The Sky’s The Limit – North Port, Florida

As I have said in previous posts, this career will take you places that you never thought you would end up. Usually if something is going to happen, it’s going to happen to me. On this particular day, everything went as planned and I went home with some great images for the client.

The same client that called me for the Ladder 49 project called and asked if I was afraid of heights. I said well I was on a 100 foot ladder, what do you have in mind, a hot air balloon? She wanted to get some aerial photos of the city to help promote growth and encourage businesses to move there. In our area, there are vast patches of undeveloped land that is rated for commercial use. During our discussions of the logistics for the project, the word “helicopter” was mentioned. Lucky for me, she had the resources to attain one for our use. There was also going to be a videographer on board shooting high def video. The project was all set. After being out on the water all last week, bobbing up and down I wasn’t sure how much vibration there was going to be from the helicopter, but it had to be better than a boat. I was prepared to shoot with a faster shutter speed to help cancel out any movement from me and vibration from the helicopter. All of my lenses are “vibration reduction” but come on!

It was decided that the doors were going to be taken off so we could get an unobstructive view. I showed up at the meeting place about 20 minutes early so I have time to get my head and gear together. I looked at the sky and it looked like a hazy fog was still in the air. The client wanted as much image as she could get so I mounted my 12mm-24mm wide angle lens on the camera. Feeling lazy in the Photoshop department, I also screwed on a circular polarizer to cut through the haze and enhance the sky and foliage. If I can get it close in the camera, why not? A few moments later, I heard our ride coming. I had to travel light; after all I was going to be hanging out of the side of a helicopter.

As the mechanic was taking off the doors, we asked the pilot how high we would be going. He said that we might hit around 400 feet. Then came the question I was waiting for. The videographer asked how low to the ground we could get. It was explained that some people in these communities don’t like being woke up by loud noises, not to mention any high voltage transmission lines. I’m not sure what lens she was using on her video camera, but it sounded that she was going to be shooting wide angle to me. Also, during this time, the mechanic and pilot were helping her mount her camera on her side of the helicopter. I had it easy; all I had was my camera and a case that my compact flash cards were in.

Everything was set and it was time to get in and take to the air. The client sat in the front with the pilot. The other representative sat in the back with the videographer and me. It was exciting as all I had holding me in was a standard airline belt. I made sure that this was really tight! I put one of my feet out on the rail to help steady myself. He hit the switch and all noises started. It reminded me of the show Airwolf when Stringfellow Hawke would push the “Start” button on Airwolf. Sorry, I’m a child of the 80’s. After about a minute, we had enough power to lift off.

Interstate interchange that leads into the city.

The first place that we traveled to was where the interstate and the main road leads into the city. This was to show some of the available land as well as the ease of access to get into town. During this time, I was getting my exposure set; I ended up shooting at ISO 800, 1/640 at f/8. Why such a high ISO? It was early morning and I was also shooting through a polarizing filter. I wanted to keep the shutter speed up to ensure that the shots would be sharp. I turned the polarizer filter until the haze disappeared and the blue and green really started to pop.

We found the fountain of youth.

The next location was the fountain of youth. I’m not kidding, this is actually the site of the original fountain of youth. Long story short, Juan Ponce de Leon was looking the fountain of youth during his voyages. He came across this spring and believed that he had found the fountain of youth. The name of this establishment is Warm Mineral Springs. By the name you can guess that the water is…ugh warm. It stays a constant 87 degrees year round. Also, it has a high mineral content. Every two hours, the water in the spring is totally replenished. Some of the people that I have talked with swear by swimming in it, helps them stay young and healthy. I guess I need to go for a month soak or so.

A river runs through it.

The city is land locked so there is no direct access to the Gulf of Mexico. However, there is the Myakka River that does run through part of the city limits. This is the same river that I have mentioned in other posts, where I like to go hide is at Myakka River State Park that is about 20 miles north of here. It was truly amazing to see what millions of years have carved out of the landscape. This was one area where the pilot was able to get a little closer. It seemed as if he took us about 30 feet off the water. The view was truly amazing. The client was a little nervous and she informed the pilot that we had just passed a “No Wake Zone” sign! I had faith in our pilot. He said that he has been flying for over 11 years now. I think he had just invented a new way to fish!

Flying with the birds.

The city is a unique one that it has a forest state park in the city limits. I have walked this park by foot and I have to tell you that this is God’s country out here. I don’t even think you can get a cell signal. At this point the videographer asked if it would be possible to get lower. Since there were no houses or transmission lines he took us down to tree top level. I felt as if I was with one of those film crews that work at Animal Plant or Discovery following cheetahs running across the landscape. Somewhere along the way we actually passed a bald eagle. He was a magnificent creature as he was all spread out soaring across the sky. I didn’t have a telephoto lens on so I couldn’t get a photo.

Learning at the high level.

During out trip back to the inner limits of the city we were passing the high school. I asked if it would be possible to grab a couple of shots while we were in the area. People who are interested in moving here are probably going to have families with kids. This is a great photo opportunity to show what the school has to offer.

Touch down.

My father went with me to help handle the equipment for the shoot. He took some “behind the scenes” photos for us. Here you can see that we are just about to touch down. You can see yours truly on the open side of the helicopter.

The Crew.

At the end, we took a group shot of everyone. The gentlemen in the green suits are with the Sheriff’s department and the ladies in the black shirts are the clients. The lady holding onto the video camera is well….the videographer. In the middle towards the back is myself. What a crew.

It was a great experience and I was able to capture about 900 photos for the client. They needed them high res for their marketing material so that meant 8 DVD’s! I say pixels are free, why not use them. If you ever get a chance to take a ride like this, I would highly recommend it. Give the pilot and extra $20 and tell him to pull the doors off!

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Holy Moly!!!! Thanks for sharing…amazing!!!! Cathy

  2. Spencer, you continue to amaze! You will do anything to get those great shots! I think this move might take the cake….

  3. This shows that you are taking your photography expertise to new heights. Great shots! And you were still smiling after you landed. Keep the photos coming.


  1. 2012 International Airshow Punta Gorda, Florida - [...] up the cockpit with Crisco so I would slide in. I’m not afraid of heights as you can see…

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