Joel Winter is a Director of Photography with 11 years of experience filming for many productions and renown brands along the way. From Steadicam and gimbal operation abilities, to aerial filming with drones and helicopters, and a wide array of camera system, lens, and grip and lighting competencies – he is easily adaptable to a spectrum of situations and demands, happily meeting production challenges with expertise and fervor.
How did you get into being a drone pilot, and what would you say are the most important skills every drone operator needs to succeed?
Joel Winter: I got into drone operating when the technology more readily hit the consumer and professional market. Probably a year or two after the FAA created the Part 107 requirements and drone technology was really hot and a new tool for the industry. I was already practicing cinematography and shooting a lot for productions, so this was an exciting new tool to add to the repertoire…
Probably the most important skills I would say are ideal to have is a serious regard for safety, good hand/eye coordination, and if you’re using it to film – an eye for composition, timing with your moves, and not ruining your shot by fiddling with your sticks. There have been times when I thought my slight corrections would not read. But on a bigger screen, they do read, and it looks sloppy.
When it comes to getting certain kinds of shots, what are your preferred camera settings, frame rate, and resolution that you like to fly and operate your drones?
Joel Winter: For general settings, I like to shoot 4k (maybe a little higher like 5k, if it makes sense for the project), log (the flattest exposure curve), 60fps or higher, manual color temp, and usually 180-degree shutter or equivalent in shutter speed. Of course, you always want to double the shutter speed to frame rate, so you can actually get slow motion. I always interpret my footage as 24fps in post. The footage stays in slow-mo, but you can always speed it up for regular speed – and the extra frames help the footage look better, in my opinion. I typically don’t deviate from these basic settings but may shoot a regular 24fps also. It’s the same if I shoot with a shoulder mount from a helicopter, too. I still over crank my camera to at least 60fps.
If you could share 3 Drone Operating Do’s and 3 Drone Operating Don’ts, what would they be?
Joel Winter: Do check your air space for flight paths, air traffic, restrictions, etc. Really important for safety and keeping the drone community out of bad press. Do a safety preflight on your drone and make sure it’s in good working condition and safe (really quick process). It’s also a really, really, good idea to keep your drone in “Line of Sight”, and it’s a requirement of the FAA. It’s really tempting to get your drone and try to send it out as far as it can go out of sight. But you can definitely lose or crash it. Pretty much follow regulations and definitely use common sense.
Don’t be an idiot. Don’t fly at night without the proper waiver. Don’t deviate from airspace protocols. It’s all pretty black and white, common sense stuff.
How are you navigating and keeping active and creative during these COVID pandemic months?
Joel Winter: I actually became quite an avid gardener [smiles]. I have worked a bit this last year (still a much slower year), and there are protocols to follow, of course. It’s pretty much what everyone already knows. Using gloves when necessary, disinfecting equipment, wearing a mask on location/set, keeping proper distance from each other. Some productions require testing. You’re typically operating with smaller crews now, and producers tend to patch in via Zoom, etc., on a tablet/computer/phone for interviews or to give direction at times. I will take the camera feed and run it through a capture card into whatever video chat platform, so that they have the frame to see. If we have a sound guy, they will typically just run boom instead of mic’ing talent with a lav. Other than that, staying creative is still the same: getting ideas and inspiration, and then following through with logistics, resources, and crew. Pretty much making it happen and working with what you’ve got.
Interview conducted by Jody Michelle Solis. “Lifelines, not deadlines. Motion Arts. Fusion Everything.” Associate Publisher for HD Pro Guide Magazine (www.hdproguide.com), Sports Video Tech Magazine (www.sportsvideotech.com), and StudentFilmmakers Magazine (www.studentfilmmakers.com).