Flying high to create attention grabbing photos

Marius Jovaisa is a photographer from Lithuania who takes to the skies in order to capture images with a different angle. Here he tells ePHOTOzine about his life as an aerial photographer and why he's an adrenaline junkie.

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Fireworks over a church
 By Marius Jovaisa.

The need to seek out new, unseen perspectives combined with the adrenaline junkie trait means Marius Jovaisa is perfect for Aerial photography. Most of the time he's hanging outside an aircraft on a few straps or hanging upside down with only the belts of his seat keeping him in. Apparently this is fun, something not everyone will agree with but his methods do produce brilliant results.

"I discovered that being airborne gives you the ultimate freedom to choose the perfect point of view. Once you get above the ground, you start to see the full picture, you can discover things which have been around you but you couldn't see them. Also most people can't jump in a plane to see what I see so aerial pictures immediately capture their attention and that's what I like - to surprise people, to make them say WOW."

Marius' career as a full-time photographer only began six years ago even though he had studied photography and had a passion for it along time before he even stepped foot in a plane. When he was young he read books on light, colour, composition and cinematography. He even joined a photography school and was using film, developing and editing way back when Lithuania was still part of the USSR. But his interest in photography diminished and he spent fifteen years working in marketing and communications before rekindling his hobby and turning it into a full-time career.

As his passion grew Marius started to need feedback and wanted to present his work to a wider audience - which he did with an exhibition. The exhibition proved to be rather successful so he decided to try his luck with publishing a book. He collected images from his vast archive and turned them into a book of 100 portraits that he took all over the world. It again was a successful project but as he's from Lithuania people wanted to know why he didn't feature many images of his home, so by the time he had collected enough experience and resources to be able to carry out a really big project he decided to make a big book about his home country, Unseen Lithuania. It turned out to be a huge success, selling 20 thousand copies in less than a year.

The books success can be partly down to how Marius presents it. He mixes geography and history together. Choosing to show both the most important as well as the most beautiful places that exist in his home country - something he couldn't find out on his own.

 Town and river taken from a plane
 By Marius Jovaisa.

"I turned to two consultants a history professor and a geography professor. The professor of geography helped me to compile a list of the most interesting, unusual and beautiful locations found in the Lithuanian landscape. The history professor helped me select the places of most historical importance. And, of course, while flying from one object to another, I kept an eye to all possible unexpected images, like a funny shaped forest or a wonderful meander of some river. Things that could not be predicted!"

There are many things that turn out to be beautiful which look completely different on the ground so even though planning can help you visualise your images you also need to be able to improvise: " I usually have a list, an itinerary but keep my eyes open between going from object to object because there are so many beautiful things which you couldn't predict."

Interesting light over a river and trees
 By Marius Jovaisa.

There are lots of challenges for aerial photographers - weather being the obvious one. Marius only takes pictures when the sun is low and sometimes he gets days where the light is perfect but there is no clear sunrise or sunset and he has to wait for another day, something which gives him a rather big headache.

"I wait and hope, drive to the air field to find out I have to turn back again and be disappointed. Weather forecasts are useless for the most part too because they don't tell you what conditions of sunlight you can expect early in the morning or late in the evening. Many times I take chances, for example if there are many clouds but still some passing sunlight, I go hoping for a perfect beam of light shining on an object with dramatic skies around. Sometimes the wind is so strong that you can't fly with an ultralight too. This is hard to judge, so we take chances only to get into the sky and feel like we are on a roller-coaster."

Lake and trees
 By Marius Jovaisa.

For Marius the best time for aerial photography is in the evening or early morning when the sun is low as it creates long shadows and lots of texture.

Shadows are also important - a flat image never looks good and that's why shooting in the middle of the day is a no, no. With shadows you can feel the three-dimensions of the world. If you don't have them aerial photographs turn into maps. You can also use shadows to hide parts of the landscape you don't want to appear in the photograph.

"For me, one of the most interesting ways of showing an old city's essence is waiting until everything except the roofs are lit by the setting sun."

Sky expands perspectives and gives a true sense of the surroundings so it's important to try and get it level which isn't easy when you're shaken to death in a ultralight. Marius is truly religious about having the skyline level and if he finds that it can not be archived he will straighten it out later, during post-production.

Marius usually uses two lenses - a regular, wide angle zoom and a super wide angle. If he's shooting with his Hasselblad H3D-39 he takes two lenses and changes them from time to time. Whereas if he shoots on a Nikon D3 he takes two of them one with a 17-24 lens the other with a 24-70.

River and trees from the sky
 By Marius Jovaisa.

"Changing lenses while airborne isn't easy, especially when flying with an ultralight and the stream of air is blowing right at your face. Once I lost a lens above the Waimea Canyon in Kauai, I was very scared. Imagine 2kg of metal, plastic and glass falling from 1km. Previously I used to experiment with longer lenses but not any more. I like getting physically closer to the subject rather than using a telephoto lens. And that's not only when I shoot from above. Lighting conditions don't have much influence when choosing the lens - it's the object of the photograph what sets the requirements."

With the Hasselblad using a sensitivity setting higher than 200 creates quite a lot of noise so Marius uses ISO50 or 100 as an absolute maximum. "Hasselblad's fastest shutter speed is 1/800 so I have to live with that. With Nikon I use quite a fast shutter, up to 1/4000. Exposure settings are usually M, sometimes Shutter priority. Good thing about aerial photography is that you almost always use infinity for focus. I often use sticky tape to fix it in that position so as to avoid rotating it by accident. To stop camera shake I use my body and arms as a stabilisation tool. Of course, it all depends on the speed and the angle at which you photograph. If it's a slow going air balloon, you can use 1/200 no problem, but at high speeds and especially when taking pictures directly downwards, your better off using the fastest shutter speeds. "

No matter what country they're in aerial photographers face restrictions. Marius needs permission for each flight he takes and in some areas he needs clearance from the military,  border guards and even national parks.

Houses  taken from the sky
 By Marius Jovaisa.

"My most difficult shot in that respect was Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. I had to work for two months before I was granted access. Still they did not allow me to fly with my regular aircraft so I had to use a military helicopter.

Over the big cities, you have to fly no lower than 300 metres but in Rome we went 100 metres. In Vilnius I used a hot air balloon and we could get much much lower. It's always a matter of some negotiations and bending the rules."

Marius has to also seek permission from the department of civil aviation to fly an aeroplane, ultralight or helicopter. It's also expensive, an hour in a helicopter can cost up to 3500EUR and in some places like Rome where they require you to use a twin engine helicopter it can cost even more.

Even though it's expensive and frustrating at times Marius loves his job and he really feels like he knows his country after flying above it, looking around so carefully.

"It sometimes seems like I've seen it all now, that I've a full sense of understanding. One thing that I got to witness is how beautiful it is and how even more beautiful it could be if we are careful not to repeat the mistakes which were done during the Soviet times. There are so many wonderful authentic villages and towns now spoilt with ugly faceless apartment block houses. I hope that my book is inspiring many people to be more ecologically-minded and more protective of what we have."

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User_Removed 15 17.9k 8 Norway
7 Feb 2009 11:37AM
Brings back some good memories... I did this type of work for a couple of years in the late 80's.

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