7. Hitting Down Town

Previously: Meeting Frank Lloyd Wright up close

My next flight was on an early and cloudy Sunday morning. I set my clock to wake me up early, and at 9-ish in the morning, which is unheard of for a lazy dude like me on a weekend morning, at least since my youngest turned 10.

Ready to go to my location of the day, Old-Town Scottsdale, with my homemade extra-strong cappuccino in a to-go cup I was ready to attempt this early morning ride…

I noticed that the earlier these trips starts and the farther the locations are, the more I’m starting to copy one of my wife’s habits: being worried I forgot something at home! The last thing you want is to get to the location and realize you forgot the camera, the batteries, the SD card in the computer or to turn off the oven…  I think the oven is the most common reason we are finding ourselves driving back home to check that it is shut. It used to be the garage door, but thanks to smart homes, I can now check this remotely and even shut it from my smart phone using the cool MyQ remote from Chamberlain, recommended!

As I’m driving, I’m replaying in my head my entire packing routine, trying to think if I forgot anything. Before I know it, I find myself in downtown Scottsdale, so at this point it doesn’t matter, I can just check it. Quick check, and everything is here!

Now I had to decide how am I going to use my ~21 minutes of flight in this interesting location. The filming style that I’ve developed over the years is such that I plan ahead just enough of what I want to achieve but I like to get to the location and make the final decision on the spot as I start filming and letting my creative juices make the decisions on the spot. Today my juices decided to start with the eastern part of this area, knowing that Old Town Scottsdale deserves more than a single “battery-drain-run”.

The other thing I noticed about my filming style is that as an editor-then-photographer, my motto is: “Let It Run”. You never know what your lens will capture and you can always cut out extras during the editing, but you can’t re-shoot footage you never shot. I found it to be true both for documentary style as well as scripted and planned style of shooting.

But, when you have limited juice power that can only run for 7 minutes at most… this causes a serious conflict in my brain. The left side wants me to be pragmatic and count every second of flying time, while my right side wants to “Let It Run”…

After watching my footage of the previous flights, I set a goal for today’s shooting: try to have more than one spot being shot per battery-drain.

This was much harder than I thought it would be. After a few minutes of me listening to my left and right side argue (they both had really good points, surprisingly), they cut a deal that instead of having many short shots, we will attempt to have a “let-it-run” continuous shot but cover as much ground as possible instead of spending too much time in each location, stopping only to reload juice…

With a growing confidence in my ability to control the drone… I’ve decided to start at the horses fountain and end at the 3 mirror-doors statue on the corner of Camelback Rd. and Scottsdale Rd. going through the art market that was open along that path.

With two juicing stops (well, all I have are 3 batteries…), I was able to cover that whole distance with no accidents, no hurt people, no broken wings and no freaked-out dogs

One ambitious maneuver I attempted and failed was to fly through the 3-door statue… it was just too hard to control the drone in that level of accuracy even with the GPS turned off…

Back at home I also made a decision to remove the camera lowering kit to see if the footage will be more stable without it.

After draining my batteries through this path, I went home quickly to  take my daughter to a basketball tournament of her team, so I will not get to watch this footage until late that evening.

Once I finally got to watch the raw footage I was quite happy. Much fewer cases where the camera didn’t shoot what I was hoping it was shooting, the point-of-view was really close to what I had in mind and the visual look of the framing was satisfying.

Removing the lowering kit really paid back and the picture was much more stable. I guess I will give up on the lowering kit and will do more cropping/zooming to get rid of the propellers, all in the name of high quality videos.

Alas, I give you my first drone visit to Old-Town Scottsdale (and I promise more will come in the future):

Lessons learned:

  • Filming in crowded places turn people’s heads
  • Getting a realistic continuous shot over a long distance is quite unrealistic without FPV because you can’t chase your drone fast enough on the ground to see where it is
  • The accuracy of the drone’s control is not exact enough to go through 2′ cracks, and good thing I kept my props guards
  • Filming on a cloudy day produced very nice picture, surprisingly

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