Vincent Laforet

AIR: Gotham 7.5K

A Rare High Altitude Night Flight Above NYC

Had we gone just a few thousand more feet up (around 11,000-12,000 feet) we would have needed oxygen masks!

One veteran pilot that we often fly with refused to go up to the altitude we were at ... He said that "helicopters are not meant to live in that realm" - which I kind of agree with following this flight.

I had only gone this high once before, but that was over the desert and during the daytime - a very different experience. I still remember it being 120 degrees on the ground and in the 60s at high altitude and how you could feel the temperature change rapidly as we climbed up there...
Imagine leaning out of an open door of a helicopter 7,500 feet over New York City on a very dark and chilly night...

And seeing this:
This flight required extensive planning and special clearances - we were actually flying ABOVE all of the airline traffic landing at JFK, LGA and Newark airports ...
I've flown on "aerial missions" over The Big Apple more than 50 times over the past decade and a half, and I've flown several hundred hours of photo flights around the world... And this was by far the most frightening flight of all.
And nothing "eventful" whatsoever happened.

My cameras and I were safely harnessed in at all times. The pilot was top notch. The wind was a factor.

But the real scary part was that there's just simply nothing quite like leaning out of that chopper over the sea of darkness and light, held in only by a full body harness. There is no chance that you will fall - the harness is tried and true.

But you do think about the fall.
I have to admit that it was very odd to be looking at airplanes - big ones: jetliners - flying beneath you!
And you think about it again. And again. And how long you would have to think things over from that height all the way down to the ground below.

And then you start to think about the helicopter, and how it's not exactly the most aerodynamically stable aircraft up there in the first place.
Ultimately this is a flight I will never forget.
And I'm not sure if, and, or when I'll ever go back up that high above Gotham...
But something tells me this won't be my last flight up there... Just maybe not THAT high...
I hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed making them. You can see a pretty cool video by David Geffin of how these were made, including some of the gear used up there, here:
The complexity of this city is even more impressive from above than it is from closeup on the ground as your can truly appreciate its incredible scale.
It is both exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Let's just start off by saying this was the scariest helicopter "photo mission" of my career. And the most beautiful.
Back to the Pictures! (That's what I kept telling myself in case you were wondering...)
Special thanks to long time friend and aerial coordinator Mike Isler & Liberty Helicopters.
I was recently on assignment for a magazine and I proposed shooting the city from an unusually high altitude so that we could capture the lines that are formed by the streets of New York at night. It was an article about psychology and I've always thought that from a high altitude the streets looked like brain "synapses" - at least to me.
Armed with cameras such as the Canon 1DX and the Mamiya Leaf Credo 50 MP back- both capable of shooting relatively clean files at 3200 & 6400 ISO and a series of f2.8 to f1.2 lenses including a few tilt-shift lenses (see image above.)

I was finally able to capture some of the images that I've dreamed of capturing for decades.
If you'd like to stay in touch as this project "Air" takes flight over
& takes on exciting new forms, and to potentially be part of it.
To see more of these and other images please visit:
These are pictures I've wanted to make since I was in my teens, but the cameras simply have not been capable of capturing aerial images from a helicopter at night until very recently.

Helicopters vibrate pretty significantly and you have to be able to shoot at a relatively high shutter speed (even with tools like a gyroscope) and that makes it incredibly difficult to shoot post sunset.
These are some of the most unique images that I have ever photographed of New York City in nearly two decades.