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Photographer takes to the air, beach to get the perfect shots of Sarasota

His love affair with Sarasota started in the early days of his involvement in photography, but now John Kincaid returns as a master of aerial landscapes.


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Landscape photographer John Kincaid has been all over the world hanging out of helicopters and diving under water in search of the most striking images.

And every time he’s clicked the shutter, he’s been chasing a shot from Sarasota.

Kincaid, who’s about to have his own photography exhibit at Art Ovation, first visited Sarasota when he was in high school. He can remember immediately being entranced by Siesta Key’s beauty, but also he recalls dropping his camera and accidentally catching a unique image.

John Kincaid contracted Sarasota Helicopter Tours to get him in the air back in February. (Photo by Spencer Fordin)
John Kincaid contracted Sarasota Helicopter Tours to get him in the air back in February. (Photo by Spencer Fordin)

“I thought it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” says Kincaid. I had this disposable camera, and I remember I dropped it in the sand. When I picked it up, I hit the shutter.

"That was one of my first times doing something unexpected. I have that shot to this day. It was a purple sky, like an inch above the sand. That was a turning point in my artistic journey. I’ve tried to go back whenever I could.”

Now, decades later, Kincaid is creating his indelible images quite intentionally. He first forged a career in software development for 15 years, and then he decided he’d rather chase his photography dreams for a living.

Kincaid has opened permanent galleries in Bora Bora and in Vietnam, and he hopes to have a more lasting presence in Sarasota once his pop-up shop closes. The photographer says his parents moved here briefly when he was in college, and when his wife was pregnant, they came down here for their last hurrah before becoming parents. 

He has so much history in Sarasota that he knew exactly how to approach it as a photographic subject: From above the clouds and along the beach line.

Kincaid came down here in February for his first pass at photographing the area, and he contracted Sarasota Helicopter Tours to fly him over the Siesta Key beaches.

The photography came easily; he only needed three trips over the key to get the images he wanted.

Then he spent the next few months trying to line up a place to show them.

John Kincaid's aerial photography produces images so crisp they resemble paintings. (Courtesy photo: John Kincaid)
John Kincaid's aerial photography produces images so crisp they resemble paintings. (Courtesy photo: John Kincaid)

“Our work is a tough industry. For my whole career, I’ve just done my own galleries,” says Kincaid, who will be at Art Ovation from Oct. 11 to Oct. 17. “When I got in touch with Art Ovation, they were really receptive and it’s right downtown in the arts district. It’s a good stepping point, but I’m still working on something for St. Armands Circle. 

“I’m all in on this. I’ve just got to find the right place.”

Kincaid, chatting with the Observer from Bora Bora, says he’s looking forward to meeting with Sarasota residents during his time at Art Ovation. His photos are available for purchase from his website, but he hopes being in town will allow for a bit more personal interaction.

His shots show you exactly the side of Sarasota you might expect; there’s elevated shots of beachgoers enjoying the weather and postcard perfect pictures of the sunset.

Kincaid says he doesn’t map out his shots beforehand because of the nature of helicopter photography.

“We’re doing these circles around Siesta Key. The light changes so quickly,” he says. “Everything depends on how many people there are on the beach and where the light is hitting. You just have to communicate with the pilot as best you can and get the shots you need. I try not to plan too hard because you’re almost never going to get that exact shot.”

That’s the hard part about shooting from the sky. The helicopter is moving and so are you. But from the ground, says Kincaid, you can control all the elements a little bit better. 

There are no underwater shots in his current Sarasota collection, but Kincaid took a variety of shots from the beach in order to provide a different perspective on life in Sarasota. 

John Kincaid had to hustle to get all four shots framed by the same light. (Courtesy photo: John Kincaid)
John Kincaid had to hustle to get all four shots framed by the same light. (Courtesy photo: John Kincaid)

“To really know a place, you have to do both,” he says. “When you can see things from the ground, you can plan what you’re going to do.

"I really started off loving the aerials, but I also have this quad panel of the four Siesta Key Beach chairs that came very close to my heart.”

That shot — the quad panel of the lifeguard chairs — actually made Kincaid break a sweat. 

He started out shooting just after sunrise, and the sun was lighting up the back of the yellow lifeguard stand.

And then he had what he describes as an epiphany.

He could shoot all the lifeguard stands and infuse his sunrise shot with colors that speak to everybody.

“Here I am running down Siesta Key Beach with my tripod and all my gear to get the next one. And the next one,” he says. “I got to the end and the light had changed a little bit.

"Ever so slightly. And it was better. So I start again, run all the way back and get them all.”

Kincaid likes to say that everybody in today’s society is a photographer.

If you have a phone in your pocket, then you too are capable of creating striking artistic images.

But if you’re going to try to create a gigantic photograph, you need a little better technology. Kincaid says that the 100 megapixel cameras he works with are very unforgiving in that they can focus on minute areas with great clarity.

John Kincaid's aerial photos depend on a confluence of the perfect timing, the perfect light and the perfect vantage point. (Courtesy photo: John Kincaid)
John Kincaid's aerial photos depend on a confluence of the perfect timing, the perfect light and the perfect vantage point. (Courtesy photo: John Kincaid)

That means your shot has to be perfect, because when the images are blown up, any imperfection will be plainly evident.

“I’m shooting all in manual. You have to move very quickly,” he says. “If you’re off just a little bit, the shot will look good on your computer but it’s not printable. In my whole career, whenever I have something on the wall, people don’t just stand back and look at it.

"They walk up to it, and their noses are almost touching the print so they can see the detail.”

The photographer still holds his initial impressions of Sarasota so close to his heart, and that’s why he’s looking forward to meeting the public at Art Ovation.

He's planning on being at the exhibit every day from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and he wants to line up individual appointments for any potential customers who would like to sit down with them.

He wants to hear their stories; he wants to know which places they feel are most emblematic of home.

“I’m looking forward to being able to talk about it and hearing other people’s stories about their first time at Siesta Key Beach," he says. “I’m hoping people have had those experiences in Sarasota and want to bring them home.”

 

 

author

Spencer Fordin

Spencer Fordin, the Observer's A+E editor, hails from New York and graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1999. Fordin previously worked as a sportswriter for MLB.com for 16 seasons and as a features reporter for The Cayman Compass on Grand Cayman.