What is a Dolly Zoom? Does it Work on a Drone?
The Dolly Zoom Effect is created when you physically move the camera towards or away from your subject whilst zooming the lens away from or into them respectively. This allows the subject to visually keep the same proportions whilst the background dramatically shifts. A cool effect that should be used sparingly!
Remember this scene in Jaws from the late 1970's? It was an iconic clip where Chief Brody sees the shark for the first time. The dolly zoom effect really emphasised the realisation in the chief as the effect drew the onlooker straight to his facial expression.
Creating the Dolly Zoom/Vertigo Effect with a Drone
In the Jaws scene above, the camera needed to be placed on rails so that it could glide effortlessly to the subject. A camera operator more than likely had to physically zoom the lens whilst doing so. I imagine that this took a number of "takes" to get right.
Now that we shoot digitally with ever increasing pixel density in the cameras, thankfully this effect can be done in post-production. You still need to move the camera towards or away from the subject but you are able to create the dolly effect during editing.
Modern drones such as the DJI Mavic 3 not only fly with great precision and stability, they also shoot 5k video.
Why Does 5k Matter?
The image above shows the difference between 5.1k video and 1080p video. The space in between illustrates just how much you can zoom in during editing to get that dolly zoom effect. This only works if you are outputting to 1080p.
People often say "why do I need 8k in a camera"? Well, the image below shows the difference between 8k, 5.1k, 4k and 1080p.
So again, let's say you are filming in 8k and outputting to 1080p. Just look at the range that difference will give you for an epic dolly zoom effect! Shooting in 8k will also give you a superb zoom range if outputting to 4k.
That's just one of a few reasons why creatives long for higher resolution sensors in their cameras.
The Dolly Zoom Effect (or Vertigo Effect) Technique
3 Steps to Shooting Dolly Zooms with Drones
Set up your shot
Make sure you have enough battery power for multiple takes and check the wind. Also make sure you are able to fly safely and legally. Have the camera set to its highest resolution and ensure you have the correct exposure set. Fly to the starting position and hover. Is it stable? Good, move to step 2.
Start your manoeuvre
Press record. You don't want to make a PERFECT test run without filming only to struggle later on due to weather changes or concerned public distracting you etc.
Place the centre of the screen directly onto the subject and adjust the camera angle accordingly. Start flying a little way out so you can make fine adjustments to your trajectory.
Fly towards the subject and stop at the desired end point. Is the centre of the subject in the centre of the frame at the end point? If not, do it again. If it is, stay where you are and do another take but this time moving away from the subject.
Take multiple shots until you are happy with a few results.
As in the video on this page, most of the work is done in editing when creating the dolly zoom effect with digital. Load all of your clips onto your timeline and find your favourite.
If you were flying TOWARDS the subject, go to the end point and add a keyframe. Also look to see how much of the frame the subject fills.
Go back to the first frame and create another keyframe if there isn't one there already. You now need to open the crop tool and crop this first frame in to match the last frame.
Check the result. If it works first time, bingo! Is there some some "breathing" visible where the subject moves in and out a little? If so, create as many additional keyframes to correct the position and check the result.
If it now looks exactly how you want it, render it out and add to your production or simply show it off to your friends!
As we discussed earlier, to get the best from this effect, you need smooth, consistent movement. A camera on rails gives you this. However, you are hindered by the need to zoom the lens at the same time which can be tricky.
Modern drones such as the DJI Mavic 3 or DJI Air 2s, both amazing UAV's, can achieve this. Not only do they both shoot 5.1k and 5.4k respectively, they also fly really, really well. Even on a day with a light breeze, they will fly straight and with fluidity and precision towards your subject.
Hopefully you have watched the video above and seen this in action.
Get Out and Practice
Is the weather good today? What's stopping you from trying this out? Grab your drone, find somewhere suitable and preferably clear of people and fly.
...and have fun!
Recommended Kit for Dolly Zooms with a Drone
So I hope you enjoyed this quick tutorial on how to create the dolly zoom effect with a drone? If so, please comment below.