What It’s Like to Be a Professional Nature ‘Droner’
Simon Straetker might have one of the coolest jobs in the world. The 22-year-old is a filmmaker who captures Europe’s remote forests and mountain ranges from above—all with the help of drones. His latest trip, a tour through the Austrian Alps, Mount Triglav (Slovenia’s highest peak), Switzerland, and the Hardanger Fjord in Norway with his girlfriend, resulted in this stunning three-minute clip, which he published in early September.
We reached Simon in his native Germany to find out what it’s like hiking Europe with a drone, why he does what he does, and how there’s no such thing as ‘bad weather.’
Describe a typical filming day. Do you wake up with a plan? Or just start exploring and finding cool areas to film?
I do filmmaking for a living, so for this trip, which was our holiday, I didn't want to make a plan. I wanted to be free in my decision to shoot or not shoot. Often when you work for clients you have to get x-amount of shots. Even if the conditions aren't that perfect, you'll still end up shooting because you have to. This time I just wanted to fly the drone whenever I felt like it.
What was the most challenging shot?
One of the most challenging shots was actually one scene that didn't even make it into the final video. It was in a really narrow gorge in the south of Triglav National Park; flying through the super narrow canyon was a real adrenaline rush, but in the end it didn't work on camera.
Any other moments stand out?
Another really critical shot was the one of the Folgefonna Glacier in Norway. I'd been waiting up there in rainy conditions for nearly an hour. It was getting time to go, but I didn't want to leave without a shot. Just in that moment, the sky cleared for a few minutes. I launched the drone, got the shot, but the clouds came back quickly and I had to bring back the drone while it was raining. Luckily nothing happened.
Are there optimal light or weather conditions for drone filming?
In nature, any light or weather situation can be great. If you look at those foggy hiking aerials in the video, for example, no one would call that nice weather. But it was still an incredibly magical and mysterious atmosphere which we really enjoyed.
What did you most enjoy about traveling through Europe with a drone?
It never gets boring because you can always start droning when there’s nothing else to do.
How much of your time was actually spent filming? Were there days when you just wanted to relax?
In Slovenia, it rained non-stop for about three days, so I just had to carry the drone over the mountain passes. There definitely were days which we spent relaxing rather than droning, but at the same time it never really felt like work because we could just film whenever we wanted to—there was no obligation.
What was your goal with this project?
I simply love nature, and most of my videos are meant to inspire people to get out there and explore. I also filmed quite a few scenes in cities, like Bergen, but during the edit I realized how much more I enjoyed the nature footage, so I decided to mainly focus on nature.
Any unusual or funny encounters on the road?
One morning in Slovenia, while droning, we spotted two professional kayak teams racing across Lake Bohinj. I really wanted to get a shot of that epic scenery, so I launched the drone and flew all the way to the middle of the lake. Once the drone was above the two kayaks they suddenly stopped racing. They were clearly confused as to what was happening and eventually they decided to turn back to escape the drone. I really didn't know drones could have had such a big influence on real-life events, but I suppose people are still getting used to them.
Any tips for travelers who want to try their hand at drone filming?
Go out there and do it! But don't just fly the average drone shots, try to challenge yourself: fly through narrow things, try to always keep improving as you go. Getting a decent backpack is important, to help you carry your drone up mountains. As they say, the best camera is the one that's with you. I think, the best drone is the one that's always with you!