Use of Drones in Wildlife Filmmaking
in Advice

Drones are amazing tools to help tell a story. However, they should only be used knowing that they will have no effect on their subject. Animal harassment is all too common nowadays and it's made easier by having a device that can be flown too close without harm to oneself. This is unacceptable. We have a responsibility as wildlife filmmakers to remain covert to minimize undue stress on our subjects and to not alter their behavior. 

Video Transcription:

Hey guys, Jake Willers here, Founder of Master Wildlife Filmmaking, today I want to talk to you about drones and their use in wildlife filmmaking. I love these things, for me to take my drone out and film is like taking a toy out for the day and playing, I mean they’re fantastic. They have enabled us to get shots like never before for the price point, you know it used to be, you have to hire a gimbal on a helicopter to go out and get the kind of shots that this thing can get and that will be hugely expensive, or you'd hire a helicopter, or microlight or a plane and you’d hang out the side of the door and get your shots with your camera, you know, literally hanging out at the side of the aircraft. 

These days we don't have to do that we can get incredibly good quality footage by using these amazing little things. However, this is super important, there are a lot of people out there using drones to film wildlife they fly them up to eagles nests to look inside and see chicks or to see if there are eggs. They fly them over herds of animals, this is not acceptable unless the animals do  not know that the drone is there, if they’re blissfully ignorant of the drone being above them because it's high enough, that the noise isn't affecting them and they can't see it, that's fine. The same is it would be using a helicopter. But if that drone is close enough that they hear it and they are harassed by it that is not acceptable.

Our responsibility as wildlife filmmakers is to offer up what’s happening with wildlife in a way where we aren't altering its behavior and so you know we use hides, we use distance to distance ourselves from our subjects, but once we entered a zone of an animal and they were aware we are there, sometimes that happens you know with bears a lot of times, when I am filming urban bears in a neighborhood and the bears come down, most of the time they know I am there, but I am not close enough to them that am harassing them or altering their behavior and that's so so important. You know most of the time we try to film the behavior of a wild animal, if you fly a drone up to a wild animal, its behavior is not natural anymore its behavior is defensive because this thing is buzzing around in its face. That's not natural if it's flown over the top of a nest and the bird has to fly at it to attack it, that's not natural, that would be natural if it was another bird but not with us harassing them with this devices. It's our responsibility, it's really really important that we remember that.

You know a famous videographer once said that it's far more important to understand wildlife as a wildlife filmmaker than it is to understand our cameras. Right, it's far more important to understand the behavior of your subject than it is to understand the in’s and out’s of your camera. You don't have to know how a gamma curve works or how a picture profile works, for that matter, right you can buy those online and stick them in your camera, press record and it will record a great image. Yes you need to know the fundamentals of a camera, but you really need to know the behavioral aspects of the subject you are filming. Otherwise, you are going to put yourself in a dangerous situation. I believe that's totally true especially when you are starting out, learn about the wildlife, read books, go to wildlife parks and zoos, learn as much as you can about your subject rather than learning everything you can about your camera knowing nothing about wildlife, it’s the wrong way round.

And so with drones, typically when I am using a drone, I use a drone for scenic beauty shots, I fly them over mountains, prairies, I get my establishing shots just some low ground cover shots, I ‘ll do a tracking shot with a biologist who is in the field working. That's how I use them, occasionally I used them with wildlife if I can fly it over a herd of wild horses and the wild horses aren't aware of it presence. Fantastic, I will do that but you have got to understand the technology, you've also got to understand that these things are not infallible to going wrong. I have had an early version of the phantom, the DJI phantom, I have had an early version where one of the props actually came off during flight, it sheared off the thread and since the older version of these they have changed the way the props go on. These are now a twist lock, where the lock in place used to be threaded and they were self tightening. But one came off one day, and the drone came straight down and the reason I am telling you that is because if you are flying over a herd of whatever it might be, or a flock or whatever and the drone fails and it comes crashing down, then you are liable to hurt the wildlife as well as alter its behavior and you know who knows what else. So it's really important to understand that these things do go wrong, they do break they do fall out of the sky. So, ideally don't fly them over anything that they can harm.

So that's my take on drones, it’s a really good idea to use them for beauty shots, use them for tracking shots, there are so many great things you can do but you know, it's really important to learn to use your camera build a story, get the scenes you need, use drones minimally. It's like time-lapse, you know when time-lapse came into fashion, everybody was doing a time-lapse to put in their film. I love time-lapse they are great but don't over use them, I love aerial footage it's fantastic but don't overuse it.

I hope you found value in this video, if you did please comment below, give us a thumbs up and also if you haven't already checked out the Master Wildlife Filmmaking podcast, I really encourage you to do so, there are some great interviews on there and there are some fantastic interviews lined up for the future. There are professionals in their field giving advice on using cameras, using their gear, their advice on getting into the industry, how their careers went etc. it is super valuable. You can find that on iTunes, on Stitcher, and also by going to the website. In the meantime grab your gear, get outside and make it happen.