The view from up here

Published 10:41 pm Thursday, September 17, 2015

Phillip Long shot this view of Eclipse and the Sidney B. Hazelwood Sr. Bridge from the Isle of Wight side of Chuckatuck Creek.

Phillip Long shot this view of Eclipse and the Sidney B. Hazelwood Sr. Bridge from the Isle of Wight side of Chuckatuck Creek.

Lots of people around Hampton Roads know to keep their eyes on the skies this time of year. Hurricane season aside, the changing weather going from summer to fall can bring quickly developing thunderstorms, and it’s always a good idea to be alert for what might be coming over the horizon.

But Eclipse resident Phillip Long has a different take on the old advice. Lately, he’s been keeping an eye IN the sky, and what he sees of Suffolk from that vantage point is something fresh and beautiful.

Long, whose primary job has him driving trucks for QCD in the Wilroy Industrial Park, spends his off hours as a real estate and landscape photographer. A while back, he discovered that both photographic pursuits could literally be taken to another level with the addition of a new piece of equipment: the Phantom DJI quad-copter.

The camera caught a partial selfie in this shot of a North Suffolk estuary.

The camera caught a partial selfie in this shot of a North Suffolk estuary.

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The Phantom has become hugely popular among drone photography enthusiasts, because it’s easy to fly and user friendly, Long says. But what really seals the deal is the photos it can return from its 25-minute voyages into the air.

Things are “totally different” from an altitude of a couple of hundred feet, Long says.

“You can take the same picture a million times, and when you change your position, everything’s different.”

Long uses the Phantom for his growing real estate photography business, sending it skyward to get beauty shots and video of houses Realtors want to highlight. It’s especially effective for showing waterside locations where the best photos might be from offshore.

But as a photographer who also sells art prints of his landscapes and of balanced-stone sculptures he has created along beaches and streams, he has begun to use his drone for more landscape shots, especially in Martha’s Vineyard and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he and his wife often vacation with her family.

Lately, though, he’s been flying the quad-copter around Suffolk, capturing arresting images of the waterways and estuaries around his home in Eclipse, along with other iconic Suffolk locations.

“I go out at least once a week and drive around to try to find something neat,” Long says.

“The pictures I strive to take are not ‘That would be a good shot,’ but rather ‘That is a good shot, and it’s something somebody would put on their wall for 10 years.’ The average person doesn’t see what we’re seeing.”

Long got into photography in an unusual way. He’d discovered the art of balancing and stacking stones on Martha’s Vineyard, where folks who saw his temporary sculptures often stopped and asked if he was taking photos as a way to save the sculptures.

“I got a camera, learned a little about it and started developing an eye for photography,” he said.

Since then, he’s sold a lot canvases with those photos. Sentara has been a major client, and his artwork at BelleHarbour and Obici has prompted further sales to folks who saw it while visiting those medical facilities.

But Long says he’s moved on from balanced stones.

“I think the rock pictures are good pictures of great rock sculptures, not the other way around,” he says. “I’ve just grown so much, I’m really not interested in shooting that anymore.”

His growth has a lot to do with his day (or, rather, night) job driving a truck.

Instead of listening to the radio while he drives, Long spends those long hours listening to photography podcasts by photography greats like Peter Hurley, Trey Ratcliff and Scott Kelby. He says he still has a lot to learn, even as he turns out art that folks love enough to purchase and hang on their walls.

“There’s still a ton of buttons on my camera that I don’t what they do,” he says.

And he has some advice for those interested in becoming better photographers, advice he takes to heart himself: “Shoot every day. Shoot every chance you get. Your art gets better and better, the more you shoot.”