A Soaring Opportunity
New career move is all blue skies for SkyShots Aerial Photography’s Dan Bigelow
It’s not every day you get to pursue your hobby as a profession, but that is exactly what Dan Bigelow, owner of SkyShots Aerial Photography, was able to do 14 years ago when he purchased the company that was founded in 1995. Based in Portland, Oregon, SkyShots provides aerial imagery to a variety of clients ranging from large corporations and construction companies to owner-operator businesses, families and individuals.
A Serendipitous Beginning
Dan, a native of Arizona, earned both his B.A. in communications and MBA from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He spent much of his early career in different businesses ranging from radio and newspaper to finance and technology.
Dan’s path to business ownership did not come without some turbulence. In fact, his journey was quite serendipitous.
After 26 years of riding the corporate roller coaster that contained twists, turns, mergers, layoffs and reorganizations, in 2003, Dan ended up in Portland seeking an opportunity to purchase his own business.
Cue Cal Abts, former owner of SkyShots. When Cal started SkyShots 23 years ago, he captured aerial images using an 18-foot blimp with a camera attached to a remote control. By 2003, he was looking to sell his company and even had a buyer lined up when Dan entered the scene. A few months later, Dan bumped into Cal again in the downtown area, where Cal was walking around with the blimp floating 50 feet above the city street. It turned out Cal’s deal to sell his business had fallen through.
Dan wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip through his fingers a second time. Over the next two months, he and Cal hammered out a plan to transfer ownership, and on May 1, 2004, Dan took over SkyShots Aerial Photography. Dan says, “My extensive experience in sales, marketing, finance and technology, coupled with my MBA and a little providence, helped prepare me for owning my own company.”
Personal Attention Makes All the Difference
When Dan bought SkyShots, Cal imparted these words of wisdom: “Remember one thing, photography is not a necessity to most of our customers.”
With this in mind, Dan has become an advocate for his craft. He explains that aerial shots offer distinctive views of properties, projects and events. For clients in construction, he says there really is no better way to monitor a job’s progress. In addition, laminated enlargements serve as great visual references for planning meetings with crews and subcontractors or open-house events with the public and other stakeholders. Real estate professionals can elevate marketing potential by showcasing a property’s advantages, access and surrounding development. Businesses and municipalities can attract interest with an engaging bird’s-eye view of their locations. For outdoor activities—such as major sporting events, wedding receptions, fairs, marathons and parades—breathtaking aerials can be used for websites, social media channels, blogs, media releases or in promotional marketing materials.
With an understanding that providing high-quality photos and maintaining satisfied customers are two keys to his success, Dan works tirelessly to ensure that his product is the very best. He’s gone so far as to coin the phrase, “All photographs are made equal; Dan Bigelow makes the difference.”
“Just about anyone can take a photo,” he adds. “It’s an acute attention to detail and high-level customer service that make the difference.”
After nearly three decades spent navigating a convoluted corporate world, Dan possesses a keen understanding of market forces and industry trends.
Moreover, he recognizes he is the lynchpin to his own success. This mindset has earned the business many accolades, including being named the best aerial photography/3D imaging firm for 2017 and 2018 by Oregon’s Daily Journal of Commerce.
SkyShots provides superior imagery by using “the best platform for the job” in the form of a helicopter or small plane, depending on the location and access. Low-altitude obliques or angled shots are among Dan’s favorite styles to shoot, as he feels they best accentuate a site and give the client a high-impact shot. He typically uses a Nikon D810 camera with a Tamron Auto Focus 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di lens.
Dan’s signature photography work includes the University of Oregon, where’s he’s shot the Hatfield-Dowlin Football Performance Center, the Matthew Knight basketball arena, the PK Park baseball stadium and the Jane Sanders softball stadium. He also photographed the massive renovation of Reser Stadium’s Valley Football Center at Oregon State University. Other noteworthy assignments include an Amazon fulfillment center and a FedEx ground facility, both in Troutdale, Oregon, and the Daimler Trucks headquarters in Portland.
Anchored to his philosophy of providing a quality product is a strong focus on maintaining personal, respectful relationships with his clients. “Honesty and integrity are key to relationship-building, and they are also paramount when it comes to how you treat your clients,” Dan says.
SkyShots enjoys many repeat customers and often gets new ones from positive referrals. “I have the best customers anyone could ask for, and I always treat their business like it’s my business,” Dan emphasizes.
He acknowledges that, lately, the drone industry has eaten a bit into his market share.
“Although drones have their place in aerial photography, they are not the end-all-be-all,” he comments. In fact, several clients who tried doing drone aerial photography in-house have called Dan back to do their photos—clearly relying on the top-notch work he has provided over the years.
As SkyShots celebrates 23 years in business this year, Dan recognizes that a big part of his success is Cal, who has become one of his closest friends. Dan says, “Cal built a great business and has always been extremely honest with me. When we were discussing the transfer of ownership, his story never changed—which can’t be said about some of the other companies I had talked to.” Although SkyShots is primarily a one-man job, Dan occasionally calls on Cal for help as a backup photographer.
A Handshake You Can Trust
After nearly a quarter-century in business, SkyShots has executed and completed over 10,000 invoices, averaging 435 assignments per year. Dan attributes this achievement to the “Golden Rule”—a principle about treating others how you want to be treated.
Underpinning this mindset is Dan’s practice of not using official written agreements, which is almost unheard of today. “We do not execute contracts,” Dan says. “I accept most assignments over the phone or via email.”
The company owner is proud of how well his “virtual handshake” has served him over the years.
“In all my time running SkyShots, we have only had six invoices not paid, and half of them belonged to companies that went out of business in the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009,” he says. Dan is a man of his word, and by extension, he believes most others are too.
Just about anyone can take a photo. It’s an acute attention to detail and high-level customer service that make the difference.” Dan Bigelow, Owner, SkyShots Aerial Photography
A Foundation for the Future
Dan’s company took a hit during the recession that rocked the nation a decade ago. It was a time when many construction companies went out of business and the need for aerial photography was not in high demand. But by continuing to provide exceptional imagery and customer service, SkyShots Aerial Photography was able to weather the storm.
Now, with his eye on the future, Dan says, “I plan on doing aerial photography as long as I am able. There is a guy here in Portland that did aerial photography until he was 95. I hope I am that blessed!”
His goal is to grow his business and perhaps add a few employees—possibly his son, Nathan.
Dan chuckles as he says, “He could be the one flying the drone in the future. But I’ll continue to take shots from the place I love—the sky.”