As someone who specializes in architectural photography, most of my subjects stay in one place. With my camera and feet planted firmly on the ground, I’m able to control the environment and set up a shot just the way I want it – and from a variety of angles and perspectives.
It’s a little different when I’m 1,000 feet up. In most cases, I have to wait for the shot to come to me – and be ready to take it when it does. I’m literally shooting on the fly.
But whether on the ground or in the air, I always look to create a strong design and composition, organizing visual info as it comes into frame. As the helicopter hovers over a site, the geometry of what I see continually shifts. I zoom in and then out. I aim my camera left, then right. Up, then down. I’m free to improvise. And when the elements of a location form a solid design, I take my shot.
Now, it might sound a little crazy, but when I photograph from a helicopter, the door is always off, so that I can have a clear unobstructed view to as many angles as possible. But I’m no daredevil – I’m strapped in with a seat belt and safety harness.
Flying without a door is particularly challenging when it’s really cold. One of my commercial real estate clients needed aerials of buildings and they couldn’t wait for better weather. When my son Paul (who assists me) and I climbed into the Robinson R44, the temperature on the ground was 0°F. Imagine the wind chill factor when flying at speeds of up to 100 mph – with no door.
On that assignment I wore long underwear, insulated orange ski pants, wool socks, heavy boots, multiple layers on my torso with a windproof shell, a balaclava on my head to cover all but my eyes, and a hat over that. Add warm gloves with mittens over them to protect my hands when not shooting. At times during the two hour flight, I felt like a war correspondent about to be dropped into the Arctic Circle.
And I loved it!