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My experiences of capturing motorcycles from the air: FPV drones x Moto

We’ve had some wins at Fly Flow Media so far this year and my personal highlights have been capturing motorcycles both on circuit and off the beaten track. As someone that enjoys motorcycling, these projects have allowed me to utilise both my FPV drone skills and my knowledge of motorcycles to capture these amazing machines in a unique way. When it comes to filming motorcycles, FPV drones offer a unique perspective that immerses viewers in the heart-pounding experience of riding on two wheels. A benefit of this is that viewers are drawn and immediately engaged with the videos we create. From my experiences filming motorcycles and growing up around bikes, I’ve been able to find a balance between high adrenaline, close-up action shots and safe drone flying to keep riders and spectators safe. This is particularly important on circuit where bikes are going fast and can seemingly come out of nowhere.

So how did I prepare for these projects?

Choosing a camera and drone setup that can keep up with a motorcycle on track and maximise safety is tricky. Our sub-250g drones can push 70-80mph with the right setup but I’ve found the combination of superbikes and any slight headwind means that 3.5” propellered, sub-250g drones are simply not fast enough unless filming low speed corners and the like. I’ve found that a 5” propellered drone with a stripped-down GoPro camera and small battery to keep the all up weight under 500g provides a good compromise of speed vs mass. In closed conditions, with just a few, well-briefed riders, a 7-inch drone or larger can be advantageous as it can carry more capable cameras and/or chase bikes at higher speeds and offer longer flight times.

Having knowledge of the circuits we went to beforehand was crucial. I spent a lot of time watching on board laps to identify particular parts of each circuit where drone filming could be done safely whilst also allowing us to capture interesting angles of the bikes. These tended to be slower speed corners or long sweeping corners where we could follow the bikes for a longer period of time, either with sub-250g FPV drones or faster sub-500g drones. We also needed to communicate with the circuits prior to the trips to seek permission for take off from them. This was a helpful step as it allowed us to get local knowledge of the area before arriving.

Equipment checks were also vital. Adding GPS modules to our drones helped add a failsafe for if signal was lost. For example, one or two circuits had quite a lot of radio interference from nearby telecoms masts. Whilst we did not want to rely on GPS rescue features, it was a great asset to have for recovering our drones and keeping riders safe. Battery health checks were also essential to reduce the chance of batteries failing in flight, which can happen with Lithium Polymer batteries if not maintained properly.

Aside from air traffic monitoring and other paper work, the final thing to do as part of the preparation was to communicate to the riders where would be on track and make them aware of the risks and what to do if they do see our FPV drones whilst out on track.

Many of these preparation steps also applied for filming off road. For example, at ABR Festival, even thought the bikes were riding slower, we still had to find suitable locations on the trail to film and at this event we didn’t have much control over briefing riders. Here we chose to use our sub-250g cinewhoop and were blessed with calm days and beautiful sunshine. However, filming off road presented further challenges, like keeping equipment clean and free from dirt to make sure all craft flew as they should. We also had a predetermined shot list from the client which added some pressure to get the shots and keep our stripped-down GoPro cameras working in the dusty and mucky conditions. Access to spares and battery charging was also difficult, especially being packed into an off-road buggy with three other creators and all their kit. Having enough batteries and backup drones were necessary. We also rotated out SD cards very frequently to make sure we didn’t lose the shots we had already filmed.

What did I enjoy most about these projects?

I think the most enjoyable part is the flying and filming. Although nerve-wracking, when you are totally focussed on getting the shot, all other worries go away and the buzz of flying kicks in. Seeing people’s reactions to the shots we filmed with our FPV drone is also very rewarding. Having the opportunity to meet talented riders and talk about motorbikes was also fantastic.

What did I find most difficult when working on these projects?

Some difficulties included managing media and storage, access around the circuits and out on the trails, and some language barriers. However, the most difficult thing with these projects, which is common on most other projects as well, is controlling people and keeping on top of what people are doing. Having one or more spotters and understanding clients really helped to make sure riders knew what we were doing and what we needed from them. We were also fortunate to have controlled media sessions where we could capture a few riders in a closed off and controlled setting. This helped us to get some of those trickier and riskier shots safely.

Would I film motorcycles and work with motorcyclists again?

Absolutely. Motorcycles are such fantastic machines and motorcycle content is already eye-catching. When you compliment the fast pace of superbikes with close-up FPV drone footage you can create a very immersive viewing experience. Likewise, filming adventure bikes gliding through the English countryside in close proximity with a FPV drone makes it feel like you are out there on the trails with them. I’ve also picked up more motorcycle knowledge and appreciation for the more extreme ends of the motorcycling spectrum, like superbike racing and extreme enduro that I have been privileged to film with FPV drones.

If you would like to discuss any of my filming experiences in more detail, then feel free to reach out.

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