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Portfolio: Paul Seibert

Golden hour

New Yorker Paul Seibert is awake hours before dawn planning an aerial photography mission over his beloved Manhattan skyscape as residents of “the city that never sleeps” are—in fact—sleeping. Seibert relies on helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to capture dynamic, three-dimensional views of New York City landmarks.
End-of-day light bounces off the New Yorker Hotel. "This was taken at 200mm and then I cropped in further because we were out over the Hudson River and returning to the heliport in New Jersey. I was lucky enough to see it and to isolate the building. It really popped because the area around the building is dark, and it had that old New York vibe. It's one of those things that you always want to get, but lining up the shot is difficult and getting it from the air is the only way."
End-of-day light bounces off the New Yorker Hotel. "This was taken at 200mm and then I cropped in further because we were out over the Hudson River and returning to the heliport in New Jersey. I was lucky enough to see it and to isolate the building. It really popped because the area around the building is dark, and it had that old New York vibe. It's one of those things that you always want to get, but lining up the shot is difficult and getting it from the air is the only way."

During the “golden hour” immediately before or after sunset, Seibert works quickly to identify an elusive angle, a shaft of light splintered among skyscrapers, or a unique vantage point that captures the Statue of Liberty “in a way that others have never seen her.” It’s a high-flying balancing act as Seibert squeezes the most from changing weather conditions, lighting, and his two Canon DSLR cameras. His favorite lenses are a 70-200mm telephoto zoom that can compress a scene, and a 16-35mm wide angle zoom that allows leading lines drawing viewers into an image.

“I’m trying to shoot fast enough to keep the ISO and digital noise as minimal as possible in my negotiation with the image as I shape the light and the angle,” he said. “First and foremost, my priority is to always expose for the highlights. A blown highlight is an unrecoverable highlight; whereas the post-production tools we now have allow me the dynamic range to recover some of that detail. There’s a lot of technique that goes into” each snap of the shutter that can either elevate Seibert’s aerial art into a sliver of success or lead to disappointment.

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paulseibertphotography.com

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Paul Seibert

This image of Manhattan was captured with a wide-angle lens and modified post-production to simulate how it might look from space. "These illustrations are always fun and challenging, but you have to be wary of what I call the 'Photoshop police,' who might be critical. The recipe is real. You add a dash of imagination, a couple of teaspoons of Adobe Photoshop, and you have a different art form that combines the graphic and the photo elements. If the photo is not good, then I'm not sharing that photo. I want it to be an exceptional photograph that has evolved into something else. The photo always comes first." At this close range, you can see the detail in Liberty's hair, the hammered copper texture and the windows in her crown, and the riveting in her face and neck. Photography and quotes by Paul Seibert The newly renovated  Empire State Building 102nd floor observatory from a Robinson R44 helicopter. "We were circling and I'm now looking for things we haven't seen before. Instead of using a wide angle, I was shooting at 200mm for a tighter view, and I happened to see a quick silhouette. I asked the pilot to make one more loop and was fully locked in with my exposure." About 7,500 feet above the Hudson River from a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. "A look like this really has impact, kind of like a tiny Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood vibe. The beauty of shooting a little farther away and using a longer lens gives you that depth. Adding the blur effect during a post-production edit really pulls the viewer into the frame." Snow in Central Park. This was shot from a Bell 206 LongRanger between 5,000 and 5,500 feet above the city looking south from Harlem."This was in December 2020, the day after our first big snowstorm in a number of years. For me, the snow scene from this vantage point is remarkable because you can see the grid and the city planning aspect of Manhattan. The black of the asphalt contrasted with the white of the snow makes it looks like a microchip or a computer motherboard." Seibert used a 70-200mm lens from 7,500 feet to compress the depth of the buildings as the photo platform circled above Times Square. "I wanted a blue-hour feel in the brief time after the sun sets, but when there's still some ambient light. The light is constantly changing during those few minutes, so you have to constantly be on guard to change your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. My goal is always to get the image as still and sharp as if I was standing on the ground; but from a moving, vibrating, aircraft buffeted by wind."
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-winning AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.

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