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Edgy Perspectives :: Rooftop Photography Stories

Edgy Perspectives :: Rooftop Photography Stories

By Kazie Holiday

We asked our in-house photographer/editor Scali, our contributors Jeremy Deputat hailing out of Detroit and Jovell of Anchorage, AK, and German Vizcarra from LA to share some stories about scaling up the sides of buildings just to get that shot from the top.

TAYLOR SCALISE (@SCALI)

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When I bought my first camera, a Canon Rebel XTI, I began to learn about how important perspectives are in photography. I immediately went shooting Downtown San Diego and would explore the city for hours, putting myself in places that a normal person wouldn’t be in the streets. I’d get real low to the ground and even climb on electrical boxes to capture different angles and vantage points between buildings. Over the next few months of findng new spots and new things to climb on, the photos became repetitive so I thought of ways improve my work and show new perspectives.

This shot is from the top floor of the parking structure.

The next time I was in the city (I lived about 30 minutes away from downtown), I parked in a parking structure and it hit me when I was driving up all the levels that maybe the top floor would be an interesting place to shoot. Although it was only 7 floors up, the view from the top was so much different than on the sidewalks. I don’t think I ever left the top floor until I hit every corner and filled up my memory card. I looked around me and realized there were so many rooftops that would have even better views than the one I was standing on. So for me, that was just the beginning. The next step was looking for ways to get to the top of those buildings. You could go over and up climbing fences and fire escapes or straight through the front door trying to act all slick pretending you own the place. That’s always safer than climbing, but only works about half the time. Wearing all dark colors with my camera packed away in a normal-looking backpack, what I usually do is linger by the front door of a building and wait for someone to come out. During the few seconds that the door is open, I sneak in after them and head straight to the stairs or elevators. Then straight to the top. The feeling you get when opening the door to the rooftop is exciting because you never know what the view is gonna look like. After getting caught by security and paying a few trespassing tickets (I’ve gotten 3), I learned some useful techniques that usually avoids those things.

My good friend Jacob Beal (@thxem) captured me sitting on the edge.

Now that I’ve moved to Los Angeles, I’ve found new buildings to climb and newer, more breathtaking views. Some friends showed me the easier buildings to get in and once we hit all those, we’d get into stealth mode and find a way onto the buildings we thought had the best view. By now, I’ve probably been kicked out of more hotels than I’ve stayed in.

On a solo mission one night, I hit this hotel right in the heart of Downtown and got to the top no problem. I set up my gorilla pod, which is all I use when taking long exposures of the city. I had to climb this vent and balance my foot on a random two by four. The next thing I knew, the piece of wood started to slip and I fell straight on my back, camera in hand, shattering the 50mm lens. To top it all off, the noise alarmed security who escorted me out. As close as I’ve gotten to getting really hurt up on those rooftops, each time I open a new door to a new one, the view alone is worth all of the danger, difficulty, and tickets. Anything to capture that moment through a photo. Here’s some of my favorite shots since moving to Lost Angeles:

Just because I’m on a rooftop doesn’t mean I can’t shoot looking up.

This is what happens when the wind picks up and your camera starts to fall during a long exposure.

Had Jovell trippin’ when I sat here for a shot.

One of my favorite shots to date. Go Lakers?

Solo missions make it easier to sneak to the top but you should always have a partner in crime.

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JOVELL (@JOVELL)

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Being from AK, I’m a little used to hiking & large heights, but this rooftop game was a whole different level. Having to dodge security was fun, but I’ll admit that some of the heights had me a little shook. Overall, I really dug it. Life’s all about trying new things, might as well go for it.

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JEREMY DEPUTAT (@JEREMYDEPUTAT)

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Jumping rooftops is something I enjoy doing when I have some downtime (which doesn’t happen much lately). There is nothing more exciting than scaling the side of a building to get inside through an open window, or climbing up to access a sketchy fire escape – strictly to capture the view that is otherwise unattainable legally. A few of my friends do this on the daily, but I haven’t gotten up too much lately. Luckily in Detroit, it’s basically lawless in certain parts of the city and although you don’t have to worry about the police. There have been times I’ve been chased by a pack of wild pit bulls, and transients when I stumbled upon their living quarters. There have been many close calls, and the last time I went on a mission, I fell off some scaffolding and dropped about 10ft to the ground. I’m not as young and dumb as I used to be, and I felt that for the next 2 weeks. I almost got arrested in Waikiki a few months back, climbing on the roof of a hotel to get an amazing skyline of the city and beach. I thought it was a wrap until the cop looked at my drivers license. He’s like “Dude, you’re from Detroit? My ex-wife lives there. I though you were a local, get outta here!” At the end of the day, aside from the risks of injury and jail, it’s totally worth it if you can capture an amazing shot and have everyone else wondering how you got it.

From Jeremy’s “Welcome to Detroit” post, which he wrote, “represents everything about what Detroit is” complete with the Wurlitzer Building in the foreground and Ford Field in the back. Read more HERE.

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GERMAN VIZCARRA (@VZMAESTRO)

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I started fucking around on our city rooftops about 7-8 months back. It started on the shitty Alexandria Hotel off spring, got up there about 4-5 times before I got up on any other one. I’ve always been looking at what I was gonna hit next. It’s an adrenaline rush and tiring for sure but once you hit that last stairway with that open door, nothing feels better. In LA every spot seems to be played out. People don’t have originality anymore - what they see from the guy in front of them is what they try and resemble. Seeing that I can capture the city in ways that others can’t is definitely the reason that I keep striving. It’s stressful and dealing with security or any enforcement isn’t my cup of tea but what can you do? Be creative, do what you love to, and enjoy yourself.

Pretending that a helicopter is coming to pick me up.

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