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Eyes in the Sky: Meet Lior Patel

Clara Parkes
Clara Parkes
21 min read
Eyes in the Sky: Meet Lior Patel

We love wool, but we love the sheep who grow wool even more. My next Voices in Wool guest Lior Patel is curious about the sheep themselves, the ways in which they navigate the landscape and one another.

I'm talking with Lior Patel, the 42-year-old professional drone photographer from Haifa, Israel, who created the mesmerizing and oh-so-viral time-lapse video of sheep that I shared with you a few weeks ago.


Listen to the episode

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The moment I learned that Lior had spent an entire seven months observing this flock from the sky, I knew I needed to find out more.

I wanted to know what led him to this project. Why sheep? What did he learn about the animals from his unique vantage point in the sky? And why does he think this particular video has taken off the way it has?

Our conversation blossomed into a much larger discussion about life itself—about keeping balance and perspective and holding onto the creative spark when turning one's passion into one's profession. We also talked about the fleeting nature of Internet "stardom," about how he's using the publicity to bring more attention to farmers, and about the opportunities that this video has brought him—and why he turned down a chance to profit financially from the project.

Along the way, Lior shares some fascinating observations he made about sheep as a collective society, and how much we can learn from them.

I was struck by Lior's charm and kindness. He continues to be surprised by the reach of this video. Ironically, even though his work is based in the sky, Lior ended up being one of the most grounded people I've ever met.

Read the full transcript of the interview  

Find Lior Patel on Instagram

View his other drone work on his website, Bravo Zulu Aerials

Transcript

Clara Parkes (host) (00:05):Is it possible to be a voice in wool without speaking a word about wool? If you are Lior Patel, the 42-year-old professional drone photographer from Haifa, Israel, my answer is yes. His fascination is with the sheep themselves. Recently Lior found himself a bit of a viral sensation after posting a short time-lapse drone video in which hundreds of sheep move from pasture to pasture in swirls and puffs and streams across the landscape. It's absolutely mesmerizing. His story has been picked up on all three national news channels in Israel. And in fact, he had just gotten off the phone with the BBC when I contacted him. I'm curious to find out what he learned about sheep during the seven months he filmed this flock from the air, what drove him to embark upon the project in the first place, and why he thinks his work has resonated with so many people. Lior, welcome. And thank you for talking.

Lior Patel (01:07):You're welcome. And I really wanted to do this. It feels different.

Clara  (01:12):Walk us through, how does a crazy week of going viral unfold and how far has this gone?

Lior (01:20):Um, so Thursday, I decided that I am finishing the project. Because the sheep arrived at summer pasture, I did the shots, I knew what I was looking for. Because really, it's been such a long project. And I had been there for so many times that for the last meeting, I knew what I needed. So I told them, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure. And really, they hosted me open heartedly every time that I came. And I know farmers and everyone in the agriculture business are very busy people and not always... They have the best day in conveniency to speak to me. So I went back home. It was Thursday. Friday, Mustafa [Tabash, the owner of the flock] called me and said, can you send me a couple of clips? I put together that specifically, that clip, just to give it, send it to Mustafa. I kept it in the computer, I said, yeah, I'll upload it to my Facebook.

Lior (02:14):I have a nice, uh, cousins and family that always leave the most embarrassing comments, but I love every single one of them because no one says, yeah, you're a great photographer. They're all, sweetie, you're so good, I love you so much! It doesn't look professional. I appreciate these comments the most, but they never look professional. So I said, you know what, let me get my ego fix in another small nature loving group on Facebook. I shared it to only that single group, went to drink coffee, came back from the kitchen to the computer, and I saw people shared it for 20 times. And I said, wow, that's nice. Left the house completely, came back two hours later, and started understand that something has gone completely, completely, completely beyond my control. I couldn't believe believe it. So I thought that Facebook's algorithm is wrong or something is wrong, it's not happening. And then I started getting emails and I realized that it's really happening. And it never stopped until this point this minute, it's still, it's still... I'm looking at the phone and I'm overwhelmed, But I know that as fast as it came, it will just vanish in a day or two. And I accept both sides of the rope.

Clara  (03:32):You have a very grounded perspective on these things.

Lior (03:35):I'm 42 years old. I've seen a couple of things now, and I look at the younger generation and I know that everything needs to be very immediate. You take a photo, you upload it, you tag it and you, you want it to succeed. And I came from a very long project. These past seven months. It wasn't always convenient for the family that I'll go and spend a couple of hours with the herd, the flock I just realized we call it flocks. So I took my time and it happened. I don't know. I'm enjoying it, but I know it's going to go away very soon.

Clara  (04:12):So here's my question. Why sheep?

Lior (04:14):When you drive by the countryside, I have no direct connection to sheep or the farming industry, which I love and adore every chance that I get to work with the clients in that industry. But you know, when you drive with your car in the countryside road and you see a flock of sheep on the side of the road, or if you get super lucky, you see them when they cross the road. And you're like, wow, that's really nice. That's a nice site. And combine that with knowing that you own the aerial perspective of it. Because I carry my drone, always with me, always, always. And so I said, huh, how will it look from above? I got a chance to shoot smaller flocks. But when I set my mind to spot or locate a mega flock (in Israel, 1,700 sheep is a mega flock), I knew I had a mission. I need to find a large flock. And farmers here, it's a small country. So every farmer knows everyone. And if he doesn't know him directly, so he knows the guy that grows cabbage. I have phones in my contact list, you know, like Avi cabbage, John carrots, Moishe potatoes. So now I have Micha, sheep. And so he directed me, gave me the phone number and I just, uh, contacted the shepherd. Yeah. And I invited myself, he invited me, and it happened.

Clara  (05:49):So what did they think of this person coming in and filming their flock? Did they think it was strange or like, Hey, why not?

Lior (05:55):First time I got there, the shepherd is called Mustafa. He told me, yeah. A lot of people come in with a drone and take a couple of shots. So nothing was not normal for him. I took, I did my walk. I fell in love instantly. I said goodbye to Mustafa. I knew deep in my heart that I'm going to come here as often as I can. So the first time was meaningless to him. But when I got actually pretty obsessed about it and I used to visit him once a week, or like, whenever something happened, he sat down then said, why do you keep coming? And I told him, I'm addicted to long-term projects. I'm not addicted, but I believe in long-term projects. And he said, what's going to come out of it at the end? I said, I have no idea. I live in the city and I have to be honest, sitting on a green hill, drinking coffee with Mustafa and his family and watching the sheep in the field.

Lior (06:56):The drone becomes secondary to all that. So part of me just wanted to be that fake farmer. You know, pretend to live that life. I'm not joking. It's embarrassing, but I'm speaking very honestly. But he knew that I was shooting. I told him, listen, something's going to come out of it. I'll show you, uh, show it to you in the end. And he just accepted me. Total acceptance. He said, you can, you don't need to call me. You can just show up. Stop calling me. Because obviously I guess it bothers him sometimes. But he wouldn't, he wouldn't admit it. He never made me feel uncomfortable about... cause I'd call him and I'm like, Mustafa, where's the herd right now, when are you coming back? Is there any unexpected motion? Are the fields still a super green? Because in January there was super lush green. And it was very important for me to document different stages for the land itself, for the sheep as well. So yeah, I dunno, total acceptance. He loved it.

Clara  (08:02):You know, Lior, when I was researching sheep from a wool perspective, I found a similar thing. It seems like people in this industry are so used to being overlooked for shinier objects, that when anyone comes and expresses a genuine interest and curiosity and openness to learn more about what they do, they're just extraordinarily generous.

Lior (08:24):I don't want to sound very general, but it feels to me that no one dreams to become a farmer, at least here in Israel, everyone wants to close themselves in a nice office with air conditioning. And that's how I feel. And it's very important for... That's why I insisted on taking TV crews that covered the story to the farm. And I have specific text messages to the producers telling them, listen, I'm the smallest part of this story, there are great, great people over there. Give them most of the time, uh, screen time that you can. And you know what? They started talking about the troubles as farmers on TV. And I, I think that's very, very good achievement for me. Yeah. I think they liked the attention. Cause it's getting a lot of attention. They, they said it clearly, but they're usually overlooked. And usually it feels to me that no one wants to do agriculture as a first choice.

Clara  (09:26):It's true. And yet we desperately need food and it's, it's a noble profession that involves a lot of hard work. So there's, there's no, no shame in it.Lior (09:35):Yeah. Oh, there's super pride in it. The way I see it. Absolutely.

Clara  (09:39):You did this for seven months, correct?

Lior (09:41):Yeah.

Clara  (09:42):You have a very unique vantage point, being able to watch the flock from above, where the farmer is always watching from the ground. And I'm curious, in your time observing the animals and watching them move from place to place and navigate the terrain and navigate each other, have you observed anything about their character or their behavior, things that you expected or that surprised you about the sheep?

Lior (10:11):From the aerial point of view, and obviously during seven months, I accumulated, I think hours of footage, I noticed the motion within the motion of the herd. Like the micro motions in the herd itself. Like if some sheep are going too fast, the dogs will make them go into a, like a waiting circle at the airport when it's too busy. I'll show it to you, I'll have, I have to send it to you, in like, not in super fast speed in normal speed. You see them, they create this waiting circle for the sheep that went a bit too far and they spin in circle and perfectly blend back at the end of the line. That's one thing. So the motions within the general motion of the, of the flock is fantastic. I'm still investigating it. And by the way, one of the great things I got contacted by, uh, the major university in Israel, from the brain research department. They want the entire footage that I accumulated and they want to apply mathematical algorithm on the sheep to try to understand how they flow across the field.

Clara  (11:29):Wow.

Lior (11:29):So that's another thing. And the cute part was the privileged sheep. There are few sheep that are allowed by the dogs and by Mustafa to do whatever they want. And I used to want to, in the beginning, you just want to tell him, listen, there's the sheep running away? And he said, no, no, no, she'll be back in, in 30 minutes. She knows what she's doing. And you know what? I drink my coffee, 30 minutes later, the sheep is back.

Clara  (11:59):Wow.

Lior (12:00):Yeah. It's nice. So, the motion within the motion is the spectacular thing to see from above, and the more meaningful, but I don't really understand what's going on. I'm assuming I asked Mustafa and he confirmed it, but I don't, I'm not sure. And the privileged sheep are the nice, cute thing that I found out.

Clara  (12:23):That's fascinating. I didn't... Didn't know that either. And then of course, sheep dogs are just brilliant beings in their own right.

Lior (12:29):I tried to figure out, I think they're the real story behind it all. I tried figuring out how they do it. Mustafa told me that they give the dogs basic training, like come, sit, or whatever, but the teaching them is done by the older dogs in the flock. I don't know how it works, the mechanism behind it, or how they, they don't bark. Minimal amount of barking, by the way. They're not aggressive towards the sheep, but they manage it perfectly. I'm amazed by it. But I'm far from understanding anything in it.

Clara  (13:07):And have you heard that they're doing experiments with replacing sheep dogs with drones?

Lior (13:12):I've never heard of it.

Clara  (13:13):Sometimes they even equip the drones with a barking sound because the sheep got used to the drones and they wouldn't move. And so they had to add sound to the drones to make the sheep react.

Lior (13:24):I'm hearing a job opportunity right now.

Clara  (13:28):That's true! Maybe this is it...

Lior (13:31):No no no. No one will write a book about the drone while, for that specific herd, or flock, excuse me, there was a book that was written by a very famous, uh, writer in Israel, Meir Shalev, who wrote a book specifically about this flock. It's called The Panda is Going Out With the Herd. It's about a small dog. Yeah. So I don't know. I think there's only so much that technology can replace. The great little things in life... Mustafa will never, never, never take a drone instead of a dog. Never. It's a it's... I sit in a very romantic way. I know I sound naive and obviously there's money involved in the entire industry, but I don't know. I wish it will never happen. That's my point.

Clara  (14:25):I'm curious on a bigger perspective in the work that you do, you see the world from above, and it's a very distinct vantage point. Whether you're filming container ships, those are amazing videos by the way, or flamingos or harvesting equipment and fields. What about that vantage point or that perspective appeals?

Lior (14:46):So I started as a, I can call it ground or normal photography from the ground. I love every part of it. And then I started, I just bought the drone and I said, let's see what everybody's talking about, a couple of years ago. And it just caught me that there's no specific thing, but once, once it was in the air and I saw the different perspective -- because I am part of the world that everything new looks better, I can't deny, in some way, yeah, of course not totally. So I think I said, wow, that's a different perspective. Let's let's get into it. And then I stuck to it, stuck with it. It stuck with me. I don't know, I'm not touching my ground camera for, I haven't touched it for a long time. I feel sorry about it by the way. Now that I'm saying it.

Clara  (15:40):Uh-oh! No! I don't mean to...

Lior (15:42):No, cuz I... Speaking of long-term projects, I moved in with a 100-year-old homeless person that plays an accordion on in the street when I was a ground photographer. And I moved in with him for two weeks, only to find out that he's not really homeless. He's a Holocaust survivor. And he does it purely for fun. He donates every cent that people donate to him. He lives in a, in a better neighborhood than I live, I used to, that I live right now. So yeah, the ground camera took me to beautiful places. And then I got licensed by the civil... Aerial civil authority here in Israel. And it became a job that I love, but I stuck to it. And, uh, yeah, that's it. I let things flow. I don't know.

Clara  (16:36):I have a woo-woo theory about sheep in particular and maybe it's just because they've gotten me where I am, but they in particular seem to be really good guides for humans. And I wonder if that's part of why people have responded so deeply to this? Because we have lived with sheep for seven to 10,000 years, and we're so disconnected from them now that people seeing this and the beauty with which you've captured it, it it's triggering something in us that resonates. Like we're, we're seeking that connection.

Lior (17:10):Sheep is a dominant animal in everybody's life since they were a kid, in one way or another. Like kids books. You can always find a fantastic book about sheep. Watching sheep and then understanding the herd theory implemented on people or on actual sheep... There's a connection all the way. We are moving as a mega flock of sheep in a philosophical point of view. We are. Even the people that are not in the consensus, they are, by the way, the people that are in the waiting circle that I told you earlier about, at the end of the turning around and waiting circles, you're part of society. You you're part of the entire pack. Maybe you can be that privileged sheep that comes back 30 minutes later in the clip, you can see sheep running between the entire flock against the direction of the flock, just to grab a couple more bites at the end of the field.

Lior (18:12):But as soon as they finish the, uh, experience outside of the herd, they know there'll be back with the herd at one point. So I see it as very similar to humans. You can be not in the consensus, but at the end of the day, you're part of society, whether you're on top or at the end in the middle, in the, in the waiting circle, you're part of that general movement. And you just need to find your spot. And allowing these waiting circles and going back for an extra bite or being privileged is part of the grace that comes together with, with, with the humanity. Do you, does it make sense? What I'm saying?Clara  (18:58):

This makes profound sense. And I'm glad you mentioned that that one moment when they're all moving through that tiny little opening, and then meanwhile, this whole cross section are, they're moving back through it, but they all, they all make room for one another. They all are part of the whole. At the end, they will still... "The group's going that way, I'm going to go there." They understand that's for companionship, . That's for protection, that's for food. They just know to be together, that it's in everyone's best interest to stick together.

Lior (19:32):Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.

Clara  (19:34):I'm curious, what does your family think of what has happened?

Lior (19:38):My older daughter is 12 and my younger one is seven. She's not, well, she pretends to be 12 she's, 11 and a couple of months. And she knows way better than about what's going on. She knows, she understands viral, the younger generation. I didn't understand what's going on. And now I'm only three days into it and I really understood that something big is happening. They like the attention. Kids these days. We're trying to teach them what's important. And it's like, she always tells me, I want to be famous. You, you can't be famous for wanting to be famous. You need an entire process of doing something. Whatever it is that you're going to do, do it. And if you do it well enough, the consequence might be that you become famous. But they're enjoying the attention. And you know what? That kid's show, New Channel, the kids' show New Channel? The interview they did with me was so important for me. Because this will vanish in a couple of days.

Lior (20:45):No one will care about the sheep. But this is a fantastic memory for the family forever. Having them doing an interview with me while my wife had to leave the house. Cause we just got a beagle.

Clara  (21:01):Uh-oh!

Lior (21:01):Yeah, we should have had this conversation earlier! Because we got her, and then she started barking in the house. And we said, wow. And we read on Wikipedia, they said that one of the reasons that beagles are used for hunting dogs is because you can hear them barking from one side of the forest to the other. And I said, oh my God, we should have read this earlier. No, but the entire, the whole family is proud.

Clara  (21:30):So what does an international viral drone photographer superstar do next?

Lior (21:34):I will never go viral ever again.

Clara  (21:37):Be careful what you say!

Lior (21:37):Never! I've done nothing this week, zero, but interview and dealing with this. I like the attention. I like it. I like it. It's fantastic. But it's, it's not what's next in terms of, uh, going viral. But I, I think I'm going to dig deeper into long-term projects. I'm looking for the next one. I need the process.

Clara  (22:01):That's a good takeaway from this, that it does feed you doing the longer term work. And it's tough when you are a creative person, but you also need to be able to have an income and support a family and have a house and all that. So you have your commercial side, but you also need to continue feeding that separate pocket of your special creative side. And that's sounds like that's what, this has done.

Lior (22:24):I set a goal in my life to find myself in good places. In good places that accept me and that I want to be there. I do it when I work for a living. I only do things that I like. Personal projects are fantastic. And thank God I have a great family life. So things are good.

Clara  (22:45):If you chose clients you didn't like, I think the love for all of this would die very quickly. So it's in your own best interest to pursue work that feeds you professionally, no matter what you do on the side.

Lior (22:57):I'll tell you one thing. Twenty years ago, my sister passed away and I was pretty, pretty old by that age, I was 20. And I knew then that I'm going to live my life the proper way. Not in terms of being super rich. I never want to be super rich. It's not even a goal, but I want to have peace. I want things to be just for me. And that's in the photography part obviously. And that's how I, uh, realize it.

Lior (23:28):By, by taking these projects for myself. I don't know. I'm very, very focused on living a good calm and relaxed life.

Clara  (23:39):You've actually turned down financial offers for this clip, haven't you?

Lior (23:45):So I got... The first email was a day after. I respect it. It's work, it's a job. That's what they do, it's nothing bad. But they offered to distribute it for me. I just came from beautiful scenery with fantastic animals and Mustafa and karma was surrounding me in such a beautiful way. And people shared it, people, loved it. I tried to follow whatever everyone, what they're writing when they share my posts, and everything looks so beautiful, and people are so complimenting, I'm overwhelmed. And putting a business into it was, uh, not even an option.

Clara  (24:30):Your goal has never been to be a reality show superstar who makes millions licensing content.

Lior (24:36):No! Okay. I have to tell you this. We have three news channels in Israel. All three of them did a story about me.

Clara  (24:45):Oh wow!

Lior (24:45):But yesterday was a deep story. We went back to the flock with an entire TV crew and they did a nice story in the evening news. And today I went out to throw the trash. I just left the house and there's a nice lady, older than me, stopped. I've never seen this lady. And she said, that's some nice work with the sheep video. I was so embarrassed, so embarrassed. And I said, what, how do you know that it's me? And she said, "I watched the news yesterday." And I said, huh. No, but it will pass. I know it will pass. It's okay. The entire instant craziness is... I don't. I just don't like it. I don't accept it. Maybe I'm too old, but I'm, I'm trying to teach my kids to commit to processes.

Clara  (25:33):And yet the video is time lapse.

Lior (25:35):Because...!

Clara (25:35):So it's sped up. Ha ha!

Lior (25:40):OK, one of the problems is that people don't have the patience to watch a 10 minute clip of sheep walking super slow. Sometimes it looks like it's a still photo. And uh, I'm taking you back to the beginning of the conversation. I had to send the clip to Mustafa, and WhatsApp only limits the video to like a minute and a half. So I had to chop it down.

Clara  (26:04):So it was the medium that dictated the length of your video. This means that your next video can be like super slow with five hours of just one sheep slowly blinking...

Lior (26:13):No! I, I... The next... By the way, I think I'm going, um, I started following, what do you call it, a camel caravan in the Judean desert. I already visited once. I felt like I'm cheating on the sheep.

Clara  (26:32):They forgive you!

Lior (26:34):But I think I'm going very slow. No one will care. No one will have the patience to watch it, but I will like it in the end.

Clara  (26:41):Well, for everybody who wants to follow your exploits, whether they be the camel caravan or anything else, I will put your Instagram handle in the show notes. And it is your name, Lior Patel.

Lior (26:52):Yup! There's nothing too important going over there. But sometimes I upload things that I think that are nice.

Clara  (26:58):Well, Lior, I just want to thank you again for creating such a beautiful piece of work and for taking the time to talk to me, this has been such a pleasure,

Lior (27:07):It's the most interesting conversation and fun conversation that I had about it since we started. I'm going to call my wife, she's in the street with the beagle.

Clara Parkes (27:17):Oh no!

Lior (27:17):I'm going to tell her she can come back home.

New Speaker (27:20):[sounds of drone taking off and flying away]

Clara  (27:25):This has been a conversation with Lior Patel, the 42 year old Israeli drone photographer who spent seven months observing a large flock of sheep from the air. The short time lapse video, he threw together for the shepherd and put online for what he thought was just a few photographer friends has since become an international phenomenon. Voices in wool is made possible by members of the wool channel, a member-supported platform, publication and community dedicated to giving wool a voice in the world. To find out more, including how you, too, can join the flock, go to thewoolchannel.com I'm Clara Parkes. And until next time, bye-bye.

Clara Parkes

Wool is life. I make The Wool Channel go.