By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN With James Aarestad, aerial photography has a puffy white twist.
“I call myself the blimp guy,” said Aarestad, owner of Eagle Eye Photography in Delano. “I tell my wife, we’re ‘going blimping’ today.”
Eagle Eye Photography uses an unmanned 21-foot helium-filled tethered blimp to take photos and video from 10 to 300 feet high.
“The coolest part about it is, you can get photos you couldn’t get from a plane,” said Aarestad, who purchased the company earlier this year from Steve Smith.
Since 1992, Smith had been providing Minnesota with unique perspectives in “bird’s-eye view” images.
To this day, it continues to be the only aerial photography business in the state with a photography blimp. Most solely use an aircraft, which can’t get as low or offer as much precision as the blimp.
An airplane does come in handy for higher altitude projects, however. For photos 500 to 25,000 feet high, Aarestad uses a variety of high-wing Cessna aircraft.
Aarestad, a 2005 Delano High School graduate, has had his pilot’s license for several years. When he’s not working on his business, he’s also a flight instructor at the airport in Buffalo, and an airline pilot.
Eagle Eye Photography employee Derek Mattila of Cokato will be earning his commercial pilot’s license this month.
“The idea of taking aerial photos attracted me to this business,” said Mattila, who is attending St. Cloud State University for aviation management. “It’s a great way to log flight time, and I enjoy taking photos. It’s fun to operate the blimp, too.”
When working from an aircraft, one person will fly the plane, circling the desired location. The other person will open the window and snap multiple photos.
Most of Eagle Eye Photography’s business is with the blimp, however, because of its ability to produce extremely precise, detailed aerial photos.
Attached to the blimp’s base is a remote-controlled digital camera on a two-way swivel system with a wireless feed.
“I can see exactly what the camera sees,” Aarestad said. “It helps to get those perfect shots.”
A professional-grade 18 mega pixel camera with image stabilization is used to ensure that the photos are crystal clear, even when enlarged to poster size.
The blimp is also fully portable.
“It fits inside this specially-made trailer,” Aarestad said. “When I get to the site, the setup time is about 15 minutes.”
Most of the time, the process is quick and easy, and Aarestad said the blimp has never flown away from him.
“It hasn’t happened to me, but it happened to the previous owner,” Aarestad added. “The tether actually broke, and it got away from him.”
Smith, who had been near Lake Minnetonka at the time, was worried about the blimp landing in Minneapolis.
“He lost sight of it,” Aarestad explained.
Fortunately, the blimp has a pressure release valve that opens when it gets to a certain altitude.
“It landed in a guy’s backyard somewhere in Wisconsin,” Aarestad said.
Unless the photo is time sensitive, Aarestad typically waits for calm days to do photography from the blimp.
“It can get kind of tricky if there is a lot of wind,” he said.
Many people use aerial photography from the blimp when selling commercial and private real estate.
“Getting a nice aerial photo gives houses an edge,” Aarestad said. “It makes them stand out.”
Low aerial photos can show the “whole picture,” while maintaining clear detail.
People often hire Eagle Eye Photography for “before and after” shots during development projects. Country clubs, architectural firms, hotels, and other businesses also use aerial photography as an eye-catching marketing tool.
Sometimes, Mattila and Aarestad will also do “blimp prospecting,” when there is a special event.
“We take photos of anything we think we can sell,” Mattila said.
To learn more about Eagle Eye Photography, click here.