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So, You Got a Drone for Christmas?

Don't be an intrusive explorer.

By: Matt Van Swol + Save to a List

Back in October I wrote an article entitled, “The Golden Age of Drone Photography.” When I wrote that article, I didn’t think drones would explode as much as they have. In fact, the #1 tech Christmas item for kids ages 10-18 this year was a drone! Drones have exploded amongst photographers, giving them angles not possible a decade ago. Some use them as glorified selfie sticks, some use them to create landscape videos, and others merely use them for fun. I really do think drones are an incredible tool to show people the world in which they live in new and interesting ways. However, I also believe they can be (and have been) harmful.

Back in November, I was using my drone to shoot landscape photos of the Augusta Canal; flying it under bridges, near dams, and high overhead of larger buildings. After I had gotten a couple great clips and images, I landed it on a beach near the west side of the Savannah River. A fisherman came up to me and asked to see what I was doing, so I showed him all the videos clips and shots I had taken that day. Needless to say, he was impressed…not only that, but we both discovered from one of the aerial shots I took, that there was a creek not too far from where we were standing! We trudged through the swamp to find it, and hours later, he came back with a stack of fish, and I returned with a card full of photos. One of these photos is being published in Augusta’s travel magazine The New Augustan for the Spring of 2017! Without the drone, we would have never known to look for that creek in a dense swamp and I wouldn’t have gotten those images, nor he the fish: I love that about technology. Technology is supposed to serve us in that way: to help us better ourselves, find new paths and give us new ways of looking at the world that we wouldn’t or couldn’t have found otherwise. That’s a beautiful thing.

The lines between helping and hurting start to blur a bit when we move towards what I like to call “intrusive exploration.” Intrusive exploration doesn’t mean exploring with harmful intentions; in fact it’s quite the opposite! Intrusive exploration is exploration done with good intentions, but is poorly executed. Let me give you an example. I was walking one the boardwalk through Phinizy Swamp, one of Augusta’s most beautiful, swampy, wetland parks. As I came around a bend, I saw a fellow photographer knee deep in mud chasing a turtle around the boardwalk with a zoom lens: obviously disturbing the poor turtle, definitely trashing the wetland environment, and honestly not really caring about either of those two things. See, his intentions were good, he just wanted a good photograph of a turtle…but how he carried out those intentions is completely different story. It's no different for drone pilots. There are ways of exploring with drones without being intrusive. That doesn’t mean some people won’t be annoyed, or “speak their minds about the good-old days” but it does mean that you respect the environment you are in, and if you do that, people will notice! Get permission before flying your drone. Don’t be a nuisance. Don’t intrusively explore. Read a good book on how to fly your drone and be respectful of the place you are in. Go show people new and interesting things, it’s worth it.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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