Paine Park, a skateboard park near the Philadelphia Art Museum. An aerial view highlights creative shapes and patterns in a way you just couldn’t achieve from the ground.
Paine Park, a skateboard park near the Philadelphia Art Museum. An aerial view highlights creative shapes and patterns in a way you just couldn’t achieve from the ground.

As a kid, if you asked me what kind of animal I wished I could be, I would’ve answered eagle in a heartbeat. I dreamt of soaring through the clouds, peering down at the earth far below. As an adult, I’ve come pretty close to this feeling when I’m up in a helicopter capturing aerial photographs of buildings, skylines and neighborhoods.

A wide view from above highlights suburban America’s highways, shopping malls, and office buildings.
A wide view from above highlights suburban America’s highways, shopping malls, and office buildings.

Aerials capture an important viewpoint when documenting a site or structure. When a commercial realtor is marketing an office building or shopping center, showing the location from the air gives potential buyers a clear sense of scale and context.

Shot from high up, the Cira Center in Philadelphia reflects its surroundings.
Shot from high up, the Cira Center in Philadelphia reflects its surroundings.

A view from up high can be a powerful and dramatic way to show a project in a completely different way, like an architect's scale model come to life. Sometimes when I’m hovering overhead in a helicopter, I feel like I’m looking down on my own personal model train set. What a feeling!

Aerial photography showcases the lush green campus of Glaxo Smith Kline in King of Prussia, PA.
Aerial photography showcases the lush green campus of Glaxo Smith Kline in King of Prussia, PA.

Capturing excellent aerial photographs is not easy. It requires a great deal of planning, teamwork, communication — and strong nerves, as you’re hanging out of the open door of a small two-person helicopter trying to find the perfect angle.

An overhead view captures the precise geometry of the Quadrangle and student housing at University of Pennsylvania.
An overhead view captures the precise geometry of the Quadrangle and student housing at University of Pennsylvania.

I’ve done many aerial shoots, so I’m able to accurately calculate time and cost. There’s nothing worse than underestimating the amount of time needed, or over-booking a pilot’s time. Experience matters.

Philadelphia turns into glowing pockets of light when photographed from above at night.
Philadelphia turns into glowing pockets of light when photographed from above at night.

Before I climb aboard the helicopter, I like to have a clear vision of what I’ll see when I’m up there. I first look up the location on Google Maps and study the satellite view carefully. Once the client confirms that the building I’m seeing in the satellite view is in fact the one I’ve been hired to photograph (you’d be surprised how different something can look from hundreds of feet up in the air!) I mark down the GPS coordinates and print out the satellite view to help navigate the pilot.

Time to fly...

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