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5 Must Know Tips To Use A Drone To Best Film Whitewater Kayaking

I’m not sure about you, but I love a good drone shot.

There’s just something about that bird’s eye view that just looks so awesome, and that can really elevate a whitewater kayaking edit.

And, don’t even get me started on FPV…

Anyway, there are a couple of things you should think about when planning drone shots for kayaking.

Iceland waterfall from a drone, birds eye view
Photo by Tomáš Malík:

Tip 1: Choose the Right Drone

Selecting the right drone for capturing whitewater kayaking footage is crucial.

You will have to consider what the regulations are in your local area.

Often anything over 249g will require a license. The DJI Mini series is a great way around this if you are looking for a small, portable and beginner-friendly drone.

One concern, at this weight, is that in areas of strong wind, the drone can become unstable. Although, they can handle themselves pretty well, even in gusts.

If you have more experience, want to fly in windy areas or want professional-level quality shots, then the DJI Mavic series is incredible.

Tip 2: Don’t just capture the action

There are two main types of shots for all types of video edits:

  1. B-Roll: Shots that provide context to the video, sets the scene by showing the location or add visual interest to help tell a story.
  2. Action shots: The real meat of the video, those epic shots of you sending a waterfall or flying over that hole with a massive boof.

Your drone can be a great tool for capturing some scene-setting shots, especially to show off the location of the river and the surroundings.

We are lucky enough that our sport takes us to some amazing places, make sure that you show them off!

Tip 3: Master the Basic Shots

To capture dynamic and engaging footage, familiarize yourself with a few essential shots:

For Action:

  1. The Tracking Shot: Follow the kayaker from a distance while maintaining a consistent speed and altitude.
  2. The Low Flyby: Get close to the water’s surface, following the paddler’s path, for an immersive perspective.
  3. The Bird’s Eye view: Ascend to a higher altitude to capture the kayaker’s journey looking directly down at the ground.
  4. The Orbit Shot: Circle around the kayaker, capturing a 360-degree view of the action. This is great for freestyle but can be done downstream too with practice.
  5. The Pan Shot: Stationary in the air, pan the drone horizontally to track the kayaker’s movement across the rapids.

For B-Roll:

  1. The Pull back: Start low and fly up and back, revealing the landscape around you.
  2. The Top Down: Use that bird’s eye view to show the river or the hike from the top down.
  3. The Push-In: Fly forward towards the landscape, e.g. a waterfall or mountain scene. You can also use a pan to slowly reveal the landscape.
  4. The orbit: Rotate around an object to show the scene around it.
  5. The reveal: Move around/over/through an object in the foreground to reveal a landscape.

Tip 4: Optimize Your Drone Settings

If you want to get a bit more technical, to capture the best footage, consider these settings:

Frame Rate and Resolution:

Shoot in higher frame rates (60fps or above) to slow down the action footage for some buttery slow-mo and select the highest resolution available to capture smooth, high-quality footage.

Shutter Speed: 

Adjust the shutter speed according to the lighting conditions. Faster shutter speeds work better in bright environments, while slower speeds can create a more cinematic look in low light. Ideally, you want the shutter speed to be 2x your frame rate

Frame Rate and Resolution: 

Shoot in higher frame rates (60fps or above) to slow down the action footage for some buttery slow-mo and select the highest resolution available to capture smooth, high-quality footage.

Fly Manual:

When you feel confident in your piloting skills, switch to manual mode for more precise control over the drone’s movements. This may take a while to get used to but will ultimately give you the best shots.


Tip 4: Prioritize Safety

Safety should always be high on your priority list when flying a drone:

a) Scout the Location: Familiarize yourself with the rapids, potential obstacles, and any restricted airspace in the area.

b) Check Weather Conditions: Avoid flying in strong winds, heavy rain, or foggy conditions that could affect the drone’s stability and visibility. You don’t want to lose your drone because of bad weather….

c) Maintain Visual Line of Sight: Always keep your drone within your line of sight to ensure you can react to any unexpected situations.

e) Follow Local Regulations: Familiarize yourself with the drone regulations in your area and abide by them at all times (or at least when the rangers are watching)

Tip 5: Practice Makes Progress

Mastering a drone takes practice, especially when you introduce the added difficulty of flying over whitewater.

Start by flying your drone in open areas away from obstacles to gain confidence in your piloting skills.

Gradually progress to shooting kayakers on wide, less challenging rapids before attempting more advanced manoeuvres, like flying close to the water or through canyons.

I hope these tips will help you capture stunning footage of your adventures.

Tag @whitewaterkayakinghub in your shots in your posts and stories and we will share the best ones!

Catch you on the water!


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