Diary of a Long Distance Aerial Photographer – Part One
Tyres kicked, pre-flight checks complete, fuel tanks full, bladders empty, tower clearance received and away we go…
Climbing into the Surrey skies for an aerial photography mission that will take us in a big circuit around much of England. It is one of those rare weather days in the UK where the forecasts are pretty favourable for all the sites that we have been commissioned to shoot-an important pre-requisite for our clients.
Our camera ship is High Level’s own workhorse namely Cessna 172 Skyhawk – callsign ‘Oscar Bravo’. Built in 1981 she has served a number of aerial photographic and mapping companies throughout her career. Adapted over the years to incorporate long range fuel tanks and additional apertures in her fuselage she is an ideal platform for aerial photography work.
Conditions are cramped and noisy with in-flight catering consisting of a nut bar and a bottle of water-to be drunk sparingly for obvious reasons! The in-flight entertainment is listening in on the constant chatter of air traffic control and other aircraft in our headsets. The major positive is that we have a spectacular view complete with a window that opens!
Once out of our home airfield of Fairoaks we gain clearance for an Ascot-Burnham track that takes us North over the racecourse and under the Heathrow approach. This means we are flying at a maximum of 1200 feet which enables good views of all the magnificent properties below.
First things first, as we climb I activate the three SLR cameras that are positioned in the rear of the aircraft pointing out of the ‘holes’ in either side and bottom of the fuselage. The images from these cameras are what we call aerial ‘remotes’ that find their way into our image library. Every two seconds each camera takes a picture and by the time we land back at base there will be another 30,000 remote images to add to our archives – all GPS tagged and good quality.
Our current aerial image library now stands at 5 million images and counting. Taken from our flights around the UK they are available to search and purchase and are a useful asset for real estate marketing.
Our first site is in Hull which is 90 minutes flying time over the lush fields of Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.
Whilst flying along I like to crack open the window and snap away at anything interesting. In the winter months it is too cold to keep the window open for any length of time however today we are in early summer and slightly warmer.
As with the remotes all images are added to our searchable aerial archive and include, towns and villages, industrial areas, castles, churches, infrastructure, energy facilities, stadia and basically anything photogenic be it a herd of cows or strange abstract shapes.
En route we pass Santa Pod raceway which was formerly a WWII U.S. bomber base (RAF Podington).
Further North at Thrapston I take some shots of a huge new Primark distribution centre. This site seems strangely familiar and upon further investigation some years ago High Level were commissioned to take some ground level images of the cleared site to be used by a design company to produce a CGI image of the completed ‘shed’. So last time I was there it was a very large muddy field!
Heading North we cross the featureless but visually impressive fenlands of Lincolnshire and after 90 minutes we pass the Humber Bridge then track eastwards to shoot our first site in Hull.
Generally our remit for aerial photographs’ is to provide a selection of close-ups and wider shots of the subject site from all angles which involves a number of gentle turns. Occasionally we are requested to provide a plan (straight down) view which involves a much tighter turn over the top of the target which involves a certain amount of skill on our pilots behalf to position correctly taking into consideration wind speeds etc..
Site complete we then set course for our next site in Scarborough. The weather is beautiful and the East Riding of Yorkshire looks magnificent.
We reach Scarborough via a slight detour around Flamborough Head.
After annoying the citizens of Scarborough with several circuits of the town we head to our next destination tracking up the stunning North Yorkshire coastline. Passing Whitby and the small picturesque fishing village of Staithes famous for its most famous resident – a young Captain James Cook.