Aviation photographer Jessica Ambats feature in Portland-based Global Aviation News

Golden Gate Bridge. Photo Jessica Ambats.

Aviation photography on the ground requires an artist’s eye and an impressive amount of technical skill. Aviation photography in the sky raises that challenge to include fearlessness and teamwork.

Jessica Ambats is an air-to-air photographer. She takes that challenge seriously and achieves amazing results.

Ambats first realized she could unite her love of aviation and her love of photography at a meeting of the International Society for Aviation Photography. Listening to speakers helped Ambats know what to pursue, and she soon began work at Pilot Getaways magazine. Ambats joined their shoots and learned the tricks of the trade under the mentorship of photographer Russell Munson.

In the beginning, Ambats was just excited to go up in an airplane and take pictures. Over the years Ambats learned how to be more directive, give the pilots positioning instructions, and manage the small – but important – details like background, timing and lighting.

Ambats also became a pilot.

Photo by Jessica Ambats

“Being a pilot and taking a formation-flying course helps, because it gives me a firsthand understanding of the flight dynamics. This is useful when positioning my subject planes. Also, when planning the shoot, it gives greater understanding of the logistics, such as airspace restrictions, appropriate altitudes, and ATC [air-traffic control] coordination.”

Ambats talks to the pilots directly over the radio, or relays instructions through her pilot via the intercom. Her positioning instructions are measured in feet, such as “ten feet higher” or “twenty feet back.”

“A movement of ten feet exactly is really hard to judge,” reports Ambats. “So what I do is give the first command: ten feet higher. And then I watch what they do. Whatever they do, I make a mental note of what they are using as ten feet. Then I calibrate based on that.”

Sometimes Ambats uses hand signals, but, not surprisingly, prefers to keep her hands steady on the camera.

There are many difficult challenges in air-to-air photography. When harnessed to an open-door aircraft, the ride is bumpy, noisy

Airshow photography by Jessica Ambats

and cold. However, Ambats claims the hardest part is scheduling a date that works for everyone including Mother Nature. “Coordinating multiple pilots, airplanes, and the weather is not easy!” says Ambats.

As a photo shoot gets closer, Ambats must check the weather forecast constantly.

If the weather cooperates, Ambats’ team configures the “photoship.” Her pilot will remove the doors, and she’ll set up her gear. Ambats puts her harness on, and they launch.

Ambats brings two Canon DSLR cameras, with two different image-stabilized lenses, like Canon’s 24-105 and 70-200. She also mounts GoPros in various spots on each airplane, and has been wearing Google Glass while on photo flights. She records video and takes photos with Google Glass, and would like to find a way to do live Google “Hangouts” during photo flights so others can join in on the experience.

Jessica Ambats, aviation photographer

With live video, Ambats fans would be able to watch complicated shoots like one she completed with four privately owned Citation jets and a P-51 Mustang Warbird from WWII. She coordinated six airplanes, including her photoship, flying down the Hudson River, then circling over the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks.

For Ambats, sharing her love of the sky and everything that flies through it is her life’s work and her passion.

“I love to be in the air! There’s a great saying: ‘To most people, the sky is the limit. To those that love aviation, the sky is home,’” quotes Ambats. “I love flying. I love photographing flying.”

Jessica Ambats is a pilot and a photographer.  See more of her work in her online photo gallery or watch this video of her in action. Ambats also works as editor of Plane & Pilot magazine.

Sources: Smugmug Blog

Photos all courtesy of Jessica Ambats

More from the Global Aviation March 2014 Newsletter:

Global Aviation’s New Hangar in Good Hands with Dave Wheeler
Falcon 5X Showcased at Global Aviation
Global Fuels Relocation for Cougar Cubs
Catering Corner – Irish Colcannon with Celery Root, Cauliflower, Kale and Cabbage
Grigio’s Corner – Pet Pampering in the Sky


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