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A beautiful day for helicoptering above New Jersey

Today is one the more fun photo assignments I have every year, I hang out of a helicopter and photograph the Far Hills Race Meeting. More than 35,000 people pile into a farm in Far Hills and have the craziest tail gate party you can imagine. Far Hills is one of the most exclusive towns in the country and the area is home to many rich and famous who want a country home not too far from New York City. Automaker John DeLorean’s estate was purchased by Donald Trump a few years ago and is now Trump National Golf Course, which is where he spent his time while the White House was being renovated. Even though this is a Republican area, the folks weren’t too happy with all the closures and security.

Back at the race, the goal seems to be to outdo your neighbor, so naturally you bring your butler to serve your guests from the back of your Rolls Royce. Ice scultpures, fine crystal champagne glasses and the latest in country attire are the norm.

I’ve been photographing the event from a helicopter for about 20 years, so I haven’t been on the ground lately, but when I worked at the newspaper, we enjoyed Monday morning’s phone call to the Far Hills police to get the names of those arrested for public drunkedness and peeing in the woods, it was always a long list but we never saw anyone famous.

I’ve used lots of different helicopters, pretty much each year is a new pilot. For awhile the Race Meeting was able to get the helicopter time donated. I usually have the pilot take the door off to make it easier to shoot. One year it was a bit rainy, it was a different helicopter and the pilot didn’t want to take the door off and get the inside wet. When I got in the chopper I saw why, it was covered in soft tan leather, which is rather unusual. I asked the pilot about it and he said the leather was installed to match the owner’s Mazeratti. I flew the next year in the same bird and the following year was a new helicopter. I asked why weren’t using the fancy one and I was told it crashed and killed three people earlier in the year.

I strap myself in pretty good, if I’m going to turn sideways and have my feet hanging out, I put on a climbing harness and hook it into the seat belts. What is strange is that I can no longer climb a ladder, I get all wooey, but hanging out of a helicopter doesn’t bother me at all.

One of the fun things shooting from a chopper is seeing things from a different angle. I saw this large installation of solar panels, so during one of our sweeps in that direction, I had the pilot put me right over them. I love what happens when I see things in a different way.

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