gmhTODAY 02 gmhToday May June 2015 - Page 73

“I wasn’t happy there, and my husband suggested that I quit, but I hesitated. I thought, ‘How can I leave? They need me, they love me.’ But within a very short time, the agency fired me!” While Julie pondered what to do next, Pat made a suggestion that would change everything. “He said we should look into aerial photography. I thought it was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard, but Pat convinced me to give it a try.” Julie borrowed her mother’s Cessna 182 airplane and a friend’s camera. Then she and Pat took off from San Martin Airport with Julie in the pilot’s seat and Pat taking photos. “No sooner were we airborne when Pat was criticizing my technique,” Julie laughed. “You’re flying too high. You’re flying to slow. Yadayada. I landed the plane and said, ‘Okay, you fly the plane. I’ll take the pretty pictures.’ When we took off again I started taking pictures. It was an epiphany. Before we touched down, I knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life.” In 1995, the Belangers launched the 111th Aerial Photography Squadron and eagerly began looking for novel opportunities to provide aerial photography services to prospective clients. “I found that I like making cold calls,” Julie said. She ventured into the offices of the San Francisco 49ers and the Golden Gate Bridge District. In each case, she landed an assignment. Julie’s father Irv lent a hand to help things along. A client once told Julie that Irv walked into his office like he didn’t need the sale. But when the client didn’t place an order, Irv said he’d be a gosh darn (not his real words) fool not to. Within two days the client called and placed an order, saying he’d rather buy the aerial photography service than be a fool. “Dad was the best salesman I’ve ever met,” Julie said. “He had a ninety-nine percent success rate!” During the early years of their business, the Belangers managed their business from home while raising their two daughters, Niki and Lacey. As adults, Niki decided to join the family business while Lacey (Haines) chose a public relations career in Silicon Valley. In 2012, the Belangers opened an office at the San Martin Airport where they keep two Cessna airplanes used for the bulk of their aerial photo assignments. For low-altitude shots and other special assignments, they rent helicopters. The Belangers credit their success in part to a willingness to evolve their skills to keep pace with technology and expand their services to meet market demands. “When Google Earth came along, we used it to our advantage to pinpoint a photo shoot location without having to drive to it first,” Julie said. Before developing its own aerial photography resources, Google called on the Belangers to photograph special areas for Google Earth. Today their services also include high-resolution mapping, 3D aerial surveys and aerial videography as well as on-the-ground photography services ranging from artchitecture to portraits. Daughter Niki has also added wedding photography services to the mix. While Julie is fearless enough to hang out of a helicopter to get the perfect aerial shot, she admits that weddings scare her. “I tried to talk Niki out of doing weddings,” Julie said. “With a wedding there is no flexibility. Photograph the wrong Grandma and there are no do-overs. But Niki is fearless!” Corporate customers include IBM, Disney and Google, among others. Each assignment has unique photographic and logistical challenges, from the Levi’s Stadium (during construction) and the Central Valley’s giant solar energy fields to the fiery devastation of San Bruno following the gas pipeline explosion. “Over the years, we’ve established a rapport with local airport traffic controllers by calling ahead, letting them know our flight plans and giving them a heads up before take-off. After the San Bruno fire, the news helicopters were kept at 2000 feet or higher above the site. We called our contacts at San Francisco Air Traffic Control and got permission to fly as low as 100 feet over the area because we are trusted flyers and photographers.” The Belangers’ passion for aerial photography also inspired their involvement with the Professional Aerial Photographers Association International. Each has served as the organization’s president and Julie is now its Executive Director. The South County has been Julie’s home since her family moved to the area in 1957, and she and Pat plan to spend the rest of their lives here. “Our assignments take us up and down the California coast and to Hawaii. We make it a practice to balance these assignments with time for fun,” Julie said. “I couldn’t feel any luckier than having met my husband, raised our girls, and worked side by side to grow a business we both enjoy.” G M H T O D A Y M A G A Z I N E MAY / JUNE 2015 gmhtoday.com 73