Veronica von Allwörden let's us into the world of shooting aerial photography and the real life ups and downs of a freelance photographer. Von Allwörden turned her passion for all things under the water and in the clouds into the start of a photography career. While it is a work in progress, she shares frank insights into what it takes to compete in a niche market even when life throws you a curveball.
Von Allwörden hails from Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound region of Washington state, an area I also call home. The sheer variety of shooting subjects and geographic locations within flying distance of her home airport is stunning. I first became aware of von Allwörden when I spotted a photograph of hers for sale that depicted my favorite mountain (Mt. Baker) in a whole new way, from the air.
You can find a wide variety of aerial (and underwater) shots on von Allwörden's website.
Q How did you get started in photography in general? I read on your website how you found an underwater camera in the mud, but was that the start of photography for you or just the underwater aspect?
Just the underwater aspect. I have always been interested in photography, but never pursued it beyond just sort of taking snapshots. Then when I started scuba diving then I got interested in underwater photography. Then when I started flying I got interested in aerial photography.
Q So just natural offshoots of what you were already doing?
Q How then did you make the transition into making this more of a career?
From trying to support my habit. I really love flying and I get to see things that so few people get to see that it started out wanting to share that. And then as I got more and more interested in it I joined a group called the Professional Ariel Photography Association which is... for anyone interested in aerial photography, whether you are a pilot or not. It's a very good group and a really good resource.
Q How long has this been a source of income for you?
For about six years. I should preface this by saying that the last year it has not. I recently got divorced and I wasn't able to support myself totally on my photography right now. So I had to get a job that has health care and all that kind of stuff. I'm in a bit of a transition while I sort things out.
Q How do you plan for one of your aerial shoots? Do you take advantage of good days as our weather here in the Pacific Northwest can be unpredictable or do you specifically plan to go up and shoot something?
It can be both. If it's a beautiful day I might just go flying. If I have a mission, if I'm hired by a real estate agent to go photograph some particular piece of property I need to know where the property is, what's going on with the light so I have the sun sitting in the right direction. For example, you don't want a house in the shade, you want it lit up.
If I'm flying with another pilot and photographing another plane then again that takes quite a bit more planning. It depends on what my goal is. If I'm just going out for a flight I always have my camera regardless and then it's a matter if the subject looks good, the weather, the lighting, all of that, the time of day.
Q What equipment do you use for most of your shooting?
I use Nikon. I have a D300 and I will soon have a D800. I use a 70-200mm. I have a variety of lenses for underwater, I have a fisheye, I use a wide range of lenses.
Q What serves you best when you're on a trip by yourself?
Either the big zoom or else the smaller, just like a 28-300mm. Those are the two that I usually use.
Q You mention working with realtors. Do you have regular, reoccurring clients or do you do most of your shooting as freelance and stock photography?
I have clients that are local realtors here. I've specifically targeted them with what I do and have done a little advertising that way. And then they pass my name around. So it's a little bit of word of mouth.
Other than that I've also been hired by nationwide companies that have hired me to photograph malls and things like that where they are advertising space. Another good thing to get is construction progress photography. For that you have to be a little more aggressive and actually go take some photographs of the site and show them your photographs. What's nice is if they hire you to fly over it once a month to photograph it for them and print it.
Q You have a number of awards from over the past 10 years. Are there any that stand out to you or that you are particularly proud of?
Yeah. Some of my air to air shots and some of the mountain cabin shots. I really enjoy the circumstances and taking the shot and I really enjoyed the way the shot comes out.
Q Do you have any advice for younger photographers looking to get into your field? Obviously if they are a pilot, that helps, but if someone were just starting from scratch, what are some of the lessons you have learned that would help someone starting?
Practice photographing while moving. You don't necessarily have to practice from a plane, you can practice out a car window or truck window. Because in a plane you are always moving... if you're lower and closer to something it's going to pass by faster and you need to shoot faster.
Getting used to shooting while in motion and also you can get airsick or motion sickness from it and getting used to that is another thing that is helpful. Being comfortable. Anyone can go to an airport and hire a plane and a pilot to take them flying. If you're interested in this type of photography, learning how to photograph while in motion and also renting a plane to go up and seeing if it is something you really want to do.
I know professional photographers who aren't pilots and they hire somebody every time they do a shoot. They have a group of pilots, when they go to their local airport they know there is always somebody there they can hire when they do their shoots. They usually line up all their shooting they need to do in one or two days.
Q Is there any other advice you would give to someone who has made the decision and is now starting out?
Don't expect to get rich quick.
You have to be aggressive and go out and find the jobs. Think about, “who needs aerial photography?” You can join building associations in local cities and show up at one of the social events with some photographs and who knows you can sell them for advertising or Christmas cards or whatever they want them for. I tend to do a lot of community things and I do a lot of environmental work, so when the whales come through [migrating from Mexico to Alaska] I help photograph them and identify them.
Whatever puts your name out is really helpful. The more people know about you, the more jobs you get and the more different types of jobs you get which makes it fun.