When Drone Photography Meets Kitesurfing

Our interview with Amazing Aerial photographer, Ydwer van den Heide, the Flying Dutchman, about his career from analog beginnings to extreme sports and droning.
community spotlight droning tips Nov 03, 2022
Aerial view of kitesurfer crossing the ocean at Kite Beach in Santa Maria, Sal, Cape Verde.
Aerial view of kitesurfer crossing the ocean at Kite Beach in Santa Maria, Sal, Cape Verde.© Amazing Aerial Agency / Ydwer van der Heide

By Rebecca Duras

 

 

Ydwer van den Heide is an extreme sports photographer based in the Netherlands and one of our best pilots at Amazing Aerial Agency. He started shooting at a very young age, when cameras were still analog. Later, he combined photography with his long-lasting passion: kitesurfing, developing a great talent for breathtaking action shots. In a recent video podcast with Paul Prescott, Ydwer explained how he managed to become a renowned photographer who gets paid to travel around the world ten months a year.

Ydwer, how did you start with photography?

Photography has always been an interest in my life. My father was a very enthusiastic hobby photographer, and I played around with his camera, which was analog back then. Later, I was working for a graphic design agency. It was a temporary job, and towards the end of my contract, my boss saw that I was very interested in photography and gave me his camera to take photos of the projects we did. With that camera I also started shooting my friends during our kitesurfing sessions, as I was already into water sports. I liked it so much that I thought about combining those two passions, without even knowing that I would earn my money with that one day!

When did you get your first drone?

I was super interested when the drones came out, because I wanted that extra angle from the sky. I was jealous of filmmakers who could get that extra angle, but when they would show me their photos from the drone I was always a bit disappointed: there was never the same quality of the shots that I got with my DSLR. Also, drones were always so big that you needed an extra suitcase, and that wasn't an option for me. But when the first DJI Mavic came in, I thought “this is the solution, I finally have a drone that I can put in my backpack and have always with me”.

 

Aerial view of ocean breaking on rocks at Chapmans Peak Drive, Cape Town, South Africa. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Ydwer van der Heide

Today you travel around the world to shoot kitesurfing events and you are also specialized in travel photography. How does that work for you?

Basically, I started doing kite surf photography and built up a pretty big name in that industry. There is a Global Kitesports Association (GKA) that organizes kitesurfing world tours with at least six stops in different places to find out who’s the best kitesurfer in the world. So since 2017, I traveled around with them, and made sure they get the best kitesurfing photography to show the sport. This is one of the three main activities that I do. I also work for brands that hire me to do photo-shoots for their advertisement, website or communication. Then, I work for magazines: I go on a trip with athletes that I think would be interesting to take pictures of and I pitch the story to the magazines.

What are the practicalities of a kitesurfer / photographer? Are you under the water, on the side, on the beach…? For example, how did you shoot this amazing shot?

This was in Brazil, around 2012. It was early morning, sunrise. The wind is always very strong in the morning and then it dies, and picks up in the afternoon again. Here, I had a tripod that was standing in the water, so the camera is literally floating above the water. I try to look at every shot differently, so you can either shoot from the water – and for this you need to put your camera into a solid underwater housing – but if you can stand in the water you can choose not to use an underwater housing, so you can be more flexible. One piece of advice: these underwater housings are especially made for the camera you use, it’s not a cheap solution but to do your work in a professional way you need to make that investment.

What about the composition? I see you always have something in your photos a part from your subject. It gives perspective from where you are shooting from.

Yes. I always try to get something in the foreground or in the background to create some depth. But what I really like to do is to create a photo where the action is placed in a scenery: basically, if you take out the action, you would still like the photo because of its composition. It’s always a goal I try to strive for. Also, since I know kitesurfing so well, I can anticipate very quickly: I can see where the wave is breaking and where they are going to make the turn, so I can put the drone already in the right position.

You are also one of our best photographers when it comes to post-production. How do you work on this?

 

Aerial view of solar panel boats navigating through the farmlands of Schettens, Friesland, The Netherlands. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Ydwer van der Heide

Post-production is a part of my workflow. For me it is no different than in analog times: as long as you don’t change anything drastically, taking stuff away or manipulating to fake something, everything is allowed. In this photo, I tried to get the focus on the kitesurfer. I just enhanced the colors a little bit and create a vignette to get the focus on the kitesurfer, but actually there’s not so much vignetting, the ocean was very dark and only in that spot where the wave was breaking you see the white water coming out.

In this picture you use light very well. Can you tell us more?

I really like cloudy days to shoot from the sky. The soft light that you get when the sky is overcast creates a better dynamic range, because you don’t have very dark parts in the shadows and very bright in the highlights. It creates a very pleasing view. What I do to
create more focus on the subject is to put a gradient filter on it, and I only take down the highlights on the sides. Normally, with the vignette you really make it darker in the corners, but I try to minimize that but still create focus on the subject by just taking down the highlights.

Your drone photos always have a great composition. They tell a story visually.

 

Aerial view of solar panel boats navigating through the farmlands in Nijhuizum, Friesland, The Netherlands. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Ydwer van der Heide

Yes, I always try to keep the rule of thirds as a starting point, and I really like to play with lines and patterns. I basically divide my photos into different parts. I try to find something that it’s interesting from the sky, something that you don’t even realize it’s there if you look from the ground – it’s not just a shot from the sky.

Finally, how is your experience with Amazing Aerial so far?

 

Aerial view of tidal pool in St. James, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Ydwer van der Heide

I was always doing drone photography on the side, but when you contacted me I realized this could actually be something more. I remember I submitted my first twenty photos, and you told me “well, if you want to take this seriously, I need to build up your portfolio”. That’s when I started to take at least ten good drone shots on every trip that I went, I slowly built up my portfolio and… suddenly, I saw some sales coming through! I said myself: ok, this actually works, I need to put more time into this. I started to enjoy it even more and now, whenever I travel I’m more focused on flying my drone around than on anything else!

 


 

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