Stunning aerial photos shot the hard way—leaning out of an airplane

by Liam McCabe

posted Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 12:43 PM EST

Wheat strips, Montana. Photo: Alex MacLean

Today’s ready-to-fly quadcopters make it nice and easy for anyone with a few bucks to spare to get into aerial photography. But photographer Alex MacLean has been shooting striking birds-eye photos since long before the DJI Phantom and GoPro Hero hit shelves. He did it the old-fashioned way: Leaning out the window of an airplane.

MacLean first started taking aerial shots in 1975. He’d recently graduated from Harvard with a Master of Architecture degree, earned his pilot’s license, and set up a business shooting aerials for architects, designers, planners and environmentalists. An interest in artistic shots followed soon after. The Beetles + Huxley gallery in London, which recently hosted an exhibition of MacLean’s photos, describes the resulting photos as "thought provoking, yet beautiful, an investigation into humanity's footprint on the natural world. Farming patterns, coastal resorts, military sites and bizarre housing developments are just some of the poignant scenes.”

Aerial view of an amusement part in Ocean City, MD. Photo: Alex MacLean

In a recent interview with Slate, MacLean described the process as "a lot easier than trying to take pictures out of a car because you're dealing in 3-D space. The plane will fly itself straight and level. That's even without autopilot,” he said. “I usually set myself up, pick up the camera for five or 10 seconds, and take the picture out an open window.”

While the exhibition wrapped up last weekend, dozens of MacLean’s shots are still up at the Beetles + Huxley website. Looking at them, it’s clear that drone photography has some catching up to do—and that nothing substitutes for 30 years of experience.

(Via Slate)