Main Media Filmmaking
Certificate in Collaborative Filmmaking at Maine Media College

Thinking Up: Mastering Composition from the Air

Share this post

Written by Eddie Tapp

Take composition for instance, the one thing that will make a scene easy to look at with leading lines, element structure, rule of odds, light, storytelling and communicating a feeling and demanding that you look at a specific thing. Experience teaches us to just move over this far to get that diagonal line to create the element of excitement, see through a mystery or leading line. In a studio set we can bring in something to create eye flow, set the element structure for a visible feast or establish placements to balance the view.

Now that we include aerial compositions in some of our works which reveal the location or action, that brings us to the discipline of low altitude solutions such as drones or moving vehicles.

Drones are not very difficult to fly, as a matter of fact, they are really quite easy to fly especially because of the GPS connection, the fact that most drones today have obstacle avoidance along with features that allow cool cinematic movements.

What isn’t easy is learning to create cinematic movements within a compositional mind-set while flying a drone, and here are some of the reasons why. A remote-control pilot now has to pay close attention to the telemetry such as speed, altitude and then obstacles can take over thinking about composition while flying.

If you were the pilot/image-maker, think about keeping your eye on the composition while flying with the added awareness mentioned and you have new challenges. Or at least it takes time to become proficient at flying before it becomes comfortable for one to get back to mastering composition from the air, then it becomes second nature, and the fun begins.

Think cinematically, crane, dolly, panning, tracking, boom, reveal. A director, or DP might require such movements from layouts for certain scenes. Or you might create the vision yourself.

Take all of this to a two-person drone operation while one person is the pilot and the other is a camera/gimbal operator. Now we have the ability to achieve the composition easier, faster with complete focus as a camera/gimbal operator and movement with the drone.

Another two-person operation would be using a Russian Arm complete with a matte black Porsche or Mercedes racing down a speedway while creating cinematic imagery. This is personally one of my dreams, but I do live this through a close friend who does just that. Robert Starling of Starling Productions from Orlando has created Russian Arm car videos that are very exciting. Check out this BTS link, videos/518395220, and the resulting final link,

Okay, you don’t fly drones or have an interest to be a remote pilot or use a Russian Arm to create imaging. When the time comes where you are involved with a drone operation or moving vehicle, having a little insight allows for better communication verbally or visually. Experience is always the best teacher.

And, if you really want to fly drones for professional use, you must have a FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification; this requires a written test to achieve. The website to find out more is The national air space has various classes of air space and safety is the most important aspect of drone operations. There are online study courses such as where you can learn all the important aspects of flying in the national air space along with studying for the Part 107 written test.

It all comes down to vision, and this is where our tasks start. How you interpret a vision is something you should set as your objective. Use the best means you have to create and go for it. Just remember the three key elements that create exceptional imagery are light, composition and exposure. When creating your next project from the air, moving vehicle or from land, partner your composition with your light and make sure to keep thinking up.

Thinking Up, Cinematography, Drones, Eddie Tapp

Photo credits:
Eddie Tapp; Robert Starling; Karen Asplindh

Considered one of the most influential photographers and digital imagers, Eddie Tapp, M.Photog., MEI, Cr., API, CPP, is known world-wide for his ability to create compelling images, as well as his ability to communicate understanding when teaching the techniques. Inducted into the Photoshop Hall of Fame, life member of the Professional Photographers of America, holding their highest degrees including the PPA Technology Impact Award.

Visit Eddie’s website at

Eddie Tapp

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Cameras, Cinematography, Directing, How-To Be A Filmmaker Articles


  1. I can’t wait for the new drone from DJI to come out. I read so much about it, it seems like the right one for me (and my budget, too)