Aerial photos from 1,500ft up. Getting out into – and way above – the landscapes I love exploring. This isn’t about flying a drone. This is about flying! Looking through your viewfinder at the landscape stretching out underneath your feet. I’ve been keeping a secret … and it’s a big one!
Aerial photos offer the viewer a moment of unparalleled escapism. I’ve always wanted to know how to take aerial photos. That’s one of the reasons I bought a drone – the DJI Spark.
The problem with drone photography is its limitations.
To remain legal, you have to remain below 400ft above the ground; within line of sight; and register for ANY commercial use of footage – this even includes monetizing your blog or YouTube Channel! Read up on Drone Law Here!
This is extremely limiting.
For me, I’ve always wanted to fly. Flight has fascinated me from a very young age. My degree is in Aerospace Engineering, simply because I needed to know how it all worked. But, flying is an expensive hobby, unless …
You take up paragliding!
As the least regulated form of aviation, the most portable form of aircraft and the least expensive route to flight, paragliding offers everything that I want. Being able to get airborne, travel (almost) at will to an amazing looking destination and get great aerial photos is the way forward.
Crossing The Threshold
I’ve mentioned before that I have a thing for heights. I’m not frozen in fear, but I do get dizzy near an edge or over a gap when at a significant height. My worry was that I wouldn’t be able to stomach flight. This would be a serious downer as I’ve wanted to do it for several decades. Aerial photos from 3 feet in the air won’t really cut it either!
I spoke to an instructor and he recommended that I come along on a paragliding taster day. They train you up enough in 1-day for you to get a few flights in at 10-20 feet. You can then see if it is something for you and decide if you want to continue further with the full course.
This sounded like a good idea, so I decided … F*CK IT! Let’s do it.
The Road Of Trials
It takes me about 1Hr30Mins to drive to the airfield. Training starts at 9:00 AM but is dependent upon the weather. You have to phone the Flight Line to find out if flying will be happening that day. But, you can only phone the flight line from 8:15 AM.
I have to set off before I can phone.
This explains why I have sudden, random trips to Mam Tor and the Peak District – if there’s no flying, I go and do photography. My aerial photos are again limited by the laws governing drones.
But, I arrived on my first flyable, day-taster day. Got all the paperwork signed and headed out onto the field with a group of others.
First Things First
We were shown around a paragliding wing and harness. We were shown how to inspect everything and then made to inspect everything. If you are trusting your life to something, it better be right.
Then we were shown (and made to practice) PLF. Parachute Landing Fall – basically how to fall with the least impact – for use in emergencies.
We were then given our own wings and harnesses to inspect before we fastened in for some ground handling. This is where you remain on the ground with the wing in the air. It allows you to get a feel for controlling the glider whilst remaining “safely” on the ground.
We are taught how to get it into the air, how to control it, how to get it back on the ground, how to make it safe on the ground and how to bunch it up for the walk back to the launch point.
Time For Launch
Once you’ve got the hang of that, you are sent over to the winch. For training, we are not just pushed off a hill. This is on a flat(ish) airfield, with a tow cable. We are winched into the air. This means they can control your altitude and steadily increase it as you gain confidence.
We are given a full briefing on how it all works, what can go wrong, how to correct and what the procedures for any emergencies are.
Then we are hooked in and pulled!
My first flight went well. I was to just do a straight line at about 10-20ft and land. This is what I did, but it felt A LOT higher than 20ft. The strange thing was that, after a few tows, I realised that the height wasn’t bothering me so much. I felt high, but it was not the same as standing next to an edge. This was flying.
I signed up for the full course then and there. I’ve been commuting the 1Hr30Mins each week since the start of May and progressing my flying.
After those initial flights, they build upon what you have learned gradually. Firstly, they build up your height once they know you can keep it straight on the tow line. Moving from 20ft, to 40ft, 60ft, 80ft. Then you learn how to release from the tow cable and start putting in some gentle turns.
You can then move on to high flights of over 120ft and begin to do circuits – landing back nearer to your takeoff point. There comes a point, above 100ft where the height isn’t a problem. It almost feels safer to be up higher.
Once you are doing this, they begin to add tasks like collapses, rapid decent techniques, etc. And, I’ve nearly completed all my tasks.
You still need to know a lot, even though it is the least regulated form of aviation. Air law, the theory of flight, meteorology – and to practice a lot of manoeuvres – flying a plan, landing approaches, 360, towing and releasing, rapid descent techniques, dealing with collapses, catching surges, speed bar, thermalling, ground handling. There are practical and paper examinations of each of these.
This was going to take a while. But now, I’m nearing the end of this initial stage. I’ve passed all my flight exams and I’m on my way to take a hill conversion course (learning to fly the hills, rather than a tow launch).
Looking back to when I first started, I’ve come a long way. The height is something that doesn’t bother me now. It’s almost a different form of height.
“This isn’t high, this is flying”
It has been great to meet new people that share this passion for flight. I love my photography and the people it allows me to meet, but this is something that many of us have dreamt about for years – finally managing to do it. It really brings you together.
As with any sport/hobby/past-time, there is a danger of losing sight of what is important.
Whenever we first start out, everything is new and we are just happy to be doing what we love – photography, jogging, paragliding, knitting, etc. Then we decide we “need” extra things in order to do better and enjoy it.
The occasional jogger becomes the marathon runner with specialist clothing, shoes and heart rate monitors. The photographer requires additional lenses, filters, gizmos and apps to get the shot. And the paraglider pilot becomes obsessed with light-weight wings, cross country miles and the need for GPS gadgets in order to perform better.
I fear “taking it too far” and losing sight of what is amazing!
You are outdoors and you are flying. This should be enough!
Aerial Photos | The Future
I came into this with my love of flight and photography. Being able to carry an aircraft on your back and get some great aerial photos whilst exploring the landscape. I still want to do this, but it has opened up a whole new world to me.
The Adventure Side of Paragliding – Hike and Fly.
Hiking up somewhere with camera and glider, taking images that inspire adventure and then flying off to somewhere else. The options for camping out and the content opportunities it offers are really exciting to me.
One of the photographers that inspires me the most, is Chris Burkard. He’s an adventure lifestyle photographer. He made his name in the surfing world. Starting out by taking shots of local surfers and then selling the images to them. He also pitched some to industry magazines and began to build his name.
I really feel that this is something I could do with the paragliding world.
I am currently crafting a pitch for the school where I am learning. They have a great, friendly atmosphere and I also think they have a need for content. As you might know if you’ve visited my blog before, I’m looking to partner up with brands and this school could be a good one. It’s not only a school, but it is a community – and it’s a small, tight community too. This means that access will be easier and word will spread too.
As with all endeavours, I don’t know what will come of this, but it’s going to be exciting to find out.
Thanks for reading this far. I hope to start sharing more of my life stories as part of this blog. Still focusing on my passions for photography and the outdoors, but with fewer tutorials and reviews and more experiences. Let me know what you think in the comments below or drop me a message on Instagram or Twitter.
Thanks again, have a great day, watch less, create more,