Drone Cinematographers Capture Unsullied Places

Drone film festivals inspire award-winning aerial cinematographers Inva + Sla to share visual stories about the world’s most enchanting places.

Historically, cinematographers used helium balloons, cranes and helicopters to capture scenes from above. But when affordable camera-equipped drones hit the market, aerial photography reached a new stratosphere of storytelling.

Drones are portable, relatively easy to command and can capture high-quality footage. They can hover closer to the ground than a helicopter and deftly maneuver through compact spaces.

They’re also bringing intriguing storytelling perspectives to a new breed of filmmakers like Nestoras Kechagias and Athanasia Lykoudi, known for their spectacular moving vistas of their homeland, Greece.

Under the moniker Inva + Sla, the web and motion designers took their experience in the advertising industry to a new level when they began using drones to tell stories.

Through drone photography, they found creative freedom and were unencumbered by the limitations and bureaucratic approval cycles so common in their industry.

Easier Than Ever

Rapid technological advancements and affordability are making drones a must-have device. According to the Consumer Technology Association, 2.4 million personal drones were sold in the U.S. alone in 2016 — more than double the 1.1 million purchased in 2015.

The explosion of professional and amateur aerial footage on YouTube and Vimeo shows how popular drones have become in recent years. And the quality of drone storytelling is improving, as drone cinematographers compete in annual events like the Flying Robot International Film Festival (FRiFF), which is in its third year.

Festivals of Drones

Inva + Sla’s aerial cinematography is well-known on the drone film festival circuit. They’ve racked up numerous nominations and awards at established international competitions including FRiFF, DroneUp IFF, Los Angeles Drone Film Festival and InterDrone Film Festival for their drone work on Marinière, 2016 Digitized – Opening Titles and Reflecting on Peloponnese.

“Competing in Flying Robot was our goal since the first day that we got our first drone,” said Lykoudi. “It happened to be our first stop to see quality drone videos and we learned a lot from previous winners.”

Their latest work was submitted to this year’s competition while 2016 Digitized – Opening Titles was recently selected as a finalist for the first-ever Los Angeles Drone Film Festival, the sister event to the New York City Drone Film Festival. The film also won the “Promotional” category at FRiFF 2016.

Inspiration from Above

Gleaning inspiration from the opening credits of movies and TV series, which tell their own stories, to music videos and animated gifs, Inva + Sla create an atmosphere of aerial surrealism that is omnipresent in all of their videos.

“We tend to like intros like the Halt and Catch Fire series that harmonize motion with sound and tell a story through symbolic abstract shapes,” said Lykoudi.

Location is another significant factor for planning out aerial projects. Their homeland’s geographical landscape is comprised of contrasting terrains. Coastlines and mountain ranges coexist in small spaces.

“We found ourselves scouting locations in Greece that we would otherwise not consider exploring,” said Lykoudi.

When setting out to rediscover the entire country from scratch and unearth unknown gems, the duo avoided iconic locations and commonplace views.

“We needed to find beauty in remote and unsullied places and show a new perspective to overlooked locations,” said Lykoudi.

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Nestoras Kechagias and Athanasia Lykoudi go off the beaten path to shoot scenery with drones. Photo courtesy of Inva + Sla.

While inspiration is a critical motivator of their work, the team believes imagination is the most important aspect of filmmaking. It helps elevate a filmmaker’s craft, especially when limited to the tools at hand.

For Inva + Sla’s earliest videos, the gear was what Lykoudi called very low budget and based on what was available at the time. They used a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced, a Panasonic Lumix G3 and a borrowed GoPro HERO4 for Digitized 2016 – Opening Titles.

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Since then, they’ve upgraded nearly all of their gear.

“We now shoot on a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, a Panasonic Lumix G85 and acquired microphones, lights, extra filters, lenses, sliders and more,” said Lykoudi. “Still not fully professional but much more capable than before.”

For editing and compositing, they use Adobe Premiere and After Effects.

Future Drone Technology

Kechagias and Lykoudi come up with a lot of new ideas on a daily basis, but they can’t execute because it’s not possible with technology currently available. Sometimes they only have to wait a few months to purchase what they need to create the desired effect. Other times, they need to delay their plans — sometimes indefinitely. In some instances, “that is a good thing because we discover new ways to achieve the desired outcome.”

Lykoudi sees lots of opportunities for drone cinematographers to extend their skills and bring high-quality visual storytelling to a wide variety of industries.

“The advertising industry is already shifting toward aerial shots and there is huge potential for drone-only stories that can be used to promote brands,” she said. “We have a feeling this is just the beginning and storytelling will shift dramatically to a new way of filming.”

She and Kechagias have trips planned to Morocco, even though flying drones is still prohibited, and Greenland, where they expect to encounter a radically different landscape from Europe.

This dynamic drone duo believes that creating extraordinary work requires the ability to dream, the discipline to set goals — and the gumption to give it their best shot.

Editor’s note: See the best in aerial cinematography at the 2017 Flying Robot International Film Festival and read more iQ drone stories.

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