Interview with offshore aerial photographer (Gallery)

Offshore Energy Today’s Bartolomej Tomić has interviewed Mr. Herman Ijsseling, the owner of the Dutch company Flying Focus. The company specializes in taking beautiful photos of maritime and offshore vessels and installations, as you can see in the gallery above. In the interview, Mr. IJsseling speaks about the beginnings, clients, aircraft, technology, and the accident he survived a few years ago… 

Dear Mr. IJsseling, thank you for accepting this interview. Can you tell us of the beginnings of your love for photography?


It started when I got a simple camera for my birthday when I became 7. It was an old fashioned box camera working with 6×9 cm black/white negatives. My first subjects were animals and family members.


Through your company Flying Focus, you take photos of, among other things, offshore oil and gas installations. Can you tell us more about the first days of Flying Focus?


We started with the normal subjects for aerial photography like cities, buildings etc. Then a shipyard asked us to photograph the sea trials of a vessel. After this shoot, the phone started ringing, so there apparently was a lot of interest in these kinds of photos. In 2 years time, we visited most of the shipyards and shipping companies to present our work. Nowadays, 95% of our work is maritime.


The company has evolved since the early days. How many employees, or teammates do you have today, and how often do you fly over the North Sea?


We are now working with 3 and a lot of freelance pilots. We fly over the North Sea three to four times a week.


Who are your clients? How do they approach Flying Focus? What are some interesting demands?


Shipyards, shipping companies, oil & gas operators, offshore wind energy companies. Most orders come via email, phone, Linkedin etc. Sometimes we are ordered for projects further away like Scotland or the Arctic Circle. A real challenge compared to the North Sea area!


What are some of your favorite projects, when it comes to offshore oil and gas photos, or in general? I’ve heard you like to shoot in stormy weather? Why is that?


It is always challenging to photograph the installation of an offshore structure. To communicate about the best time to arrive on scene and to back the best shots, given the weather and time of day.
Storm flying is a different story. We do that on a freelance base and mostly only of ships in the shipping lanes battling the waves. We are quite famous for that worldwide. These images are sold worldwide and we use them for the calendar and photo books we publish.


Tell us about your aircraft fleet, and the photographic equipment you use.


We have 3 different aircraft, all for different jobs. One of them is a twin-engined Cessna 337 for long-distance photo-flights and storm flying up to Beaufort 10. The other 2 are single-engine and are used for flights over the inland waters or the coastal zone.

All aircraft are equipped with special safety gear like emergency release doors and Emergency Locator Beacons. Also special photo windows and marine VHF for good contact with the vessels.

We work with the latest professional digital cameras and are shooting out of the hand.


While your line of work is certainly very interesting, it can also be challenging and, at times dangerous. A few years ago, you survived a crash into the cold North Sea. Can you share some details on that? 


The cause of the crash had to do with a misjudgment of the weather, a human mistake. For 31 years we have been worrying about what to do when it goes wrong. I luckily survived 2,5 hours in the cold North Sea because of our preparations and equipment, like the survival suit and Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). After the accident, an extra Emergency Locator Beacon was installed and the doors were equipped with an emergency release system. Every crewmember is now also equipped with both a PLB and an AIS emergency transponder.


Drones are a buzzword on the photographic sky now. Do you use them, and do you think they will at some point be able to replace the Cesnas? Can you imagine doing what you do today, but from your office, with a joystick, maneuvering a drone above the platforms, ships, lighthouses….?


We don’t use drones. It is very important to have the man or woman that makes the photo on the same location as the camera. Only then you can see the best angle and the changing light conditions and choose the best position. Commercial drone operation has to be executed with 3 persons, 1 for the drone, 1 for the camera and 1 looking out. In combination with the fact that a drone can not fly that long, these 3 people have to be on board of the vessel which has to be photographed, very expensive…Plus the fact that most drones can only fly up to 6 Beaufort.


Images by Flying Focus

Related news

List of related news articles