Meet The Man Behind All Those Stunning Aerial Photos Of London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 15 months ago

Last Updated 04 April 2023

Meet The Man Behind All Those Stunning Aerial Photos Of London
Looking down over Battersea Power Station
After just six months of flying in microlights, Hawkes upgraded to helicopters. © Jason Hawkes

If you've ever been floored by a particularly spectacular photo of London from above, there's a good chance Jason Hawkes was behind the camera.

In fact, the derring-do cameraman has probably flown directly over your head before now.

On his average day 'at the office', the aerial photographer will be sailing between 750 feet and 2,400 feet above the city, dangling out the side of an AS355 helicopter. "The highest I've been with the door off is 19,000 feet in a small twin engined light aircraft, wearing oxygen masks," Hawkes tells Londonist, "It was bloody cold."

City of London skyscrapers bathed in mist
The aerial photographer sails between 750 feet and 2,400 feet above the city... although he has been higher. © Jason Hawkes

Hawkes first took to the skies in a microlight at the age of 21. Falling in love with the patterns visible from the sky, within about two months he had bought his own microlight with a couple of friends. "Six months after that," says Hawkes, "I switched to helicopters".

Gigs for the sky-high photographer include everything from capturing images for book publishers, to organising shoots for ad agencies. Though he travels the world for his work, Hawkes has been photographing London in all its glory for a number of years — and Londonist has always been champing at the bit to publish snaps from his latest shoots, featuring City scrapers swaddled in morning mist, the serpentine kinks of the Thames, families frolicking in the Granary Square fountains, and The O2's canvas torn to shreds by Storm Eunice.   

An extremely parched looking Hyde Park
"The parched parks of summer 2022 were especially stark viewed from the air. © Jason Hawkes

Hawke's personal favourite snap, from the many thousands he's taken, is of a vivid turquoise Brockwell Lido. He has it on his wall at home, printed directly onto a very large metal panel: "I love it".

One question springs to mind, though: how, with all those helicoptery vibrations, do you get a steady shot? "In the daytime you can just use very high shutter speeds," says Hawkes, "At night you have to mount the camera on a large and heavy gyro stabilising mount. You don't touch the camera at all."

A line of London bridges on the Thames, starting with Tower Bridge
The evolution of London is more immediate from up high. © Jason Hawkes

The evolution of London is more immediate from up high; the clutter of newly-minted high-rises that've gone up in the past decade in particular. "Recently, the big changes I've noticed are the huge developments down in Battersea and Nine Elms," says Hawkes, "I've not been there on the ground for a few years and don't expect I'd be able to find my way around anymore."

You can really appreciate the city's generous splashes of green too (around mid April is Hawkes's favourite time of year) and, by the same token, the parched parks and commons resulting from the heatwaves of 2022 were stark and startling seen from the skies: "It certainly made you stop and think. I put an a couple of images on my Twitter feed comparing Hyde Park August 2022 to with the same view August 2021. It was amazing seeing the contrast."

For most of us, the closest we'll get to seeing panoramas like this in the flesh, is with a fleeting glimpse from a commercial flight. But Hawkes and his crews are free as a bird — well, almost: "With the right permits and in a twin engined machine you can do pretty much what you want.

"Having said that it's quite expensive and often you have to hold for air traffic. Shooting for instance around Canary Wharf at dusk you might only be given a window of a minute or two at any given time as you wait for the traffic landing/lifting from City Airport."

The Albert Hall illuminated at night
"With the right permits and in a twin engined machine you can do pretty much what you want." © Jason Hawkes

Hawkes is also unable to catch many major events — such as 2022's state funeral for the Queen — which prompt flights to be put on pause.

Being a semi-omniscient eye in the sky, you do occasionally stumble across the occasional thing you weren't supposed to. "Quite a few years ago there was a certain couple in a certain (very tall) hotel in London that we inadvertently caught on camera," says Hawkes, "Very quickly deleted after we saw that."

The top of the Walkie-Talkie with people on the viewing platform
Hawkes once inadvertently snapped a famous couple in a London hotel, and quickly deleted the images. © Jason Hawkes

Is he ever hit by a wave of panic, suddenly over-conscious of what he's doing? Hawkes does recall one occasion from a decade or so ago, when he was shooting New York: "I think I must have had jet lag. I'd only been in the city a few hours and I was hovering at dusk, at about 4,500 feet up, leaning right out of the door of a helicopter. It suddenly dawned on me what a mad thing it was to do.

"I clearly remember sitting back in the cabin of the aircraft, putting my cameras on the floor and taking a minute or two."

Check out more of Jason Hawkes' incredible imagery on his website.