Photo by Dubois Photography

Tips for Documenting a Construction Project With Aerial Video

My school, Thomas Jefferson High, is currently being renovated completely.  As the school hasn’t been otherwise changed for over 20 years, this is a major change to the building, and it’s basically being rebuilt from the ground up.  When I heard that renovation was beginning, I thought that it would be an awesome idea to try to regularly take an aerial video of the renovation to show progress over time.  I haven’t been able to film as regularly as I would like to, but I have captured the renovation’s progress fairly well in a handful of videos.

Now, this won’t just be about me filming the renovation at my school.  I will be talking about the techniques and various filming angles I used and why I used them, along with some general tips on filming an area as volatile as a construction zone.

As I’ve just mentioned, a construction zone is a dangerous place to fly if you fly at the wrong times.  There will be people, moving equipment, and protruding objects everywhere you turn.  However, this can be easily worked around if you know the schedule of the construction.  Simply fly when no one is there!

Now that we know the time that flying is safe, the next logical step would be to get out there and fly.  However, doing this would be skipping one of the most important steps when making a film:  scouting out the area you will be filming, and knowing exactly what and how you want to film.  For example, the video below places the most emphasis on the dome and one wall of the new building, without showing much else.  This is because, in the early stages of renovation, that dome and wall were the only two noticeable differences in the building.  Filming anything else at that point would have been a waste, as people would likely lose interest in watching a film of an area they already know very well.  Without knowing exactly what to film, many films can become saturated with content, and not be as clear and concise as they could be, which is a major reason why knowing what you want to film before flying is an all – important step in the process.

Another important aspect to remember when filming, especially when you are documenting progress over time, is to film consistently and smoothly.  Change over time is best seen when the same area is filmed from the same angles in each iteration of film, so that change can be made obvious in a side – by – side comparison.  In the next two videos (here and here), I try my best to emphasize the areas that have changed.  For example, the area around the dome is consistently being made more complete as time goes on, so each film is started with a shot approaching the dome from afar, and showing a quick shot of the area inside the building to show how much it, too, has changed.  In the case of the interior, the trees and hallways in the area were removed between the first and second film, so it was important to show that area’s change.

You may also notice that I am adding more and more areas of the school to each film.  This is because, as mentioned before, being concise and filming only relevant areas is important.  As more parts of the building are torn down or rebuild/modified, more parts of the building are relevant to documentation of this renovation.

The final thing I would like to emphasize is the importance of the time of day to the quality of the film.  In the third video (below), some chopping can be seen as I face toward the sun.  This could have been avoided if I had filmed in the morning and not the afternoon, and, because that part of the film was showcasing an important new addition to the school, it was inevitable that I would have to film it.  Taking into account the time of day and the angle of the sun at that time of day will make it much easier to get clearer shots of what you are filming.  Pick a time of day where the sun illuminates the area you’re in, and the lighting quality in the video will increase drastically.

I hope some of the ideas and techniques I’ve shared here will help you in your future filming endeavors.  Summer is a great time of year for filming because of how clear the days tend to be, so now is a great time to start, or simply start practicing!

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