Drone Cinematography


  • Utilize a flat picture profile to get the most dynamic range for grading and post production
    • for DJI users, will need to use custom style option, set sharpness to -1, contracst to -2, saturation to -2
  • You D-Log color option to pull more color data from camera sensor
  • Don’t use auto whitebalance as your whitebalance can change between shots, use cloudy or sunny
  • ISO is the camera gain, which brings up exposure if filming in dark location.  This also increases image noise, try to set ISO as low as possible, then leave it there.  Only increase this knowing that image quality will suffer.
  • Shutter speed is how quick each frame is captured.  Best to use higher shutter speed for clarity, but watch for strobbing.  As base, use shutter speed of 120.  Use higher if high in the air, but use lower if flying closer to objects.  Also lower when flying at night to brighten up the image.  Can raise shutter speed to darken image if really sunny, but probably use filter or lens hood instead.
  • Always shoot at the highest recording dimensions possible.  Film at 4K or 2K, then shrink film to fit in 1080 or 720p project.  Only time you want to film at lower dimension is if filming at higher frame rate, which will then be used for better slower motion

How To Clean Up “Jello” Effect or Frame Warping

The “Jello Effect” or frame warping comes from objects interacting with the camera sensor and different times, creating a wavy effect on the video.  This is also called rolling shutter effect.  The first step in reducing this is to record in the highest resolution possible, then downsample at the time of production.  So, take your 2.7K video and place it in a 1080p composition, which will cause you to downscale the video by 29%.  This alone will help minimize the Jello Effect

You can also use the “Rolling Shutter Repair” effect in the AfterEffects suite.  Once the effect is applied to your footage, you can leave most of the default settings alone.  Rate is the amount of effect to apply.  Scan Direction is the method the camera used to capture the footage, in GoPro’s case, it is top to bottom.  Method can either be Warp or Pixel Motion, with Pixel Motion being more accurate but more time intensive.  This is a very render intensive effect, so be sure to test on small clips before adding to your larger project and exporting.

Final solution is the use the Warp Stabilizer from the Tracker Panel.  The Warp Stabilizer is acutally intended to stabilize the camera, and since many rolling shutter effects come from camera instability, it can be used for our purposes.  Leave most of the defaults.  Method should be Subspace Warp, which will actually warp the footage to correct for any errors.  Then open the Advanced panel and check Detailed Analysis.  AE will try to analyse again, so cancel this and look at Rolling Shuter Ripple and change to Enhanced Reduction.  Set your Crop Less < – > Smooth More to between 10% to 20%.  Then click analyse and let it run!

Many times, the Warp Stabilizer will be less effective than Rolling Shutter Repair, but it is better at fixing camera errors, so it is a good tool to have in your box.  Use whichever method works best for your projects and send me lots of great footage!

Lens Distortion Repair

GoPro’s are tiny cameras that are super powerful, so often they can catch scenery in the far distance.  Do to their size, however, this is not always a good thing as the terrain can become distorted with a fish-eye style of curvature at the margins.  To fix this up, we can use the Optics Compensation effect in the AfterEffects suite.

This effect will stretch and warp the pixels on the edges of the frame in order to remove the “fish-eye” effect.  It is important to shoot large and reduce scale of footage when processing in order to increase pixel density and get a great return from the effects.  Adjust the Field of View to alter the frame curvature.  Use the “Reverse Lens Distortion” check box and choose an effective FOV.  Lower for closer shots, higher for distance.

It is common, at this point, to need to rotate the footage to achieve a horizontal perspective.  Use reference points on the footage and horizontal rulers to accomplish this action.  If you rotate, you’ll probably then need to scale up by a few percentage points to keep the footage in the frame.

This process removes the fish-eye look, but it looses the wide-angle shot qualities of the camera.  You can return these qualities by selecting the Optimal Pixels checkbox, which then takes your altered image and forces it back out to a wide-angle perspective.  This creates a great, wide shot, but it also bows the footage in at the top and bottom, so best to then scale footage or use letterbox lines (235 Aspect Ratio) to cover over the bows and give the footage a cinematic feel.

Color Correction

These techniques are basic and best applied to footage shot under a flat picture profile and settings as those listed above.  When shot with a flat profile, the first action we need to take is to adjust the color levels in order to return the footage to a more realistic state.  Choose the Levels effect.  The effect will give us a histogram in the Effect Controls panel, saying at which points on the frequency spectrum we have the most color information.  Our first goal is to tell the Levels effect at which points our darkest black is, and at which point our brightest white is.  Pull the left arrow to the right until you reach the falloff point for the histogram.  We also want to do the same for the right-most triangle under the histogram, pull it leftward until you get the desired image saturation and contrast.

We will then add a Vibrance effect to the footage and further enhance the colors.  The Vibrance effect also gives us access to saturation, which can be used to increase the color values of all colors simultaneously, sometimes resulting in unwanted effects.  Vibrance, on the other hand, ads subtle color value to greens and blues over competing colors, creating a pleasant and cinematic quality.

We can then add a Hue / Saturation effect to further adjust the color tones of specific color channels.  Use the Color Control drop down menu to select your desired color channel, then use the dial to attenuate that specific color channel in a very granular way.  Be careful to not go too far, as this will introduce unwanted artifacts.  Some best practices:

  • Move similar color channels closer to eachother to increase blending and reduce artifacting.
  • when shooting on sunny day, greens fall on both yellow and green channels, so adjust both to achieve your desired effects.
  • Adjust relative lightness of each color channel with the lightness horizontal picker

Slow Motion

To get the slow motion effect, must interperet footage shot at a higher frame rate to a lower one, usually 60fps (optimal) or 30 fps read as 24fps.  Set up clips by pulling high frame rate clip into lower frame rate composition.  We then need to interpret the footage, so right click on the the clip in the project menu and select Interpret Footage > Main then change the “Conform to frame rate” to 24fps.  Now the footage will proceed at 1 frame a second for a slow motion effect that is both pleasing and effective.

Speed Ramping

Speed Ramping is a fun effect used especially with action cameras where you will speed up footage for certain duration, then return to normal speed, then speed up again as you move the viewer through the shot.  It is used cinematically to build tension and highlight certain portions of the clip above others.  Create a new composition with the clip and right-click on the clip in the composition panel, then choose Time > Enable Time Remapping .

This creates a keyframe at the beginning and end of our clip, with everything playing in between in real-time.  Now, scrub through clip and add keyframes where you want your speed to change.  Then, group select the keyframes (except the first keyframe) and move them to the left to speed the footage up between the first keyframes.  The distance between 2nd and 3rd should be left alone so the footage runs normal speed between these two points, then you can speed up the footage between points 3 and 4 by reducing the space between the keyframes.

Now we want to smooth out keyframe transitions to make the footage look even better.  Select all keyframes and Ctrl + Click on the keyframes to change them to Roaming Keyframes, large circles which have softer transitions.  Then enable Frame Blending (one of the options in the Composition Panel) on both the clip and the composition.

This will achieve the speed ramping we are looking for, but there are a few tips to help perfect the clips:

  • If you lose too much speed during the ramp down portion, chance Roaming Keyframes back to normal
  • It is common to have bands of colors (especially in the sky) when performing this effect.  To remove, either click the “8 bpc” in the project panel and chance to 16 bits per channel.  If this doesn’t remove it, add an adjustment layer on top of clip and put a noise effect on adjustment layer.  Then use 2% to 4% of noise to remove banding and add a film grain.

Faux Slow Motion

Now we are going to use a fake slow motion effect taking a 30 fps clip and slowing it down so it looks like it was shot at 60 fps.  First select the clip you want to extend in the composition panel, then right-click and select Time > Time Stretch .  It is currently set to 100 to play at normal speed; we will change this to 200 to double the length of the clip.  What this does is duplicate each frame, so the clip runs twice as long.  This isn’t quite what we want, so enable Frame Blending for the composition and the clip, but double click for the clip to enable Pixel-Blending Mode.

TIP – Keep an eye out for artifacting when using this effect.

Motion Blur

When shooting aerial footage,  it is common to capture the foreground (think treetops) differently than the background (think the ground or landscape), creating a rolling shutter effect as the treetops move in steps (jumps) compared to the scrolling background.  We can use Pixel Motion Blur effect to compensate for this.  This is found in the effects panel, then applied to footage.  The effect will look at each frame to determine which pixels are moving the most, then it adds synthetic motion blur to these areas of the shot.  It is a render heavy effect, so expect some slowdown.

Here are some tips:

  • Change shutter angle to decrease length of blur (usually leave at 180)
  • Shutter Samples are how many instances of the shutter blur, usually increase to atleast 8
  • Move Vector Detail to get good blur without artifacts.

Stabilizing A Shot

There will be many times where you don’t move your drone in just the right motion to get the perfect pan you want, and we can use Post Production to fix this up.  We will be using Tracker Effect panel, so select the clip and click “Stabilize Motion” in the Tracker panel to begin.

We now have a Track Point box which will allow us to track the point with the camera.  Move the box over what we want to track, in this case the boat and enlarge the box so that the boat is contained.  The outer box (tracker area)  will control when the tracking is engaged, so the inner box is always contained in the outer box.  If you have quick movement, then leave the box bigger; with gradual movement, use a smaller tracker area.  As a rule, the smaller the track box you can get away with, the better the result will be when processed.  Try to grab something small and with high contrast to help the computer analyze the footage correctly.

Click on Options to dial in the tracker.  The channel decides what the tracker uses to perform its tracking, defaulted to luminance.  This is why we want to have a high contrast track point.  Can also use rotation and scale to move the camera, but for typical aerial shots you will only be tracking on the position.  Click the “Play Button” on the analyze command set to analyze the footage forward.  Once you have the tracker following the spot you with to follow throughout the clip duration, click apply and X and Y (most common situation).

This will keep your target in the same location during the movement by moving the actual footage to compensate for the movement of your target.  You can then place your target at any point in the frame to always have the target stay at that point.  At this point, you will notice that the clip moves within the frame, sometimes exposing the canvas.  Thats why it is so important so shoot at large dimensions, we can just scale back up without any quality loss to always ensure the clip is using the entire frame.

Tracker with Stabilize Motion works great for panning shots, but scenes where you progress forward through the shot don’t always have a central point which you can track upon.  For this, use Warp Stabilization (found in tracker panel).  Once selected, it will begin analyzing, so cancel so we can set options.

Leave result as Smooth Motion, 50% smoothness is desirable, if you have jello effect leave as Subspace Warp for method.  If only shakiness, switch to Position.  Use Preserve Scale so camera doesn’t move in on shot, but remember, the more it can crop in, the smoother the result will be.  So, as smoothness goes up, so does the crop in amount.

Faux Zoom Effect

The ability to zoom in on the subject when performing aerial photography offers a great cinematic effect while being really easy to accomplish.  All we’ll be doing is scaling up the larger video in a smaller frame, creating the look that we have an expensive zoom lens when we don’t.  By defualt, we will zoom in on the center of the screen.  If this is not desireable, we must use the Pan Behind tool in the top ribbon, then move the axis point to where we would like to zoom.

Important – If the object we want zoom into is moving, then we must move the axis point between the keyframes to keep the subject as the center of the zoom

Now we want to enable motion blur on the both the clip and the comp

Color Grading

Color Grading is the process of changing or enhancing the color of film to achieve a cinematic look.  Also called Color Timing when performed at a photo lab.  We start by creating an Adjustment Layer on top of our clip in the composition panel and applying our effects to that layer.  Lets use the Color Correction > Curves effect as our first-stop go-to for color grading.

Initially, you can do contrast adjustment by putting curves in the diagonal line.  The lower left corner or the diagram controls the shadows, while the upper right corner controls the highlights.   We want to do color work, so change from RGB channel to a color channel.  Bring out blue in the shadows by placing a positive curve there.  This creates a cool color temp effect, often used in Indie films.  Next, add some red to the highlighs, creating a warming of highlights and a cooling of shadows, often used in cinema.

Can also apply the Photo Filter effect (often not in conjunction to Curves) to mimic the effect of using a photo filter on the camera.  This is great to warm or cool a clip quickly and easily, and can even be used to provide a color filter of your choosing.

Can also use Gradient Ramp to emulate a gradiated filter that is often used on cinema cameras.  If we want a color tone added to the top of the frame and degrade gradually, we set the top black color to (often) a soft blue or cyan.  Then set the Channel of the Adjustment Layer to Multiply to set the gradient on your clip.  You then want to adjust the start and endpoints of the ramp to your desired locations and use the opacity of the Adjustment Layer to control the intensity of your gradient ramp.

You can also use 3rd Party Color Plugins to help with your color grading, one in particular is Colorista.  It gives you lots of options for color grading from the same panel.

It is also very common to use Look Up Tables (LUTs), which are universal color presets that can be applied to footage.  Get them online!  Apply a LUT by using the effect “Apply Color LUT” in the effects panel.  Will want to add this to an Adjustment Layer.  Then locate the .cube LUT that you have downloaded and apply it.  There are lots of LUT options, so find ones you like and adjust your footage accordingly.

You can color grade and then apply LUT, or vice versa, but remember to control the amount of grading you do by using the Opacity control for your adjustment layer.

Another popular color effect used on digital footage is a film emulation plugin.  A popular plugin is FilmConvert or Koji Convert, which lets you change the filtering of your footage.  First, choose your source camera, then choose the footage you’d like to convert to.

3D Camera Tracking

In this example, we will create text on our video that moves with the drone, so as the drone moves through the shot, it also moves past our text with 3D tracking.  To do this, we first need to track the camera, so open the tracker panel and select your footage, then click “Track Camera” to begin the analysis.

If you have some trouble getting the Track Camera to complete properly, try reducing the clip length or reducing the target point size and target size to complete the operation

Once completed, the computer will create a ton of 3d track points in the footage.  Now we click create camera in the effects panel to create 3d camera above footage that is keyframed to be in the same 3d space as our scene.  Now, add some text to the composition on the top layer, then 3D enable the layer in the composition panel to place the text in 3d space.  Now we can position it exactly where we want it in 3d to have the camera fly right by the text.

Tips for 3D Camera Tracking

  • Apply motion blur to any 3D text to make things more pleasant.
  • Use scale and rotate creatively to accomplish fun effects
  • This effect works best on clips that a flying straight-forward or gradual movement


Thanks for staying with me as we learned about Drone Cinematography and how to turn our drone video into drone cinema.  Practice away and be sure to send me lots of great clips!