I braved the freezing cold to get shots of the snow covered Houston area. Here’s the story and a few tips for drone shooting in the snow.
I just so happened to be out of town in Northern California when it snowed here back in December. A collegue told me about it and I honestly didn’t believe him until he showed me pictures and a weather report. I must say I was quite dissappointed to have missed out on that seeing as how I didn’t think it was even possible for it to snow here. I’m not a fan of cold weather, but a Houston winter wonderland right before Christmas would have been quite a sight.
Anyway, fast forward about a month or so later and guess what? Snow! I’m back in Houston and I’m actually seeing snow with my very own eyes. At first it was like little ice balls pelting my window, piling up like crystal sand on the balcony. I thought about shooting it but there really wasn’t much of a buildup yet so I wasn’t sure it would register on camera. Then, the real deal started falling from the sky. It was light, fluffy, feathery, and beautiful. This was my moment! I grabbed the drone and headed straight out the door.
Unfortunatley, it took me about 40 minutes to scrape the ice off my car enough to where I felt safe driving it. I know from experience that icy roads are no joke and the utmost care must be taken. I was finally able to get going. It didn’t take long to get to the park. I took out the drone, whom I have named “The Beast”, and I captured magic.
Here’s what I learned during my first drone snow flight
1. Watch your exposure levels. Snow is very white and bright so make sure your shots are not blown-out or this will greatly effect the quality of your image. Since the aperture is fixed on most drones it’s recommended that you use a ND (Neutral Density) filter on the camera so your shutter speed doesn’t have to be so high. The problem with having a high shutter speed is your video will look choppy or jerky because it lacks that motion blur you’re accustomed to seeing. An ND filter is basically like sunglasses for the camera so it will allow you to keep that shutter speed low, giving you those beautifully smooth cinematic shots you’re looking for. To be honest, I did not use an ND filter this time because I didn’t realize I needed one. I was lucky to get the shots I got and the video came out pretty good. However, upon further inspection I can see where an ND filter would have enhanced the smoothness of the images.
2. You are taking a risk when shooting in the snow. My DJI Phantom 3 4k is not meant to be flown in the snow. I looked it up and according to the manufacture flying in snow can damage the motors if moisture gets in so it’s definitely a risk, but obviously it was a risk I was willing to take. Fortunately, the snowfall had stopped the moment I pulled the drone out of the car, so that helped. If you can, try to wait until the air is clear. Also, lower temperatures can impact the the performance of your drone and I did see that first hand. There was a moment where my drone started veering off, kept going and I thought it might have been lost forever. Luckily, I regained control and was able to fly it back to safety. Battery power also drains faster in the cold so keep this in mind as well.
3. Wear gloves. It had been a really long time since I’ve experienced cold weather like this. Back in my television news reporting days I’d spend full days smack dab in the middle of blizzards and it was no problem because I got used to it. Oh, have times changed. I was freezing! Literally. it took about 30 minutes for me to regain the feeling in my hands after I had already left. I was very worried about loosing my fingers and that’s because I didn’t wear any gloves. They are an absolute necessety because your hands will be exposed to the elements. It’s not like you can put them in your pocket while out there flying. Wear gloves. But, gloves that will allow your tablet or phone to respond to your fingertip commands.
4. Wear warm shoes and socks. I know, this is a no brainer. However, in my excitement to get out there I did not do this and again, I feared for my extremities as I thought I may have gotten frostbite. Do not underestimate the cold! In addition to keeping you safe, keeping warm is also going to help you produce the best shots. Think about it. If you’re shivering, freezing cold you’re going to rush your flight trying to get back to the warmth. By being prepared and dressed accordingly you’ll be thinking 100 percent about composition, framing, exposure, and other things that will yield the best possible shots.
5. Try to wear water resistant clothing if possible. The snow can really start to build up quickly on clothing and that will turn to moisture. The last thing you want is to be cold and wet. That’s a recipe for disaster.
I had heard we were supposed to be getting some more icy weather so I was going to wait for a second snow flight before publishing this but I don’t think that storm is coming so I’m posting it now. I will be writing more about drone tips and other things you need to know before flying a drone in a future blog so stay tuned!
About Aja Vickers:
Aja Vickers is the President of Aja Vickers Global Media and Vickers Entertainment Group, LLC.
Aja Vickers has spent more than a decade creating compelling visual content for network television, businesses, non-profits, and artists. Her love of video production and photography keeps her striving to become one of the most sought after experts in her field.
Originally from Los Angeles, California, Aja attended the University of New Mexico and University of San Francisco where she studied journalism and politics. Her internships with ABC affiliate KOAT in Albuquerque and FOX affiliate KTVU in Oakland taught her the necessary skills to become an on-air reporter and she got her first television job in 2006 at local community station TV30 near the San Francisco Bay Area. Aja started reporting, shooting, editing, writing, and producing her own segments and assisting with the production of the news program. Her success in this endeavor allowed her to become the Bureau Chief for the NBC affiliate KSNG out in Garden City, Kansas, where she won the Kansas Association of Broadcasters award for best Non-Metro Television Prime Newscast. With that success in Kansas, Aja moved to a larger media market in Tulsa, OK where she worked for the NBC affiliate KJRH. At this station she worked as a Multi-Media Journalist shooting, writing and contributing editing her own stories as well as being an on air reporter covering all areas of the news for the station. . From politics to crime, sports to tornadoes–you name it, she’s shot it, reported on it or both.
After experiencing all aspects of broadcast news, Aja decided she wanted to start her own production company and began her journey to make it a reality. Aja honed her skills in the news industry by doing thousands of different types of stories and interviews and she coupled those skills with her knack for storytelling and an ability to capture the emotion of any genre. The result is a masterful transformation of pictures and words into a powerful message for her clients. Whatever message you desire Aja can make it happen.
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