A longtime visitor to the Thousand Islands has given those visits a new dimension as he reaches for the sky with a hobby he discovered five years ago.
In doing so, Timothy J. Hodge of Rochester is soaring in the shadows of the late renowned Canadian aerial photographer Ian R. Coristine, who died in February of 2020 at the age of 71. Mr. Coristine, a pilot, shot his photos of the Thousand Islands from a helicopter. Mr. Hodge uses a drone. His photos, taken at 400 feet or below, are drawing more fans along the river. His Instagram page, 1000islandpics, has more than 8,000 followers. The Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce used one of his shots of Boldt Castle for the cover image of its latest Activity & Visitor Guide.
Chamber director Lauren A. Garlock said she was looking through Instagram for photographers of the area when she noticed Mr. Hodge’s work, and especially his Boldt Castle shot.
“I thought he took some great shots of Alexandria Bay, so I contacted him to see if he’d be willing to donate any of them to the chamber for an opportunity to be featured,” Ms. Garlock said. “He was more than willing to do that. We felt his photos were very artistic and offered a little bit different perspective than what other photographers were doing. We’re always looking for fresh new photos and we just loved his aesthetics.”
Mr. Hodge, who shoots under the name Thousand Island Aerials, has followers in California, Arizona, Florida and other states.
“They’ve never even heard of the Thousand Islands, and they found me whatever — with a hash tag or somehow in the internet,” he said. “I get a lot of comments about how amazed people are.”
Mr. Hodge says his photos are free to share and that because he’s an amateur hobbyist, he doesn’t need a drone license. The Federal Aviation Administration requires one for people who fly their drones for profit or to advance a business venture.
Mr. Hodge was introduced to the Thousand Islands area 25 years ago by his wife, Kelly A., who has been coming to the area her entire life with family. The couple is originally from Binghamton.
“When we started dating, she introduced me to the river, so I’ve been coming there for 25 years,” Mr. Hodge said in a phone interview on Memorial Day weekend from his car as he was traveling to this area from Rochester, where he works as vice president of field operations for Spectrum.
Mr. Hodge said he was astonished when he first visited the Thousand Islands area.
“It was amazing,” he said. “You are used to going into lakes and those type of bodies of water. But you have this river that has all these islands, and it’s beautiful.”
Mr. Hodge picked up a few books by Mr. Coristine in local gift shops and became inspired.
“I loved the fact of the aerial perspective,” he said. “You can take great photos of the Thousand Islands on the ground, but it’s a new perspective when you’re in the air. Looking through his books, I thought that would be really cool to do. I’m not a pilot, so I can’t do those things. But when I got a drone, it inspired me to take aerial photos of the river.”
Mr. Hodge, who always enjoyed remote-controlled gadgets like model cars and planes, got his first drone five years ago.
“I thought I would marry my love of the Thousand Islands with my drone hobby,” he said.
“It has a Hasselblad camera on it,” Mr. Hodge said. “It takes amazing photos.”
He downplays his photography skills, saying his subject matter makes it easy.
“I don’t even think I have a photographer’s eye,” Mr. Hodge said. “My wife is a very good photographer. She has no interest in flying my drone. She’s worried about crashing.”
He added, “With aerial photography, it’s tough to screw up. You can make about any picture look good.”
He does post-production on all his photos.
“It’s tweaking light, tweaking colors,” Mr. Hodge said.
The biggest challenge in his drone photography is the U.S.-Canadian border closure due to the pandemic.
“There’s many more islands on the Canadian side than there are on the U.S. side,” Mr. Hodge said.
People have discovered Mr. Hodge’s photos online on his Instagram and Facebook pages. Many of his shots are featured on the St. Lawrence Seaway Ship Watchers Page, with nearly 31,000 members.
“A lot of island owners, when they see my photos, ask if they can have copies and I send them, no problem,” Mr. Hodge said. “I’m more than happy to share them with anyone who wants them. I have no interest in making money from this.”
The owners of Mandolin Island, off Fishers Landing and northeast of Rock Island Lighthouse State Park, were fascinated by a shot of their island that Mr. Hodge took in late May during this spring’s low water levels. Highlighted in the photo are the remains of a ship wreck that hugs Mandolin Island.
The island is owned by Floyd C. and Iris J. Waterson, Fishers Landing. It’s about a 3-minute boat ride to their approximately 1-acre island, where they have a cottage.
“The water level fluctuates, but I think it’s lower than I can remember in recent memory,” Mrs. Waterson said. “There’s more of the wreck visible now. And the water is so clear that it sticks out more than it has before.”
Mr. Hodge launches his drone, which has a 30-minute battery life, from his boat or from shore. For the Mandolin Island shot, he launched from Foxy’s Restaurant in Fishers Landing. The island was one of about a dozen he flew over on the flight.
His photo of Mandolin Island and the wreck features the boat’s ribs with an apparent water line of higher volume days. In the background, a red freighter passes.
“That morning, I wanted to get Mandolin because the water was so low,” Mr. Hodge said. “By happenstance, that ship was also passing and the fact that I was able to get that in the background was complete luck.”
The wreck off Mandolin Island is of the General Hancock, a ferry that ran between Alexandria Bay and Rockport, Ontario, from 1930 to 1938. According to Times’ files, it was built in Wilmington, Del., in 1898 as a ferry for the Army Quartermaster Corps. She was 96 feet long and displaced 131 tons.
“When they built the Thousand Islands bridge, it wasn’t needed anymore, so they took it out of service in 1938,” Mrs. Waterson said.
She said her father, Gerald F. Reed, along with a scrap dealer in Watertown, purchased the General Hancock during World War II for its scrap metal value. Mr. Reed owned Mandolin Island at the time and also owned and operated Reed’s Marina. Mr. Reed died in 1963.
“During the war years, the price of scrap metal was very high,” Mrs. Waterson said. “So they purchased it for that reason — just to scrap out the top part of it.”
The ship now rests along Mandolin Island because of an unfortunate incident, Mrs. Waterson explained.
“The story is that my father was taking it out and was going to sink it in the deep part of the river, out in the channel,” she said. “It started taking on water, and since he owned the island at the time, that’s where it ended up. What was left is what’s there now.”
The ferry, Mrs. Waterson said, had a propeller on each end. It didn’t need to turn around on its trips between Alexandria Bay and Rockport.
“The propellers are still out there,” she said. “We’ve had divers around it all the time doing recreational diving. Different people have said, ‘We love those propellers because they’re so huge.’ I’ve said, ‘Well, if you want the propellers, you can have them. But you’ve got to take the whole boat.’ But nobody has come back to get it.’”
Mr. Hodge loves learning about such history by the comments left on his posted photos.
“I find out a lot of history because people who follow me know a ton about these individual islands,” he said. “I try to get the owners to comment on that history and many of them do.”