Aaron Beckman: Welder, Photographer, Firefighter, Drone Pilot

May 18, 2020

Aaron Beckman works full time as a welder at the business he owns with his wife in Norfolk, Nebraska.

He is also an avid sports photographer.

He also flies drones and collaborates with first responders at car accident scenes and in natural disasters.

One could say Beckman is a jack of all trades, but all his ventures come from a place of passion.

Aaron Beckman stands with his then second-grade daughter, Brooklynn, as they photograph a football game on August 29, 2014.

A high school graduation gift from an aunt and uncle spurred Beckman to explore photography. The first camera, an Olympus film point and shoot, was the first step in his photography journey. From creating a home photography studio to documenting accident scenes and gaining the trust of the local fire department, Beckman said he climbed the professional ladder.

Now, Beckman occasionally photographs the Nebraska Cornhusker football games for Huskers Illustrated and the Grand Island Independent, among other publications. He said a wide variety of photographic ventures keeps him interested in the field.

“In my eyes, I like shooting everything,” he said. “One day I’ll shoot a fire for [the fire department’s] training and that night I’ll do a studio setup [and photograph] my daughter with a basketball.”

 

Beckman also has camera traps on his properties in Norfolk and near the Elkhorn River in Nebraska.

The latter location also houses one of the cameras from the Platte Basin Timelapse (PBT). Beckman previously knew PBT’s camera technician, Jeff Dale, through their shared love of motorcycles, but the camera on his land brought him even closer to the project.

Aaron Beckman’s camera trap captures a beaver investigating a body of water on March 30, 2020. Photo by Aaron Beckman.

He said Mike Farrell, PBT co-founder, and Dale walked around his Elkhorn property and set the camera up to capture the river’s ebbs and flows. During the historic flooding in March 2019, Beckman said he called Dale and said he couldn’t reach the camera because of the rising water. While PBT lost four cameras in different locations because of the flooding, the Elkhorn camera managed to stay upright.

A photograph by Beckman of the PBT time-lapse camera overlooking the upper Elkhorn River May 18, 2020.

The Upper Elkhorn River on Aaron Beckman’s land, captured by a PBT time-lapse camera June 2015 (left) and March 17, 2019 (right).

One of Beckman’s takeaways from the 2019 flooding and his drone work chronicling erosion is the power the river holds.

“What happens is Mother Nature gives us a large amount of water and it starts to eat our bank system away,” he said. “The rivers tend to go back to where they used to be a hundred years ago, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

A drone photograph made by Beckman of Pierce County on March 13, 2019.

Beckman said he and his son went on back roads to find drone footage of the river two weeks after the flooding subsided and he said the footage was “unreal.”

Drone work is one of Beckman’s passions. He said his wife bought him his first drone sometime between 2006 and 2007. He said it was a fun drone, but it was “clunky,” which meant he had no control over the camera. As the years passed, the technology and his skill as a pilot improved.

The 2019 flooding gave him many opportunities to hone his talent of flying drones over accident sites and natural disaster sites to find missing persons, assess damage and whatever else is required of him.

Beckman said he gets angry when people refer to drones as toys, as he knows them to be more than that — tools for public safety. One drone he uses has thermal imaging, which means Beckman knows what is going on below the surface of a first responders’ accident site.

A drone photograph made by Beckman of a house fire on a Sunday afternoon on March 11, 2019.

A house fire in Hoskins, Nebraska, on Feb 11, 2018. Photo by Aaron Beckman.

One of the most rewarding parts of using drones to aid first responders is being able to tell fire chiefs it’s safe for their firefighters to enter a building.

“It’s very gratifying to know that I can be able to help them out the way that I can,” he said.

A difficult aspect of Beckman’s work is that he says older generations sometimes doubt the drones’ ability to help in emergency situations. He said while some inexperienced pilots crash drones, those same tools are valuable assets when put in Beckman’s hands.

Beckman said he can’t predict the future of drone work in the United States because of the rate that the technology is improving.

“The future [of] drones is pretty impressive,” he said. “The drones are just like cameras — it’s a bunch of nerds.”

Beckman laughed.

“I think they’re all waiting to see what is going to come out next, and I don’t think you can really predict it. It’s fun.”

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We are a group of storytellers using timelapse photography and multimedia storytelling to explore watersheds. PBT has been in motion since 2011.

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