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England and Wales from the air, by Jonathan Webb

1 May 2023

Aerial photography with drones is now omnipresent in the media, so many people will be surprised that I still take aerial photographs from aeroplanes. Why bounce around in an aeroplane when you could stay on the ground? you might say. And the answer is that actually being up there with the camera gives a great deal more freedom. We live in such a wonderful country, full of stunning landscapes and fascinating historic buildings, and there is no better way of viewing them than to go flying.

I have always been fascinated by historic buildings. It doesn’t matter what age they are whether they are a medieval church, Roman remains or an 18th century stately home, it's always fascinating to see how our ancestors lived and went about their daily lives.

While my photoshoots are usually meticulously planned, there is always happenstance – the unplanned luck of the day that something unexpected will show. There is always a great deal of luck involved with weather and lighting but sometimes things come together so a location perfectly catches the sun at the right angle with no clouds covering anything.

Shooting from an aeroplane travelling at 100 mph has its own challenges, which makes the experience quite different from any other form of photography. To shoot a building exactly square on you have less than a single second to get the image exactly right. If you miss it then you have to go round and shoot it again. The difficulty is compounded in that with many aircraft, such as the Cessna 172 which I have used so often, the wing strut is in front of the window partially blocking the view and in the way of the photograph. If you're not careful it's easy to end up with bits of aeroplane in the photo. This means that the pilot must add a little bit of rudder at exactly the right moment to slew the plane round and take the strut out of the photo. Adding a bit of rudder is like putting the hand brake on in a car on a bend although usually it needs only to be applied subtly as we can’t fly completely sideways. Incidentally slewing the aircraft round was how the Red Baron used to shoot down his opponents. He would fly nearly alongside and the hit the rudder followed by the guns. We do the same to shoot photographs.

While it takes some practice to master the technical challenges of shooting from an aircraft, it does have many advantages. We can fly almost anywhere and shoot almost anything from above, whereas if I were to shoot with a drone, I would be limited to just 400 ft up, ie the height of a tall building. For photographs like those in the showcase you need to be much higher; I typically work between 1000 and 2000ft in the air although occasionally I can be much higher. In some places, especially near major airports, we need permission to enter controlled airspace however that's usually just a matter of a radio call to ATC. If I wanted to shoot the same location with a drone it would usually involve filling in forms and waiting for weeks and then having to shoot on a day when the weather is not very good. Frequently in the plane, if the weather is unusually good we will just pop over to a location on the spur of the moment to catch it in the sunshine.

For this Showcase I have chosen six wonderful places which are all open to the public. They are:

Ashdown House and Park (above) an unusual 17th century Dutch style house in Oxfordshire. The Grade I listed building is owned by the National Trust who organise guided tours.

Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, a Cistercian monastery was founded in 1132 and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. The remains have been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the grounds of being "a masterpiece of human creative genius".

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, an Elizabethan "prodigy house" which took seven years to build from 1590 to 1597. The architect was Robert Smythson who was working for Elizabeth Talbot, the Countess of Shrewsbury who was more usually known as Bess of Hardwick who was the wealthiest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I.

Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk. Constructed in 1482 Oxburgh Hall is a moated manor house rather than a military structure and although it was restored in the 19th century , still retains many original features including the magnificent 15th century brick gatehouse.

Powis Castle (Castell Powys) near Welshpool, Powys, is a proper Welsh Castle and was built by Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn around 1283. During the English Civil War the Castle was garrisoned by Royalists but taken by Parliamentarian forces in 1644.

Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire, built in 1693 with various alterations and additions through the centuries.

Jonathan Webb founded Webb Aviation Aerial Photography in March 1991 shortly after completing a Business Studies degree at Manchester Metropolitan University. Since then the business has grown from strength to strength and in 2008 Jonathan Webb was awarded the distinction of Associate of the Royal Photographic Society for his aerial photography.

Jonathan's work has featured in most major newspapers including the Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Sun, The Scotsman, The Daily Mail, The Liverpool Echo and has been published by the Royal Photographic Society, The Royal Geographic Society, the Royal Society for Arts, the BBC, and ITV. Jonathan has published a dozen books on aerial photography and today his website is one of the most visited aerial photography websites in the UK with more than 5 million visitors a year, that's as many visitors as Edinburgh Castle!

See more work by Jonathan Webb

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