Even for full time photographers who get to brag that they do what they love every day, there is still a subset of their work that they really consider their “favorite.” These are the kind of jobs that they jump out of bed for, instead of just reminding themselves that they don’t work in a cubicle. For me, that’s aerial photography. It’s a pretty niche market that doesn’t have a lot of clients, but does have a lot of competition. Drones have made it even more challenging to compete in, but there are still a lot of advantages to taking a camera into the sky via helicopter… and that’s my passion.

Jaron Schneider Aerial Backplate Photography San Francisco Financial District

I recently published a blog via Phase One, who offered me the opportunity to take their new XF 100 megapixel camera system into the air above my beloved San Francisco. For one hour, that camera and I hovered above my favorite manmade monuments. But this is actually a marketing strategy, and I do it because I love it and I want to continue to be paid to do what I truly love. That’s living the dream right there.

Much of what put food on the table and kept a roof over my head was, and continues to be, primarily my work as commercial videographer and filmmaker in San Francisco, CA. I loved my work, though this was much less exciting than being high above it all, I reminded myself that with every job I did that forced me to remain on terra firma, was one step closer to being back in the air again.

My short term strategy was to keep shooting from the air to get a rhythm and knack for shooting while airborne. Anyone can take decent photos while in the air, since it’s a perspective few see and therefore it is visually eye-catching even if the images aren’t particularly notable for any other reason. What takes practice, and what makes good images into great images, is communication with the pilot, knowing what settings are idea on your camera so as to assure your shots remain sharp, understanding when the best times to fly are, and predicting when the weather will produce the best quality light on the city of your choice.

Jaron Schneider Aerial Backplate Photography San Francisco Bay Bridge

So practice I did, until I built enough images into my portfolio to start marketing myself for aerial video and aerial backplate photography work. What is backplate photography?

Real Estate companies are constantly needing what is known as backplate photography, or images of an area that they can later Photoshop their building into for use on websites and advertising around a construction site.

Everything needs marketing, even a brand new apartment building in downtown San Francisco. For this, they turn to artists who are capable of handling themselves in the air, understand the intricacies of weather and how they affect light, and have the ability to communicate well with their pilot so as to assure a great shot.


This post shows a few images from my shoot above San Francisco, probably the first using the 100 megapixel system over the City by the Bay. I go into a lot more detail about how I did it, the “rules of flying” so to speak, and how I folded what I love into what makes me money over at the Phase One blog. Seriously, there are rules, like making sure your camera is securely strapped to your body.

Phase One with Peak Design Strap

My favorite strap for aerial work is the Peak Design strap (and the blue went great with the Phase).

So what do you love? How are you going to build that into a money maker? Let me know in the comments below.