What is Cinematic?

Photo by Gibbs Frazeur

During the pandemic I have taken on learning about flying a drone and just this past week jumped into using a gimbal with a camera for the purposes of creating video.

I wanted to have a much smoother video than I was getting without a gimbal. Now with my Nikon Z6, which has image stabilization paired with my DJI Ronin SC I will end up with much more usable video.

Most of us are familiar with the learning curve. As we know it isn’t a straight path of continued success.

The really cool thing these days is anything you are interested in learning about, there is most likely someone who has created a YouTube for you to learn how as well. As I was learning how to fly my drone and how to use the Gimbal everyone kept on saying for a more “Cinematic Look”.

Frankly it was being tossed around so much in all the videos that I realized there were many people adding their own interpretation as to what this is all about.

Why The Old-School 4:3 Aspect Ratio Is Coming Back With A Vengeance Right  Now - Noam Kroll

For years, the classic 4:3 (or 1.33/1.37) aspect ratio was the standard TV format of the older tube based TVs. The wider formats (1.85 and 2.35) were seen as “movie formats” and 4:3 was seen as a “TV format”. In the early 2000s that 16:9 (1.78) televisions hit the market in masses, and changed the aspect ratio game forever. No longer was widescreen a format only for film, but now it was a television format too.

Most would say that the wider format of 16:9 is a cinematic format. However the 2:35 is the gold standard of the cinema. You may notice that a lot of movies were shot on a Panavision camera. Most production houses rent them because they are so expensive. They created anamorphic projection lenses during the widescreen boom in the 1950s.

I was finding in many of my YouTube tutorials putting an Anamorphic lens on your drone camera and then using software to stretch out the photo. The emphasis by all talking about this lens was it makes your video more “Cinematic”.

Before digital all the movies were shot on film and the cameras shot this at 24 frames per second or 24 fps. Since we had become accustomed to seeing this in the movies people associated the feel of 24 fps with cinema. While now we can shoot up to 240 fps with some camera gear, it has a different look than the 24 fps.

All this is to say there are some technical things you can do that sets up your end product to look more cinematic. Wide screen and 24 fps are the “old school” way of seeing things.

The other way that the term “Cinematic” is being used is really a lot more subjective. I found that most were using this to say to make your work look professional and good here are some tips.

Here are common things they say make your footage look amateurish:

  • Jerky motion
  • Crooked horizons
  • Exposure
  • Color Temperature
  • Too long of clips
  • Not enough variety of clips
  • No Storyline

One key I can say will determine your success in shooting cinematically, is your depth of knowledge of movies through the years. I found one thing throughout my journey in life up to now. Most all the great visual storytellers are students of the trade.

One great movie to give you a taste of what it takes to make movies and the history of it is a documentary “Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story”.

The best part of the movie to me was Harold was the guy creating the cinematic moments in movie history by pre-visualizing them by drawing storyboards that then people like Alfred Hitchcock would use.

So when you hear people talking about something being Cinematic, they could be referring to the technical, or they could be talking about the aesthetic. I can tell you if your look at their work and it is outstanding, then you know they really do know what it means to shoot cinematically. If you look at their work and it just isn’t captivating, they don’t know cinema like they say they do.

If you want to be a true cinematographer, then the key is to become a student of all the master cinematographers of the industry.

Just learning the terms in the industry will expose you to a palet of storytelling techniques.

Here are just some terms alone one would benefit from knowing what they mean.

• Aerial perspective
• Aerial shot
• American shot
• Angle of view
• Bird’s eye shot
• Bird’s-eye view
• Boom shot
• B-roll
• Camera angle
• Camera coverage
• Camera dolly
• Camera operator
• Camera tracking
• Close-up
• Crane shot
• Dolly zoom
• Dutch angle
• Establishing shot

• Film frame
• Filmmaking
• Follow shot
• Forced perspective
• Freeze-frame shot
• Full frame
• Full shot
• Hanging miniature
• Head shot
• High-angle shot
• Long shot
• Long take
• Low-angle shot
• Master shot
• Medium shot
• Money shot
• Multiple-camera setup
•One shot (music video)

• Over the shoulder shot
• Panning (camera)
• Point of view shot
• Rack focusing
• Reaction shot
• Shot (filmmaking)
• Shot reverse shot
• Single-camera setup
• Stalker vision
• Tilt (camera)
• Top-down perspective
• Tracking shot
• Trunk shot
• Two shot
• Video production
• Walk and talk
• Whip pan
• Worm’s-eye view

“Circumstances do not make the man, they reveal him.”

That quote is from James Allen, who was a British philosophical writer known for his inspirational books and poetry and as a pioneer of the self-help movement. His best known work, ‘As a Man Thinketh’, has been mass-produced since its publication in 1903.

The COVID-19 Pandemic is something that none of us had a way of preventing over a year ago. It happened so fast that by the time we reacted, many were already hospitalized and soon many would die.

My way to respond was to help out restaurants and businesses where I live in Roswell, Georgia. One year ago today I did this video to help Bob White and his family that own Slope’s BBQ communicate how they were responding to the pandemic and still going to stay open, but for takeout only.

Over those first few months I was showing what I could do to help businesses. I thought surely if I did a few of these someone would finally ask me to do one for their business.

I even went back to those restaurants to get video testimonials on how much those videos helped their businesses.

Nothing was really working to get work.

“A man has to learn that he cannot command things, but that he can command himself; that he cannot coerce the wills of others, but that he can mold and master his own will: and things serve him who serves Truth; people seek guidance of him who is master of himself.”

~ James Allen

This year has taken it’s toll on so many of my friends.

“I lost my studio. My savings are gone. I’ve filled in the gaps by selling gear. People I love have succumbed to this virus.”

~ Anonymous
The protesters are all laying down just like George Floyd did when he lost his life to a cop on his neck. Gwendolyn Dukes, Richard Bonito and their friends organized a peaceful protest on behalf of George Floyd at the corner or King Road and Hwy 92 in Roswell, Georgia on June 2, 2020. Dukes said, “Action speaks louder than words” as to why she and her friends wanted to get out and protest. She went on to say “We are not mad at the police, we are mad at the system.” They want to see changes for better policing, the larger racism in our society and are encouraging their friends to get out and vote. While Richard Bonito voted in the last presidential election most in the crowd are closer to Gwendolyn’s age and this will be their first election.

This has been a tough time when some of the suffering has been not by a virus, but by people killing other people.

The Colorado attack on Monday, March 22nd, is the 7th mass shooting in 7 days in the US.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it. A man will find that as he alters his thoughts toward things and other people, things and other people will alter towards him.”

~ James Allen

The Serenity Prayer is what I continue to find solace in through the years when circumstances beyond my control are wreaking havoc in my life. Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer originally asked for courage first, and specifically for changing things that must be changed, not things that simply can be changed.

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”

~ Reinhold Niebuhr

Don’t be Depressed or Anxious

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu

My friend Judy Bowen is a missionary in Togo, West Africa. She draws a lot of her strength from seeing God work through nature.

What I have to offer today is this Bible Verse:

26 Look at the birds of the air, for they do not sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? 27 Who among you by taking thought can add a cubit[a] to his stature?

28 “Why take thought about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: They neither work, nor do they spin. 29 Yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. 30 Therefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is here and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore, take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 (For the Gentiles seek after all these things.) For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you. 34 Therefore, take no thought about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought about the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the trouble thereof.”

Matthew 6:26-34

Starting From Scratch To Build A Portfolio

Most clients are going to want to see some of your work before they hire you to shoot something.

What they are looking for is for work similar to what they are hiring you to shoot for them.

[DJI Mavic Air 2, Mode = Normal, ISO 100, 1/400, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 24)]

I am starting from scratch when it comes to offering Aerial Photography using my Drone.

Photo by Craig Carden

I have been doing aerial photography my entire career. I would hire a helicopter and have the doors taken off on the side I was shooting from. Here I am doing that on a photo shoot for a school.

Blessed Trinity High School [NIKON D4, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 160, 1/100, ƒ/8, (35mm = 22)]

Now shooting from a Helicopter you must be +500 feet above the ground. With a Drone you are -400 feet above the ground.

So there are still times you may need a helicopter.

I can put a few of those helicopter shots in the website and explain that if we need to go higher than FAA rules for a drone I can offer that service as well.

What to include in your portfolio?

You really need to target a niche. I am going to try and pursue the commercial work and also have a few residential images on the website as well.

The commercial should pay a little better than residential.

[DJI Mavic Air 2, Mode = Normal, ISO 270, 1/13, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 24)]

Now a couple of tips I have been picking up from other drone operators through their posts on the topic has been that what sells isn’t always what you see a lot on drone pilots pages.

One guy realized over time that businesses often will buy stock drone footage of things around their business. For example the Chamber of Commerce is more interested in shots that show off their town and not just pretty pictures of trees from the top.

From my research there are a few things I am working on to shoot to build the website.

  • Skyline of city
  • Attractions
  • Series of video clips that tell a short story of a place
    • Short video to show a small town highlights on why to live there
    • Short video to show a commercial property

Not So Easy

Flying a drone is making a photo shoot more complex than anything else I have done.

While this video looks OK, earlier that day I shot another Hyperlapse. Watch what happens with the building.

So the learning curve on knowing what you can do with the technology and the limits take time to learn.

There are two rules that you must abide by legally when flying a drone. You cannot fly over moving vehicles and over people. There are exceptions, but for the most part this impacts where you can fly.

So for this shot of the Chick-fil-A I am over a parking lot where there are no moving vehicles. Actually no vehicles.

Chick-fil-A Roswell Town Center at dusk. You can see the Buckhead Skyline as well at the Atlanta Skyline in the distance [DJI Mavic Air 2, Mode = Normal, ISO 1390, 1/2, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 24)]

Here you can see the parking lot on the left of the frame where I was flying to get the photo 2 above. I am flying over another parking lot to get this photo.

[DJI Mavic Air 2, Mode = Normal, ISO 100, 1/725, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 24)]


Each one of these variables in the App UAV Forecast can ground you. While you will see many who fly regardless of the guidelines to be safe and not risk you or your clients reputation, you want to play by the rules.

  • 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise you cannot fly at night without a waiver. This rule is changing, but flying at night requires more knowledge of airspace at night. That training is not yet available, but will be this month.
  • My drone the DJI Mavic Air 2 is not recommended to work below 32º Fahrenheit. The cold temperature can make the battery fail, crashing your drone when it stops flying.
  • When I was in Civil Air Patrol I learned that we couldn’t fly above 20 mile per hour winds with the planes we were using. My drone is recommended to not fly above 20 mph winds. So if the app shows even gusts above 20 mph it will recommend not flying.
  • Drones are not designed to fly in rain, snow or sleet. The reason is the water can get into the motors or battery and cause a short. Again this will cause you to crash.
  • Cloud cover needs to be a minimum of 500 feet above you to fly. If the cloud cover is 600 feet then you can only fly up to 100 feet. You also have to be 2000 feet away from clouds horizontally around you.
  • You cannot fly a drone unless you have 3 miles of visibility.
  • There are many things that impact the satellites that your drone can see. While you can fly with no satellites the ability of the drone to hover by itself and to get home require good satellite coverage. Seems that the recommendation of 10 or more satellites give you the best flying condition.
  • The Kp index measures geomagnetic disruption caused by solar activity, on a scale from 0 (calm) to 9 (major storm). The higher the Kp index, the more likely you are to have problems. Kp’s of 1-4 are completely safe. Losing satellite can mean a fly away drone.


Another App worthy of mentioning is AirMap. It has many more things it can do for you. Including

  • Request digital authorization for commercial operations in LAANC-enabled U.S. controlled airspaces
  • Can I fly here? Get real-time feedback of airspace rules and conditions pertaining to your flight specifications, with national rulesets for 20 countries, including Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • Connect to any supported DJI drone to fly and toggle camera settings directly from the AirMap app
  • Plan a flight path to specific duration, altitude, and airspace requirements

When you plan your flight with the app you can then be connected to DroneInsurance.com to buy insurance. When starting out Instant aviation liability coverage is more affordable than an annual policy. You can also increase your liability from 1 million, 2 million, 5 million or higher.

Since drones crash when the electronics fail having your drone crash and do damage to property isn’t what your clients want. Most will require you show liability insurance to operate on their property.

There are many Apps out there and B4UFLY has a lot of positive reviews and has been updated recently.

Chick-fil-A Roswell Town Center is one of the newest in the chain, but also one of the oldest. in 2020 they went through a scrap and rebuild in less than 10 weeks. [DJI Mavic Air 2, Mode = Normal, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 24)]

As you can see the time of day you make your drone shot dramatically affects the outcome. While some dawn and dusk shots are dramatic, many times the daytime shot is more appropriate for a business who wants their customers to recognize their property during their business hours.

As you can see, there is a learning curve that is affected by so many variables.

I am hoping that each day that I can fly for the next month I come away with one portfolio piece. To have enough variety is going to take some time.

One thing I didn’t even mention is time of year. While you can fly all through the year the vegetation looks so different during each season. Not many people are excited to get drone photos during the winter, except for those winter vacation spots.

If you know of great locations near me in Georgia to explore let me know.