Bears. Snakes. Alligators. The things that make other people run away draw Brian Balik in to take a closer look. Brian, 27, grew up in Sterling, and began his career as a naturalist, teaching school-aged day campers about Virginia’s plants and animals. As "Balik Outdoors," he offered bear tours and wildlife tracking across the country. One company became four, plus a nonprofit. His mother ship, Above Loudoun, is now one of the county's fastest-growing businesses, bringing new perspective to a familiar landscape.
Funnily enough, the inspiration for Above Loudoun came from a trip to the other side of the continent. Brian went to Alaska to photograph fish -- and yes, bears -- using a drone camera. He remarked on the beauty of the Kenai River and a local who had visited Leesburg countered with, “You live in a really beautiful area. I have never seen anything like fall in Virginia.”
He returned from the trip and began flying his drone, not to track a lost dog in Purcellville or migrating birds in Aldie, but simply to see a local farm from a new angle. Using high-tech weather and wildlife sensors, his photos of the Peacock Barn capture an incredible piece of land, a spectacular sunset, and the heart of everyone who sees the image.
A typical day at the company starts at 4 a.m. with meteorological texts. If it’s going to be cloudy or foggy, the 21-person team gets a few more hours of sleep. If it’s going to be a clear day, they check their gear and fan out, armed with specially equipped drones and a list of spots to photograph. That list may have as many as 900 locations to shoot for paying clients or be intended to bulk up their catalogue. A few thousand photos later, the team gathers at its Middleburg office to edit, categorize, and share.
Social sharing is a big key to Above Loudoun’s success. While the rest of us "sheltered in place" this spring, Brian and his team roamed Loudoun, connected only through the company's Facebook and Instagram pages. Each day a new batch of aerial photos hit Facebook, with special posts to local groups. Print sales and licensing deals popped, followed by a coffee table book, postcards, and then a calendar. Brian views the photos as love letters to Loudoun’s towns and farms, intended to remind us of the extraordinary beauty of the place we call home. As he puts it, "Above Loudoun is such a hit because we forget just how spectacular this place is. When we change our perspective, we can appreciate the land, the nature, the communities."
Meanwhile, the company's social media success prompted Above Loudoun to hire tech talent for design work and to advance its social media strategy. Brian saw the opportunity to share those skills with outside clients leading to the launch of Balik Social Media Management. The non-profit pet-finder grew from hundreds of requests for their thermal-sensing drones to help find lost dogs or cats.
Above Loudoun is such a hit because we forget just how spectacular this place is. When we change our perspective, we can appreciate the land, the nature, the communities.
Lately, Above Loudoun is looking up as well as down. The company took a series of night sky photos that revealed a jaw-dropping view of the Milky Way from Bear Chase Brewery in Bluemont, and now offers it as a backdrop for portraits.
Relying on several staff meteorologists, the company also started storm chasing in the Midwest’s tornado alley for major media companies. Brian watches weather patterns pass over the elevations in western Loudoun, and when a storm builds up, he sends teams out ahead of the front to get into position. Check out Above Loudoun’s Instagram account or Facebook page for some eye-catching results.
Following storms, coyotes, and clients, Brian Balik has grown his love for Loudoun into a full-blown success by every measure. If you’re counting, Brian has one other company that he’s been quiet about, leaving us to speculate on his next entrepreneurial adventure. But don't expect him to go too far afield. Though he’s traveled extensively (only missing five of the 50 states) and is in talks with top media companies in nature photography and television, he says he wouldn’t live anywhere else. For Brian, happiness is found off the beaten path, windows down and music up, on the backroads of Philomont.
Above Loudoun prints are available at facebook.com/aboveloudoun or call 571-244-5851. Postcards and the calendar can be found at the Very Virginia Shop in Leesburg.