Ooh, we were so excited to see aerial photographer extraordinaire Cameron Davidson‘s work in the August issue of Vanity Fair. You know, the one with the starlets we talked about yesterday. Cameron kept away from the starlets and went closer to the stars (sorry, it’s Friday) to shoot incredible aerials demonstrating the luxe life that is Hamptons real estate. The results are beautiful, green, dollhouse-esque images that I just adore.
I asked Davidson a million questions about this shoot and his photography career, and he obliged me, even though he was on deadline for another project. Class act!
Up up and away:
Tell me about this assignment for Vanity Fair. How did it come about?
Richard Villani, the previous Photography Producer for the magazine phoned me in May and asked if I was interested in shooting the Hamptons piece. Richard was in the process of leaving the magazine so I ended up working with Mark Jacobson, a picture editor. Basically,
the idea was to show this amazing real estate from a unique angle. The deadline was short as the story was planned for the August issue.
Richard and I spoke about the properties and how best to show them– ie., low altitude versus higher overall views. It ended up being a mix. I think the magazine wanted a grand overview of the properties and a consistent viewpoint. These are incredibly expensive and expansive
homes. The grand overview seemed to be the right approach for this story.
How did you scout the actual locations for the shoot, and what gear did you use?
The initial list given to me was scouted using topozone and google
earth. I then flew to Long Island and scouted the locations by car,
using my GPS to plot each location. I also used SunPath to check where the light would fall during the morning. I planned my flight schedule around each property.
How long was the shoot?
Two days. Mark and I spoke after the first day of the shoot and I went back to
the Hamptons to shoot some additional material that we felt would
strengthen the story. There was one shot I really wanted to get of the
Seven Sisters houses in the first shoot that did not happen due to the
weather closing in on us. The second shoot was at sunrise and the light
What is your working history with Vanity Fair?
Ann Schneider, a picture researcher for the magazine phoned me two years ago looking for a dramatic aerial of New York City for their green issue. It was pretty cool shot that the magazine had retouched to show what Manhattan would look like if the polar ice caps were to
melt. A couple of months after that ran, Sasha Erwitt, a picture editor, called me to shoot a grounded yacht “The Legacy” north of the Florida Keys.
The Legacy had run aground in a protected zone and the owner was unable to move the boat for close to a couple of years. I flew to Key West and charted a helicopter to take me out to the boat. We shot everything from a few feet off the water to several hundred feet above the ship. The magazine ran several images from the shoot in January 2007, and it helped complete the story.
A couple of months later, I was in NYC and had a a chance to meet Sasha, Ann and Susan
White, the Director of Photography. Last summer, I was assigned to shoot the Anne Bass estate in Northwestern Connecticut. That was a great shoot. I shot at sunrise. The estate is designed around an early American Village and was quite stunning in its layout. It was also the first time I had shot medium format digital in the air, which was a eye-opener in terms of quality but a bit too slow for the way I shoot.
Ann Bass Estate
Which pilots do you fly with?
I have a long list of trusted pilots that I keep and go to it first. For flying in the Mid-Atlantic I always fly with Steve Bussman of Heloflights in Virginia, or Helo Air in Richmond or Hampton Roads Charter in the Norfolk area. In NYC I fly with a couple of guys out of Teterboro or I will fly Steve and his Hughes 500C up to the city. I also fly a lot with the Chief Pilot for a division of Bell Helicopter.
For the VF shoot I flew with Michael Demarchi of Centennial Helicopters in Danbury, Ct. for two reasons– I had flown with Michael before on the Anne Bass story. I liked his style of flying for the camera and I trusted him. I did not want to fly with a pilot from Long Island given the nature of the assignment. Is it always the same person? No, I fly with a lot of motion picture pilots who know how to fly for the camera.
How have you been able to combine your love of flying and photography so well– was there a “eureka moment”, or did you always know this was what you wanted to do?
The love of aerials came from my first National Geographic assignment in southern Maryland. Bob Gilka, the former Director of Photography, gave me the go ahead to charter a Jet Ranger from the DC area to shoot a Great Blue Heron rookery along the Patuxent River. I fell in love
with the combination of being able to shoot a graphic image that also conveyed important story information. Plus, I love to fly and there is nothing better than being in the back seat of a turbine helicopter, working as a team with a pilot you trust and creating images that show
the world from a slightly different perspective.
I’ve been lucky to shoot aerials for some amazing magazines and clients. Audubon published a personal project on Mountain Top Removal last year along with giving me several assignments that featured my aerial work, Field and Stream sent me to Wyoming last year for a project on the affects of gas drilling on wildlife migration, Wired has sent me to Arizona
for an all aerial story. For many years I shot stories for Smithsonian that included aerials and the Geographic has assigned me to shoot the aftermath of several natural disasters for the magazine– Hurricane Andrew, Mississippi River Flood and Western Wildfires.
What’s your favorite image from the VF story, and what’s your favorite image from your portfolio?
My favorite image from the story is either the lead spread or the second spread that shows the estate along Mecox Bay.
From the current portfolio, I’d say, a low-level aerial of White Pelicans in ground effect flying over the Gulf of Mexico coastline that I shot last fall for the Ducks Unlimited annual report.
Can you show us any outtakes From the Vanity Fair shoot?
Oh yeah, how about Mobile Homes along the Hamptons coastline or some amazing hedgerows?
Yes, I love this hedge!
How did you became known for aerial photography do begin with? Are you a pilot?
I have my license but am not flying much these days. I’d like to get back to flying later this fall. I need to become current again and do a new check ride and take a new medical.
I’m not sure how I became known for my aerials other than lots of promotion, getting lucky with some of the contests and a couple of very nice profiles. I’ve shot four aerial books and have a couple in the works right now. I’m in the design stage for a book on the Chesapeake Bay and should have it published by Spring.
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