Jason Hawkes

Leaning out of a helicopter with the doors taken off, whilst hovering 800ft over the ground, might sound like an unusual set-up but it’s all in a day’s (or night’s) work for Jason Hawkes, one of the world’s top aerial photographers.
Since he first took to the skies, Jason has clocked up thousands of hours in the air, photographing everything from landscapes to cityscapes, architecture to abstracts and tiny dots of people to vast natural patterns that are completely unknowable from the ground.
Based in the UK, his work has taken him all over the world and been commissioned by global brands including Apple, Amazon, Rolex, American Airlines, O2, Nike and Coca Cola.

San Francisco Bay salt ponds, aerial view.

Jason’s career started by accident rather than design. With his sights set on being a still-life advertising photographer, he was taken on a microlight flight one weekend with friends and realised that the view from above offered wholly unexpected opportunities. Within a year, he had secured an eight-page spread in the UK’s most popular photography magazine and been offered a book deal with Random House. He was just 22.

“The world from above is never predictable. No matter how many times I fly over the same place, there is always something new, something unexpected, something fresh to photograph,” comments Jason. “I think of myself as an editorial or reportage photographer more than anything else, in that I photograph real life as opposed to anything staged or set up. The only difference is that I happen to be hanging out of a helicopter.

“Because of the cost, I mostly fly on commission which means every second in the air counts if I want to get the perfect shot. I’ve become an expert in judging light and visibility, which can appear totally different on the ground than at several thousand feet.

“Whenever I take clients on assignment with me, they are always surprised about the same things. Firstly, that I remove the doors of the helicopter and strip out the seats. Secondly, that this makes it bitingly cold as our height increases, even when it’s warm and sunny below. And thirdly, the noise. Those rotor blades make quite a racket even with noise-cancelling headsets, so communication is limited to.

Aerial vew of swimming pool, Brockwell Park Lido. London

“To be honest, I don’t really notice these things any more. I just focus on directing the pilot to where I need to be, capturing the most stunning shots I can and then thinking ahead to line up the next one. You can’t stop in a helicopter so I generally have a very small window of opportunity to get the image I want. In fact, there is so little time that I rarely stop and take in the sights unfolding below me. But when I do, I know there is no job in the world I’d rather do.”

Jason works with some of the world’s most respected brands and agencies, and has produced more than 50 aerial photographic books for a range of well-known British publishers. His accolades include awards from D&AD, Campaign Magazine, AOP and his salt lake images won last year’s AOP Best In Category.

Jasons work has been featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine – for him, a childhood dream.