Each week, aerial photographer and pilot Craig Willoughby captures the changing shape of Sydney from the sky. What does his bird’s eye view reveal?
Even frequent flyers rarely get a clear picture of a city, as weather, pollution, looping flight paths and aisle seats all obstruct the view. But Willoughby, the owner of SKYview Aerial Photography, is watching our cities evolve before his eyes.
“I document the history of changing urban environments. When you fly over Sydney’s CBD every week for many years you see the city evolve,” he says.
Willoughby’s perspective is perhaps unique. He spent 25 years in the construction industry, working his way from apprentice carpenter to construction manager on large projects, like Sydney Airport and Westmead Children’s Hospital
Then, as the project manager on a large aged care facility in southern Sydney, “We couldn’t get any decent photos to show the project’s progress. I’d had my pilot’s license for some years, so I hired a plane, a co-pilot and shot the photos we needed”.
Today, Willoughby’s “photographic evidence” provides a detailed historical record of construction sequencing for boards and other stakeholders. “Because I’ve worked in construction management, no one needs to explain the angle or level of detail needed – I understand the construction sequence and when it’s covered up, you can’t find it again easily.”
Flying aeroplanes, helicopters and drones is the “easy part” Willoughby adds. Processing the 3,500-odd photos he shoots across up to 25 sites in just one day takes time. “We get a real detailed scope and there’s no argument, then, about the work that’s been done.”
“I can be 2,000 feet in the air, half a mile from the job, and you can zoom in and read the names on the back of the subbies’ shirts. That is real detail.”
Willoughby covers a vast area, scanning the entire state of New South Wales from the sky “each and every month, rain, hail or shine – we fly in all weather”.
So how have our cities and communities changed over time?
The first thing Willoughby notes is the traffic. “It takes me a hell of a lot longer to drive to and from the airport each day than it did 10 years ago – and I can see all of that from the air. You should see the ‘Ms’ like I do. It is scary.”
“I’ve noticed the changing architecture too. Sydney was always a hodgepodge of different designs, but in the last five years or so, you can see real beauty emerge. The new buildings aren’t just square grey boxes – and they are changing the colour, style and face of Sydney for the better.”
He loves 1 Bligh Street from the air, and the new Quay Quarter development at Circular Quay will be one of the most “aesthetically pleasing” developments in Sydney, he says. The best buildings “stand out not just as a place of function, but as art,” he adds.
Willoughby is also in awe of the changes occurring in Parramatta, which he says are “phenomenal”. “The buildings are well thought out and the infrastructure is coming together – you can see it up there.”