Matthew Hood is a cinematographer based in Montreal documenting nature and wildlife through photography and film. On a recent trip to Iceland, he became inspired by the natural flow of water throughout the dramatic land and seascapes which resulted in this breathtaking video he created with a drone. After watching this video, we wanted to find out more about why he chose water as the main theme and all the behind the scenes details to creating something so beautiful.
How long were you in Iceland for and what was your itinerary?
14 days. My girlfriend and I planned to focus on the south coast from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón to balance out our time driving with actually spending time on foot exploring. Some of the highlights of our trip were Dyrholaey, Jökulsárlón, Skaftafellsjökull and Gullfoss.
What was your main reason for going to Iceland?
For fun! I’ve always lusted after the thought of Iceland and all the amazing landscapes begging to be explored. I also wanted to go and shoot some stills and produce a little video. Just before I left, a Canadian company asked me to get some footage for them for an upcoming program. That was a lot of fun to shoot for since I had very specific goals to shoot towards.
What attracted you to the theme of this video: water movement?
This evolved while I was there. I knew Iceland was full of incredible waterfalls but was truly blown away by the enormous glaciers, lagoons, streams, and creeks along the roaring Atlantic ocean and the southern coast. Just seeing the way water moves throughout the land and the way it shaped the landscapes really drew me in. My main goal was to capture the varied landscapes that Iceland has to offer and show water as a unifying thread throughout this beautiful country.
What type of gear did you use to capture the video?
I used a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced and a Sony A7S with a metabones EF adapter so I could attach a Canon 16-35 lens.
What’s the most challenging part about using a drone to capture footage?
I would probably say depth perception. As the drone gets further away from you it becomes increasingly difficult to judge its exact distance and it’s proximity to nearby objects. It’s easy to fly it out in the middle of an open field but some of the really engaging imagery comes from flying close to surrounding landscape features such as water, trees, rocks, cliffs, etc which emphasizes the movement of the camera and makes the overall shot more dynamic.
As a single operator you are doing two jobs at once; drone and camera operator. Safety always comes first so making sure the drone takes off, flies and lands safely is a priority. After that, you are doing your best to capture footage that really absorbs the audience.
The weather was also a challenge. We didn’t have the best shooting conditions, which meant a lot of rain, sleet, and overcast skies. In certain circumstances this can yield great results like documenting a big storm or that rare dramatic lighting as the clouds part, but this was largely strong winds and some rain which made it very difficult to fly.
Did you ever fear that you would lose control of the drone or damage/loose it?
As long as conditions are stable, I don’t get that concerned that I would lose or damage the drone. When conditions worsen, it becomes a bit more stressful. Cold temperatures decrease the overall flying time of the drone and can even affect the circuitry which has caused the drone to auto land a few times. This would be fine if it were hovering 10 feet over your head, but a bit more nerve racking when it’s 500 feet out over the ocean. Luckily the one time I had an issue, it made it back to shore safely.
Another issue is when the wind picks up as it can begin to pull the drone away from you and out of your control. With such small propellers, there is a maximum head wind it can fly into. I’m not really sure what that maximum is because i’ve always landed it safely or realized it’s just too risky and left it in the case haha.
How hard is it to steer the drone? Does that result in a lot of shaky, unusable footage?
I tell most people, it’s really easy to fly a drone, but it takes hundreds of hours to really master it. The controls are quite straightforward, up/down, left/right, front/back, etc. But to be able to maneuver around an object at a distance smoothly is difficult and requires a lot of practice. Most drones these days have a built in gimbal which is a series of tiny motors that holds the camera to keep it level and dampens most of the shake or vibrations you might get when flying.
What was one of the most memorable experiences you had on your trip?
I would say at Skaftafellsjökull which can be seen at 1:22 in the film. The light was pretty dull that day as we drove along the ring road heading east. On our left we could see this beautiful glacier off in the the distance and an amazing zigzagging flow of water running from its source towards the road. We were mesmerized by the incredible patterns in the ground. I set up the drone and soon the clouds parted just enough to shine a warm glow on the glacier off in the distance. The composition ended up being really nice and the golden light was a real bonus.
It was a really inspiring shot because of how simple it was. The drone helped to get a nice high point of view to show all the movement and shapes the water created on the ground, but otherwise it was very straightforward. I let the landscape be the real key to the shot, rather than the drone and camera do an overly complex flight pattern. This just inspired me further to be driven by the subject rather than by the technology.