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National Geographic, When the Snows Fail

Like many photographers who learned their craft shooting film, I will never forget the moment in a high school darkroom when I made my first black and white print. It was like magic watching as the image emerged on the prints in the developer tray, and it was the beginning of my love affair with the medium.

On a recent National Geographic magazine assignment to photograph the effects of the drought in the American West this past spring, I had some similar moments of discovery. This time I wasn’t standing in a darkened room full of smelly chemicals lit by a red safelight, I was sitting in a hotel room with my laptop, digitally stitching together vertical aerial images to make panoramic photographs. The joy and satisfaction of seeing the finished image appear, however, reminded me of how I felt making those first prints back in the day.

The Assignment:

The assignment to photograph the ongoing drought was an important one, and I needed to make dramatic photographs of places that had been depicted many times before.

I drove south to the Owens Valley in Eastern California and found a helicopter operator at the Mammoth Lakes Airport. An important photograph for the story that was to show the light snowpack this year in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I needed to hover at around 12,000 feet. This requires a more powerful helicopter. Fortunately, an experienced local pilot, Ed Roski, had the perfect machine for the job, a Robinson R66 turbine helicopter. I made 17 exposures to take in a view of 240 degrees, so I had to direct Ed to rotate the helicopter while remaining at the same position and altitude. This is not a task for a beginning pilot.

As the pilot hovered the helicopter at the selected location in clear skies and low winds, I shot the photos from the back seat with the door removed. I made 17 vertical photos, each with a 50% overlap with a 24mm lens mounted on a gyro stabilizer.

Mountain Photos

This type of digital photography opens up a whole new way of viewing the world. It’s a great time to be a photographer!

Mountain View

Panoramic image of Sierra Nevada mountain range created from 17 vertical photographs.

Thanks SkyTime

Peter Essick

National Geographic

My Bird’s Eye View of the Eastern Sierra Mountains

I’ve been traveling up the 395 Highway to the Eastern Sierra every year, since I was 3 months old.  I feel just as at home on the shore of Silver Lake as I do on the beach at home in Huntington Beach, CA. For 22 years I’ve hiked, fished, and camped just about everywhere they will let me, and I like to think I’ve seen it all. Just like every other 22 year old, I can be wrong sometimes. I was recently gifted the opportunity to see the Mammoth Mountain and the June Lake Loop from a brand new perspective. Thanks to SkyTime Helicopter  Tours, I discovered that as beautiful as the Eastern Sierra is from the ground, it is more remarkable from the sky. 

Flight Preparation

When I arrived to the Mammoth/Yosemite airport, we were led to the hangar by the pilot who proceeded to run through the safety precautions of flying in a helicopter. Trey, our pilot, was quite impressive with his thousands of hours of flight time as well as state of the art equipment, which helped settle my nerves. Inside the helicopter I realized it was built for endless sightseeing. The entire front window is made of Plexiglas giving everyone in the helicopter unobstructed views during the entirety of our flight. Upon entering the helicopter you are given headphones that allow the pilot and the passengers in the helicopter to communicate with one another. The noise cancelling headphones drowned out the roar of the blades allowing for my friends and I to truly experience this adventure together. As the helicopter left the ground I immediately began to feel like a bird in the sky. We could go anywhere, see anything, and hover over some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. 

The Helicopter Ride Begins

We started our flight off heading towards the June Lake loop. The trip from the airport to June Lake was lined with more trees than anyone could possibly count. It was astonishing how knowledgeable the pilot was about the surrounding area. Within 2 minutes, we learned about the various volcanic activities near the Mammoth region and how it shaped the entire valley. The Pilot did not hesitate to tell us everything he knew while we flew over the vast landscape. I was so thankful he educated us as he answered questions that I didn’t even know I had! Once we made it June Lake I was blown away by the alpine views. From the ground the view is breathtaking, granite mountain peaks, whispering trees and fish flying out of the water; but from the air it gives you a whole new perspective. I could see the changes of color in the lake water from a deep navy blue to a dramatic tale. The boats that I would normally be fishing from now looked like toys on the water.  I could see the entire June and Gull Lakes in one amazing shot. I was blown away by the view only a helicopter tour could give me, and this was just the start. 

June Lake to the Minarets

From June Lake we made our way over Rainbow Ridge and up to the infamous Minarets. I could not snap the shutter on my camera fast enough! The couple hundred shots I got did not do justice. On the way to the peak of the Minarets, the pilot showed us all of the small, remote lakes that most people just point to on a map. I could not believe how pristine the water and the surrounding area looked. The untouched crystal clear water, no boats, no people, just simplicity that only a handful have ever been lucky enough to see. The pilot named all the lakes and gave us as much time as we wanted to try and take in all of the wonderment. As we flew closer to the Minarets they grew in size right before our eyes. The Minarets are strikingly powerful with a structure unlike any mountain I have ever seen. This mountain range in particular is very challenging, even for the most experienced mountaineer. Many people have been claimed by this harsh landscape trying to get a glimpse of its beauty. For a view that would take days to hike to, took us all of 20 minutes including all of the June Lake touring. Being that close to such an iconic piece of nature was marvelous, something I will never forget and something I would hope for everyone to see.

Minarets to Mammoth Mountain

Following the Minarets, we flew over to Mammoth Mountain, where we caught a view of the usually busy winter ski slopes and summer bike trails. From the sky you could also take in Water Falls, Reds Meadows, and unbeatable rock formation. The helicopter gave us a perspective that made everything seem so small but at the same time opened my eyes to much more. There is only so much ground you can cover in a car and only so many sights you can see on a hike, but in that helicopter, I was able to see things I never even knew existed! As far as the eye can see there are granite peaks, peaceful valleys, and countless lakes all just as beautiful as the next. We saw bikers making their way down the backside of Mammoth, hikers on their way to the top of Rainbow Falls, and boats fishing on the lakes. Although I am sure they were enjoying their view, nothing compares to my bird’s eye view of the preserved wilderness. 

Looking Back

I was left speechless more times than I could count, in fact, I felt as if I held my breath the entire trip. Although we began the flight chatting in the headphones by the end the only noises heard were “oohs” and “ahs”. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I hope to be lucky enough to experience again. 

I imagined an epic shot, where our main character would be running through a vast and barren valley toward an expanse of deep forest ahead with majestic mountains in the distance. I got so excited about this shot but the idea of how to achieve it seemed out of reach. Where, and how, in the world could I make this possible? One of my favorite places in the world came to mind: Mammoth Lakes! Yes! This is the place. After researching helicopters I ran across SkyTime and Ed Roski. Not only did Ed make this shot a reality but he made every moment of our experience with him enjoyable. From his wonderful attitude and accommodating nature to his affordable prices Ed Roski and SkyTime Helicopters helped make my movie "The Hypnotist" into a "big-budget-looking" film. Thank you are one of the good ones.

The Hypnotist Image

JON BRAVER Owner/Director - Haunted Play

Stunt Coordinator - Braver Stunts

Hug Therapist - Happy Meadows Asylum

OPP Creative

"Obtaining aerial photo and video coverage of special events can present some rather unique challenges. Moments are not staged and come and go spontaneously. When OPP Creative was hired to cover this year's Mammoth High Sierra Fall Century & Gran Fondo, which would include helicopter air time, we knew that there would be very little room for error - only one shot at getting the shot.

Given the circumstances there is no doubt that we would not have achieved the same level of success that we had if not for the expertise, experience and professionalism offered by SkyTime. SkyTime's pilot addressed our needs with extra special attention and care (including very thorough pre-flight plan and prep), all while making safety priority number one. Thanks to SkyTime we were able to deliver on a project that both met and exceeded our client's highest expectations. Thank you SkyTime!

 Colin Farrell

OPP Creative

See the footage!

"Here's a shot from our photo/video shoot for the Mammoth Fall Classic bicycle event. A fantastic flight in a beautiful aircraft. Ed's professionalism in both planning and piloting our photography flight was exceptional. Thanks Ed!"

Brad Peatross

Mammoth Fall Classic Bicycle Event

Family by the Helicopter

Dear SkyTime
I've seen it all, I have been on helicopter rides all over the world. Hawaii, Las Vegas, Texas, Washington, New York, Los Angeles and the Himalayas Mount Everest, etc. The Eastern Seria, Mammoth - Yosemite is the prettiest most beautiful place I ever seen. The views are breathtaking. The helicopter company SkyTime is as professional as they come. SkyTime's pilot was fantastic. He explained things no pilot has ever mentioned, like where the safety equipment was and how to use it. He even described what the control sticks did, the principals of flight and how a helicopter actually creates lift. I can't say enough this was by far the Best time I ever had in a helicopter, and YES I agree Flying is the second greatest thrill known to man!

Yert Iksorski


Dear SkyTime Team,
I wanted to write you after you flew the handful of folks down at the OWAC Conference this past weekend. We had a number of our clients fly with you as well as  one of our advisors, John Poimiroo - previous CA State Tourism Director, and wanted to reach out and just say You guys are an Exemplary business in the adventure travel and tour industry, and exactly one we aim to support and brag about. Your tour was  beyond belief and the pictures we took and put online are incredible!! The OWAC is The Outdoor Writers Association of California and is an organization for professional journalists, editors, photographers, photojournalists, web authors and broadcasters who communicate and participate in outdoor related events and activities. We know what is great and you are one of the best. Thanks for the memory's!

Dear EveryOne,
SkyTime Helicopters was great on our Chevy Silverado still shoot up in Mammoth Lakes.  The pilot nailed his marks and got us where we needed to be to nail our shot.

Brian Konoske

Advertising & Editorial Photographer
Los Angeles

Brian Konoske

Mountain Top

To SkyTime,

Thank you so much for a fantastic flight over the Sierras, it was a flight I will never forget. The scenery was unbelievably beautiful and majestic. We covered such a vast  terrain and saw places that could only be covered by weeks of extreme hiking. My pilot was excellent, I couldn't speak more highly about his professionalism and complaisance to my personal photographic needs. I would have no hesitation in recommending your company 'SkyTime' to anyone considering taking a flight .

Carol Drew


“When I first approached Ed about flying in the helicopter to make some amazing photos, I was incredibly reluctant and nervous to fly in a helicopter with the door open while being tethered or harnessed inside the helicopter.  But, once Ed went over everything with me and made me feel completely secure I was able to forget about my fears and focus on the journey at hand.  It has to be one of the most amazing experiences I have ever encountered.  I was able to focus on the image-making process while NOT worrying about anything else.  Ed made me feel completely at ease and I easily do this over and over again.  What a great view and experience.  Thanks Ed and SkyTime.”

Seth Hancock 

Photographer, Los Angeles, CA

Mountain Side