Published May 2002

Arlington photographer finds success
high above Puget Sound

By John Wolcott
Herald Business Journal Editor

Soundview history

Dan Crowell, owner of Soundview Aerial Photography of Arlington, never dreamed about being an aerial photographer and, for most of his life, never owned a camera. After being laid off as a machinist in the early 1980s, he used his savings to earn his pilot’s license — inspired by the years he flew with his father in Civil Air Patrol activities at Harvey Field in Snohomish.

In 1987, an article in Flying magazine advertised a book called “How To Be An Aerial Photographer.” That book, and a 35mm camera he bought at a garage sale for $10, led to the founding of Soundview.

Today, Crowell’s cameras cost several thousands of dollars, plus hundreds more for his lenses, and his office is filled with computers, large monitors, scanners and high-resolution digital printers.

Arlington commercial photographer Dan Crowell sees the Pacific Northwest much differently than most people do.

As an aerial photographer, he has spent years flying over such prominent scenes as Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates’ Lake Washington home, Safeco Field, the new Seahawks stadium, Boeing’s Everett plant and Glacier Peak, capturing colorful, dramatic and unusual views that fascinate people.

Their fascination with his photos has helped the former machinist to develop a new career. As the owner of Soundview Aerial Photography since 1987, Crowell hires out his Cessna 185, cameras and expertise to a variety of clients, primarily contractors.

It wasn’t Bill Gates who hired Crowell to photograph the construction of Gates’ $50 million-plus residence, it was his representative overseeing the construction.

And it has been clients such as Baugh Construction, GLY, Turner Construction, Sellen Construction, Lease Crutcher Lewis, Quadrant, Boeing, Evergreen Hospital and the University of Washington who have kept him in the air, chronicling the changing Puget Sound profile with his lenses.

“I started out taking pictures of fancy waterfront homes,” Crowell recalled, “but the owners weren’t very interested. Then I found that contractors needed to document their construction projects for their lenders and put pictures of finished projects into annual reports. Baugh, one of my first clients, is still my best client.”

After several successful assignments, word began to spread to other contractors, and Crowell was off and flying regularly.

“Soon, I was photographing construction sites on a weekly or monthly basis to document building progress. I still often shoot film, but a couple years ago I started using digital cameras, like my Nikon DX-1,” he said, noting that digital photography enables him to send photos to clients electronically, make high-resolution copies with his own digital printers, and tweak lighting, sharpness and color settings for each photo.

One of his most exciting assignments, he said, was flying directly over Seattle’s Kingdome at the moment explosives imploded it to make way for the building of the new Seahawks stadium. The only pilot allowed directly over the site at 3,000 feet, Crowell still recalls the concussion he felt from the blast. His photo sequence of the event, a favorite among visitors to his Web site, won him “Best of Show” honors at the international Professional Aerial Photographers Association convention in Orlando, Fla., in March of last year.

“Lately, I’ve been marketing more aerial photos of large land areas, such as industrial park developments, with (superimposed) graphics and labels that identify things in the photo. They’re great for real estate people and marketing uses,” he said.

His fees vary according to the complexity of the photo assignment — whether he’s shooting a low-angle view of Mortenson/Gobin’s construction of the Tulalip Tribes’ $75 million casino west of Marysville or using his own unique camera system to take vertical, flat landscape scenes for surveyors and land-use planners.

His range of photo assignments has widened to include not only construction projects and survey photos but also scenic, nature and landscape photography; scenes or events for news media; shots for environmental impact statements and property development; and documentation work for forensic and investigative agencies.

For more information about Soundview Aerial Photography, and more examples of his work, visit Dan Crowell’s Web site,, or call 360-691-4419.

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