Adventure Cameraman, Jim Anderson, remembers his first drone flight on the islands of Borneo
Kit used to achieve coverage in the Air - The DJI Inspire Camera Drone
“JIM!!…what are you doing?!… I said just keep it in a hover!”
I stand frozen as I watch Dan my DOP run around picking up the pieces of his Drone. I stare blankly at the controls as if it is their fault, as if they told the drone to nose dive into the ground.
The worst thing about my maiden Drone flight was that our first day of shooting was about 8 hours away. I could hear it now…”…you know the opening shot to the show you wanted, the big drone shot of them heading onto the Island, Yeah we can’t do that I’ve smashed the drone up”.
Take any technical equipment to remote places around the world and there will always be challenges….salt water, sand, electrical storms. It takes a lot of prep and a calm head to deal with problems when they’re thrown at you.
The Islands of Borneo are amazingly visual places, from the dense sweaty jungles to the long golden beaches with their brilliant sunshine that gives way to bright, starry, night skies. They offer up the chance to get some stunning pictures, and the perfect environment to try out a new drone…
Thankfully, after my first crash we fixed the Drone. The damage wasn’t too bad, just enough to make me sweat a little. New blades, new dampners and it was air worthy again. (First Adventure Filming tip - take spares of everything)
We were about to film the next episode of The Discovery Channel’s ‘Kings Of The Wild’. Chef Matt Tebutt and Kiwi Hunter Josh James had to survive a week, hunting and cooking everything they could find along the way.
Communication between the pilot and the camera operator is key
Thankfully, we got loads of aerial coverage and avoided anymore crashes. It was our first time flying with the ‘dji inspire’ with the dual operator, so DOP Dan flying and I operated the camera. It worked amazingly well, so easy to set up and the shots were awesome. A key to a successful flight is to constantly communicate and keep talking, letting each other know what moves you are executing and work together at it.
Composing the perfect drone shot
Having the drone meant we could show this desolate Island on its own in the vast ocean and illustrate just how far our survivors were from any civilisation. We could send the drone up to a range of 1 kilometer away to really show the isolation of the island, or we could fly it at speed, low across the water, for a dynamic shot of the approach to the Island. The key was to mix up the shots to give the edit choices. Flying it out over the sea as Josh and Matt raced in at the start of the episode, in a fast boat, worked really well and would have been impossible, up to recently, without an expensive helicopter shoot.
Kit used to achieve coverage in the Sea - Sony A7 & ScubaCam underwater housing
Shooting underwater with the Sony A7
Another first for us kit wise, was putting the Sony a7s in the underwater housing. The reefs are full of life in Borneo…crayfish, lobsters, coral, you name it it’s there. One simple tip for making it work in water was to stick a couple of weights into the scuba bag to help us swim with it in under the water, flippers on and we were away.
Having the a7s meant the low light under the water wasn’t a problem. It’s also a strong and robust camera so perfect for the extremes of ocean filming.
Kit used to achieve coverage on Land - Sony PDW F800 & Sony A7 and a crank handle slider and Canon 24-70mm macro.
Back on land we utilized the Sony a7s again, this time on a crank handle slider and Canon 24-70mm macro. As Matt prepared a meal of food, he’d caught in the wild, we covered everything in detail with our super smooth tracks / crank slider and macro lens. Amazing to see in such detail the guts being pulled from a fish or the eyes of hermet crab looking around for their escape before they became dinner.
So juggling our kit including drones, scuba housing, sliders and the main Sony 800 camera proved to be tricky at times, especially bouncing between “Land, Sea and Air”. But we pulled it off because of Team work and communication. It’s cheesy and a cliche, but it’s also true. Being able to prep and get all these different bits of kit ready, takes a lot of time and attention and proactive thinking but with enough warning ahead time anything’s possible.
We’re lucky at the Adventure Film Collective to know how to work as a well oiled team and feed and react to each other. In this instance Dan was DOP, running things on location. The experience we have together means just a quick 2 min chat and I can get the gear ready for whatever is needed over the next hour or so.
I’m still not sure what caused the Drone to smash to the floor, I’m going with engine failure, Dans not so sure. In the end the results were awesome.
Here is the Kit we used on the Borneo Episode to achieve 360 coverage on Land, Sea & Air…
DJI Inspire drone
DJI Phantom (spare)
Canon ef 24-70mm Macro
Canon ef 70-200mm
Canon 7D- Timelapses
Hauge 1 meter slider and crank handle
ScubaCam underwater housing