Let’s be clear: 13th Witness set the standard for sneaker selfies when he dangled his "Toro Red" Air Jordan IVs high above the rooftops of midtown Manhattan. If you haven’t seen it, the Instagram photo is one half sneaker porn, other half death-defying stunt that can moisten the palms of anyone who’s shaky of heights (myself included).

I've never been that talented when it comes to taking personal sneaker photos. Unlike the @13thWitness-es or @johngeiger_-s of the world, my ho-hum sneaker shots are usually snapped while I’m waiting at the bus stop, not standing on top of a Bentley or sunbathing on the beaches of Turks and Caicos.

That was until recently. Complex got the opportunity to do a sneaker photo shoot with NYOnAir— an agency that captures visuals from 1,000-feet up in a helicopter. You may have seen some of their work on Instagram (@NYOnAir). These guys are pros, so when I got offered the chance to tag along, I knew I'd be in good hands.  

I’ve never been up in one of those things before. I had no idea what to expect, but I thought about how #influential it would look on my Instagram, riding around in a chopper above New York City. And, of course, why wouldn’t I want to use the experience to capture the sneaker photo of a lifetime?

This is how I went about getting my greatest sneaker Instagram ever.

May 10, 2014

4:13 p.m.

We arrive at New York On Air’s heliport in Kearny, N.J. Helicopters of all types lined up in the hangar, and the company’s chief marketing officer shows me the one that we’ll be going up in. I don’t know a lot about aircraft, but there was one very obvious feature about the AStar B3 helicopter that I was really curious about. 

Where the hell are the doors?

4:35 p.m.

The pilot walks me through how to use the safety harness that’ll keep me from falling out of the side of the helicopter. I’m trying my best to make sure I understand where the carabiners are supposed to be latched to. You know, so I don’t die.

Our take off, or lift off, or whatever it’s called, gets delayed a few minutes because of some rainy weather. I don’t mind because it gives me a little extra time to send up a couple quick prayers: “Dear God, please don’t let this be my last photo shoot.”

5:03 p.m.

We’ve got a suitcase packed with seven pairs of sneakers that is coming up in the air with us. The game plan is to shoot each one of them on feet as my legs hang off the side of the helicopter. 

There’s only a 30-minute window to shoot all of the shoes, and since there’s no doors on this aircraft, we’ve got to make sure none of them fly out during flight. Don’t want to kill anybody. Or worse, lose all these products that brands were kind enough to lend to us. 

(photo by Mario Freeman, @mariokristian_)

5:07 p.m.

Propellers are churning and we’re up in the air. The helicopter is over the Hudson River and it’s time to get to work. I slip on the first pair of sneakers, carefully, and try to position my feet so the photographer sitting next me can get the shot. 

It’s not an easy task to do, because I really strapped my harness and my seatbelt tight (for obvious reasons), and it’s hard for me to get myself in sync with the photog. For the sake of sneakers, I’ve got to loosen up my safety straps a bit. As I do, I get a better glimpse at how high above the Statue of Liberty we currently are. 

Holy shit. That’s a long way down.

5:12 p.m.

It’s still slightly raining, so the pilot doesn’t think it’s a good idea to fly over the city.  Instead of flying over the concrete jungle, the helicopter stays along the shoreline. The velocity of the wind from this altitude makes rain drops feel like small pebbles when they hit you, so no argument over here.

5:20 p.m.

By this point, I’ve gotten over any nerves I might have had, but the clock is winding down on our time in the air. I put my "Black Cement" Air Jordan IIIs on, clutch my phone tight, and it’s time to flex on my Instagram.

These IIIs are my lucky shoes, and they’ve been with me everywhere from the streets of Madrid to the jungles of Belize. I even wore these when I interviewed for this job at Complex, and now they’re 1,000 feet above New York City.

I just need one good shot. That one solid photo that will put me in the sneaker selfie pantheon of greatness. The helicopter is making its final run past the city before heading back to the heliport, and I start filling up the photo memory on my iPhone. 

“This photo is too blurry. The lighting isn’t right for this one. This one doesn’t have the whole NYC skyline in it,” I’m thinking to myself as I’m flipping through my botched photos. 

Then I realized something. I was trying so frantically to get my sneakers in a photo that I forgot to enjoy the experience that I was actually having. The entire landscape of New York City was literally at my feet, and all my attention was on how it looked on a four-inch screen.   

When did I become so motivated by getting likes? If I don’t Instagram it, did it ever happen at all? 

I put my phone away because what’s really important is that the photographer got all the shots we needed for the feature we’re running. 

The helicopter makes one final pass at the Freedom Tower. Even in the rain, the soon-to-be-finished skyscraper is a work of art. 

I pull my phone back out and think to myself, “Maybe just one more.” 

Gerald Flores is an Associate Editor for Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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