From High Above, Aerial Photography Firm Zooms In on Local Real Estate

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kent Larson already had a camera, and then he bought an 18-foot red helium blimp. He had worked in information technology and programming for 15 years and was ready for a change.

So he hung the camera from the blimp and, standing on the ground with the blimp on a tether and operating the camera with a complex remote device, started shooting photographs of real estate projects around the Beltway. "I would walk around a project and take a picture from the sweet spot, about 200 to 250 feet up," he said of his January 2001 launch of Aerial Photographers in Vienna.

These days he flies at an altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 feet in his own Cessna Cardinal plane or charters a helicopter for photo shoots.

Larson constantly juggles the weather, birds and other aircraft, as well as a variety of restrictions and security zones, and must compare the overlapping territories from four airports.

"It ain't the same as taking a picture from the ground. I'm up in a small airplane turning circles while keeping lunch down. There can be a lot going on," Larson said.

He spends about a quarter of his time as a subcontractor for other aerial photographers. He estimates that there are about 1,000 professional aerial photographers nationwide, some of them part-time.

He said that once he is in position, flying while snapping photos is easier than it sounds. Unlike driving, there are no kids darting out or stop signs, and an airplane is designed to just fly straight ahead. His closest call came when he flew within 25 feet of a large bird. "Neither one of us wanted to have anything to do with the other," Larson said.

General contractors, developers and lenders hire him when decisions are being made about financing properties. "It's amazing how integral it is in decision-making for some really big money," he said. He also takes pictures for marketing materials and special events.

Larson has business savvy from his years as a stockbroker but finds getting clients and other business details tough. Yet he loves the work -- and the flying. "It's being above but being in touch with the land. I see the greens of spring like nobody sees them. I can smell spring. But the downside: I can smell ozone."

-- Vickie Elmer

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