“My friend took me flying once in college when I was 21,” the photographer Jason Hawkes tells me from his home in Oxfordshire, “and the patterns from above—it fascinated me. I started shooting from helicopters six months later.”

Hawkes has been an aerial photographer since 1991. On days he’s shooting, he wakes up at three A.M. and heads to a landing strip, where an AS355 helicopter is waiting. He straps on a harness to keep himself tethered to the cabin, and by the time the blades bring him up to 2,400 feet, sunrise has bathed the earth in soft, low light. As the helicopter swoops and swerves, he steadies his camera and begins taking pictures.

Most days, this is only the first of three flights: Hawkes shoots at dawn, at midday, and at dusk. He amasses as many as 8,000 images a day. Though the pictures are taken quickly, in mere seconds, the editing process is lengthier. It starts onboard, and then four to five days of digital work follows.

Hawkes has shot Honolulu’s blue bays and Morocco’s arid plains. He and his camera have hovered over Hong Kong, San Francisco, Provence, and exuberant monuments in Las Vegas. His pictures have sold to National Geographic, Apple, Red Bull, Coca-Cola, and others, and he has produced more than 50 aerial-photography books.

But he always returns to London. “At different times of the day, from the sky, it’s crazy, somewhere you know really well can look so different.” Streets lined with the Union Jack, amusement arcades, the dirty old Thames—Hawkes shows us London’s enduring splendor.

“It’s my vocation, it’s my life,” says Hawkes. “I’m going to continue flying in helicopters as long as I can.” —Elena Clavarino

Jason Hawkes is a U.K.-based photographer

Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL