Flying a Drone Without Disturbing Nature

Amazing Aerial photographer, Paul Oostveen calls himself, “a nature photographer with a drone,” but shooting in the wild can be tricky.
community spotlight droning tips nature Nov 03, 2022
Aerial view of colourful ponds in grassland in front of mountains, Modrudalsoraefi, highlands of Iceland
Aerial view of landscape with small lakes, peninsula and lake Myvatn, north Iceland. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Paul Oostveen

By Rebecca Duras

 

 

Our team member Paul Oostveen calls himself, “a nature photographer with a drone,” but shooting in the wild can be tricky: not only is shooting animals difficult, but photographers might also disturb sensitive plants and landscapes. He told us how to fly a drone without disturbing the environment.

Can you share a little bit about your background as a drone photographer?

I bought my first drone in 2014. Right from the start, my main passion was to photograph the countryside and especially nature areas, mainly in the Netherlands and Iceland. I shoot for Amazing Aerial and for clients like nature organisations or publishers.
I am not a wildlife photographer capturing animals. Many animals can get disturbed by the noise, sight or drop shadow of a drone getting too close. Because most drones have very wide angle lenses, you have to get really close to get the animal clear in the image.

What are some signs that indicate a drone photo actually disturbed the animals in the shot?

A very dramatic example is when breeding animals flee their nest because of a drone. However, I suspect every situation where birds or other animals are flying up, walking away, become more alert or in any other sense change their behaviour when a drone approaches. In fact, I’m very careful just to prevent these situations. Some species can even attack drones if they feel threatened.

How have you adjusted your expeditions to avoid disturbing nature?

I launch and land my drone where no animals are nearby. I don’t fly too low, especially where sensitive animals can be present. During the breeding season, I’m extra careful and fly at least 60 meters high. It’s important to make calm flight movements, moving the joysticks gently. If you fly forward and release the joystick at once, the drone tries to brake immediately, making a lot of noise. I never fly towards groups of animals. In case of doubt, I consult a forest/park ranger beforehand. The ranger can provide me with additional information, e.g. avoiding a particular area because a vulnerable animal has been spotted there.

 

The Jokulvisl glacial river and Hofsjokull glacier pierce the sky in Kerlingarfjoll, Iceland. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Paul Oostveen

What are some technological developments that are making it easier to get good shots of animals without disturbing them?

Over the years, drones have become smaller and make less noise - making them less likely to be noticed. In addition, some drones are equipped with zoom, tele or interchangeable lenses as well as bigger sensors. All this helps to make your shots without coming too close to animals. The location is also important. In a quiet open landscape chances are higher that a drone disturbs animals than above a forest or with a lot of ambient noise (waterfall, busy road).

Many discussions about drone photography and nature focus on protecting animals. However, are there any concerns about drone pilots disturbing other parts of nature, not just animals?

I’m glad you’re asking this. It is true, you can disturb nature in other ways as well. When walking around or parking your car, you can damage vulnerable and rare vegetation like flowers or mushrooms. In most nature areas in the Netherlands, you may not leave walking paths and I will only do so with permission from the landowner/ranger. In Iceland, even bare (volcanic) soil is vulnerable and can easily be damaged – especially by cars. Unfortunately, from above you easily see traces of illegal off-road driving which literally takes decades to recover.

 

Autumn along the river Ijssel in the Duursche Waarden nature reserve, The Netherlands. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Paul Oostveen

What are the resources you used to learn how to avoid disturbing nature?

In the Netherlands, ecological consultancy agency Waardenburg has written an extensive report (available in Dutch) with guidelines for flying drones above Natura 2000 protected nature areas. In addition, we have a code of conduct for drone flights in the Wadden area. I used these guidelines (only available in Dutch) as base for my procedures, supplemented with Google searches, feedback from rangers and my own experiences. An amazing photo or video can never be justified if animals were disturbed.


 

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