Pho­tog­ra­phy

Stun­ning im­ages of Dubai from the sky.

Friday - - CONTENTS - Dubai Aerial Tour by Wouter Kingma is pub­lished by Mo­ti­vate Pub­lish­ing, and avail­able at all book stores

You don’t want to fly with Wouter Kingma. Not un­less you can han­dle aer­o­bat­ics, dizzy­ing dives, land-hug­ging fly-bys or sud­den sharp, bank­ings. For about nine years, he’s been jump­ing in he­li­copters and planes to pho­to­graph places as di­verse as Scot­land, Swe­den, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, from be­tween 300 and 12,000 me­tres up, tak­ing pic­tures of ev­ery­thing from iconic struc­tures to reg­u­lar build­ings. The world-fa­mous shot of ten­nis stars Roger Fed­erer and An­dre Agassi play­ing on the Burj Al Arab’s he­li­pad in 2005 was his work.

“People are in­trigued by the bird’s eye view of their city,” says Wouter, a self-em­ployed commercial and ed­i­to­rial pho­tog­ra­pher based in Dubai, whose clients in­clude Nike, Red­bull, Fer­rari, McLaren and Audi. “When­ever you take a large pho­to­graph of an area and you hang it some­where, people come up and say, ‘Oh, where do I live?’ It’s al­ways a party con­ver­sa­tion piece.”

But get­ting the right pho­to­graph in­volves dan­ger­ous shoot­ing meth­ods, al­though Wouter – who cut his teeth guid­ing moun­taineers across the French Alps as a stu­dent – doesn’t think so.

“The only way to shoot from a he­li­copter is to keep the door open,” says the 39-year-old, who’s orig­i­nally from The Hague, Hol­land. “But I wouldn’t say it was dan­ger­ous. We all wear har­nesses, all the gear is in a har­ness. Noth­ing loose there! It’s too dan­ger­ous other­wise, too much vi­bra­tion and air­flow to be safe with­out be­ing teth­ered.”

But he ad­mits it can be tough. “You are out with the door open, sit­ting on the floor of the he­li­copter, the wind and ex­po­sure is huge, and at 3,000 feet [914 me­tres], I was shiv­er­ing most of the time in spite of wear­ing a jacket,” he says.

“That’s what makes aerial pho­tog­ra­phy tech­ni­cally so chal­leng­ing, you’ve got to deal with the tem­per­a­tures and al­ti­tudes, the vi­bra­tions; there’s no time to change lenses or pon­der over shots and an­gles. It gets even more chal­leng­ing shoot­ing in low light as the shut­ter speed just drops down and you can hardly get any shots in.”

Ironic, if you con­sider that Wouter’s first choice of pro­fes­sion was much safer – ho­tel man­age­ment. He worked first with Hy­att in Lon­don, and moved to Dubai in 2001 when the Jumeirah Group, which took over the property, of­fered him a job at the Burj Al Arab.

He later moved to Land Rover, where as a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive he was also able to in­dulge in his in­ter­est in pho­tog­ra­phy. Four years later he turned pro­fes­sional, sell­ing his house to fi­nance

him­self. Nine years and a few books later, he’s is the go-to pho­tog­ra­pher for a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional brands.

A erial pho­tog­ra­phy had al­ways in­ter­ested Wouter – it brought back some of the dan­ger of his moun­taineer­ing-ad­ven­ture sport days as a stu­dent – and it also chal­lenged the tech­ni­cian in him, shoot­ing at split-sec­ond in­ter­vals, un­der tight sched­ules and in im­per­fect weather con­di­tions.

Cap­tain Andy Net­tle­ton of HeliDubai puts things in per­spec­tive. “Fly­ing di­rectly over the top of the Burj Khal­ifa was tricky; Wouter wanted to look straight down to get the flower ef­fect. It be­comes dif­fi­cult as tim­ing is key when you get close to the build­ing and have to keep the he­li­copter skid – the land­ing gear – out of the cam­era shot.”

Shoot­ing from above the Burj Khal­ifa in­volved more than just get­ting per­mis­sion to fly above 900 me­tres. “I wanted to get as high up above it as pos­si­ble to look down, but ob­vi­ously we couldn’t hold it as the he­li­copter shakes a lot and the grav­ity just pulls you in. And to get a head-down shot was dif­fi­cult,” says Wouter.

“The first day we did about three at­tempts. You’ve got to fly in a big loop, and at the last mo­ment you’ve got to come in – the air­craft is shak­ing, the wind is blow­ing, so you’ve got to time it well, and at the last mo­ment Andy tipped the he­li­copter side­ways so I got

an even bet­ter view. We must have been at 3,200 feet [975 me­tres] at that point, we had to be care­ful not to get too close to the pin­na­cle of the build­ing be­cause it could be dan­ger­ous and yet get close enough and Andy man­aged it beau­ti­fully.”

Dubai Aerial Tour came about as a re­sult of a pre­vi­ous as­sign­ment with Mo­ti­vate Pub­lish­ing. The Dubai-based book pub­lisher had liked the pic­tures Wouter had shot in 2011 of UAE-based Bri­tish ad­ven­turer Adrian Hayes’ re­trac­ing of famed Bri­tish ex­plorer Sir Wil­fred Th­e­siger’s trav­els across the Empty Quar­ter. As many as 230 of them made into Hayes’ book about the ex­pe­di­tion ti­tled Foot­steps of Th­e­siger, which was pub­lished the same year.

“Mo­ti­vate had done a book on Dubai with a few aerial shots seven years ago. Dubai’s changed so much that they said, let’s do one again. I’d al­ways worked with HeliDubai on aerial as­sign­ments, so it was a nat­u­ral to bring them on board as a part­ner and spon­sor.”

Their idea was to do a bird’s eye view of Dubai. “We de­cided to pho­to­graph the usual land­marks ev­ery­one would ex­pect to see, of course, and then we added the ones we felt would be in­ter­est­ing from up there like a few cy­cling tracks, a cou­ple of golf cour­ses, Mamzar Park… the list got longer un­til there were about 50 lo­ca­tions fi­nally,” says Wouter.

The chal­lenge was to in­cor­po­rate it into a flight plan. “We printed a big map of Dubai and in a log­i­cal or­der plot­ted a flight path that in­cluded our lo­ca­tions,” says Wouter. “We then looked at the light – for in­stance, if we were shoot­ing the Dubai Ma­rina, dur­ing the morn­ing it is back-lit so we de­cided to shoot it later in the day when the sun was on the other side. That took some co­or­di­na­tion. Then we had to cal­cu­late the flight time from, say, the air­port to Burj Khal­ifa, to the Mall of the Emi­rates through to The Palm, which was one of the loops we did even­tu­ally. So the plan­ning was the key el­e­ment.”

Wouter es­ti­mated that they would re­quire 10 hours of flight time to cover all the lo­ca­tions. “And it was to be done in two days – three hours in the morn­ing and two in the af­ter­noon, get­ting the best of sun­rise and sun­set,” he says. “I shot around 25,000 pic­tures over two days, and af­ter edit­ing I handed over 1,000. Around 110 made it into the book.”

How hard is it tak­ing the pho­tos? “With aerial pho­tog­ra­phy, it goes very fast,” says Wouter. “The an­gle is there and... gone! So you have to get it right.”

He had four cam­eras ready with lenses fit­ted as there would be no time to change them while fly­ing. “I had one with a wide lens, one with a zoom lens, an­other with su­per zoom lens and a su­per tele­photo to top it off,” he says.

Apart from the equip­ment you also need an iron belly. “It’s like you’re rid­ing a roller coaster in the dark. Most people can’t do it,” says Wouter. “It can get re­ally rough up there and some­times it feels like you’re sit­ting in the face of a thun­der­storm.”

O f course, there are chal­lenges. “I’ve shot the Abu Dhabi triathlon for a few years now and keep­ing an eye out for tiny triath­letes and fig­ur­ing out who is leading is a ma­jor chal­lenge,” Wouter says. Some­times mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the pi­lot can lead to tricky sit­u­a­tions. “I once worked with a Span­ish pi­lot shoot­ing over the Yas Ma­rina Cir­cuit, and it was not only frus­trat­ing but also ex­pen­sive when he kept mix­ing up left and right be­cause he didn’t un­der­stand English,” he re­calls.

What was most epic for Wouter was shoot­ing the Burj Khal­ifa from above. Dan­ger­ous, per­haps, but Wouter is ready to go again. His wife Kiki and sons - Koen, four, and Chris, two, may keep him from do­ing any­thing ex­treme, but Wouter is usu­ally up for most chal­lenges. He par­tic­i­pated in the Gobi March, named one of the top 10 en­durance races in the world, in 2011. He com­pleted the 250km foot race across the desert in a week.

So, hang­ing out of he­li­copters is a piece of cake for Wouter. To people who ask him why he does it, he just grins in re­ply. “I want to cre­ate art with a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive,” he says.

“Also, be­cause I can - for the ex­cite­ment and fun. It is like shoot­ing in­side a tum­ble dryer! I quite en­joy liv­ing on the edge!”

Get­ting a top-down view of Burj Khal­ifa wasn’t easy

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Wouter pre­pares to take off to shoot Dubai from the sky

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY The colours of Dubai: Jebel Ali port and, be­low, an area close to Al Li­saili camel race track

A city of con­trasts, from Down­town Dubai, to um­brel­las along the Ma­rina, and the Deira gold souq area

Wouter and pi­lot Andy make a great team and are able to cap­ture stun­ning im­ages like this

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