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The view from above: Connecticut like you've never seen it before

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The view from above: Connecticut like you've never seen it before

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I have always found that travel is an important ingredient in the recipe for happiness, but the way to measure it is not necessarily by the number of miles you put on the odometer. A journey can be any amount of time spent somewhere that can give you a new perspective. Seeing the cultures of faraway lands is certainly a proven way to accomplish this, but having a passport is not the only solution. Despite the allure of the many countries and 46 U.S. states (and counting) I’ve had the privilege to visit, Connecticut has always called me back home.

My work as a professional photographer ranges from commercial clients and photojournalism to yacht brokerage and fine art print sales. This has allowed me to meet some great people, travel to beautiful places, and placed me on the front lines of some major social movements where I have captured small pieces of history. While the commercial enterprise is just a few years old, my love for photography goes back a few decades to an old Vivitar 110 film camera I got as a Christmas present from my grandmother. Since then, my passion for taking photos and investing in better camera equipment have only grown to where we are now in 2021, when cameras have everything from Wi-Fi to propellers and images can instantly be shared around the globe.

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A salted road in Northfield shortly after a fresh snowfall.

This past year I decided to take on a challenge to find new ways of looking at familiar places within the borders of our little Nutmeg State. At face value, the project was simple and straightforward — all eight Connecticut counties encompassing all four seasons, and all from above using my drone, a DJI Mavic 2 Pro. In addition to covering as much geographic area of the state as possible through a full calendar year, I wanted to tell a visual story that showed the variety of Connecticut’s landscape. Many people view our state based on their own experiences or stereotypes — wealthy coastal communities, large insurance companies, and so on. Some of that is based in truth. However, my hope is that the images provide a broader understanding of the spectrum of culture here. From urban skate parks to rural corn mazes, there is something for everyone.

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Cherry blossoms at Wooster Square in New Haven.

The vantage point in this collection is the top-down aerial image, where the camera is pointing straight down. These types of images quickly became a favorite of mine when I first started flying back in 2017. The photos almost always provide a view there is nearly no other way to get with a handheld camera — no feet in the frame on a balcony, no airplane wings in the corner of the photo, no long shadows making spectral forms. The shapes and patterns, combined with the angle of the sun, create compositions that almost always evoke a reaction from the viewer — whether it be confusion, excitement, joy or wonder — which to me is the goal of taking a photograph.

As a resident of southwestern Connecticut, I had some planning and homework to do on some of the quieter corners of the state that I do not visit often. Connecticut is a relatively small state — the filling of a New York-Boston sandwich, if you will — but once you stray from the interstates you can quickly get lost in rural landscapes. Thousands of acres of open space await in the form of state parks, farms, reservoirs and waterfalls. Open space can be a little tougher to come by along the coast, but beauty abounds in every direction. 

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Waterside summer dining in Westbrook.

A few obstacles I expected, while others surprised me. I knew the weather would be a challenge, especially the snow which doesn’t always look appealing from the air once the plows have passed through and doused everything in salt and sand. I also knew that the airspace over places like our large defense contractor facilities would be off limits. Sometimes I would get to a target location and be surprised by how the landscape had changed, such as when I thought I was going to shoot tobacco farms only to find a field full of solar panels. I had high hopes for daffodil and sunflower farms, but it turns out those photograph better from ground level.

What I did discover were many pockets of beauty around the state, some in places I did not expect. I found myself consistently surprised by what I was able to capture while flying over railroad bridges on the Connecticut River, a rock quarry, apple trees at Lyman Orchards, or one of our many lighthouses. I hope this collection of photographs encourages you to go out and explore Connecticut and all that it has to offer, no matter the time of year. Even if you’re a lifelong resident as I am, you just might find yourself transported to another world for an afternoon in a place you never knew existed.

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I-95 and the Route 7 connector in Norwalk at rush hour during COVID lockdown.

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Socially distanced basketball at Naramake Elementary School in Norwalk.

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Trains await returning to duty at the Stamford Train Station.

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A train bridge across the Connecticut River in Enfield.

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A train bridge across the Connecticut River in Enfield.

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A train bridge across the Connecticut River in Enfield.

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Olympian Dan Walsh rowing a single scull on the Norwalk River in Norwalk. Now a coach in his native Norwalk, Walsh won a bronze medal in the eight-man boat in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

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Divergent paths: Route 7 and train tracks part ways in Kent amid fall foliage. Kent was a commuter rail stop on the Danbury branch of Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line, but the rails are only used for freight these days.

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Foliage blooms along the Housatonic River in Kent.

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Cascading colors: Foliage flares up along the Housatonic River in Kent, just below a dam and north of the Bull’s covered bridge.

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Foliage blooms along the Housatonic River in Kent.

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Socially distanced voters wait in line on Election Day 2020 at Long Lots Elementary School in Westport.

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A lone maple tree in the snow in Weston.

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Ice forms in a tidal pond along the golf course at the Country Club of Fairfield.

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Snow removal at the train station parking lot in Fairfield.

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A fresh blanket of snow in a paddock in Northfield.

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Fresh snow in a riding ring in Bethlehem.

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Snow on the docks and ice in the water at Compo Beach Marina in Westport.

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Snow on the sand at Compo Beach in Westport.

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Lyman Orchard apple trees in the snow in Middlefield.

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Breaking the ice: The Providence & Worcester Railroad Bridge, a swing-truss span between Middletown and Portland, is partially encased in ice along the Connecticut River.

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Ice along the Connecticut River in Middletown.

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Fresh snow on the shore at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford.

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The shadow formed by the tower at Harkness Memorial State Park looms in Waterford.

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Nighttime snow on the quad at Pomfret School in Pomfret.

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The Yale Bowl in New Haven.

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Seats at the Yale Bowl in New Haven.

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A residential neighborhood on Queen Street in Bridgeport.

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Fayerweather Island Lighthouse in Bridgeport.

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Quarry ponds in New Milford.

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Quarry ponds in New Milford.

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Apples of my eye: Apple trees at Lyman Orchards’ Middlefield orchard show spring growth on their way to a bumper crop.

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A waterfall at Bell Shop Pond in Higganum.

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Forsythia bushes stand out in a late-winter snow in Somers.

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Solar panels in former tobacco fields in Enfield.

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Newly improved railroad tracks in Enfield.

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Greens Ledge Lighthouse in Norwalk.

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A girls high school rowing team on the Saugatuck River in Westport.

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A breakwater in Clinton Harbor.

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Waterside summer dining in Westbrook.

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City Dock restaurant at the historic Custom House Pier in New London.

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The U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle at Fort Trumbull State Park in New London.

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Underwood Island on Wangumbaug Lake in Coventry.

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A private beach on Wangumbaug Lake in Coventry.

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The shipyard at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic.

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Kayakers paddle under the Bascule bridge on the Mystic River in Mystic.

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Colorful rides loop around at Quassy Amusement & Waterpark in Middlebury.

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Colorful rides loop around at Quassy Amusement & Waterpark in Middlebury.

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Colorful rides loop around at Quassy Amusement & Waterpark in Middlebury.

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Heaven on Earth: Graffiti — names, faces, floral designs, national flags and tags of all kinds — can be clearly seen on the concrete surfaces at Heaven skate park at the corner of Trumbull and Main streets in downtown Hartford. With Interstate 84 passing underneath, the site has long been heaven for both skateboarders and the artistically inclined.

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A toucan presides over graffiti at Heaven skate park in downtown Hartford.

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Heaven skate park at the corner of Trumbull and Main streets in downtown Hartford.

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Up, close and personal with the Capitol dome in Hartford.

 

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A corn maze at Fort Hill Farms in Thompson.

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A corn maze at Fort Hill Farms in Thompson.

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A car races around the bend at the Thompson Motor Speedway in Thompson.

Patrick Sikes is a professional photographer specializing in aerial, maritime, event and portrait work. When not shooting for hire, he can be found using his captain’s license for small yacht charters on Long Island Sound. A native of Norwalk, he currently resides in Weston with his wife and two sons. To see more of his work, including images from this project, go to patricksikes.com and Instagram at @magic_sites.

This article appears in the November 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.