Aerial Shot - Everything You Need to Know - NFI (2022)

An aerial shot is a classic camera angle captured from an elevated vantage point. Aerial photographs present a deeper understanding of the action happening below from a bird’s eye view. This requires specific camera equipment, which usually involves the camera placed on an elevated platform, floating object, or aircraft.

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Aerial Shot

Other Names:

  • Bird’s eye view shot
  • God’s eye view shot
  • Aerial View
  • Overhead Shot
  • Elevated Shot
  • Raised Shot

History of Aerial Photography

In the history of aerial photography, airborne cameras have captured excellent images of natural disasters and combat. The cameras were launched into the sky using kites, balloons, and even rockets. In 1858, the first successful aerial photograph was taken from a hot air balloon at 262 feet over Petit-Bicêtre by Gaspar Felix Tournachon, commonly known as ‘Nadar’. However, the original images taken by him were lost. The oldest aerial photograph available is taken in 1860 by James Wallace Black, 2000 feet above Boston from a tethered hot air balloon, Queen of the Air.

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Later, George Lawrence perfected taking aerial shots by strapping large-format cameras with curved film plates to kites. Using this method, he captured the most famous photograph during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire by suspending 17 kites at 2000 feet in the air.

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During this period, aerial photographers elsewhere in the world were experimenting with other methods. In 1903, Alfred Maul, a German Engineer, demonstrated a gunpowder rocket that could reach 2600 feet in eight seconds would jettison a parachute equipped with a camera and capture images during its descent. During the same year, Julius Neubronner, a German Apothecary, who was curious about the whereabouts of his prescription delivering pigeons, strapped cameras to the pigeons to track their routes. He also used his pigeons to capture images of the 1909 Dresden International Photographic Exhibition.

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Some years after the first flight of the Wright Brothers in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, piloted and powered aircraft were used for aerial photography for the first time. In 1908, L.P. Bonvillain, a Cinematographer, captured the first known photo from an airplane over Le Mans in France, piloted by Wilbur Wright.

Aerial Shots During World War I

World War I consumed the world shortly after that. Military commanders soon recognized the potential advantage of up-to-date aerial photographs of the battlefield. Cameras were equipped on all types of aircraft, and the wartime practice of aerial survey was born. Later advancements in aviation and photography meant that flight crews could go farther and come back with more valuable images. They used to reveal enemy movements or plan future attacks.

Aerial Footage of WWI Battlefields – 1919

Aerial Shots During World War II

During World War II, wartime aerial images and video became commonplace in newspapers, magazines, and movie theater newsreels on the Homefront. For example, Margaret Bourke-White, a famous LIFE photographer, became “the first woman ever to fly with a U.S. combat crew over enemy soil” when she covered the U.S. attack on Tunis, as the magazine declared on its March 1, 1943, issue. During this conflict, the U.S. began experimenting with rudimentary drone aircraft, like the TDR-1, though that was an attack aircraft rather than an imaging platform.

There were further advancements in aerial photography with the end of World War II and the Cold War, mainly thanks to the Space Race. On October 24, 1946, the first known photo from space depicting a glimpse of Earth was found from a captured Nazi rocket launched from New Mexico. The efforts of the United States and the Soviet Union’s to outpace each other in aerospace achievements led to advancing satellite images, the ultimate in unmanned aerial photography. Such technology’s power to spy on opponents or help in warning about the incoming nuclear attacks was used by the leaders of that era. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, today, more than 1,700 satellites orbiting the Earth are used for surveillance, weather forecasting, and more.

Aerial Shots of Bombing – 1944

Rise of Drones

In the 1980s, the first modern-style drones emerged, as Israeli engineers produced models equipped with video cameras that could monitor for hours at a time. After that, the U.S. adopted a similar technology and developed a remote-controlled Pioneer drone during the first Gulf War that filmed Iraqi soldiers surrendering to the USA. Israeli invented Predator drone was popular during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars because of the ability to hover over areas for a long period. It was helpful to monitor the everyday routine of possible targets. The U.S. military used smaller, hand-launched drones such as the RQ-Raven, which helped the soldiers with an overhead look at potential dangers. New hardware and software such as stabilizers, autopilot, and collision detection systems have given rise to store-bought drones from companies including Parrot and DJI with high-resolution cameras.

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Today’s everyday drones are so remarkable. A few years ago, aerial photography was pursued mainly by the military, dedicated hobbyists, and those with access to full-size aircraft. Store-bought drones available today are comparatively cheaper, capturing high-quality images and video. They are also easy to learn to fly, which has led to an outburst in aerial photography. Now Aerial shots are used for commercial uses, including real estate brokers taking eye-catching photos of the houses they are trying to sell, to artistic expressions, such as taking stunning images of forests and cities to post on Instagram. Though technology has changed dramatically over time, the human desire to see the world from above remained constant.

Aerial Shots in Films:

In films, aerial shots can be shot using,

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  • Plane
  • Crane
  • Drone
  • Helicopter

These types of equipment are often celebrated for their ability to capture from a new vantage point and reveal our planet’s beauty from high above. Aerial shots are from a vantage point which we seldom see in our daily life. This enables the director to produce a unique experience for his viewers.

Aerial Shots Compilation

Earlier, aerial shots were only limited to huge budgeted Hollywood productions that could afford a helicopter or a crane to shoot. However, the presence of drones has made aerial shots much more accessible and feasible.

How Drones are Used in Movies

Aerial shots are often used in crime films. The most standard aerial shot is an establishing shot which is arbitrary without deeper meaning. In the movie, Zodiac, the scene where the killer drives a taxi shows a God’s eye view shot of the killer.

Zodiac – Great Bird’s Eye Shot

In this scene there is a juxtaposition of the audio in the radio program and the controlled driving without any swerving or speeding. On the radio people are theorizing about what is driving the serial killer when we see him driving.

Aerial Shots in Crime Films

The Anatomy of an Aerial Shot

The aerial shot could establish where the film takes place and even establish who a character will face. However, for obvious reasons, the aerial shot takes a lot of planning. The planning of a complex scene involving an aerial shot is a thrill in itself. A lot of choreographing and planning is involved, with a bunch of moving parts and objects. The planning of these shots requires extra steps to consider lengthy shot preparation and shoot times. Aerial Shots can be used in movie posters.

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Aerial Shots can be used as establishing spots. For instance, in the movie Black Hawk Down, the helicopter scenes show the location of things.

Black Hawk Down Establishing Aerial Shot

Establishing Shots Compilation

Tips on Drone Cinematography:

There are some essential drones shot techniques and tips that will help elevate your drone cinematography.

  • Shoot at the best time of day

Since aerial cinematography is used for outside shots, the golden hour will provide the most suitable lighting for such shots.

  • ND filter

Usage of ND filters will enable you to shoot at a cinematic shutter speed. That will help in pairing drone shots to the other shots.

  • Slow movements

The best way to use drone shots is with slow camera movement. Fast-moving drone shots tend to end in jolty and shaking images that can lower the final video quality. A slow drone shot captured will aid in achieving a more cinematic shot.

  • Color grading

Color grade is required to match the drone shots to other cameras used to film the footage.

  • Addition of zoom

Applying a zoom will help you add depth to a shot and make the image more engaging and appealing.

Examples of the Best Aerial Shots in Films

Zodiac(2007, David Fincher)

Driving Scene

(Video) NFI Green Animation or Aerial Laser

This scene was a breakthrough moment in using computer-generated images for many filmmakers to create an imaginative realism. This sequence looks a little bit CG, which at the time was mind-blowing.

Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)

Motorbike Chase Scene

Due to drone photography, the previously impossible aerial shots dispersed throughout the sequence were perfectly brought to life. This aids with more adrenaline to an already action-packed scene.

Birdman (2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu)

Flight Scene

The flight scene is a marvel of clever planning, composition, and a perfect combination of static and mobile cranes. Despite perfectly capturing the feeling of flying through the air, the cameras never actually left the ground. The illusion of using aerial photography in New York City Street is as distinct as the illusion of flight itself.

Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow, 2015)

Main Street Attack Scene

The terrifying moment when a horde of dinosaurs descends the main street of a crowded theme park is purely a mastery of various modern technologies. The use of drones and the dinosaur CG resulted in an incredible and more dynamic shooting than any previous Jurassic film.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J. J. Abrams, 2015)

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Star Wars The Force Awakens Millennium Falcon Scene

The dynamic aerial shot, fully CG, is blended with digital structures like the ruined destroyer by the visual effects artists.


How do you shoot a shot aerial? ›

How to take aerial photos from a helicopter
  1. Take a flight with the doors off. Despite the high price, shooting from a helicopter with the doors off gives you the best aerial photography and the most excitement. ...
  2. Use a fast shutter speed. ...
  3. Set the camera. ...
  4. Fix distortion in post-production. ...
  5. Choose the gear that suits you best.

What is the point of an aerial shot? ›

Aerial shot definition

An aerial shot is a shot that's taken from an elevated vantage point than what is framed in the shot. Aerial shots gives viewers a deeper understanding of what is happening below, both literally and metaphorically.

How were aerial shots filmed before drones? ›

Before you could buy drones from the comfort of your desk chair via smartphone, aerial photography was significantly more difficult. Artists and scientists alike used tall buildings, ladders, balloons, kites, planes, and even pigeons to defy gravity.

Is it hard to film with a drone? ›

Filming yourself with a drone is simple with the use of active track mode. Other options to film yourself are tripod mode, parallel mode, or even reveal-type shots that don't require tracking at all. Be sure to plan your shot and location carefully to keep yourself, your drone, and others safe.

What is bird's eye shot? ›

An overhead shot is when the camera is placed directly above the subject. It's somewhere around a 90-degree angle above the scene taking place. Overhead shots are also called a bird view, bird's eye view, or elevated shot.

What makes good aerial photography? ›

Shoot at a high shutter speed, such as 1/1000 of a second or higher, to avoid blur with your aerial photography. Set your camera on autofocus and consider securing the setting with painter's tape so it can't shift back to manual as you move the camera around.

How do you take an aerial shot without a drone? ›

How to shoot aerial shot without a drone? #Shorts - YouTube

How did old movies get aerial shots? ›

While a plane was the first device used for aerial cinematography, it was not considered a camera platform in its own right. Its speed and wind-induced shaking meant that it wasn't conducive to capturing action on the ground. It was the invention of the gimbal that literally raised the ceiling for filmmaking.

Whats a Dutch angle shot? ›

The Dutch Angle Shot, also known as the Dutch Tilt, German Angle, canted angle, canted camera, or oblique angle, is a technique that consists of an angled camera shot where the horizon line isn't parallel with the bottom of the frame, and vertical lines are at an angle to the side of the frame.

How can I practice drone shots? ›

10 Easy Cinematic Drone Moves for Beginners - YouTube

How do I get good drone footage? ›

Tips For Getting Great Drone Footage
  1. Use Smooth Movement. Trying to change your shot sometimes results in jerky movements, which makes it really difficult to edit footage. ...
  2. Install A Filter. ...
  3. Switch The Direction. ...
  4. Change Your Frame Rate. ...
  5. Be Careful Of The Blades. ...
  6. Try Different Techniques & Manoeuvres. ...
  7. Be Mindful Of The Weather.

How much do film drone pilots make? ›

The average annual salary for a Drone Pilot is approximately $82,800. The salary range for Drone Pilots runs from $73,000 to $116,000.

What are the two types of aerial photographs? ›

aerial photographs are classified into the following types : (i) Vertical photographs (ii) Low oblique photographs (iii) High oblique photographs (i) Vertical Photographs: While taking aerial photographs, two distinct axes are formed from the camera lens centre, one towards the ground plane and the other towards the ...

Who took the first aerial photo? ›

Gaspar Felix Tournachon, more commonly known as “Nadar,” is credited with taking the first successful aerial photograph in 1858 from a hot air balloon tethered 262 feet over Petit-Bicêtre (now Petit-Clamart), just outside Paris; his original photos have been lost.

What are drone shots called? ›

Aerial cinematography is the photographs or video from an aircraft or other flying object. The main tools used to achieve aerial photography are through helicopters and drones. Aerial cinematography is typically used for establishing shots, follow shots, and action sequences.

Why are overhead shots effective? ›

Overhead Shot

It gives us a perspective so close to the reality of a scene. The overhead shot usually gives us more information about a scene and actions and shows us the cause and effect between them, like an overhead shot of a fight scene between several men.

What are the five basic angles in cinema? ›

Essential Angles
  • Establishing shot. This is used to introduce a setting, usually an exterior shot of the building where the action takes place.
  • Wide angle. The lens is zoomed out all the way to see the widest view possible. ...
  • Long shot. ...
  • Medium shot. ...
  • Close-up. ...
  • Extreme close-up. ...
  • Two-shot. ...
  • Over-the-shoulder.

What time of day is best for aerial photography? ›

The light is warmer, softer, and lends a unique glow to the landscape. Drone photography tips suggest taking photos 30-60 minutes before sunset or after sunrise for the best results.

What lens is best for aerial photography? ›

In addition to an ultra-wide zoom lens, a versatile mid-range zoom lens, like a 24-70mm f/2.8 is also fantastic for aerial photography in a helicopter, especially if you want a little extra reach for details or textures in the landscape or city.

Can a drone take pictures? ›

Drones provide a unique aerial perspective that can't be obtained with any other camera. Not only can you capture images from up to 400 feet in the sky, but you can also use specific flight modes to add a creative element to your shot.

What can I use instead of drones? ›

To get drone shots without a drone you can utilize techniques such as extension poles, balloons, gimbals, natural formations, tall buildings, planes and helicopters, vehicles and others described below. There are many different drone alternatives available in the market.

How do you capture a drone? ›

Horizon Forbidden West how to get Drones - YouTube

What is the oldest aerial photograph? ›

Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It” by James Wallace Black is the earliest surviving aerial photograph. Credit: James Wallace Black, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once airborne, photographers tested cameras on a multitude of gravity-defying objects.

What is a master shot in film? ›

A master shot is the principal camera shot that a director and cinematographer use when filming a particular scene. It covers all of the important action in a scene, including the major characters and scenic points of interest. For this reason, master shots are almost always wide shots.

What does POV mean in movies? ›

POV OR POINT-OF-VIEW SHOT : A sequence that is shot as if the viewer were looking through the eyes of a specific character. The shot is a common trick of the horror film: that is, we are placed in the position of the killer who is slowly sneaking up on a victim.

What does a dolly shot look like? ›

A standard dolly shot usually refers to smoothly moving the camera forward or away from your subject, labeled “dolly in” and “dolly out,” respectively. Any secondary camera movement is minimal, such as a slight tilt up or down.

What is a eye level shot? ›

An eye level shot is exactly what it sounds like — a shot where the camera is positioned directly at a character or characters' eye level. Considered to be a “neutral” camera angle, its function is not to distort or over-dramatize a scene but rather to give the viewer a very familiar perspective.

How do you take an aerial shot without a drone? ›

How to shoot aerial shot without a drone? #Shorts - YouTube

When would you use an overhead shot? ›

An overhead shot is a camera angle that is taken from above the subject. This type of shot can be used to depict an overview or large scope of something, such as a cityscape.

What is aerial action? ›

An aerial shot is a camera angle captured from an elevated vantage point. Aerial photographs present a deeper understanding of the action happening below from a bird's eye view.

What is drone shot? ›

Drone photography is the capture of still images and video by a remotely-operated or autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), also known as an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or, more commonly, as a drone.

How do you make fake drone shots? ›

See each final shot, followed by a peek behind the scenes.
  1. Drone alternative 1: Put your camera on a stick. Attaching a camera to a long stick is the most versatile technique. ...
  2. Drone alternative 2: Put your camera on a kite. ...
  3. Drone alternative 3: Put a 360 camera on a fishing rod. ...
  4. Drone alternative 4: Camera zipline.

How do you make a fake drone shot? ›

How to Shoot #NoDroneNoProblem Fake Drone Shots | Insta360 Shot Lab

How do you make cool drone shots? ›

Let's break down everything you need to know to set up the right shots to achieve professional-grade drone footage.
  1. Cinematic Drone Shots: The Basics. ...
  2. ‌Take It Slow. ...
  3. Adjust the Frame Rate. ...
  4. Use the Light. ...
  5. ‌Reverse the Shot. ...
  6. Use Two Axes of Movement. ...
  7. Practice, Practice, Practice. ...
  8. The Side-Follow.
31 Jul 2021

How do you shoot a bird's eye view? ›

Bird's Eye View Shot Using Only A Tripod. A Quick Top-Down Tutorial

What's cowboy shot? ›

In cinematography, a cowboy shot includes the subject's face down to their mid-thigh. This shot size was widely used in Western films like Clint Eastwood's A Fistful of Dollars based on the frequency of showdowns in these flicks. The cowboy shot is now used widely in films of many other genres.

What is drone cinematography? ›

Drone Cinematography can be a great way for filmmakers to get unforgettable aerial shots. Cinematographers work with drones to get interesting shots that help tell a compelling visual story, contributing to memorable scenes in major feature films such as We Are Blood (2015), Skyfall (2015), and many more.

Do movies use drones? ›

Ever since the ban on commercial drone use lifted a decade ago, many Hollywood film and television productions have leveraged drones to supplement and/or replace legacy filming equipment like camera cranes, jib arms, car-mounted U-Cranes (a.k.a. chase cars, motocranes, Russian Arms, etc.), as well as helicopter-mounted ...

What was the first film to use a helicopter shot? ›

The first time a helicopter was used in a feature film production was in April 1945 in the film 'The Bandit of Sherwood Forest' [d: George Sherman & Henry Levin; ph: Tony Gaudio, William Snyder & George B. Meehan Jr.].

What is drone camera price? ›

Amitasha 2.4GHz Selfie Gesture WiFi Camera Drone with 4K Live Video FPV Long Live 2 Battery. 2.8 out of 5 stars 23. ₹4,850 ₹9,999 (51% off)

How do I turn my phone into a drone? ›

PhoneDrone Transforms Your Smartphone into a Quadrotor


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