Taking to the Skies

While Lane Swainston (BS ’83) was at BYU, the School of Engineering had a water balloon launcher competition. The goal was to hit the dean from across the engineering quad. The other students did not expect Lane’s team to win, but the first balloon hurled by their machine quickly silenced doubters as it crashed between the legs of the dean.

Swainston says he has been working to exceed expectations for much of his life.

About 10 years ago, for example, Swainston entered the Professional Aerial Photographers Association International’s photography contest. He remembers that he “didn’t have enough money to go to the show.”

That did not stop Swainston from winning three awards including one for Best in Show.

Swainston is now an award-winning photographer, specifically, an aerial night photographer. He recently added another Photograph of the Year to his collection of awards that he keeps in his office, yet winning photography prizes is not his motivation. From his view in the helicopter, Swainston shows the world new perspectives of their everyday lives.

Although Swainston has been using cameras his entire life, it was not until his first job after BYU that he realized their power. While working on construction in Las Vegas, Swainston needed photographs of construction progress. His solution was to mount a camera 40 feet in the air on a pole to take a picture every minute. His employer was pleased with the results.

As Swainston continued in his professional life, he increasingly noticed the potential of photo documentation. From claims resolutions to project evaluation, photography saved money and time. Numerous times, Swainston’s photography has shown damages for insurance claims and court cases. By developing training with drones, there is even greater potential to properly document all aspects of construction.

Fifteen years ago Swainston decided to start taking stills at night. Most photographers thought the goal was foolish–no one takes photographs at night from a helicopter. “It doesn’t work” they told him.

“Well, I think it can”

Remembering his hours spent laboring in engineering labs at BYU, Swainston set to work to construct equipment to stabilize cameras. Before long, there was a design that provided the necessary stability to snap clear stills from a helicopter. All that was left was “[pushing] my equipment to the limit”.

Now, some of Swainston’s favorite sites to photograph are the Grand Canyon, various LDS temples, and his family.

Even with the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip available, when a reporter requested a helicopter ride with Swainston, the reporter was surprised to discover the best shot in the city, in Swainston’s opinion, was the Las Vegas Temple. The photo Swainston took that night now hangs in his office.

Looking from the east into the west, when Swainston looks at that photo, he sees where his family came together, where he was married, where his children married. It features the temple in the center and the bright lights of the strip a faint distraction in the background. “It shows my life in its proper perspective, with the temple looming large in the foreground and all those other worldly things very small in the background.”

Swainston has learned many lessons from the engineering students and photographers who doubted his goals. More than anything else, he says his photographs represent that “if you decide you want to do something and apply yourself and don’t give up, that you can do it.”

—Collin T. Mathias ('16)

Full Name: 
Lane Swainston
Grad Year: 
BS 1983
Engineering and Technology
Construction and Facilities Management
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