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Jason Hawkes talks to ePHOTOzine

Jason Hawkes talks to ePHOTOzine - Aerial photographer, Jason Hawkes, talks to ePz.

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Professional Interviewed

New York
Photo by Jason Hawkes.
If someone wanted to have a go at aerial photography is there a less expensive way to get a taster of what it's like?
There's no getting around it, it's expensive to charter helicopters, £700 - £1200 per hour depending on type, which is all I've shot from for the past nineteen years. Very occasionally I've used light aircraft which are quite a bit cheaper but they are not a great option. I actually started shooting aerials when I was 22-years-old and broke. The only way to achieve this was from a weight shift microlight. In fact I loved it so much I bought one a month after my very first flight. So I'd say if you like the idea get down to your local microlight school and have a try.

What lenses do you use?
I have a whole bunch of lenses but I stick with the 14-24mm and the 70-200mm, they cover probably 90% of my work.

You have several shots taken at night so how do you deal with problems that often come with low light situations?
I've been shooting night images for the past four years, and have just had my third book of night images published, "New York at Night". I use my Nikon D3S for all my night work. When the D3 came out everyone was blown away by the very low noise at high ISOs the camera could achieve and the D3S has taken this a step further again. You have to mount the camera on a specially built rig, with sets of gyro mounts. It takes a while to perfect the shots but the results are amazing. Flying over cities in the daytime is great fun, but after dusk when all the lights come on things take on a really different look, and often even the most mundane of locations look incredible.

Do you have a plan before you head up in the air?
It depends who I'm shooting for. Some books I shoot are planned out completely before hand. We have all the locations to shoot mapped out and know where we'll land to re-fuel etc. It's more fun though to just go up and see what you can see. So if I'm shooting for a branding agency for instance or for stock, I'll just fly over places picking off images of generic patterns as I go.

Do you look for anything specific or do you just shoot lots of photos and pick the best when you're back on the ground? 
For some large ad campaigns you are sometimes given a drawing and just have to match it. This often involves shooting loads of separate images and then comping them together afterwards, but equally you might be asked to shoot it in one image for real, so I might spend ages up in the helicopter shooting images to find the right location.

Are you forever changing and playing with different settings? 
Now everything is digital and I shoot RAW files it's much easier. During the daytime I have my favourite settings and leave them at that. For night photography though I end up changing all the settings every few minutes as the light drops. The camera is mounted on a set of large gyros. also tethered to a GPS and often to my MacBookPro so it can be quite hard work as you spin around a city at night.

Photo by Jason Hawkes
Photo by Jason Hawkes.

Other photographers talk about the 'golden hours', is this the same for you? Are these the best times to work in?
It's certainly best to shoot as the sun is low or setting, and certainly if it's just a one off shot or a small set of images that's the time of day I'd shoot. Sometimes though things just can't work out like that. You have to take into account the helicopters transitioning time, where you are going to land next, your next re-filing stop, how many hours the pilot has flown that day, whether you can fly after dusk in the particular machine you are in etc.

Do you have some sort of support for your camera? Or do you always work hand-held?
My daytime work is all hand-held. You take the doors off the helicopter and are harnessed in. You wear a set of headphones to chat with the pilot, and if you need to look straight down you can either lean out, or ask the pilot to put the machine on its side. I've been shooting from the air for 20 years, in fact ever since I left college so I'm as used to being in the sky leaning out of a helicopter as I am in a car. It gives you a great sense of freedom flying around the skies and the perspective you can achieve on some shots look great.

For more information visit Jason Hawkes website.

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