Motorbikes with wings – capturing aerial video of the Peak District National Park

As my deadline for completing a promotional video featuring the Staffordshire Peak District approaches, things have become more and more frantic at my end. I’ve still to visit places to film, video to check and process and finish off other commissions – all the while watching the weather forecasts and models like a hawk.

I’m trying not to think about it all in truth and just take each day as it comes and focus on the matter in hand. The video for Staffs County Council has proven to be a real labour of love for me and the biggest challenge I’ve faced yet as a fledgling filmmaker.

The variety and scope of the locations is a little bewildering, more so given I’ve never actually visited many of the places myself. So, upon my arrival I really don’t know what to expect and consequently how to shoot it. But so far I’ve ticked off 80% of what I need and been lucky with the weather too. I’ve really tried to push the boat out on this project while juggling with other responsibilities too.

And so, one wish I had in mind for this feature was to capture some aerial scenes of the Staffordshire Moorlands District – my ambition to selectively execute some sweeping panoramas of key locations like The Roaches for maximum impact in the final video. And so far, it’s not been bloody easy at all – in fact it’s been a nightmare!!

Folk often comment on my tenacity to get things done, to which I’m humbled but will admit I think I’m obsessed with achieving a goal (or as damn well near it as possible) and filming aerial video has proved to be overwhelmingly a huge challenge. So, bear with me on this…..

Most modern video cameras, whatever their ability and standard to record HD video will likely use a CMOS sensor or APSC to catch the light the lens sees and thus record it onto memory card. Each frame of a scene the sensor captures is recorded from top to bottom (sometimes vice versa) and NOT one frame read and that’s it. The reason being is because it’s cheap and easy and less power consuming to the device.

It’s called “rolling shutter”. The parts of a frame missing during capture most of us mere mortals will never notice. But there will be times we most definitely will.

*GoPro cameras are all the rage at the minute for outdoors video and as fantastic as they are, they do not record as good amount of HD video data than many semi-professional cameras or most advanced compacts – yet they too use a CMOS sensor and consequently can suffer what I’ve had to endure over the past few days (cause I seriously looked at purchasing one). I know my Panasonic Lumix TZ8 has a CCD sensor, but it only records HD video at around 12mbps. The same as most but not my dedicated video cameras which record thrice that amount at a minimum. You’ll notice the difference you see.

The problem I’ve faced is the dreaded “jello” effect. It’s a consequence of the “rolling shutter”. If an object is moving at speed within the frame or the camera itself is moving at speed – the final video captured will appear to distort. It will suffer from a “jello” effect. Straight lines become skewed and in my case with the 90mins of aerial footage I’ve got in my hands – every second of it wobbles and ripples like reflections in a pond.

There’s not much you can do about it once home. More so, if it’s bad like my video. The odd wobble can be removed with various software out there that’s available no problem. But if it’s all over the image? Well, I’ve spent many hours over the past few days pulling my hair out about this. Be it research or problem solving. I could cry, I honestly could.

The remedy? Don’t use CMOS sensors in truth. Use CCD sensors instead. But these are power hungry and have their faults too (and either cheap and nasty or horrendously expensive) – so it’s best to keep the camera stable and any vibrations subdued as much as possible. But zipping around in helicopters or microlights is particularly problematic for aerial video as I’ve since learnt and only just researched so there’s only so much you can do.

So, have I failed to achieve some of the shots I wanted? Not quite I’m pleased to say. I’ve salvaged enough to work with and consequently hope for the best. It’s not perfect by any means but it will do the job if executed at just the right moment in my future project. Well, I bloody well hope so anyway!

And so, why all this rambling?

Because last week, I picked up on the opportunity that a decent weather window would transpire on the days of Monday and Tuesday just gone. So, I called Tony the pilot who’s been helping me out last Friday and spoke with him about heading up into the skies on the following Tuesday. He agreed to do it, as long as the weather turned out as I hoped.

And it certainly did! Better than I could’ve wished for! Winds were no more than 8mph, visibility was superb and it was clear skies and sunshine. Fantastic! So, after flying around above the Peak District with my video camera I was absolutely buzzing and thought I’d cracked it with my wee dream.

Alas, once I got home? Another obstacle came smacking me in the face. Hence, this whole project has been the most challenging I’ve worked on. Never mind the filming and locations, chasing the light, sleeping out on the moors and in woods – or the absolutely frightening prospect of hitching a ride in a microflight, which is after all a motorbike with wings, really (a worried wife’s observation that is).

No, despite my moaning, and often desperate tone – things are going well and I’m confident I’ll knock out a final video promoting the Staffordshire Peak District that will do me proud, the area justice and hopefully inspire more visitors to come along.

Tony the pilot, back at base.

Aviation map of the UK – stipulating restrictions, high points and landing strips and much more.

Newstead Abbey in Sherwood, Nottinghamshire.

Belper and it’s large mill in the Derwent Valley.

Carsington Water near Ashbourne.

The White Peak, Derbyshire.

Dovedale from an altitude of 1800ft asl.

Back on terra firma – safe and well.

*Even so, GoPro cameras can record video at 60 frames per second which can help towards illiminating the dreaded “jello” effect. So, if I do choose to head up into the skies again, I will likely purchase a GoPro camera for this purpose and get hold of some decent stabilizing gear to prevent high frequency vibrations from affecting the camera.
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