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How to Dolly Zoom With a Drone (Step-by-Step Guide)

7 mins
Drone Blog
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The dolly zoom effect is one of the coolest-looking video effects, and it is actually easier to achieve than you might think. Since most drones do not have a camera that can zoom, the effect is achieved during the video editing process or “post-production”.

Drones like the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom which includes a zoom feature, can create the dolly zoom effect without the need for editing the video.

The dolly zoom, or “vertigo effect”, is one that has been around for a while and is a favorite among filmmakers. When the effect is applied to an aerial video, it seems to be amplified even further and can make for amazing video clips.

With the help of video editing software, the effect is easy to mimic and get a great dolly zoom effect for your drone footage.

Step 1: Getting the right footage #

The most important part of creating a good dolly zoom video is getting the proper clip to edit. It is best if the subject is on an elevated surface as this will make the dolly zoom effect even more pronounced.

There needs to be something in the background to show the effect, and if the background is further away the effect is a little easier to create.

Keep the subject centered in the frame #

Whatever the subject is should be centered in the camera’s frame, and stay centered in the frame throughout the video.

If the subject is moving around, or the camera doesn’t stay perfectly centered on the subject, the editing process will take a little more work, but a good-looking dolly zoom effect is still achievable.

Fly straight towards your subject #

Flying a drone straight towards the subject is the easiest way to get a nice-looking dolly zoom effect, in my opinion.

It is easiest to fly a drone straight forward and keep the subject centered in the camera frame. It is also the easiest clip to edit the effect into since it is a basic shot.

This is my recommendation for a beginner video editor because the likelihood of creating a successful dolly zoom effect is high.

Fly straight away from the subject #

This is the second easiest way to get a good dolly zoom effect in a drone video. As stated above, it is easy to fly the drone in a straight line while taking a video.

If the pilot only has to push the pitch control stick backward, it will make it easier for the pilot to focus on keeping the subject in the center of the frame.

As soon as other inputs are required of the pilot, it becomes harder to focus on the filming aspect. However, for more experienced pilots, additional inputs are not as big of a deal and shots can get pretty involved.

Fly in from above #

Drones are great at taking images and videos from a different point of view and when we use them to their full capabilities, we can create some amazing cinematic shots.

This move is a little more advanced and might be a little difficult for a novice drone pilot, but with a little practice, this shot will become second nature.

This shot involves starting the drone from a higher altitude and dropping down while flying forward and panning the camera up at the same time, to keep the subject centered in the frame.

Once the dolly zoom effect is edited into the clip, the resulting video looks like a professional cinematic style shot and has been described as “trippy”.

The sky is the limit #

As long as the video has either forward or backward movement and has a subject that can be the “center of attention” it can have the dolly zoom effect “added” to it.

This means that as a pilot, you can get creative and start incorporating lateral movement into your videos, and create some nice-looking drone shots.

Step 2: Video editing #

Most drone pilots these days have at least some video editing experience, which will make this next part a little bit easier.

If you don’t have much video editing background or have never edited a video before, I recommend watching a few YouTube videos on how to create a dolly zoom effect with whatever editing software you are using. This will give you a few hints on where to start, and how to use the software.

Getting the best result #

There are many differences between all the video editing software programs out there, but creating the dolly zoom effect can be accomplished in the same way no matter what software you’re using. As long as the software that you decide to use can zoom in or out on the video, it should be able to create a dolly zoom effect.

I used DaVinci Resolve and was able to create many different dolly zoom drone clips with different flight directions and altitudes.

Zoom in or out #

For the dolly zoom effect to work, the camera needs to zoom in while moving away from the subject, or zoom out while moving towards the subject.

The idea is to keep the subject the same size throughout the video and have the background appear to become larger/closer or smaller/further away.

If the drone video that is being edited is moving towards the subject, then the video will need to be zoomed out to get the proper dolly zoom effect.

Fake zoom #

Most likely the drone that is being used to capture the video clip does not have any zoom function, since there are only a few drone cameras that incorporate optical zoom. To work around the camera zoom issue we just add the zoom-out effect in the editing software.

The best way I have found to do this is to start the video zoomed into the subject, and have it zoom out back to 100% while it plays. This method keeps the resolution consistent throughout the video clip and creates the ideal dolly zoom effect.

How much to zoom? #

The amount of zoom-in we need to add at the beginning of the video clip will vary depending on the video clip itself. I usually start with about 300% zoom in and let it zoom back out to 100% throughout the video.

The 300% is just a good starting point, sometimes I am around 600% zoom-in, and other times it’s slightly less than 300%. It all depends on the clip you’re starting with.

If it is a longer clip you will need to start zoomed in more since the subject will be further away at the start of the video clip.

Keep the subject centered #

When zooming in at the beginning of the clip, make sure the main subject of the video is centered in the frame.

If the subject is not centered in the frame, the dolly zoom effect may not be as dramatic looking. It is easy to re-center during the editing process and doing so will ensure the video comes out looking nice.

Step 3: Keep practicing #

The dolly zoom effect is not a difficult cinematic effect to achieve, so once you’re comfortable with mastering the effect on a basic drone shot, start incorporating more angles and get that camera tilting.

Keep trying different types of shots and I guarantee you will create something that inspires you.

Learn by doing #

I learn best by “doing”, so for me, I had to try many different things with DaVinci Resolve before I got “The One”. I watched a few different YouTube videos and followed the steps they outlined and got something pretty good on my first attempt.

However, I was not satisfied, so I went out and flew some more and collected a bunch of different clips, from a few different angles.

After editing for about an hour I had created “The One” that satisfied my dolly zoom craving, at least for now. There’s always room to improve!


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