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AIKEN TODAY Thursday, July 3, 2003

WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS AT A THOUSAND FEET
By Bill Bengtson
North Augusta bureau

Damon Comparetta is taking photography to higher levels these days - several thousand feet above the CSRA's businesses, industries, farms and neighborhoods. Aerial photography is his trade, as he calls on more than a decade of experience as a U.S. Marine Corps aviation operations logistics officer, along with the 60 years of experience belonging to Dick Hawkins.

Dick Hawkins and Damon Comparetta of Aerial Photos Elite
NEW HEIGHTS. Dick Hawkins (left) and Damon Comparetta are flying high with photography flights over Aiken.
(Staff photo by Bill Bengtson, North Augusta Star)

Hawkins, who learned to fly in 1943, handles the controls of their small aircraft most of the time, while Comparetta focuses on the images unfolding below, with such subjects as Pfizer Pharmaceutical, Old McDonald Fish Camp and Chime Bell Farm. Their tools of the trade include a Cessna and a Fuji-Film S2 Pro Camera, all with the blessing of Aiken Municipal Airport, their home base. They rent their planes from Aiken Air Service and once aloft, they locate their subject, circle it (sometimes waiting for cloud shadows to drift away) and get their images. Altitude may range from 1,000 to 10,000 feet.

Comparetta confirmed that the twosome's 73 years of experience make for an unusual background. The two, he said, are probably "the most experienced aerial photographers in the Southeast, at least, and probably in the country." Hawkins confirmed that Comparetta is much, much more than a photographer. "Damon's a good pilot. He's flown a lot hotter airplanes…and he's an excellent flight instructor," he said.

Comparetta recalled having received a Brownie camera, at the age of 14, from his father, a retired aircraft maintenance chief. He started professional photography in 1989, mostly concentrating on aviation images. Since he started his business about two months ago, his clients have included the likes of Movie Gallery and the Aiken Rowing Regatta, as well as the planners of the Palmetto Parkway, with its slow, steady reach into Aiken County. He looks to deal with people in such arenas as realty, engineering, landscaping and hospitals, and also welcomes work in photographing individual homes and businesses.

"It could be either a planning tool for construction and progress reports, or it could be for promotional brochures and marketing pieces such as that," he explained. Hawkins confirmed that much of his air time, these days, comes via his role as a flight instructor, in which he teaches takeoffs, landings, stalls, steep turns and the like. Flying with Comparetta, he said, is fun. "It's been very windy lately, and so it's a challenge with the small planes. It's very turbulent, and it takes a lot of skill and effort, but the pilot and the photographer get these pictures very clear," Comparetta said.

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