Monday, March 13, 2006

Aerial photography shoots

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 skies. Aerial photography commissions & library. t email: Tel : +44 (0) 118 9242946 Fax : +44 (0) 118 9242943