I finally got a chance to interview an amazing drone photographer named Jordan Lerma, aka @uheheu.
Jordan is based in Hawaii and he has an incredible feed that is truly one of a kind. One of my favorite things to see from him is the way he captures stunning aerial photos and videos of whales. His work over the ocean is so mesmerizing that his posts literally rack up millions of views of Facebook & Instagram.
I interviewed Jordan to hear more about his work and process as well as learn about his journey, creative philosophy, gear, and recommended drone & photography resources. I’ve included lots of drone photo and video work (make sure you hover over the Instagram embedded pieces because those are videos) and I sprinkled a few non-drone pieces to show you how versatile he is shooting below and above the water.
Now let’s get started!
Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. You have created the best resource for the drone community.I would not be where I am today without your help.
I would not be where I am today without your help.
I’m Jordan! I was born and raised in Hawaii and educated in the Bay Area.
After realizing I didn’t want to waste my youth sitting in a cubicle working a 9-5 job I quit and started doing work online.
Now I do everything from web design to managing Airbnb’s!
When I’m not flying the drone, I’m probably either in the ocean, running or hiking!
Thank you! My grandpa was a huge influence when I was growing up.
He was an avid collector of old film cameras and was always taking pictures.
He encouraged my mom to let me spend all the money I saved up when I was 8 to purchase my own point and shoot.
I’ve been shooting ever since!
After I had quit my job in San Francisco, I moved to Kauai. My landlord (we call him Captain) would build all kinds of drones from racing quads to waterproof phantoms. He would always fly them in the
He would always fly them in the backyard, and eventually, he let me fly one. I was hooked. So I immediately ran inside bought a Phantom 3 Pro.
Before the Phantom, I was at a point where I became frustrated taking the same photos from the same spots as other photographers.
The Phantom revitalized my creative energy by opening up so many new perspectives. I was excited to go out and explore again.
I was happy with the Phantom 3. The range was amazing, and the quality was good enough for what I wanted to do.
That was just over a year ago, and I’m so blown away with how much the technology has evolved.
One stupid story, please don’t judge me…it was New Year’s Eve so we had tons of fireworks and we were getting bored.
My cousin and I had this awesome idea to lift this huge fountain with the drone. Of course, the fountain was way too heavy for the Phantom to lift.
But instead of giving up, we got another Phantom out of the car and had two of them lifting the fountain.
Lifting the fountain lasted for a glorious 6 seconds before my Phantom decided it had enough and plummeted to the ground.
Thankfully I only cracked the shell and was able to get it back up and running a week later.
Is there a video of the crash? Yes.
If enough people comment that they wanna see it, I’ll post it to my story, or maybe you can write an article of what not to do with your drone ;)
Before I fly, I have a general idea of the photo I want to capture. I’m not one to fly randomly and hope for the best.
I try to be unique and capture different perspectives I’ve never seen before, but at the end of the day, I shoot what fulfills me creatively.
I think a good example of this is:
I’m inspired by nature and the unknown. I think it’s incredible that for as long as we have been studying our oceans there are still so many things we don’t know.
For example, no one has ever filmed a humpback whale mating or giving birth.
It is inspiring to think that I can still go outside and capture moments no one has ever seen before.
I’m also very much inspired by the community of creatives I’ve been able to connect with over the past year.
Even just browsing the discover feed I’m introduced to some very talented photographers and videographers I could have never met otherwise.
Photographing Wild by Paul NicklenThe Lives of Hawaii’s Dolphins and Whales by Robin Baird Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
This is such a tough question. I have way too many favorites and am constantly inspired by so many people.
I like photographers that take it one step further.
For example, the NatGeo/BBC Earth teams both go to the ends of the earth to capture their incredible images of nature.
War photographers risk their lives to share images that impact the entire world.
Astrophotographers have to bring together many disciplines to construct the necessary tools to see millions of miles into our past.
I appreciate the difficulty people have to struggle through to get the shot.
To me, that is what separates a good photo with a great one.
This is by far my most liked video. It has over 10M views on Facebook and Instagram..but…I almost never posted it.
It was sitting in my camera roll for months. I had so many reasons why from a technical standpoint I didn’t like it.
I thought people wouldn’t like it because the highlights were blown out and the color was off.
One night just before I went to sleep I just said f it and pressed share.
It singlehandedly taken my account to places I could have never dreamed.
It has taught me to let go of the anxiety of posting something that isn’t perfect.
This is social media, not a movie theater. It is okay to go outside your comfort zone.
I’d love to film the whales during their summer migration in the Arctic. Somewhere in Alaska, Washington or Iceland would be awesome.
My dream project is to work on a Planet Earth type of series or maybe just have Sir David Attenborough narrate my footage.
Haha! Aside from the obvious, I think it’s the people. The Aloha spirit is alive and well.
When Donal Boyd (@donalboyd) and I were filming on Kauai we just showed up at Captain’s house. They were so welcoming.
They gave us a place to sleep and even cooked for us for two weeks.
My humpback footage has gotten a lot of attention and has opened the doors to working with more research organizations.
There are still many species of whales that could benefit from this type of exposure.
“Uheheu” means to fly as if on wings in Hawaiian.
I’m part Native Hawaiian and thought it would be meaningful in regards to the content I was posting.
I realize now that almost no one knows how to say Uheheu (my bad.)
When I first started posting the whale footage, I wasn’t sure how everyone was going to react.
I received many messages from people who were concerned that the drones posed a threat to the whales.
I didn’t want my name associated with that or anything more serious.
Thankfully I think the community understands where I come from now so I recently decided to post my actual name in my profile.
My Instagram story is basically a concentrated version of who I am. I care deeply about the ocean, but at the same time, I struggle with finding the possible solutions to the problems we face (climate change, plastics, overfishing, etc.)
I take the position of showing people what we need to protect. I try to put a face to the issues that we have to deal with in the near future.
One of the biggest things I struggle with is whether to post something I like or to post something that will get likes.
It’s way more fulfilling to be proud of the things you share. Social validation in terms of likes or views is superficial. Share because you like what you create and share what you love.
Be patient about finding your audience. I don’t believe in using engagement groups and automated bots like Instagress.
I think artificial methods to spoof engagement is only a poison on a platform like Instagram and distracts from those who produce good content. Love what you shoot and everything will fall into place.
I have a Smart Powercharger that I’m a huge fan of. Being able to charge four batteries at the same time saves me a lot of time and frustration.
After I left Kauai, Captain would call me up every so often to talk story.
He would always tell me about his trips up to Na Pali and basically framed this picture in my mind.
When I came back to Kauai over a year later he asked if I was ready to get this shot.
The weather forecast didn’t look very promising but we decided to chance it and cruise up the coast.
When we got there the water was like a lake, the large surf from the previous day was nowhere to be seen.
We launched from Captain’s boat and basically took photos and videos until the sunset.
I edit all of my photos in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
I shoot bracketed exposures so the first step is to combine the different shots into something that looks natural.
I’ll adjust exposure and color to replicate what I saw when I took the shot.
I crop all of my pictures to Instagram vertical resolution since they show up better on mobile.
Favorite apps: Lightroom Mobile and Instagram
I’m currently using a Phantom 4 Pro+, six batteries the stock case everything came in, and SanDisk Extreme Pro memory cards.
I also bring along the Phantom 3 Pro just in case.
There are so many accessories and extra gear that I want but nothing that I really need.
I’m not sure if I have a favorite. Everything I carry with me is essential to what I do.
Faster, more energy efficient, safer, smaller. Drones will be commonplace in a lot of industries.
Drones will be able to save lives and bring the internet to the most remote places in the world.
Create content you feel passionate about. I think social media is filled with a lot of fluff. Add to a conversation. Think differently and be creative.
Oh and read Photographing Wild by Paul Nicklen.
Since I started Uheheu, my videos have appeared all over the place it becomes difficult to keep track of it all.
I will say it is an honor to have organizations like Oceana, Mission Blue, and the United Nations share my work.
I feel like I’m helping to contribute to an important cause.
Hopefully, I’ll get to film humpback whales during their next migration in Iceland or Alaska!
If you have a question for Jordan about his journey, work or gear, leave a comment down below!