What Is An Aerial Shot? & How to Create One (2024)


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With the accessibility of drones, aerial shots have become very appealing shots to use. Even short films with low budgets can add an aerial shot in an attempt to heighten their production value. However, an aerial shot that doesn’t appeal to the themes or emotions of the story is pointless. So let’s clear up what makes up an aerial shot and how you can use its properties to serve your project better.

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And now, let’s check out everything you need to know about an aerial shot and how to produce one.

First of all, what is an aerial shot?

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An aerial shot is any shot elevated over the action, usually straight above at a ninety-degree angle. Its height varies from soaring high above a city or tight on a page. While some aerial shots are angled, others are straight above, almost like flat-lay photography.

The type of aerial shot you plan on using will depend on the story and your scene.

And with the use of common devices like drones, aerial shots are easier to create than ever before.

The aerial shot is also called the god’s eye or bird’s eye shot, which usually applies to shots high up, overlooking a city, a mansion, a war zone, a fantasy land, or a body of water.

These shots are larger than life and can convey an omnipresent view of a character or the world. It can be used as an establishment shot, but the best use of establishing with an aerial shot is to establish a situation rather than just the location.

The types of aerial shots preferred by famous directors

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Aerial shots are some of the favorite techniques used by some of film’s most popular auteurs. But they each have their own way of handling aerial shots, which we will explore now.

David Fincher-style aerial shot

A few seconds before this particular video example from the film Zodiac, directed by David Fincher, the camera flew over San Francisco in 1969. The radio is playing the news of the moment, the Zodiac Killer, the very person in the car driving through the streets of San Francisco. The Zodiac Killer’s identity is a mystery to everyone, so he blends into the city seamlessly.

The aerial shot’s movement is cold and calculated, much like the killer’s actions. Contrasted with the radio playing in the background, the background for many of the people in that city, it perfectly establishes the situation: no one knows where the Zodiac Killer will strike next, except for the killer himself.

Most aerial shots in crime, thrillers, or action movies convey a sense of mortality, impending danger, and isolation. This makes sense, considering it makes the character appear to be another person in the fold. In Zodiac, Fincher chooses to shoot the killer so it appears like it could be anyone in the human population, and that gives him strength. Conversely, to look down on someone from that height implies a sense of vulnerability because they look like everyone else from that height; perhaps they are just as mortal as everybody else.

Love unique film techniques? Then check out our guide that tells you all about post-production to learn how to enhance your next project.

Quentin Tarantino-style aerial shot

In this scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1, we see The Bride as mortal, vulnerable, and ambushed by danger. As the fight goes on, the bloodshed is visible on a bigger scale using that same frame. But the transition into the aerial shot is the most impactful part (other than the blood hose).

She thought that she had already won, so Tarantino starts the shoot from that mindset, low angled and largest in the frame. Then it moves steadily upward; she becomes a small yellow spec amongst the rest of the frame, crowded in by suited ninja-samurai.

Not only does the use of the aerial shot here convey vulnerability, but it also conveys isolation – her against the world.

The Alfred Hitchcock-style overhead shot

Another name for the aerial shot is the overhead shot. It’s in the same mindset of an aerial shot, only it’s close enough to allow for a specific character, location, or at this proximity even, prop details. With less distance between the camera and the subject, the feeling of danger remains present, like in this example from Hitchcock’s film Psycho.

It adds a sense of mystery to who the killer is while still very much showing the gruesomeness of the entire scene.

However, these overhead shots can also lend an intimacy to the space. Such is the case in the film, Paterson.

It is the film’s opening, but it is also the opening to every day that passes in Paterson’s life. This couple has cultivated their own little world in their cozy home. We stay in overhead and only cut when observing smaller details of the space that require a closeup.

However, even those details stay visible in the widest frame. It creates the feeling of a bubble, and combined with the film’s naturalistic style; it mimics the everyday comfort of living.

Interested in becoming an aerial shot pro? Then check out our resource on drone photography pricing here!

Wes Anderson-style aerial shot

Wes Anderson is a director who has developed his own overhead shot style. Specifically while shooting props. He has objects become the center point of the shot, using the overhead shot to narrow in and isolate the item. It helps indicate that the item correlates to character details, and that’s true for all his films.

In Rushmore, it’s the typewriter case of a lonely and ambitious boy with “Bravo Max! Love Mom” stitched on it. In Moonrise Kingdom, it’s the runaway girl’s favorite books: The Disappearance of the 6th Grader and The Girl from Jupiter. In The Darjeeling Limited, it’s the perfume of an ex from a heartbroken and quiet man.

How to shoot an aerial shot

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Now that you know the different ways you can use an aerial shot, it’s easier to plan it adequately. Like any shot, you plan the lighting, the blocking, and the equipment you might need. The wider and higher the shot, the more expensive the equipment and the more time you will need to set aside to coordinate with other departments.

There might be more action required from actors, stunt people, extras on top of the art required for the set, wardrobe, and props. The grander the shot, the more hours or even days it will take to get it perfect.

Equipment ranges depending on the scope of the shot. Are you tracking a car through a city for a while? Then you might need to set aside a chunk of the budget for a helicopter to shoot out of.

For more grand sweeping movements in one space, then perhaps a crane or a drone will be more appropriate. It would take a specific rig appropriate for the space you are occupying for a static overhead shot.

Learn what a shot list is and how to create a compelling one here!

Use Peerspace to discover and book aerial shot locations

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To practice your aerial shots, why not book a Peerspace venue and let your creativity run rampant? On Peerspace, you can rent homes with massive amounts of outdoor space or professional studios stocked with the best drone equipment. Both of these types of settings are ideal for practicing your aerial shots.

So what types of venues can you book on Peerspace to practice aerial shots? Here are a couple of our favorite options:

And so on and so on! To find the perfect aerial shot location for you, head to Peerspace and enter your location. Adjust the filters to suit your personal preferences and book spaces that seem like your best fit. If you have any questions, use the listing page to contact the host prior to booking.

What is an aerial shot and how to create one: conclusion

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Next time you’re watching a movie, keep your eye out for any aerial shots. The ways movies incorporate such a stylized shot is always fascinating to dissect.

Happy shooting, and don’t forget to check out Peerspace’s database of unique locations for your next aerial shot. It’s a smart (and fun!) way to practice your aerial shot techniques in a private, stylish setting.

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