Inside look: how a wildlife photographer uses a drone to get stunning views of the Serengeti

A new era has arrived. It’s an era where aerial images are the norm — where the robots that fly through the sky to generate them are increasingly commonplace. It’s an era where a YouTube search for ‘drone’ generates millions of results — namely 8-minute videos of start-to-finish flights hovering over track houses.

But it’s an era inspired by visual pioneers like Will Burrard-Lucas, a UK-based wildlife photographer.

Screenshot of video by Will Burrard-Lucas

His newly released video called Serengeti is simply breathtaking, taking viewers in flight over wildebeest migrations and getting up close and personal with a hyena attacking its prey. It looks part computer-generated, part dreamland. But it’s real — and shot with a home-made drone.

They’re stunning wildlife shots, and they ‘re no longer restricted to animated scenes from The Lion King. Instead, they’re restricted to the furthest stretches of the imagination which, for Burrard-Lucas, reaches pretty far.

Burrard-Lucas is one of a new generation of “Drone Photographers.” He has built seven drones with mismatched parts to create the perfect wildlife drone. With he, he was able to gather the stunning shots generated in the above video.

“The drones I’ve been making now have different parts sort of cobbled together,” he said.

Burrard-Lucas first got into remote cameras back in 2009.

“Drones were just sort of the next logical thing,” he said. “Obviously drones have come a long way in the last year.”


Screenshot of video by Will Burrard-Lucas

A long way is no exaggeration. In just the past few days, companies have announced drones that fly with DSLR cameras right out of the box — no tinkering required. Those fall in the likes of DJI’s newly unveiled S1000, which is rumored to go for $4000.

“They’re going to get more and more reliable,” Burrard-Lucas said. “More and more people are going to use them. They already are exploding in popularity. The only way to get these shots before was to charter a helicopter.”

So just how did Burrard-Lucas capture his magnificent Serengeti-shots sans helicopter?

All it took was just one of his drones and a GoPro to record video.

“GoPros aren’t the best cameras in all conditions, but as long as you know how to use them in the right light, they produce amazing stuff,” he said.

Live video feedback allows him to see just where his copter is going.

Burrard-Lucas spent two weeks out on the Serengeti to gather the images, partially due to technology limitations with batteries (he has four batteries).

Screenshot of video by Will Burrard-Lucas

Screenshot of video by Will Burrard-Lucas

“You only have so much flight time before you have to recharge,” he said. “I could maximum do an hour at a time, and I would do flights in both the morning and the evening.”

Burrard-Lucas estimated his four-minute video was compiled from about 10 hours of footage.

Burrard-Lucas said he believes the drones are an effective way of gathering images of wildlife.

“Typically these animals aren’t used to threats from the air, so when they see this, they typically aren’t bothered by it,” he said. “Obviously they can hear it, but I’m trying to make it as quiet as possible.”

That’s in contrast to filming from the ground, which he has experience with, particularly through his other autonomous camera contraption — the BeetleCam, a ground-roving camera mount.

“With antelope, if they see something moving in the ground and aren’t sure what it is, they’ll move; they aren’t going to take any risks.”

Burrard-Lucas is already planning to return to Africa next week for more aerial filming, this time in Botswana.

As for traveling with his drones, it’s not easy.

“The case looks like it has a Bazooka in it,” he said. “It does draw a bit of attention.”

Related posts:

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply