UAVs AND AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY: Ethics

Story and photography by Ralph Bendjebar

As the use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) has become more commonplace in aerial photography and videography, the inevitable questions arise about their ethical use: What are the responsibilities of operators to ensure that they comply not only with the legal restrictions concerning commercial use (FAA Certificate of Authority and legal use in the National Airspace), but also the responsibility to adhere to the ethical standards we impose upon ourselves when doing land-based photography/videography.

We as photographers/videographers have a responsibility to tread lightly when photographing nature. If we disturb wildlife in the act of recording images or footage by altering the behavior of the animal or disrupting its environment, we have crossed an ethical boundary that is hard to justify. Most of us have a reasonable sense of when that boundary is crossed. For example, if a safari vehicle intersects a cheetah in the act of stalking prey, forcing it to abandon the hunt, that is unacceptable from an ethical standpoint. But if that same vehicle causes zebras or wildebeest to maneuver out of the way, most of us would consider that acceptable. The line between what is and is not considered ethical can be difficult to determine, but the question that needs to be asked is: Does my act of recording images/footage interfere with the normal behavior of the animal? Continue reading