Using a DJI Drone to record house build

Using waypoints to make amazing drone videos.

Drones provide an inexpensive, easy way to record from high above and far away with little or no training. There is no pilot’s license required for small but competent drones, but you do have to avoid no fly zones such as airports, certain municipalities, or harassing individuals. As a person who builds and fixes computing systems (technology, process, people) for a living and a person who tinkers with everything from computers to IoT to cars and boats to houses for fun, it was always my desire to build a house. I’ve been using my DJI Phantom 3 SE (no longer manufactured) drone to thoroughly document the build process.

Modern drones are relatively easy to fly. That doesn’t mean the pictures, especially video, will look any good. I took lot of ugly video at first. There always is the thrill of being aloft, which you can observe from your phone. The DJI Phantom 3 SE (my older drone) and newer drones use GPS or GPS+GLONASS, typically fly for about 20 to 30 mins, range 1/2 to 1 mile, record at 720p or 1080p, hover within 0.5 to 0.1m if you just let go of everything even in a stiff breeze, newer ones avoid objects, and fly at up to about 50 MPH.

I prefer a dedicated controller, but many can be flown from just a smartphone. Many  have advanced abilities to follow-you or at least the controller, circle a known point, do special effects, respond to hand gestures, or fly a pre-assigned flight path made up of waypoints.

Waypoints are your friend when making a video. The best way I’ve found to get a good video, excluding editing (not covered here), is to set a flight path via waypoints, save the mission, and then run the mission. ┬áThere are numerous youtube videos out that illustrate the process. I’ve included a video from DJI below to illustrate the process using my DJI drone, but other drones and drone manufacturers have similar abilities.

The real trick is when you run your mission is to set the “Head to:” setting to “FREE”. In head to mode FREE, you control where the camera points. So now you know the drone will fly the mission, not crash, and you can focus on pointing the camera. Shots always are more dramatic if you can move the camera on 3-axis. You already have motion, but you tilt up and down and pan side to side. You’ll get a pretty decent video without editing.

In addition, you can repeat the mission since it saved for you. By flying the same mission, you can see changes over time. In the case of my house build, I have flown around the home site in each stage of the build. I now have a video library I can check to see the house slowly being built.

Enough people have expressed interest in my house build in Florida that I am going to write a new blog on it. Once I get enough content, I’ll post the new WordPress site here.

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