Photographer Jason Hawkes captures Hyde Park from way up on high. (Photo: Jason Hawkes)
Jason Hawkes laughs at the idea that there might be some special technique to capturing his aerial pictures of London. “There’s no secret to it,” he says. “There’s no particular technique. The nighttime ones are a bit more difficult because you have to put the camera on a great big mount in the helicopter, but apart from that it’s straightforward.”
Hawkes, 49, is one of the world’s most famous aerial photographers. He is particularly well-known for his images of London, which he shoots at least weekly while flying in a piloted helicopter. “People expect me to use a drone, but I don’t,” he says.
Six of these images are on display in the London Marriott Hotel Park Lane, including shots of Hyde Park, Oxford Circus and Park Lane.
Marriott TRAVELER sat down with Hawkes to discuss photography, London and why he loves to shoot industrial estates.
One of the most striking things about the images you’ve shot for the Marriott Park Lane is the contrast of colors; the green of the park or the red buses in Oxford Circus against the city background. Is that something you look for?
The greenness is very interesting. That’s how London looks from above; if you go flying over London for the first time, it’s quite weird how green it is. The parks all join up, and they’re bloody enormous! People complain about how built up it is, but it’s very green. It’s a beautiful city to fly over, particularly with the river going through the middle of it.
Did you go out aiming to get this beautiful shot of autumn trees in Hyde Park, or was it a lucky accident?
I don’t think I went up aiming to get it, but I’ve flown around London so many times that I know what everything is going to look like. You spend half an hour flying around shooting it [the park], and I know that people like those pictures, which can be used for all sorts of things.
How did you get into this line of work? It’s not exactly the most obvious choice for a young photographer!
I was working in a studio in Covent Garden, which was normal technique in moving into advertising photography, which is what I wanted to do.
One day I went flying with some friends in a microlight [aircraft] and I just thought, “This is such a good laugh.” We went and bought one a few months after that. We were very young and naive!
Do you have a favorite part of London to shoot?
It would have to be East London; it sounds quite boring, but it’s really interesting. I’m talking about places down near Rainham, Barking or Beckton — you get loads of nice patterns because it is semi-industrial down there. The patterns are industrial estates. Even further out you get down to Tilbury Port; I really like that, too.
London’s skyline has changed a lot over the past decade, with new buildings like The Shard popping up. How has that affected your work?
There’s a massive demand for new images. I don’t actually visit London on foot that much, maybe once a month, but the interesting thing is all the new buildings that I photograph, you can hardly see them when you’re on the ground.
Only when you’re walking across the river can you see them. You hear people complaining about The Shard, for example — but there aren’t many places you can see it from [at ground level]!
Is there anywhere else in the world that you enjoy shooting?
Flying over New York is exciting. In London you fly at 1,000 feet — that’s the height of The Shard — but in Manhattan you’re often at 3,000 feet because everything is so enormously high. It’s quite weird flying at that height.
It’s a cool city to photograph. Flying laws are so relaxed. You can fly much lower. In London you’re regulated so tightly. At night, half an hour after sunset, you have to be three miles away from another aircraft. So if you’re at the city and there’s a police helicopter in Hyde Park, you then have to leave, even though it’s so far away.
In Manhattan it’s regulated by the pilots themselves, and as long as they don’t hit each other, they can do what they like. You can bugger around and do crazy flying that you’re not allowed to do in London.