Using a Drone to make a BMX Racing video

In 2021 I put together an action video of BMX racing here in New Zealand, made up of a combination of drone video footage and still images. You can watch it here on YouTube – recommend sound on:

While I have published videos before, these have been simple clips. This one, on the other hand, contained many different clips taken from my DJI Mavic Air 2 drone at the Kapiti BMX Championships in February 2021, and I mixed in a number of photos I have taken from similar events at the Kapiti track over the last few years just to mix it up a bit. I also put in a soundtrack and tried to make the visuals match the music.

This was a new experience for me, and one of my aims was to use this exercise to teach myself video editing. This post goes through some of the process, tools, and challenges I faced in being an almost total video editing beginner.

Flying with Permission

Kapiti BMX track is close to Kapiti Airport, and so I had to get permission to fly. Most air traffic is private light aviation, the odd helicopter, and a short haul passenger service. A phone call to the control tower was all it took – they were incredibly helpful. I was flying in a shielded location, which meant as long as I didn’t go over a certain height (about 30 meters) there was no clear unobstructed flight path between where I was flying and the airport. This safety constraint meant that in the unlikely event of a loss of control of the drone, it could not fly to the airport without hitting in this case trees or houses up on a slight hill. The Mavic Air 2 has an altitude limiter which meant I did not need to worry about accidentally flying too high.

I cannot stress enough the importance of ensuring you have permission to fly, especially near an airfield. In addition to the obvious safety benefits, ensuring ATC know of your plans means that if someone reports drone activity then the controllers won’t have to divert all air traffic while they verify where someone is flying. It will probably also save a visit from the Police.

Those of you who are familiar with drone flying in New Zealand may at this point be asking why I didn’t use the AirShare app to book my flight plan. This is an app by Airways New Zealand (, which lets you do an online application for flying in restricted areas. In this case I did actually use it, but there was no response to confirm or deny permission. Rather than just assume I could fly, I looked up the number of Kapiti Airport’s ATC and spoke to them on the morning – always good to have a backup plan.

My filming window was a couple of hours, and as soon as I landed for the final time a quick phone call to the control tower informed them I was done. Shortly after that I noticed planes started to fly much closer to the track, rather than doing a hard turn out after take off. This made me appreciate that air traffic control had been doing me a great favour to enable me to indulge in this drone shoot. Thank you Kapiti Airport! 


I wanted to get some good dynamic shots of the racing, including trying to follow riders around the circuit. I soon discovered that following riders around and changing angles was a flying challenge, especially as I did not want to get too close and risk being a distraction. As you can see from the image below, I had a very tight area I could film in – just the track area. Add in the challenge of lampposts, telephone wires and trees, and you have a good recipe for crashes.

Kapiti BMX Track

Spoiler alert – I managed not to crash. Came close a couple of times though!

I had about 90 minutes of flying time with the three batteries I had, which allowed me to film a decent number of races. I took around 70 separate clips, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes. Each race can take between 2 to 5 minutes from start gate to finish line depending on the age group of the riders. 

I shot a mixture of 4k 60fps and 1080p 120fps sequences for what I hoped would be some great slow motion action. I also took a large number of still photos just to try and get some perspective of the track.

In retrospect I realise one of the things I could have done much better was to have properly planned the shots and sequences I wanted to capture with a view on the final video. But I didn’t – instead I just rocked up and flew around a lot hoping something would come together. This made life in edit phase much harder and time consuming. But on the other hand, it was quite freeing just to scoot around and try things, and this was a largely experimental exercise – I didn’t really go into it thinking I was going to make a full video afterwards.

Creating the Video

After downloading all the clips to my laptop, I was keen on producing some kind of short video with a combination sequences. I had no real vision of what the end result would be, but I did want to include a few elements:

  • An intro showing the racing arena
  • Some sequences closely following the riders
  • Some still images
  • A music track 

The final video was created using Adobe Premiere Pro, which I pay a monthly subscription for as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud offering. I aim on writing a separate post about the video editing challenges, but a lot of time has passed since I created the original, so it may morph into a more generic post. I would say “watch this space”, but given the lack of frequency of posting on this blog, that may be a long wait!

My son is feelin’ The Force this morning

I’ve recently got the bug to take more photos with by iPhone 3G, rather than fixating on using my DLSR. Using a camera phone can be less intrusive in some situations. This scene just took my eye as my young boy was playing with Star Wars characters. I added  a little bit of tilt-shift, and a filter that added grain to the image a bit. Lighting was natural light from the window.


Lovely morning in Attenborough

I took this photo on my iPhone 3G – not a fantastic piece of photographic kit by any description. I used the excellent Instagram iPhone app to process the image. This app has a tilt-shift feature that lets you add fake depth of field, and I used that to blur out the trees in the distance. One of the dozen or so filters that Instagram provides gave the photo the cool blue/grey tint that adds a bit of mood.

Playing with Light

Light bottle

Light trail

The Christmas break this year gave me the opportunity to play around a bit with long exposure shots. The bottle picture on the right is the best of my experiments, and is a single 20 second exposure with minimal post-processing. The set-up was easy – just an empty bottle of wine, a darkened room, a blue wooden table, a tripod, and a blue LED penlight.

The idea was that once the shutter opened, I would move the penlight torch around the bottle in what would hopefully be a spiral shape. The movement produces the bright light trail, but also leaves enough light to illuminate the base and some of the bottle – in particular the label.

The trickiest part of the setting up is to determine the focus point. You can’t use the camera’s automatic focus as there is not enough light in the scene for the auto-focus system to work. While you could just switch to manual mode, on the basic SLR I used – a Canon EOS 350D – manual focusing aides are a bit limited. Instead I switched the main room light on, used the camera’s auto-focus to pick out the bottle, and then switched the lens to manual focus mode, being careful not to disturb the lens at all. I then killed the lights to start the shoot.
Continue reading

More exposure blending


Peak District exposure blend

Following on from my previous post “Something from nothing“, this image uses a different technique to blend an overexposed sky with a detailed foreground. I nearly called it “Something a bit better from a little bit more”. This post is shorter than the earlier article, and hopefully less coma-inducing as a result.

The photo was taken from Heggar Tor in the Derbyshire Peak District last April in the early evening. This time I had the benefit of my Canon EOS 350D digital SLR, and captured in RAW format, which gives much more to play with in post processing. I also used slightly different software – Photoshop Elements 5 (or possibly 6 – I forget when I upgraded). The editing process still uses layers, but this time rather than overlay them using masks, combines them using blend modes.

The resulting image won’t win any prizes, but I rather like it. It may not be too obvious from the small image here, but if you click on the above image and select the larger version (via the “All sizes” button) you should be able to see some of the fine detail of the rocks and lichen.

Continue reading

Something from nothing

Derbyshire landscape

This image came out of nothing, and I’m not sure if it is cheating or not. With a pretty poor original photo (see below) I changed the colours, messed with the contrast,  blended different parts together and airbrushed out some bits that were spoiling the shot. Which got me to thinking: at what point does photo enhancement fake things too much in an attempt make up for poor camera technique?

Here I describe how I put this image together from an original low quality shot. If nothing else it may help people who want to do similar things using their photo editor. I’ll leave it to the reader to judge whether I should have just taken a better picture to start with.

Continue reading

Perfect Puddlejump

Perfect Puddlejump This is one of my favourite photos that I took last year. After the heavy rains in the summer, I took my son down to the local nature reserve in his full waterproofs, knowing that big puddles would be too much of a temptation for a five year old little boy.

As you can see in the next picture, he got quite enthusiastic!
Jumping Puddles

If you click on any of the images you will be taken to the original picture on my Flickr site, and from there browse all the exposure and timing information. Both images are slightly cropped, but are otherwise unretouched.

Photosynth goes live!

About a year ago I wrote about the Photosynth technology from Microsoft that creates 3D spaces from collections of photographs. At the time it only worked with a few sample data sets created by Microsoft, but there was a very nice demo to download and it was a pretty exciting piece of tech. Just a few days ago Microsoft released a full version that allows you to create your own “photosynths” by uploading collections of photos.

I just had to have a go. The image above shows a screen-grab of the Photosynth viewer with some data that I took.

Read on for more on the new release, how I got on with it, videos and links to the 3D scenes that I created.

Continue reading

3 Peaks Challenge – Part 2: The hikes

Setting off, 5pm Friday

Setting off, 5pm Friday

In this second article on my recent 3 Peaks challenge I describe the hikes themselves and the transits between the mountains. See Part One for a description of the challenge.

My personal times were:

Mountain Start Summit reached Back at base Distance
Ben Nevis 5pm 7-50pm 10pm 10 miles
Scafell Pike 4-30am 6-30am 8-30am 6 miles
Snowdon 1-45pm 4-10pm 7-30pm 8.5 miles

So as you can see I did succeed and completed it – I got to the top of Snowdon in a shade over 23 hours. I was a little disappointed not to get down again within 24 hours, but as you will discover when you read the account of each mountain, I just count myself lucky to have even finished at all, irrespective of times.

Continue reading

3 Peaks Challenge – Part 1: Overview

3Peaks-03 On the weekend of June 20th I took part in the national Three Peaks Challenge to try and climb the three highest peaks in the UK mainland within 24 hours. Starting off at Ben Nevis (1344m) in Scotland, I also climbed Scafell Pike (978m) in the Lake District, and ended up at Mount Snowdon (1085m) in Wales. In all there was about 25 miles of walking, hundreds of miles driving, and not too much sleep. I was part of the Long Eaton Round Table team of 20 walkers attempting the challenge, all to raise money for various charities including Multiple Sclerosis research. I’ve written here the story of the team’s efforts. But this post, however, is intended to be a more personal account of the challenge itself, the training and the preparation that went in to it.  Along the way I’ll mention a bit about taking photos on the way. Hopefully it will provide an interesting and useful resource for others who are doing the challenge too.

This is the first of two articles on the challenge, describing what it is and how we went about it. Part Two will go into the experience itself.

Continue reading