By Jeremy Miles. Pictures by Hattie Miles
Banking high over the majestic ruins of Corfe Castle our little plane takes in a 360 degree view of Dorset’s glorious countryside as we make a wide sweep and head out towards the coast.
Below us the full glory of the county unfolds, patchwork fields, historic villages, the stone quarries of Purbeck and Portland and the stunning rugged beauty of the Jurassic coastline.
From Abbotsbury in the west to Hengistbury Head in the east, the view from our four-seater Piper Cherokee offers a jaw-dropping vista. Flying at around 1,000 feet at an airspeed of 95 knots (around 110mph) it takes us from Portland Bill past Weymouth, Swanage and Poole harbours to Bournemouth and Christchurch.
It’s an extraordinary journey. Everywhere there are sights - Chesil Beach, Durdle Door,, Dancing Ledge, Sandbanks, Brownsea Island, Old Harry Rocks and Mudeford Spit - just begging to be photographed. Happily that’s exactly the purpose of our flight.
We are guests of the new Aerial Photography School that operates out of Bournemouth Flying Club. The project is the brainchild of Poole-based photographer Andrew Plant who believes that with a spot of tuition anyone can take decent aerial photographs. His company Imagine Photography has joined forces with Flying Club boss Simon Birt to put his theory into practice. They have invited us to attend one of Andrew’s regular workshops to discover what is on offer.
Andrew is determined to de-mystify what many think of as an elitist practice “Most people’s experience of aerial photography is sticking their iPhone against the window on the jet to Malaga. It doesn’t occur to them, even those that are keen photographers, that they too can take proper pictures from an aircraft.
He points out that aerial photography is generally seen as both very expensive and very specialist. “Most people think it is something that is just for professionals, but it doesn’t need to be like that. You can take amazing photographs even with a reasonably good compact camera.”
Simon agrees: “You don’t need to spend several hundred pounds an hour on stabilised cameras and hiring helicopters. We are trying to show people that you can photograph from any aircraft working with what you’ve got.”
As the manager of a Flying School he’s also relieved that at last someone has arrived on the scene to tell people exactly how to get a half decent photograph at 1,000 feet and persuade them that just because it’s been taken out of an aeroplane it doesn’t make it automatically interesting.
“I get given disc-loads of really bad pictures by people who think I’m going to find yet another photograph of a green field fascinating. I get thousands and thousands and thousand of them. So getting Andrew to come and show people how to take more interesting pictures seemed like a very good idea.”
To test out potential interest in the workshops Simon initially invited Andrew to give a talk about aerial photography at the Flying Club.
“I was amazed how many people came along,” says Andrew. “But it certainly proved the point that almost everyone is interested in aerial photographs from one perspective or another.”
Although the Aerial Photography School is still in its early days the feedback so far as been 100 per cent positive. “Everyone who’s done it has come back with a big smile on their face and said they’d love to do it again,” says Andrew.
Having tried it we were impressed. First there was a briefing session in which Andrew ran through some of the techniques that can help while photographing from the air. There were tips too on how to optimize our high-flying photo-opportunities.
We then plotted our chosen route on the map, discussed what we may or may get to see along the way and were introduced to our pilot, the remarkable Joe Knighton.
Joe is a story in himself. He originally planned to become a pilot in the Royal Air Force but that dream came to an end 14 years ago when he broke his neck in a motorcycle accident. Partially paralysed and warned he might never walk again, Joe not only got back on his feet but eventually qualified as a flying instructor and even teaches aerobatics.
We were in safe hands and though happily Joe never seemed tempted to loop-the-loop or put us through a barrel roll, his skill as a pilot certainly helped make the most of our photography.
That heart-stopping shot of sandbanks - wing in the way? No problem. Joe will just bank the plane until it disappears from the frame. The other option we were told was flying “cross-controlled” or sideways as us non propeller-heads tend to call it.
The results were great. Even Andrew was impressed.
For more information visit www.arielphotographyschool.co.uk or call 0207 060 9199
This is a good course. I am a relatively experienced aerial photographer but have mostly shot from helicopters in the past. I was interested to see what the Bournemouth Aerial Photography School could teach me. I was impressed. Advice on equipment and how to use it to good effect would have furnished even a novice with the best possible chance of getting successful shots.
Fundamentals included advice on basic camera settings, lenses particularly suited to the job and helpful pointers like: grab the shot as soon as you see it. Two minutes of fiddling with your camera and your subject is three miles behind you.
The best way to find great pictures? Look for patterns in the landscape. Dorset with its wonderful tapestry of shapes and colours is perfect for this. It’s also good to see familiar landmarks like Corfe Castle, the White Horse near Weymouth and Portland Bill from a different perspective.
Hattie Miles took photographs on a Canon 7D using a 50 to 150mm lens.