any concerns or set out the parameters of what is possible, which may affect the desired shot.

2 Prepare everything you could possibly need

The biggest thing I can suggest from any aerial shoot, no matter how simple or complex, is to give your director/client/producer a list of requirements that you as the pilot MUST HAVE in order to go ahead on the shoot day.

This information, and much more, gets summed up in a PRE-DEPLOYMENT DOCUMENT, a single document that contains all possible info for the flight:

  • Client/task info/intended drone camera shot with list
  • Actor directions
  • Airspace info/location airspace users
  • Landowner contacts/permissions
  • Site plan/flight plan
  • Weather forecast
  • Sun positions
  • Risk assessment
  • Drone registration or permissions to fly drones (depending on the regulations of the respective country)
  • Insurance

The full pre-deployment documentation needs to be fully approved and confirmed by the director/producer first and then the client.

Once this is done, you are ready for the shoot.

3 Expect there to be shoot day changes… and more importantly be ready for them

There are always things that crop up on the shoot day, and mostly within 24 hours before the shoot.

4 Learn from every drone shoot

Every drone shoot will be different, which gives you the chance of continuous improvement.

No matter how much you plan, there will always be something that will not go to plan, or you (the pilot) will be asked to do something that you were not expecting, or you have not planned for. So as long as the pilot clearly defines the aims, and limitations of what is possible according to the brief, before shoot day, everyone should get a good result.

Expect there to be changes to the shoot list, there always is! But be confident and firm with your abilities and what you are willing to do (in line with safety and legal perimeters). You as the pilot are fully and solely responsible for all safety of the cast and crew when it comes to the drone. Do not feel pressured into getting a shot that they want you to but is unsafe.


  • Have all the paperwork and permissions on you – at all times.
  • Give the actors clear instructions before the drone is in the air.
  • Have easy communications with the actors like walkie talkies. They will most likely not be within earshot. Resetting actors will take time and valuable drone battery time!
  • Have spares of everything! Batteries most importantly, props, iPad cables, anything that will stop you from being able to carry on shooting.

5 Maximize your own opportunities with the footage

How to maximize opportunity with your footage… once you have finished everything and you and the client are all happy with how everything went:

  • Always ask for feedback from the director/producer/client.
    Most clients will be over the moon with how the shots look, but from an organizational point of view, how could you have made the aerial aspect more efficient, or easier to manage? This will be invaluable advice for the next time you have a big aerial shoot.
  • When you start to build up a decent library of aerial footage, you will most likely want to promote your aerial services with a new reel. So, make sure you ask the director/client if you can use some of the aerial clips to promote your aerial services (outside of the main project).
  • Ask the client if it would be useful for their social media to chop up the aerial shots into short social media friendly clips.
    If you do post clips of the aerial footage and they go down a storm on socials – then UPSELL these clips to your client, suggest you can provide a series of social media friendly edits, or individual clips for an edit fee. 99% of our clients go for these, it is part of the postproduction offering. The more you give them, the bigger library of content they will have for their campaign. This is a win-win for everyone.
  • Also, one other way to earn more from your aerial footage is to sell it as stock to the likes of Shutterstock. But make sure you write this into your terms and conditions and make sure you mention it or ask when negotiating. You may end up earning more from stock sales than for the initial shoot itself.

To sum up and to see what's possible, get inspired and watch this beautiful aerial reel by Lush Films:

Aerial Reel