Antoine Rose got his first compact camera when he was eight years old. That’s when he started experimenting with sculpting light through a lens. Little did he know that his passion for photography and love for adventure would turn into a full-time gig for his photo series, Up In The Air. Now, the 40-year-old Belgian photographer (with a rather apt surname) captures sea, snow and city landscapes while suspended on a helicopter in thin air.
Rose took his first aerial shot from a five-seater A-star Eurocopter, on his way to photograph a kite-boarding final in Rio in 2002. The colourful and scenic views of the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches from above had him hooked. “It took me many years to develop the technique used for the Up In The Air series,” Rose said. “Not only did I have to perfect my ability to shoot in dangerous circumstances, but also, I had to wait for technology to catch up with me!”
The photographer retrained his focus on Up In The Air during the global recession in 2008. At the time, the self-taught photographer was working on a minimalist, black-and-white series titled “Sea”. He felt that the audience was searching for something more uplifting, what he describes as “warmth, colour and a chance to engage”. Up In The Air employs bursts of colour and has a more joyful perspective. There’s an underlying sociological perspective at play here too. Rose said, “Up In The Air allowed me to explore human behaviour in an environment where social hierarchies do not exist in the traditional sense, as everyone is at the beach to enjoy the sea in their bathing suits.”
Since beaches vary in their layout, there’s something new for Rose to look for at every shoot. “In New York, the beaches are more scattered, forming a random pattern,” he said. “In Miami, the beaches are lined with hotels, where everything is pink and colourful with neatly lined hotel umbrellas. As soon as I am airborne, I begin observing the ground and sometimes, even though I’ve planned to shoot a beach, I may also find a soccer field or golf course with something to offer.”
It’s little wonder it took Rose 13 years to iron out the technical creases. The process is arduous and full of risks. Not only does it involve strapping oneself to the outside of a helicopter while balancing on the skids, but Rose also has to guide the pilot and navigate with tower control, while making sure the camera is set up correctly and paying attention to details like the light when framing a shot.
A particularly challenging shoot took place over Manhattan at night. “We were given authorization to fly at a higher altitude than we normally would,” Rose recalled. “I was trying to capture a vertical image of Times Square, already struggling to maintain my balance on the skids of the helicopter, when just a few hundred feet away flies a commercial Air Canada passenger plane! It came up from below and caught both the pilot and myself off guard. We were both very nervous as he needed to keep a visual, and communicate with Air Traffic Control while listening to my instructions. We did however get some amazing shots!”
Rose is expanding the “Beach” series in terms of geography while also working on a “Jeux d’Hiver” (Winter Games) series to capture ice and snow, along with another “Night” series that he considers to be the most challenging of all. You can watch him prep for an Up In The Air shoot over Saint Moritz, Switzerland in the video below.
Rose’s work is exhibited in galleries in France, Belgium, USA and UK. Check his website for details.
Updated in March 2016.
Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's digital team. Since then, her words have featured in The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Roads & Kingdoms, The Goya Journal, and Condé Nast Traveller India. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro and is on Instagram @fabiolamonteiro.