Through the Magic of Photoshop…

I get a photographic image of a helicopter that hasn’t been built yet.

Three-Niner-Lima in FlightMarketing is an important part of any business. And the most effective marketing includes visuals. Take, for example, my slides at the movie theater. There are a few aerial shots of the town and some cattle tanks, giving people an idea of what they can see from the air. But there’s also an excellent air-to-air photo of my old helicopter, Three-Niner-Lima. In the photo, I’m flying past Vulture Peak, just like I do on my Grand Tour of Wickenburg. It’s a real photo that Mike took from the passenger seat of a Piper Cub years ago, when we were flying in formation just to take the photos. I have several of these shots. One — the one you can clearly see me in the cockpit, looking at the camera — is on my business card. These photos look so good that I’ve been accused of cooking them up in Photoshop. But I didn’t. They’re real.

Three-Niner-Lima is gone now and I’m in a transition phase as far as the helicopter tour business goes. I’ve been getting calls for rides, but I have to tell callers that there won’t be any rides until mid-December, when the new helicopter arrives. In the meantime, I need to warm up my marketing machine. Christmas is coming and I usually do a nice business with gift certificates. I want to sell a bunch of rides now, so I have plenty to do when Zero-Mike-Lima arrives in town. I also want everyone to see what the new helicopter will look like. Lots of people thought Three-Niner-Lima was a kit helicopter because it was so small. They won’t think that they they see Zero-Mike-Lima. It’ll be considerably larger and more impressive.

The trouble is, Zero-Mike-Lima hasn’t been built yet. Just this week, it should have taken its place on the factory’s assembly line. But there certainly isn’t anything to take a picture of yet.

And I won’t have my hot little hands on its controls until December 8 at the earliest. That’s a bit too late for Christmas marketing.

So what was I to do? I thought about John Stonecipher. He runs Guidance Helicopters in Prescott, AZ, a flight school that also does tours and charter work. His R44 looks very much like mine would. Did he have some air-to-air photos I could use? I could use Photoshop to remove the N-Number (if visible) so it couldn’t be identified as his. I asked him and he said he did have some photos. He said he’d send them. I waited. And waited. And nagged. And waited. Finally, he sent a CD-ROM disc, probably just to get me to stop nagging him. There were three photos on it. None of them were suitable — they were blurry and the helicopter was too far away. I think when I do get my ship I should go up there and help him take some decent air-to-air photos of his.

So I wasted a month waiting for photos that wouldn’t do the job for me. Back to square one.

N45PG in FlightMeanwhile, I had a number of air-to-air photos of my friend Tristan’s R44 taken here in Wickenburg. I leased Tristan’s ship last year for the season and did relatively well with it. That’s what convinced me that I could build the business much better with a 4-seat helicopter. We’d taken the pictures for last year’s ad campaign: “Share the view with a friend or two!” Trouble is, Tristan’s ship is metallic gray with a dark blue stripe. My ship will be Ferrari red with no stripe.

Now I know that a knowledgeable person can work miracles with Photoshop. One of the things you can do is change the color of something. Unfortunately, I’m not a knowledgeable person. I use Photoshop to fine-tune the screenshots for my computer books, prepare photos and other images for the Web, and turn photographic images into computer-generated paintings for greeting cards. But I do know a Photoshop whiz. It was time to bother him.

Bert Monroy is another Peachpit author. He’s an artist and his specialty is Photoshop. He’s amazing — he can create, from scratch, photorealistic images. I have seen him do this at presentation. He blows me away.

N630ML NOTSo I sent Bert an e-mail with a thumbnail image of the photo I wanted him to convert and brief instructions. He said he’d do it, that I should just send him a bigger image. I sent the image with more complete instructions. I asked him to remove Tristan’s N-Number. I told him that if he wanted to get really fancy, he could add mine. The next day, the fruits of his labor arrived in my e-mail inbox. It was a photo of Tristan flying a helicopter that hadn’t been built yet.

I was incredibly excited. I couldn’t believe how good it looked. It looked real because it was real. The only thing he’d done is given Tristan’s helicopter a paint job and changed the N-Number.

I immediately started building my marketing materials.

Slide 1
Slide 2
Slide 3

First was the series of slides for the local theater. The slides would be released one at a time, about 2-3 weeks apart. The last slide would take its place in the carrousel when the helicopter arrived in Wickenburg, before I had a chance to take new photos. I e-mailed the PowerPoint slide file to ColorMark (in Phoenix) and got their assurance that I could pick up the slides on Monday morning. (I have a meeting down in Scottsdale with the FAA that day.) The first of the new slides should make it into the carrousel on Friday. The next marketing item was a 4×6 postcard that would serve as a rack card until I could take new photos for a real rack card. It would also make a good insert for the WE event scheduled for November 19. I laid out the postcard in InDesign, then FTPed all of its files to, which prints 4-color postcards at a very reasonable price. I’m hoping to get those back within a week or so. Then I’ll be leaving them all over town.

On Monday, when I get back to the office, I’ll use Bert’s creation to modify a few of the photos on the Flying M Air Web site. And I’ll probably show it off on my own Web site, too.

After all, how often do you get a photo of something you’ve bought before it’s even built?

What do you think?