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Up in the Air

Posted on: Aug 10, 2010

The World from Above

Green Hills of Spring in Contra Costa County, California

I don’t think of myself as an aerial photographer, but I certainly do find myself on numerous occasions hovering at 500 feet around the Bay Area in a wingless craft smaller than a Volkswagen.  When you are a real estate company marketing a campus of buildings, the best way to show it is often from the air. Taking off from a general aviation strip in a small helicopter and skimming a few hundred feet above the earth’s surface is an indescribable thrill that makes this job fun.   With an image stabilized lens attached to a digital camera capable of high ISOs and autofocus, shooting from the air has become much more predictable.  In the days of film, aerials were always dicey.  Now they are routine.  A photographer still needs to pick a good day and know when to go up, but the technical aspects of creating aerials have been rendered perfunctory.

Suburban Sprawl, California

The world from above is always beautiful.  The patterns of nature and man’s inevitable intrusion are on display in the most graphic and dramatic fashion.  Landscapes often begin to look like Richard Diebenkorn paintings without really trying.  From emerald rolling hills of spring to the varied color evaporation ponds along the bay, Mother Nature always has a show and a low flying helicopter is a front row seat.

Evaporation Ponds, San Francisco Bay

There are two types of aerials: Mapping and Oblique images.  Mapping shots are what you get from Google Maps, a flat view that can be laid out as a map. Obliques are taken from much lower down and shot at a 45° angle to show height and depth of objects on the ground.  The shadow lines that fall give depth and vivacity to the images, lacking in most mapping shots.  After some minor tweaking for color and contrast many aerial shots have the ability to become instant art.

Earth Movers on a Development Site

It is not often that I can create art while on a commercial photo shoot, but from the co-pilot’s seat in a small helicopter, the world is one big canvas ready to be photographed.

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