FLYING IN THE DARK – The tOP 5 THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BOOKING A DRONE NIGHT SHOOT

Drone operator Chris Bates watches the DJI Inspire 2 fly over the waters as he stands on a cliff edge looking out to the sea next to an orange landing pad. The sky is getting darker as night approaches

As we enter the business end of winter and the long nights seem never-ending, video and film shoots will go on.

Filming in the dark always brings with it certain challenges. Likewise in the realm of drone flying with its combination of creative endeavor and aviation safety regulations, extra planning is required to get the job done right.

Here’s a list of 5 areas worth considering if you’re looking to book a drone crew for a night shoot.

1. safety – daytime recce

A daytime location recce must be carried out by the drone crew before flying at night. This is to check for any obstacles which might not be visible after dark and to gather any relevant information for the Risk Assessment.

Tree branches, fences, overhead cables, and antennas will all be invisible after dark. Hitting any one of these will lead to red faces, insurance claims and production delays.

Daytime recces are a requirement for all UK drone operators with CAA Operational Authorisations. If an insurance claim was to be made, proof would need to be shown that a recce was carried out.

The DJI Inspire 2 stands on its orange launchpad next to the controller at night
2. SAFETY – ILLUMINATE THE LANDING ZONE

This is for two reasons: so that the pilot has a reference point for where to bring the drone back to, and also so that other crew members can see the landing zone and don’t wander into it when the drone is returning to land.

Lighting the landing zone is normally the drone operator’s responsibility – we always carry our trusty LED panel in the van!

The DJI Inspire 2 sits on the orange launchpad next to the controller at night with a large castle in the background and large lights setup in the castle grounds
Tree branches, fences, overhead cables, and antennas will all be invisible after dark. Hitting any one of these will lead to red faces, insurance claims and production delays.
Alta-6 hovering in the air as the sun is setting at Thames Oilport (cropped)
3. TECHNICAL & CREATIVE

Lighting:

The subject of interest should be sufficiently lit, and this will be the department of the Director & DoP.

Camera Spec:

When shooting at night, you want to be sure that your operator is using a camera which can perform well in low light.

Budget will play a part here, and sufficient thought should be given to bringing in the right kit. Using cheaper less capable cameras will likely end up with grainy shadows and muddy or underexposed footage that will not match your other cameras.

For supreme low light performance, we find the Sony A7S3 camera is unbeatable. In addition to its ability to shoot at 12,800 ISO without noise, it can also shoot 10bit 4K footage at 120 frames per second. Very impressive!

Bear in mind that this camera would need to be mounted to a larger drone, such as our ALTA6 and Movi gimbal pictured above.

We’ve found that with the Inspire 2, the ‘lesser’ X5s camera is more suitable in low light than the larger sensor X7 camera, as the X5s lenses are faster, offering apertures as wide as f1.7.

A drone operator sets up a drone for the shoot in the dark on a sandy beach
4. LOW TEMPERATURES

For winter shoots in both the UK and overseas, temperatures are likely to drop when the sun goes down. These low temps will affect the chemistry of the drone’s lithium polymer batteries, allowing voltage to drop quicker than normal.

To mitigate this, we factor low temperature into our flight plan, making flights around 20% shorter than normal.

In cold temperatures, we do all we can to keep batteries warm before flying them, from using battery heaters, to warm air in a vehicle, to simply keeping them inside our jacket pockets.

In really cold temperatures, sometimes ice can form on the drone’s propellers. This can lead to unstable flight characteristics or even cause the drone to drop out of the sky.

To mitigate this, instead of being in the air for the duration of a full battery, we might bring the drone in to land every 8-10 minutes to check the propellers and clean them if necessary.

In really cold temperatures, sometimes ice can form on the drone’s propellers. This can lead to unstable flight characteristics or even cause the drone to drop out of the sky.

The Alta-8 flies over a group of people who circle a person in the middle who is lighting fireworks in the middle of a field at night
5. COST & RATES

The daytime recce will generally carry a cost unless it is conducted in daylight hours leading up to the night shoot, in which case it will form part of the shoot day hours.

Like most camera crew, drone operators will likely charge more for night shoots, given that the shoot will make them unavailable the following day.

Depending on call and wrap times, many will charge a supplementary rate for working antisocial hours, and/or charge for a ‘turnaround day’ to get rested in local accommodation before travelling home later the following day.

The DJI Inspire 2 with safetyguard attachments stands ready for use in a dark stone tunnel lit by two floor lights. In the distance two people set up lighting for a shot

So there you have it!

I hope this will give you a good cheat sheet for things to consider when booking an operator for a drone night shoot.

In summary – one should prepare for it to cost more than a daylight shoot given the added prep time of a recce, the fact that cheaper drones generally won’t deliver, and also the chance of it requiring a turnaround day.

If you have any other questions on the above or would like to discuss a drone shoot at night, please get in touch and we’ll chat it over!

CHRIS