Aunties Small Gardens

While filming for the BBC TV show Instant Gardener, I experienced the full range of locations from open and easy to built-up and tiny.  Pitfalls, worries and stress while flying over small gardens in congested areas and large gardens where the RAF practice low flights.

BBC The Instant Gardener


The Most Difficult Garden

Pre-site survey showed

  • a built-up area near the edge of a large city
  • back street within 30m of take-off
  • 3m walls around the whole garden, topped with barbed wire
  • possible telephone lines over the garden

Not looking an easy place to fly…

…so initially I said that I would go and have look, if it’s safe to fly and film, I would.

It turns out that the launch area was easily 30m from anything out of my control and the back street could be closed using signs and cones.  One end was closed by construction anyway.  I borrowed a couple of local lads, sensible friends of the home owners, who stood at the end of the street and were to tell me if anyone moved the cones and come up the street.  No-one did.

The telephone lines were a worry but are not directly over the garden so just limited the flight plan a bit.  I was limiting the flights to straight up and down anyway.

There was no answer from the neighbours next door so I could not fly over their properties without permission.  Flight plan was simply up and down with some camera spin and tilt.

Filming in a congested area

Filming in a small suburban garden is allowed with a PFAW without a Congested Areas Operations Safety Case (CAOSC) because the UAV is an Inspire 1 Pro which is under 7kg. I was sure to keep 50m away from roads while flying.  In this case, the private/unadopted back street which I closed for 20 minutes with spotters, cones and signs.

It looked so easy

One garden initially looked easy: a big open area with no neighbours and not near any town.

As a courtesy, I emailed the local ATC who asked me to call before and after the aerial operations because there are low flying military aircraft in the area.

The pre-site survey was easy.  The on-site survey didn’t show any problems either but when I started to film, there was no-where to hide where I could see the UAV!  I ended up taking off my hi-vis jacket and hiding in a big tree.  There was also only a few feet between the area to be filmed and some very tall trees.  My planned sweeping shots and clever fly-overs had to be replaced with the usual lift and tilt.  Most of the area was under tree branches so difficult to get shots of anything but the trees.  I tried everything and used five batteries but there was nothing special about any of the footage.  Oh well.

Exposure and working with other cameras

I was using the DJI Inspire 1 Pro with the X3 and X5 camera.  I kept to the rule of over exposing by +0.3EV and recording in D-Log so that the colour matching was as easy as possible for the editors in post-processing.

Tilting up from a dark garden to a bright sky was difficult.  If the shot was mostly about the garden, then I made sure that that was correctly exposed.  If it was more a context shot with only a fleeting look at the garden, I adjusted the exposure for the sky or horizon.

I used both the X3 and X5 cameras (with 17mm lens) so that any problem with one camera and there would still be some other footage to use.  Also the X5 produces better results but the X3 has a wider lens.  Note to self, need to buy a wider lens for the X5…

The editors asked for me to film at 25fps so I limited the shutter speed to multiples of that to avoid jitter/jello but I forgot on one flight and some of the tilts and spins have jello.  Boo.

Wrap Up

I’ve concluded that there is no perfectly easy place for aerial photography but as least it’s not boring.

Thanks to the girls and guys at 12 Yard Productions who were wonderful to work with.


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