In mid December 2020 I was asked to drive to Loch Arkaig, near Fort William on the west coast of Scotland, to secretly film the UK’s largest ever drone swarm.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay live event had been cancelled because of Covid-19, to be replaced with the web-delivered sky theatre of 150 drones flying together in synced formations, & Loch Arkaig had been chosen as a suitably out-of-the-way location with the right backdrop of loch & mountains for the displays, some of which would later be composited onto footage of Edinburgh & its surroundings.

With extremely poor weather forecasts & limited slots for the drone swarm flying, which had to be done at dawn or dusk with 4+ hours of battery charging the drones between flights, there was massive pressure on the whole team together with several days of 5am starts & 11pm finishes. Underbelly had arranged for the creation of an extraordinary base & stage by the side of the loch, 18 miles down a single track road so once we were all there each day, we were there for the duration!

Tony Martin, Steve Shearn & I were charged with filming the swarm by drone from as many different angles as possible within each 10 minute display, flying DJI Inspire 2s with X7 & X5S cameras, both single & dual op.

Getting exposures right was tricky given the low light, as was taking off & landing in the dark by the side of the loch, but hardest of all was making sure our 3 filming drones kept out of each other’s airspace to avoid any possibility of collisions. We filmed in ProRes 4444 XQ with H264 proxies as backups, & the finished films were then impressively edited by Celestial & Underbelly to great success: to date, 10 million+ views in more than 100 countries.

CAA approved for aerial work, PFCO company number 532, FAA number 4242184

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