Working as an aerial photographer:
Generally speaking, the majority of my aerial work can be divided four ways:
producing books, one-off jobs for advertising or design clients, providing
images for stock libraries such as Corbis and Getty and running my own
specialist aerial photographic library.
When I first started out, the big money was in high-profile advertising
campaigns which invariably had substantial budgets behind them. In recent
years, belts have been tightened and budgets have been cut.
Art directors are now more likely to check out the less expensive option of
buying a stock shot before approaching a photographer to start the process
from scratch. While the results can be more than worth it, the medium of
aerial photography clearly has various costs attached to it. An advertising
budget would need to cover a recee lasting up to two days as well as enough
air time to achieve the desired result.
Because of this, stock libraries are gaining a larger and larger share of
the market and now that so many are trading with fantastic online sites, new
commissions can be hard to come by. Photographers such as myself with niche
market libraries have to be on the ball and work hard to constantly up-date
their own websites in order to compete with the market leaders. Keyword
searches and personal lightbox facilities are now standard features that all
library websites need to be taken seriously.
The usual starting point for advertising work is a meeting with an art
director who will provide a rough layout from which to work. For instance,
last year I was commissioned to work on a series of advertisements for BP.
The first concept needed a perfectly straight set of crossroads together
with the company colours (yellow and green) in one of the four adjoining
fields. Crossroads you can look up on a map the colours of the adjoining
fields are a bit trickier. Having identified potential locations, I spent
quite a few hours flying around the countryside shooting various sites and
adding them onto a digital map using a hand-held GPS unit. Eventually, I
found the perfect location dead straight crossroads with glorious yellow
and green crops in the fields. We re-shot it in perfect sunlight with an
addition of a truck that we hired in to complete the shoot a week later.
Both the client and the agency were very pleased with the results.
Aerial photography books are a very different prospect and it can sometimes
take as long to sort out the contracts as it does to produce the book.
Usually of a specific city, region or country, books allow a much greater
freedom of photography. I will either approach an editor with an idea or
visa versa and then spend a few weeks preparing a shoot list of proposed
subjects. Once a budget has been agreed and the sites plotted onto maps, the
fun bit starts.
I usually talk to the pilot every evening when shooting for a book to plan
the next days shoot. Frustratingly, it is the weather that is the greatest
saboteur of the best-laid flying plans. Notoriously difficult to predict in
Britain at the best of times, it is not only the cloud base that needs to be
taken into consideration for aerial photography, but also the wind and
visibility. A point in case would be when I was working in Scotland a few
years ago. Having taken off very early in the morning from a hotel garden
(apologies to any guests who got a very noisy wake-up call), there was not a
cloud in the sky. Visibility was excellent, Scotland was spread out below me
as far as the eye could see and I was looking forward to a full day
flying. Within an hour, the weather totally changed. Ominous rain clouds
were building up around us and we decided to head back. We dropped lower and
lower in the helicopter trying to dodge the rain clouds, using the VFR
(visual flight rules) as guidance. However, the clouds were obscuring our
vision so badly that we soon realised we were not going to be able to return
to the hotel garden and resigned ourselves to landing wherever we could. In
the event, this turned out to be a deserted moor. The rain poured down
around us as we did the only thing we could sat and waited for it to stop.
By mid-afternoon several hours after the pilot and I had run out of things
to talk about the clouds dispersed sufficiently enough to let us take off
again. Obviously sitting in a helicopter in the pouring rain with no food
and dwindling conversation isnt much fun, but it is far safer to be on the
ground in adverse weather conditions than to be battling it out in the
Aerial photography commissions & library.
Tel : +44 (0) 118 9242946
Fax : +44 (0) 118 9242943
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