Madrigal: It’s like you said, your plane is your tripod.
Holtzman: I’m moving the plane around and sticking my head out the window. And then I’m moving the plane, kicking it around left and right to get what I want. It’s not like I’m in a blimp right above it waiting for it to fly.
Madrigal: When I first saw it, I thought maybe you’d mounted the camera to the bottom of the plane.
Holtzman: I do have a camera hold in the bottom, but I almost never use it. I need to keep a literal eye out for this thing and then watch it through my lens, then kick the plane anyway that I can. It’s a handful. It’s the challenge. Where he ended up, I started rolling it over to get [the plane] inside [the stadium], so I could get a vertical picture. I hate to say the word, but I am totally oblivious to where my plane is aiming.
Madrigal: Are you literally hanging out the window?
Holtzman: I try to stay inside because I don’t need the wind buffeting me. But I am oblivious to everything else except getting that picture. I get into a zone.
Madrigal: That’s when photography becomes more of an athletic pursuit.
Holtzman: It’s like the photographers in combat when they are overseas. They can get themselves in harm’s way because they are looking through a camera. You do get that way up there. But there is a lot of thought going into it before and we’ve been pretty successful. When I saw the flag go open, my eyes lit up. I knew I had a nice picture, if I could get this guy in the frame. But it’s luck. It’s just timing.
Madrigal: What do you think it costs you to do one of these flights?
Holtzman: Just the gas alone is $100 per hour.
Madrigal: What’s your background? Military aviation or just learned to fly? And how’d the photography get in there?
Holtzman: My background, I grew up taking pictures. My dad took pictures. We had a darkroom. Then I got my pilot’s license at 17. In Burbank [California]. My background’s in music. That’s what I’ve always done. Then I worked in a family business, as a lifeguard, as a paramedic. I wasn’t going anywhere with the family business, so one day I just decided to become an aerial photographer. I’d never met an aerial photographer. I didn’t know they existed.
Madrigal: This was a while ago?
Holtzman: This was back in the days before digital. There I was taking a camera up. No GPS, using a Thomas guide to find where I was going. You find the site, hopefully, sometimes you didn’t. Then you’d bring your pictures in and get it developed and then a day later, you see what you got. In retrospect, I can’t believe I did that. Then, when digital came along and GPS came along, it was instant gratification and you could find things easily.
Madrigal: Have you dabbled in drones?
Holtzman: No. It’s just not what I do. I don’t want to be a wedding photographer either. I’m not against it. The low-altitude videos are wonderful. Unfortunately, in California, in Los Angeles, everyone thinks they are a cinematographer, so a lot of people are flying around and a lot of it is illegal and can be dangerous. My son calls them just a different tool, but for this kind of stuff you couldn’t use them to do it.