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Mike Connelly: How we get those spectacular aerial photos

We are seeing Western New York in a whole new way.

A year ago, The Buffalo News bought a drone. Since then, News photographers Derek Gee and John Hickey have treated readers to spectacular views of our region.

They have made more than 300 flights, posted hundreds of photos on BuffaloNews.com and shot a dozen videos.

Starting today and for the next eight Sundays, we show off some of the best photos with a series of poster pages on the back of the Viewpoints section. At BuffaloNews.com/bndrone, check out hundreds more drone photos and a special video flying over and around iconic Buffalo locations.

Sometimes we use the drone to capture sights you haven’t seen before. One day just before dawn, Gee swooped around the 24-story Liberty Building, delivering a Superman view of the two 28-foot-high statues at the top. Another drone video showed Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff, located on a bluff above Lake Erie, from a perch hovering above the lake.

But we use the drone in everyday situations as well. For a story about pedestrian deaths on Niagara Falls Boulevard, a drone photo let readers see down the dangerous road. And the drone can make even routine events – the annual removal of the ice boom, for example – fascinating, says Director of Photography Cathaleen Curtiss.

Gee, who is The News’ chief photographer, says the photos are generally taken from a height of 100 to 300 feet. The drone can go as high as 400 feet above a building. It could fly 400 feet above downtown’s One Seneca Tower, for example. The higher shots deliver the sweeping, spectacular views of the region, says Curtiss.

Gee and Hickey (along with Curtiss and data visualization specialist Lexie Heinle) trained for three days before testing for their drone pilots license. As Curtiss says, “safety is our No. 1 priority.”

We don’t fly directly over people and we usually pair a spotter with our pilots.

Our photographers are always searching for fresh ways to show off Western New York. In the newsroom this week, Gee handed me a pair of goggles with a virtual reality video he shot. With the goggles, I could turn 360 degrees, look up, look down – in this case, over the edge of the Liberty Building from a scaffolding 24 floors high.

Check it out on your phone. The 360-degree virtual reality video is at BuffaloNews.com/bn360.

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