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A Bird’s-eye Take on Hangzhou: "Thank You Hangzhou" by Dominik

Before we start this story, take a look at this beautiful video below, you may have already seen it, you may not:

In August this year, a video named Thank You Hangzhou was posted on Youku. Since then, it has been viewed over 100,000 times and has impressed many with its stunning images of Hangzhou.

Dominik Derflinger, the maker of the video, spent around four months making it. Still in a full-time job at that time, he would grasp any spare moment he could, be it in the early hours of the morning or late after work in the evening. Armed with a drone he bought online and some camera equipment, he scoured Hangzhou in search of the places that could help him bring his video to life. I met up with Dominik to ask him more about his video making process.

Did you make the video by yourself?
Yeah, I had no help from anyone else. This was my first video attempt, but I’ve been doing photography for a little bit longer. I had to teach myself how to fly the drone and then how to film so it looks good for the video. Then I also had to learn how to edit. The drone is relatively easy to fly; it uses GPS and is quite stable.

So making films is something you are quite new to?
Basically when I came back from India in around March or April, I saw a video by chance. There was some kind of big awards ceremony for drone movies and I saw the winning video. It was from an English filmmaker, Philip Bloom, and I thought it was amazing. The moment I saw this video I was like, “Wow! I want to do the same.” I did some research, and I actually found that drones are getting more popular. The cameras are getting smaller too. They’re relatively affordable and easy to use. You don’t need the big heavy cameras like two or three years ago.

How long have you been doing photography?
Last year around January/February someone was selling a secondhand camera, so I just bought it to try – if I didn’t like it, I could just sell it. But I loved it! I did some research and bought a better camera, and I went from not very good to pretty good. A lot of purchases since then followed, so it became a really big hobby. I always liked taking photos when travelling, but with better techniques, better technology and self-improvement, it really became a very important hobby.

How did you decide on what kind of camera to buy?
The GoPro 4 Hero Black was the best camera you could buy at that time. It does high quality 4k footage. You don’t just buy the camera; you have to buy the lens, the tripod, the slider, the hardware. For the drone, you need the backpack for the equipment and batteries for the drone. The 4k footage is very big so you also have to invest in hard drives.

How long does the battery for the drone last?

Not very long. I have the 3rd generation model now. I used the second generation to make the video. One battery only lasts fifteen to twenty minutes though. I bought three more, so I can fly it for an hour or so.

Did you have any accidents or problems with the drone?
I never had an accident. Only one time I thought I’d lost it. It’s not part of the video, but I took it to Lishui to some place with bamboo forests. It got behind some trees and I wasn’t sure what way it was facing. I had to choose one direction and hope I could fly it back the right way. Luckily I did.

How much footage did you film in total for a three minute video?
I think around thirty hours in total. I went to Leifeng Pagoda about three or four times. I always went back and thought, “I can do better.” For the Leifeng Pagoda sequence, I took about three or four hours worth of footage for what ended up being five seconds of the video. Luckily I had lots of free time to do that. It was a personal project so not something I had a deadline for.

How did you decide on the music for the video?
If you make a video which is just music and shots, then the first thing you look for is the music. Then based on the music, you time the shots. You want to cut the footage according to the rhythm of the music. You can look online for songs, but first you have to license them. I spent almost a day browsing for music, and when I found that one, I just knew. It sounds a bit Asian with the flute-like instrument. I like the fact it starts slow, gets faster, then ends slow. When you listen to the music you visualise the shots in your head.

Were there any other places in Hangzhou that you filmed but decided not to include in the final video?
I went to Yuhuang Mountain, and the footage I filmed was ok. You know, they have a nice Taoist temple up there, but the day was not the best. I also found out there’s a military base up near there. You couldn’t see it clearly, but I didn’t want to risk someone coming later and asking me to erase the footage and edit the video. Also, there is this thing with the area; the perspective is very different from eye level. What looks good on the ground doesn’t necessary look good from the air.

The video shows an empty Hefang Street. I didn’t think that was possible…
With Hefang Street I was lucky because it was raining the night before. It was still wet, and I think it had stopped raining just an hour before – I went there at 5:30 or so. Some of the places I went to several times because you have the best light in the early morning or the evening.

Did you read any of the online comments?
I’ve been through most of the comments and tried to understand. There were two comments I liked most: one was “Xiexie Laowai” and the second one was “Meiyou chide” (no food). I covered Hangzhou scenery and the people, but there was no food. I thought that was a really cool comment.

What’s your favourite part of Hangzhou?
I like the West Lake area when there are no people, which is not very easy. I try to avoid it during holidays and busy weekends. I like Longjing and the mountains around Hangzhou. I’m from Austria, so we have mountains and lakes and stuff. I like some nature, so I think Hangzhou is a good place.

Are there any other parts of China that you are really interested in filming?
For personal projects, yes. I just shot a lot of material in Qinghai Province and Gansu Province. I carried my drone up mountains and slept outside. There will be more; I don’t know the name yet. I’m not sure if its province specific or anything.

Why is the video named Thank You Hangzhou?

I was initially planning to leave Hangzhou. When I got the drone in March, I was sure it was just a toy. The more I looked at the shots I thought, “This is not looking too bad.” Over the months, maybe in May, I thought this could be a full video. I was in a good job at the time that I really liked, but I was very busy. It didn’t leave time for my big passion – photography – so I was slowly making up my mind. I thought about quitting my job and travelling around China with the drone. When I told people I quit my job, one of my best friends approached me with an idea. He said, “You like photography and travel. Why not use your passion and make it into something bigger?” We met a lot of times to discuss the possibility of starting a business.

The video has been a hit online. Has it opened many doors for you?
Yes, and that supported my decision to stay here and start my own company. I have been approached by different organisations to do aerial photography, videos or city promotion. In the past month, I have co-founded a company called Promote My City. The idea behind the company is that there are so many places in China that have history and interesting architecture that no one knows. Most foreigners don’t even know Hangzhou. Our business model is actually helping those places to become more attractive. We consult, create, promote and then evaluate how many people are going.

Finally, do you have any tips for fellow photographers/filmmakers?
First of all, know your gear. Then practice using it. There is always something to learn. Look at others’ photos and compare. Another thing is take your time, don’t rush. Try different angles; scout the location first. If you have the chance, go back to the place because it looks different at different times. Also, shoot as much as possible.

If you want to know more about Dominik’s company, you can go to to check it out.

Want to know more stories like this, discover more in the up coming November issue.

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