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Lessons in Flight: My First Aerial Photography Shoot

aerial photography shoot

Lessons in Flight: My First Aerial Photography Shoot

Mary Lou and John like to joke about aerial photography. Mary Lou tells everyone that John dangles out of planes in order to get the right shot. John talks to people about his “cowboy pilot” that flies a 1966 Cessna like a “bucking bronco” and takes turns that make John go, “Whoa!”

The way they talk about it, you’d think John was like Sean Penn in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In the movie, Sean Penn is an eccentric photographer that takes photos while standing on a plane flying toward and erupting volcano. He’s a lunatic.

Our subject matter is tamer than volcanoes, but John has a little of that lunatic streak.

I was able to witness the aerial process a few weeks ago when I went on my first aerial shoot with John.  We were in Greenville, SC to photograph a hotel. The flight taught me many, many things.

Flying is cold and windy. I had been warned prior to the flight that it would be cold, but I didn’t know it was the kind of cold that chills your bones. When John opened the window, I felt like a dog that stuck its head out of the window of a moving vehicle. Cheeks were flapping and spit was flying. The pilot was concerned about the temperature and asked how I was doing. John said, “Eh, she’s fine. I like torturing Brynn from time to time.” (Note to self: Get John back for this).

aerial photography shoot

John really does hang out of the plane. He’s not “hanging out” like he’s in a circus act, but he was out of that plane in a way that makes normal people uncomfortable. The plane tipped from side to side at certain moments – you know, turning and things. In order to avoid the wings or get the right angle, John had to lean out the window. Head and shoulders were out of the window, people. There is a reason that cameras have a strap on them, and that strap was secure around his neck. I couldn’t get a good photo of him leaning out of the plane, but here is a photo of our fearless photographer:

aerial photography shoot

The pilot can be an essential creative tool. Our pilot, Dimitrios, was phenomenal. He understood the scope of the shoot and was more than willing to change the route whenever John asked. His insight into the area was invaluable and gave John a few ideas on how to show relation between the hotel and Greenville. Dimitrios kept an eye out for different perspectives and cloud movement for John. He made the process easy and smooth.(Side note: I’m very grateful that we did not fly with the cowboy pilot).

aerial photography shoot

There is no such thing as too many photos in an aerial shoot. No two pictures are the same when it comes to aerial. It is an uncontrolled environment. The pilot is flying you in circles, and you may not be able to get that perspective again. Cloud movement can block the sunlight. Equipment changes can slow you down. Basically, window open means the camera doesn’t stop.

Now, for the big question: Would I do it again? Eh, maybe in a warmer time of year. It was fascinating to see John’s process and fully understand the effort that goes into making an aerial shoot a success.

I think it might be more fun to fly our new drone.