A lot of the most breathtaking environments for aerial photography are located in cold and snowy areas. Flying drones in cold weather requires some special considerations and prep. The Skydio 2 has a few unique features which makes it easy to use in cold and snowy environments. We sat down with Skydio Featured Flyer Ben Birk to jot down his top 10 tips for nailing the shot in winter climates.
1. Use the Beacon
Skydio 2’s tracking is vision-based, so if the drone can’t see you, it can’t track you. Using the Beacon will allow Skydio 2 to track the GPS signal emitted by the Beacon, so the Skydio 2 doesn’t have to see the subject to track their position. Sometimes the Skydio 2 might lose visual tracking if you go through tight trees where the drone can’t physically see behind the leaves, or maybe the subject outruns the Skydio 2, but with the Beacon, Skydio 2 can catch up around the next bend even if it can’t see you. The Skydio Beacon is the smallest, easiest, and most reliable controller for your mountain adventures. Learn more about how to fly with Beacon in Skydio Flight School.
2. The Benefits Of Motion Track vs. Fixed Track
By default, the Skydio 2 starts off in “Motion Track”, which is handy in open spaces at slower speeds. For skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling use “Fixed Track” to allow the subject to move in any direction, but have the Skydio 2 camera remain in its original orientation. Fixed Track is particularly useful when you want to keep the backdrop consistent no matter which direction the subject is moving and maintain a smooth level follow cam. Fixed Track is also great for when you’re riding switchbacks or carving back and forth and you would prefer Skydio 2 didn’t change its position relative to the direction you’re moving.
3. Keep Contrast In Your Shot When Shooting Open Spaces In The Snow
While a whiteout can be fun for some, it is not recommended to fly your Skydio 2 when the environment lacks significant contrast. The less contrast there is in the environment, the more difficult it is for Skydio 2 to position itself. Unlike most drones, flying near objects like trees, cliffs, or a skyline in the frame helps Skydio 2 understand its surroundings and track the subject. For example, you will experience a difficult time tracking a subject against a solid white background such as filming straight down on an open snowfield, so try and make sure you have some contrast in your frame for the best performance and shot.
4. Lighting Is Still Key When Filming In Winter
Lighting will turn an “ok” shot into a jaw-dropping capture. They don’t call it golden hour for nothing, the early morning and evening (an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset) will generally give you the best light for filming. Long shadows and warm colors help make your footage look even more cinematic while the harsh light at high noon tends to erase the details in the shadows. Watch the clock (or the sun?) and put in the extra work to score good light. If you happen to be filming in broad daylight, make sure to turn on HDR so you can get the most detail possible in the highlights and shadows of your image.
5. Find the right tracking distance
If you position the Skydio 2 too close, your subject has the possibility to outrun the drone or go out of frame. Use the +/- buttons on the Beacon or Skydio app to position Skydio 2 further away so it has some space around the frame to keep up with the subject’s movements and keep them centered. If your shot is at maximum tracking distance, Skydio 2 may revert to GPS tracking instead of visual tracking, which is inherently less accurate, especially if you are flying in an environment with an insufficient signal. If the location you’re flying in has poor GPS, position Skydio 2 where it has the best chance to keep you in the frame for precise visual tracking.
6. Flying Among trees
For beginner and average riders, the Skydio 2 will do an excellent job of tracking the subject in low to mild spacing of trees. When the trees become a bit denser it’s best to reduce speed accordingly to allow the drone to avoid the increased obstacles found in the thick of it.
Tracking through really tight trees at very fast speeds isn’t Skydio 2’s specialty. Consider positioning Skydio 2 over the tops of the trees or closer to the ground, depending on the environment, to reduce the number of obstacles at high speeds.
7. Frame The Shot With A Beautiful Backdrop
No one wants to watch a rider go down a blank sheet of snow, not when you can have epic mountain vistas! Get creative when positioning Skydio 2, the world is your playground. Before you start your ride, think about where the best views are and position Skydio 2 accordingly using either the arrow buttons in the Skydio app or on the Beacon. You can also easily place Skydio 2 right where you want it using Drag & Drop with the Beacon. If you want to see more of the horizon/landscape, position Skydio 2 as low as possible and extend the tracking distance. If the area you’re flying is free of people and cars, turn off the height floor in the app so Skydio 2 can fly closer to the ground framing up the subject with the background more easily.
8. Film in a high resolution
You can always crop the shot when you’ve got the pixels to do so. Whether you are shooting for fun or you are hoping to get discovered, it is common practice to scale down the video resolution to 1080 or even 720 if it means cropping in on the moment that matters. This means you can film in 4k and crop in on the best moments in post, allowing you to create a more close up view, while still retaining video quality.
9. Film At High Frame Rates For SloMo
Who doesn’t love super sharp slow-motion video? Did you know the Skydio 2 can shoot 4k/60 fps and 1080/120fps!? Shooting at a frame rate of 60fps or higher will allow you to slow down your action shots and let your slope style shine. I recommend shooting in 4k/60 at all times for the best combination of frame rate and resolution. If filming in low light situations, you should reduce the frame rate to allow more light into the sensor.
10. Battery Temps Matter
Cold weather will always put your gear to the test, and just like the human body, your camera gear has its limits. Batteries hold their charge best when they are warm. Don’t leave your batteries in the car overnight and expect them to work perfectly the next day. Pack them deep in your backpack where they are protected from the wind, not in an outer pocket.
For extreme cold, bring hand warmers and rubber band them to the battery to keep them warm. You can also keep the batteries close to your body so your body heat keeps them toasty while you are outside. Once you get home, wait for your batteries to warm up to room temperature and then give them a full charge right away.
If it’s been a week or more since your last Skydio 2 adventure, toss your batteries on the charger real quick before you leave to make sure they are 100% charged.
Skydio 2 Is Not Waterproof.
Not only is it not waterproof, but the magic of autonomous flight is only so magical when all of the lenses on Skydio 2 are clean and clear of droplets or debris. Flying while it is actively snowing, sleeting, or raining is a bad idea. Don’t do it.