There is nothing more beautiful than an air to air photo of an airplane. A high quality image of heavier than air machine in its native environment gets every avgeek excited. Have you ever wondered what it takes to get the perfect shot?
It is a complex endeavor to conduct an air to air photo shoot. The perfect photo requires planning, patience, and precision. Jessica Ambats is a renowned aviation photographer, pilot who possesses all three of those qualities in spades. She’s releasing a new book on her air to air photography adventures called Jet Dreams. The book is filled with with dramatic, high-quality air-to-air photos of owner-flown jets.
If you’ve been around aviation for any length of time, you are bound to have seen some of her amazing work in magazines, executive offices, and FBO lobbies. We sat down with Jessica to learn more about her amazing career and forthcoming book.
Our interview with air to air photographer Jessica Ambats
You are also a pilot yourself, when did you realize that flying and photography were the perfect mix for a career?
I always viewed flying and photography as two separate interests, and it took some time to realize I could combine them to create a career. Years after college, I attended a symposium hosted by the International Society for Aviation Photography. I was in awe of all of the speakers. I met accomplished aviation photographers and it was a huge inspiration to me. That event was my lightbulb moment.
Did you grow up around airplanes?
I grew up interested in aviation, but not around airplanes. As a kid, I loved to watch my dad go hang-gliding. But it wasn’t until much later that I realized flying was an attainable goal. I earned my private pilot license at Santa Monica Airport, and later seaplane, instrument and multi-engine ratings.
Let’s talk a bit more about air to air photography. Can you tell us more about the preparation necessary to do an air to air photo flight?
Quite a bit of planning takes place before each shoot. It starts with having a clear vision of what I want to accomplish. I research backdrops by studying sectional charts, satellite maps, and other photos, until I find the perfect location. If it’s in a busy airspace, my formation pilot will coordinate in advance with ATC. I then schedule a date that works for everyone – this is often the hardest part of the entire process! I plan our prep/brief/launch times around sunrise or sunset. I also use an app to calculate where the sun angle will be – this helps me determine in advance exactly where we will orbit for photos. My team of excellent pilots is what really makes the difference in having a safe and successful shoot.
What type of modifications have you made to your plane to be able to get the perfect shot?
For Bonanza photoships, we remove the rear doors and the last row of seats. I sit in the middle row facing backwards. This gives a large, clear area for me to shoot from. I wear a harness that is attached to multiple points inside the Bonanza.
What’s your favorite photo shoot thus far?
There have been many amazing shoots, but one that comes to mind was over New York City, of four Citation Mustangs and a P-51 Mustang. We captured many New York landmarks, including One World Trade Center, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Our large formation of aircraft, next to busy airspace, was an awesome undertaking. But, New York being my hometown is what made this shoot most special. As we flew overhead and I looked down at the city, I remembered myself standing down there as a young child, looking up and dreaming. It felt like I had come full circle.
You are already an accomplished pilot, magazine editor, and photography. Now you are going to add author to that list too. What inspired you to put out a book?
I’ve wanted to create a book for a long time. Being grounded during the pandemic has allowed time to finally focus on it. Through my work shooting owner-flown airplanes, I’ve gotten to know a very interesting group of individuals. Many of them dreamed of flying as kids and have fascinating, self-made success stories. I want to share their inspirational stories along with my collection of air-to-air work.
At Avgeekery, we’re always trying to inspire the next generation to explore a career in aviation. To be honest, things are looking a little tough these past couple of months, especially for people who are pursuing a traditional airline career. What advice do you have for them?
An airline career takes persistence and resilience. The aviation industry is affected by ups and downs in the economy more than many other industries. Anyone interested in aviation has to really love it and be creative about ways to build time. That said, there are many other ways to have a career within aviation: engineering, design, sales, marketing… and even photography!
We’re pretty sure that her book will be a hit in the aviation community and beyond. Jet Dreams features 160 pages of photography plus a forward by world-famous aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker. If you are interested in supporting her work and/or purchasing her book, check out her Kickstarter here.