If you've been following Skydio on social, then you know that Paul Davies has been one of the largest contributors of Skydio 2 footage. Whether he's ripping through the trees on his electric skateboard, or surfing the waves on his electric foil board, he's filmed some incredible shots with Skydio 2. Today, we're going to get to know Paul a little more, and learn how he's able to produce such amazing results with his autonomous flying robot.
Tell us who you are and what you are most proud of accomplishing.
I’m a former action sports photographer who traded bombing hills on a skateboard for an obsession with chasing the wind with a kite. When I saw Skydio 2’s launch video, it got me thinking... could it be the tool I had always imagined for getting those long, dynamic tracking shots while riding with no need for an expert pilot and without the risk of crashing?
I can attest that solo, 3rd person video-game style follow footage is now a reality and my long latent creative spark has been re-ignited by the pivot to videography and possibilities of utilizing AI to get shots even FPV pilots would struggle with!
Do you have experience flying manual drones? If so, How has Skydio been different?
My first drone was from a certain 3 letter brand and I lost it to the sea when I accidentally crashed it into the rigging of a yacht in Thailand! While my background is being behind the camera and I think the last 10 years of 1st-person-GoPro style footage has very much been overplayed, it’s quite interesting to be able to film myself doing cool stuff for the first time ever. I’d never really considered other drones for water sports due to the difficulty of tracking manually - combined with wind/water hazards and sub-standard obstacle avoidance. Plus you cant really participate in the action and fly with a controller simultaneously! I was skeptical of the Skydio 2 initially, but honestly it never ceases to amaze me, especially with some of the challenging situations I put it in now that I fully understand how the AI behaves.
How did you get involved with Skydio?
I saw the R1 and thought it was a really cool proof of concept with potentials if they refined the design. Skydio 2 addressed most of the criticisms and due to also having an American girlfriend at the time I took a gamble on a day one pre-order, luckily in the first batch, and managed to smuggle one over to Australia before there was too many in the wild! I noticed not a lot of people were shooting water-sports initially and got in touch with Kendall to share my flight logs and footage, and when I realized I had a pretty cool niche I started posting daily clips on Instagram at the beginning of this year.
What is your favorite activity to pair with your Skydio 2?
Kiteboarding was my main focus initially, but the additional hazards involved make for some limitations and you really need to be on top of your game and have a good exit strategy! Nowadays, with COVID my travel has been limited so I’ve doubled down on electrified board sports.
On land I’m on my electric skateboard, which is really fun to shoot, but you are more limited with what you can do due to rules and regulations regarding flying over roads/power lines/people etc. So my main activity now is flying above the water on my electric hydrofoil from Fliteboard. It is such a unique experience that you really can’t explain and have to experience first hand. I can literally ride wherever and whenever I want regardless of the conditions and the novelty locations I have shot are crazy. Western Australia has arguably some of the best beaches in the world and it’s my mission to shoot them all!
What is your favorite video that you've shot with your Skydio 2, what do you love about it?
Definitely the first time I attempted to film kiting in the Cocos-Keeling Islands. Mildly terrifying experience if I’m honest, but was amazing to see it all come together It’s one of the most scenic locations I’ve ever kited and was lucky to have the chance due to COVID restrictions in Australia. After I knocked together an edit on my iPad and the subsequent article that ended up in Kiteworld magazine, it was great validation that I was onto something creatively and Skydio’s AI works as advertised. I'm also proud to have been a semi-finalist in several "Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 - Best of Instagram by Lenovo Moving Image" competitions utilizing only the footage of my rides from Skydio 2.
What is your favorite Skydio Skill, Tip or Trick to help other users get great content?
I now have close to 100 hours of over-water flying, so consider myself quite knowledgeable on this topic. Fixed Track is the most suitable mode as you can position the drone relative to the sun and when it is backlight there is less surface water glare in the shot. The Dronie skill is usually my go to, but requires a bit of guess work in the positioning of the sun/glare and is easy to fire off with the beacon. I tend to not let it go the full distance and cancel after about 7-8 seconds as the drone will lose visual tracking if you ride further than ~100m and when it reverts to GPS sometimes it takes a bit of time to ‘find’ you again.
I shoot manually in 4k60 and use the Polar Pro ND filters and the 180 degree rule to try and maintain a shutter speed of 1/120th for some buttery, smooth cinematic footage One thing I can’t stress enough is proper flight planning and the importance of having an exit strategy. Skydio 2 is super smart, but being able to commandeer the drone at any time is critical. The misnomer that you can’t fly over water is false, and as long as you follow the instructions from Skydio 2's user guide, for the most part, I feel it is perfectly safe. You need to be prepared to land on shore and my unbreakable rule is to always bring the drone back over land at 30% battery. You really need that time buffer and margin for error.
Where do you prefer to share your Skydio content and what type of content do you enjoy posting?
I currently post solely on Instagram with the aim of posting a clip every day. It caters to the 3 second attention span crowd and I really like the concept originating from the downhill skateboarding scene of ‘Raw Runs’ just a long single-take-tracking shot capturing pure action with which the Skydio 2 really lends itself well to this format. I’d like to make some long form edits for Vimeo as I feel a lot of YouTube videos just get drowned in the noise.
Anything else you would like to share?
If anyone wants to start dabbling in over water flying, feel free to shoot me a DM, I think I’ve had more experience in this arena than most and have more than likely come across any issues people might have. Happy to share my knowledge!