Daniel Haussmann of Lumen Art Studio, interviewed by Skytango: discover how Daniel used a drone to capture the Northern Lights for his latest project in Norway.
This week, Skytango features a beautiful video by Daniel Haussmann, shot in Norway in extremely harsh conditions.
Daniel is a German-based international director of photography, aerial cinematographer and photographer and has been featured in both TIME Magazine and National Geographic.
Founder of Lumen Art Studios, his work takes him around the world, but photography is also his passion, and cameras and drones are his tools. Daniel has captured the Aurora Borealis in Norway, volcanoes in Iceland and Sicily, urban landscapes in Frankfurt and the bleak remnants of Chernobyl.
Daniel’s mastery in capturing and balancing light and color in his videos and photographs is evident. His piloting skills are reflected in the dramatic slow pace and deliberate camera movements.
Enjoy Daniel’s video and interview:
Daniel, when did you catch the aerial filming bug?
I got my first photo camera at the age of 10 and my first video camera at the age of 16. I’ll be 34 this year – so I’ve been filming more than half of my life.
Back in the day, I was dreaming of filming from the air, but I only got a few shots out of airplane windows when flying on vacation. I really got more into it when my father-in-law got his ultralight pilot’s license in 2014. Filming and photographing with a dedicated pilot who used to work as cameraman for German Television was great motivation.
In autumn of 2014, I had a vacation planned for Iceland and also a wedding job there, so I made a last minute decision to buy the DJI Phantom 2 drone to take with me to Iceland. That’s basically when I caught the bug.
It turned out to be a great idea as Iceland is not only a photographer’s paradise, but also a drone owner’s paradise.
You get to film in some extraordinary places, like Norway and Sicily. Do you have to put in many hours getting permissions before you fly?
Yes, I read a lot about regulations all over the world and try to make sure I know all local laws and rules before I go somewhere. In some cases I even call the local federal aviation authorities to get firsthand information. On top of that I study maps so I am aware of any no-go areas with regards to airports, nuclear powerplants or other special areas where flying might be a problem.
I typically enjoy flying out in nature more than within city limits. Just because it’s a lot less troublesome and less dangerous. There are also less restrictions. In Germany for example you get general commercial permission to fly outside city limits. If you fly within city limits you have to file a lot of paperwork and there are a lot of restrictions (e.g. not flying over streets, train tracks etc).
I try also, to learn about the development of rules and regulations around the world. I feel that at the moment people are pretty afraid. This leads regulatory bodies to impose more and more restrictions. I think it’s good on one hand. There are some pretty irresponsible flyers out there. But sometimes these bodies go too far. Yes, we need a kind of driver’s license for drones. Yes, there must be areas where they cannot be flown. At the same time you do not prohibit car traffic because there are accidents. It should be the same case with drones. Put in place the regulations that make it as safe as possible. But don’t panic and over regulate.
Sometimes regulations are inconsistent. In Germany, for example, if I fly a commercial job I have to seek permits, pay money for those permits, bring maps indicating the flight path and show insurance papers etc. Sometimes I even have to inform police and rescue squads when I am flying. If I fly privately, or in other words, for no monetary compensation, I do not need all of this. That does not make sense to me. A drone does not get more or less dangerous depending on whether it’s commercial or private. In fact, a professional flyer typically knows the rules better than a hobbyist who got the drone for Christmas and is flying anywhere without really knowing what they are permitted and not permitted to do.
Your latest films are in 4k, what equipment do you use to get such wonderful results?
I started with a Phantom 2 and a GoPro Hero 3. I upgraded that to a Hero 4 Black Edition for 4K filming later on.
However, the wireless image transmission and the fish-eye look of the GoPro was a headache.
So when the DJI Phantom 3 Professional came out I bought it. For me, it’s the perfect package. Great image quality when shooting RAW stills. Even if the drone is far away you have good image transmission as well as being able to adjust exposure and white balance. It’s portable and it fits into carry-on luggage – very important for travelling.
Is there any equipment coming to the market that excites you, or that you plan to upgrade to?
I have an eye on the DJI Inspire 1 Pro X5(R). Having a M4/3 camera is an exciting thing, especially for low light/night situations. RAW video is another great option.
The more budget friendly alternative would be the Yuneec Typhoon H4 that also has some exciting features. Mainly I am interested in drones with advanced reliability and safety features that would protect my investment. A hexacopter like the Typhoon H4 has a better chance of coming ‘home’ if a motor fails – at least on paper.
In Norway, you were filming the Polar Night, did you have many problems with batteries draining too quickly or other problems with equipment due to the cold climate?
Filming in arctic conditions is a challenge. We happened to be there during an extremely cold snap. I was flying at temperatures around -20°C to -25°C. DJI only recommends flying up to -10°C. The drone will warn you at these temperatures if the battery is colder than +25°C, so you have to keep it warm. So I flew safe and brought the drone back with still 50% battery left. Most nights I left the majority of my equipment outside.
One night I forgot to bring the remote control inside – the next day I could not fly as the batteries were completely empty.
DJI’s latest firmware update adds a functionality that automatically reduces the motor power when flying in cold conditions to protect the battery. So the drone is a bit less agile.
I had some issues with my tripods. The fluid heads just don’t work great if the fluid is frozen!
Because you were filming in quite isolated places in Norway, did you bring extra batteries and other equipment that you would not have needed in a warmer country?
I brought my special gloves that let your fingers be free! Still, more than once my fingers froze and started to hurt.
I brought a hot water bottle that I filled with boiling water. I put it into my suitcase and packed the batteries around it and isolated it with clothes. This was my mobile battery warmer for the car when driving around.
I tend to bring a lot of batteries with me. I have 6 batteries for the drone. It sounds alot, but I typically fly maximum 10 – 12 minutes with one of them in those conditions.
I also bring plenty of SD cards and change them frequently after each landing as a precaution, in the event I lose the drone, that way I have most of the footage safely backed up.
Your Norway video is lovely with mauve and pink skies. Is this a natural phenomenon of the Polar Night?
When I planned the trip, I was a bit scared of the polar night. I was expecting 24-hour darkness. But in fact, it’s not like this. It’s true I did not see the sun for 2 weeks, but dawn begins at around 9am-10am with beautiful sunrise light at noon. At around 3 pm, it’s mostly dark again. But as a landscape photographer/videographer, shooting during the time between dawn and sunrise or dusk and sunset, is very common, as the light is really beautiful. So in the polar night, you just skip the boring bright daylight hours and only photograph and film during these ‘magic hours’.
The pink skies are caused by the sun hovering just below the horizon – so although it’s not actually rising – you have that ‘almost sunrise’ light for 2-3 hours.
How do you find dealing with high contrast scenes and getting the exposure right?
The Polar night light helped with exposure, as in most cases I did not have extremely high contrast scenes. With the 8bit cameras such as the one built into the Phantom 3, you don’t have much latitude to bring highlights down or shadows up. I typically try to underexpose and bring the shadows up a bit in post.
Your videos are always very colourful. Do you pump up the saturation in your videos a lot and what editing tools do you mostly use?
I do 95% of my editing in Adobe Premiere. Color correction is done with the new Lumetri tools that Adobe recently introduced. I try to make them colourful, but I avoid oversaturated images. For special cases or fixes, I sometimes use Photoshop or AfterEffects.
How long do you spend shooting a location / scene before you find the shot you are happy with?
I typically try to spend a lot of time at the same place waiting for the best light and the best conditions. When it comes to aerial filming there are other factors that require you to have more time and to be more flexible.
As a drone operator, wind is my enemy – so even if I get the perfect scene and beautiful light but very strong winds, I can’t fly and have to wait for the next day.
I plan most shoots but sometimes do spontaneous shooting. Some places I scout on satellite images and look at photos and when I arrive I have already a few shots in mind. I visit them 2-3 times until the light and conditions are right. But there are also the places where you just drive by, take out the drone and check out what’s there. Both give me beautiful results.
Do you use any weather apps and do they give you information for the different countries you travel to? What apps and programs help you in your pre-flight checks?
I use a few apps. My general go-to app for weather is WeatherPro. I subscribed to the Premium Services as it gives you more details. In my experience, their forecasts are pretty accurate.
In Norway, I also used the local weather app from yr.no. It tends to be a more pessimistic forecast but gives some additional details and radar images.
One of my favourite apps for scouting locations is Sun Surveyor. It’s an app that tells you the direction of the sun at a given spot (and much more). In Norway, despite not having a real sunrise – it was still important to understand at what time the sunlight would come from which direction.
Another app I used – not for flying, but for photographing the Northern Lights, is Aurora Alert. One of the reasons for the trip was to film the northern lights. So that app gave me some ideas on the current activity.
Where in the world would you like to film next?
I am currently planning a trip to Ethiopia with photographer, Erez Marom. Besides the northern lights, I am obsessed with volcanoes. I plan to visit the Erta Ale lava lake and, of course, will bring my drone.
Apart from that, I would love to re-visit some of the places I have been to previously, but with a drone. Places such as Myanmar, Switzerland or New Zealand. I would love to go to Tibet, the Himalaya region, Patagonia or Greenland with the drone too. I guess I could run out of a budget before I run out of ideas!
Have you ever filmed in Ireland?
Ireland is absolutely on my list. It’s a beautiful country with a lot of opportunities for filming. My sister is married to an Irish guy, so I have more than one reason to visit. It’s definitively on my bucket list. And probably one of the next places I’ll go.
What influences your style in your aerial filming?
I am all in for cinematic shots. My inspiration comes from those amazing images people shoot with their expensive CineFlex systems mounted on helicopters. That’s what I want to mimic but with much lower cost and higher flexibility.
For me, it’s all about steady and smooth shots edited into an interesting film, without repetitions or boring back and forth shots of the same place from 20 different angles. They must be technically and content-wise, flawless. I am pretty strict in terms of what I release. Even if I put significant effort into a shot – if it doesn’t meet my expectations it won’t make it into the final cut.
What countries have you filmed in apart from Italy and Norway?
As I live in Germany, most of my work is from here. I live close to Frankfurt, so I often seek permission to fly around the skyscrapers in downtown. Also, some of my clients are banks with offices in the city.
Apart from Germany, Italy and Norway, I had amazing results flying in Iceland. I put that into the short documentary: Amazing Iceland – A Journey To The Elements.
Are you inspired by other aerial filmmakers and do you follow their work?
Yes. There are a couple of aerial filmmakers I follow and admire. One of the guys I am following is Eric Cheng, the aerial imaging director for DJI. There is a German company Skynamic that creates amazing imagery for TV, cinema and advertising. I follow a couple of helicopter and airplane pilots from Iceland and the US.
I also have an account on Skypixel – DJI’s aerial imaging community. There is a lot of great content there!