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The Aerial Shot and it's uses in film

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

In films and TV shows, majority of the narrative is built around the character's point of view/perspective. Sometimes, that can feel limiting. But, what about when the director decides to pull you out of the film's world and remind you that you're a mere spectator and nothing else? In this blog, we're going to go over Aerial shots - the most commonly used to separate the audience from the storyline.

A majority of the most iconic shots ever used in the history of film have been shot from the air. This elevated vantage point used in aerial shots, that we rarely witness in our daily life allows the director to create a unique experience for his spectator. War movies, thrillers, action movies, etc, all have some of the most iconic aerial cinematography used in them.

In the earlier stages of film and cinema, aerial shots were obviously only limited to extremely large scale or heavily budgeted Hollywood productions that could possibly afford the use of a helicopter or a crane to shoot the required shots. However, more recently, the rise of drones has made using an aerial shot for a film a much more accessible and feasible (and even budget-friendly) option.

What is an aerial shot?

An aerial shot is a shot that's taken from an elevated vantage point than what is framed in the shot. Aerial shots give viewers a deeper understanding of what is happening below, both literally and metaphorically. - StudioBinder

Further regarding aerial shots:

  • Different names: God’s eye view shot, birds-eye view shot, aerial view, raised shot, elevated shot, overhead shot.

  • Fun Fact: The earliest aerial shots were captured through the use of balloons in the early 1800s. The use of drones with video equipment has reinvented the aerial shot.

An aerial shot needs its own particular camera equipment. The necessary equipment required to shoot these, however, has changed drastically over the years. From helicopters to drones, all sorts of equipment has been used to create an aerial shot to create the same result.

So, in a nutshell, the aerial shot mainly involves a camera that has been positioned on an elevated platform or floating object. Knowing the rule of thumb behind the creation of one, it can get relatively simple for one to pick out an aerial shot. You'll know one when you see one. Aerial shots, however, are most commonly used in crime films.

What does an aerial shot do? Well, for the most, these shots help the film's director and cinematographer establish or mark the area that the character inhabits (or is about to). Most aerial shots are so powerful that they tend to make their way to the movie's poster. A good aerial shot is most certainly a winner, plus, who doesn't like aerial shots in movies? However, pulling off the aerial shot appropriately needs planning.

The anatomy of an aerial shot

The aerial shot could be used to establish the location where the film takes place, and even to establish who a character is going to face. For obvious reasons, the aerial shot takes a lot of planning.

Whether the shot will be conducted through the use of a drone or a crane? Do you need to schedule a plane ride? Is the shot static, or does it contain movement? The planning of a complex scene involved an aerial shot is a thrill in itself. A lot of choreographing and planning is involved, with a bunch of moving parts and objects. The planning of these shots requires extra steps to consider lengthy shot preparation and shoot times.

With technology evolving at an incredible rate, it's important to understand what qualifies as aerial cinematography. Although there are various ways filmmakers achieve aerial shots in movies, there are certain techniques and considerations that aerial filming require that standard cinematography does not. - Kyle Deguzman, StudioBinder

Aerial shots, in the past, had only been accessible to productions that could afford the uses of helicopters or cranes. The input of an aerial shot in a film's shot list was considered the instant rise of the production's budget due to the planning and costs involved in obtaining one. However, with the rise of economic drones, several filmmakers have been able to access aerial cinematography like never before. Due to the gigantic maneuverability that drones possess in capturing aerial shots, most drone users and photographers are happy to sell their footage to other production houses.

Aerial shots have been used since the start of film, but their popularity is greater than ever today, due to the availability of affordable drone-mounted cameras. Even if the film is not part of a big-budget franchise, achieving an aerial shot in open space no longer requires the expense of a helicopter or a huge crane, enabling filmmakers of all budgets the ability to capture expansive aerial shots with relative ease. - Jeff Saporito, The Take

Drone cinematography tips

If you get your hands on a drone and discover how to manage and operate it, there are some key drone shot techniques and tips that will immediately elevate your drone cinematography.

Shoot at the best time of day because aerial cinematography typically is used for outside shots, making use of the golden hour will provide the most suitable lighting for drone shots.

Use an ND filter

Using the ND filter can enable you to shoot at a cinematic shutter speed that will aid you in pairing drone shots to the other shots taken with possibly a different cinematic camera.

Use slow movements

Drone shots are best used with slow camera movement. Fast-moving shots by drones tend to result in jolty and jarring footage that appears amateur and can pull down the quality of the final video you're trying to create. A slow movement captured by a drone will help to achieve a more cinematic shot.

Color grading

If you're shooting a project which also contains drone footage, the simple understanding is that you'll require to color grade to match the shots from the drone to the other camera(s) that has been used to film the rest of the footage.

Try adding a zoom

The application of a zoom (on camera or in the post) will help you in adding depth to the shot, and will make the shot more engaging, and appealing overall.

We hope that these tips and techniques of aerial and drone cinematography will urge you to continue to study how to shoot drone footage as technology advances and to discover possibilities for aerial shots in your upcoming project.

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