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Rising to the Challenge in a Man's World

Q: Did things go smoothly right from the start?

A: Oh, no. I didn't take a salary for three months, and in first six months we lost $44,000. I had to gain clients, pay for helicopters and airplanes, buy $10,000 worth of camera equipment, pay my employees and do everything else involved in starting a company. We hung in there, though, and that was the only time we were in the red, with one exception. By the next year we were profitable, with more than $100,000 in revenues. By 2000, we were up to $1.3 million in annual revenues, working for mostly for developers, contractors and banks, who all rely on aerial "process photography" to authenticate the construction process and for legal purposes.

Q: Was that exception to your profitability after 9/11?

A: Yes. After 9/11 the Federal Aviation Administration closed the airspace to small craft for two months. Even after that, business was really lean. I had to let 50% of the staff go and the remaining staff had to take pay cuts of 20%. The hardest part was that I had to let Pat [Hammons] go. It was very tearful, but there was just nothing else I could do. We survived, and she does part-time work for us now.

During that time, I found out that all the relationship-building I had done over the years paid off. Everybody kind of pitched in, and the bank that owns our office building asked if they could help. When I said, "Sure," they told me I could skip a month's mortgage payment and they added it back into the mortgage balance. We called up our clients to explain what was happening and they understood. Some of them even said, "Bill us anyway," which made me cry.

During that time, when things were slow, I decided to attend at least one business function a week. If you don't schmooze, even your best clients don't remember you as well as they should. Now, we have a kind of "schmooze team" -- so we all take turns going out and getting our faces in the community. I believe that membership in selective professional organizations is important also, because 5% of success is knowing how to run the business, 5% is knowing how to use a camera -- and 90% is knowing how to market the product! You can have beautiful work, but if nobody's there to buy it, what good is it?

Q: Other than the construction process photos, what kinds of work do you do?

A: We shoot film for private clients, like homeowners and boat owners who want aerial pictures. I just finished a job for a German theater group that has some theaters in this area.... We arranged the whole thing via e-mail. We've done groundbreaking photos for churches and schools and sometimes they all get together on the ground to spell out, "God Bless You" or "Smile."

The great thing is that this job is never boring. Julie, one of the photographers, was shooting a roller coaster at Busch Gardens when the helicopter noise started an elephant stampede. Another time, we were circling around shooting a correctional facility and the control tower radioed us to land. They sent out the cops to make sure we weren't involved in planning an escape!

Q: What's the most unusual assignment you've ever gotten?

A: Oh, there's no question. I had an ad agency call me up and they said they wanted me to shoot a flying condom over a football stadium. I was like, "What?" Turned out they had made up a huge tow banner showing a condom with the slogan, "Roll one on." They wanted a picture of it being towed over Giant Stadium in New York. We chased the tow plane all over the place, from Coney Island to Midtown, past all the bridges and up the Hudson. It was really pretty cool.

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