Mavic Adventures Part 3 | How To Shoot Surfing With A Drone

Capturing the waves with DJI's Mavic Pro

For years, you could only really shoot great surf shots with a huge lens or by sticking some fins on your feet and getting wet – like these guys…

Shooting surf traditionally means lining up on the shore with a telephoto…
… or taking your chances in the sea with a specialist housing.

Today, drones have changed the game. The DJI Mavic Pro is a super compact model that’s easy to take to your favourite break and gives you the chance to capture epic aerial angles of the ocean.

In this article, we’re going to cover a few useful techniques for flying your Mavic over the surf.

“Drones have changed the surf photography game”

Before taking off, the first top tip is to get yourself a set of ND filters. These little lens covers are basically like sunglasses for your camera. In bright conditions with lots of reflected light, sticking one of these on will enable you to shoot at slower shutter speeds, making for perfectly smooth and professional-looking video.

The Mavic Pro seen with an ND filter over the lens.

The higher the number, the darker the filter. Try different ones until you can correctly expose with a shutter speed that’s double your video frame rate – that’ll mean 1/50th of a second if you’re filming at 25 frames per second.

If you’re taking off from a cliff or rock above the sea, pay extra attention to your altitude. The Mavic’s sensors will measure its height from the ground – if you move over the edge of a headland and then descend towards the ocean, you will begin to see a negative number, so keep one eye on the aircraft at all times.

Pay attention when taking off from a headland. The altitude reading will be positive when above you…
… but negative once it goes below the cliff – making it harder to determine your exact level above the sea.

** Find out more about the DJI Mavic Pro here **

Probably the best angle when shooting a surfer is looking back down the shoulder of the wave. This means flying backwards (for the basics of how to fly a drone, see our earlier article). An added advantage of this technique is that you won’t get the propellors in your shot, since the blades are tilting away from the camera.

Once you’re over the lineup, fix a safe altitude above the breaking waves and point the Mavic towards the takeoff zone.

“The best angle when shooting a surfer is looking back down the shoulder of the wave”

As the surfer begins paddling, pull diagonally down on the right stick in the direction of the breaking wave:

Try using a pinch grip with your index finger and thumb, as this will give you more control. Start the movement slowly and gradually increase speed, adjusting direction on the stick as necessary:

Using a pinch grip on the right stick will give you more precise control over the drone’s movement.

If you’re filming a particularly fast break and you find you’re losing the surfer out of shot, switch to sport mode. Alternatively, use the Mavic’s “Active Track” functions to lock onto the subject and follow them automatically. Just tap on the surfer – or draw a box around them if they’re small in frame – and a green box will appear: 

The Mavic’s Active Track function locks onto surfers automatically.

Finally, no beach edit would be complete without some dramatic shots of the shoreline. The Mavic Pro can shoot slow mo at up to 96 frames per second. By combining this setting with the 40 mile an hour top speed available in sport mode, you’ll still see forward movement in the final shot while the breaking waves are slowed down. It’s an awesome cinematic effect:

Check out the next article in the series, when we’ll be look at the best ways to shoot road cycling with the Mavic Pro.

Buy a Mavic Pro direct from DJI here >>

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