High art: Inside the growing world of aerial photography

Aerial photography used to be reserved for only professionals, but flights and views that were once almost impossible to get are becoming routine -- making for a spectacular surge of aerial photography nationwide.

FlyNYON is one of the businesses taking advantage of a rapidly rising aerial photography market by offering tours without the doors. These days, people don't just want to look at great photos, they want to take them themselves, CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor reports.

"It's an experience. The city actually is an experience, from the air. There's nothin' like it," says Tim Orr, the company's COO.

When the company launched in 2013, it was geared to professionals. Now, Orr says his business is pretty much all social media.

"We were posting our photographs, just sharing what we see with the world. And it was coming back tenfold, 'how can I do this? I wanna do that. Where'd you get that picture?' And it just, the lightbulb went off. And it was like, I don't see why you can't come either. So we opened the doors. And people started jumpin' on board," he says. 

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Tim Orr

CBS News

Orr has quickly expanded to Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

"This makes it accessible to everybody. You buy a seat, you go up when you want to, and you take your photos and you post them on Instagram or Facebook and your friends are going 'Whoa I wanna do that,'" he says.

It's a long way away from where Alex MacLean started 42 years ago.  Maclean has published 11 books on aerial photography over his career.

"I would go up and go shoot and come back and get my film back three days later and it was all over-exposed, and you wanted to shoot yourself, and it was really expensive. Now you can see how you're doing right on the spot. It's very simple," MacLean says.

His views of landscapes range from tobacco farms to rows of cut flowers to B-52 boneyards. 

"The first thing I had to do was learn how to fly and that was tough in itself because I was terrified of flying," MacLean says.

Glor joined MacLean for a recent flight outside Boston in a Cessna 172. They flew over the famed Walden Pond, where the water level is so low it's nearly surrounded by beach. 

Much of MacLean's work today focuses on the environment.

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Alex MacLean

CBS News

"It's the most immediate threat in so many different ways. Everywhere you look, you can see climate issues at play. You know from agriculture, to coastal areas, heat, forest fires that we have now," he says.

Google is also in the game. Google Earth lets users aerially explore the entire planet in 3D. Now you can trace the path of hurricanes and see how the earth has been affected.

"It is such a unique vantage point to be able to see a place from that altitude and to kind of understand more of how the earth is connected between the oceans, mountains, and different land masses and there's really no way to do that without having that kind of a perspective," says Google News Lab's Daniel Sieberg.  

This year, Google also added a voyager feature -- part tourist guide, part teacher. You can tour everything from the Kennedy Space Center to lost civilizations.

"Voyager's a bit of your guide to help you navigate some of these places and to have that kind of ability to spin the globe, zoom into a place that you think might be interesting and go along for the ride and see where it takes you," Sieberg says.

All this said, Orr says the most important place to capture a memory, is still in the mind.

"Actually they're shooting so fast trying to capture everything. Sometimes, we actually tell them, 'Hey, put the camera down. Look at what you're seeing.' Picturing the memory is actually, sometimes a lot more valuable," he says.