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Drone photographer captures Tacoma's 'personality' from a fresh angle

Aaron Bender is a transplant, but he understands what lifelong Tacomans know to be true about their city — even if what they know to be true is hard to put into words.

“Tacoma definitely has a unique feel. Almost a personality,” Bender said. “I don’t know exactly how to describe it. It’s not like dropping into any cookie-cutter area in the country.”

The good kind of unique, as Bender calls it, is easy to spot from the angles he’s capturing with his drone. He’s the photographer behind Over Tacoma, a hobby-turned-passion that Bender started when he moved here about two years ago. Bender is a drone photographer certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. He explores the city from above and shares the images he captures — both photos and video — through his website and social media accounts.  

An aerial view of Dune Peninsula, Tacoma's newest park, and the ferry between Point Defiance and Vashon Island. Mount Rainier is seen in the distance.
Credit Aaron Bender / Courtesy of Over Tacoma
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Courtesy of Over Tacoma
An aerial view of Dune Peninsula, Tacoma's newest park, and the ferry between Point Defiance and Vashon Island. Mount Rainier is seen in the distance.

He started flying a drone in his spare time while living in Austin, but Bender says exploring his new home is more fun: diverse terrain, historic buildings, beautiful architecture and, of course, Mount Rainier looming large as the backdrop to the Grit City skyline.

“It’s interesting to see the architecture from that angle versus on the ground,” he said. “A lot of this stuff it looks like it was built with a view above in mind.”

And it didn’t take long for the photos and videos captured from above to inspire a loyal following. It’s not unusual for Over Tacoma posts on Instagram to garner hundreds of likes. “It picked up pretty quickly,” he said. 

Bender says he often hears from Tacomans who have moved away. He helps, even in the smallest way, to cure their homesickness from afar. 

“It’s surprising,” Bender said. “I’ve moved a lot of places. Some of them I’m homesick for, but nothing like these people.” 

A red piano sits on the rooftop of a building along Tacoma Avenue.
Credit Aaron Bender / Courtesy of Over Tacoma
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Courtesy of Over Tacoma
A red piano sits on the rooftop of a building along Tacoma Avenue.

And while he admits he’s new to Tacoma and the unspoken “it” factor, he says he’s beginning to understand the deep love many people feel for the place.

“It’s something I’m still finding out.”

An aerial view at the Port of Tacoma.
Credit Aaron Bender / Courtesy of Over Tacoma
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Courtesy of Over Tacoma
An aerial view at the Port of Tacoma.

This week, we're seeking to find out, too. Similar to the spirit of Over Tacoma, we'll explore the city through our KNKX Connects reporting project — diving deep into the people and places of Tacoma and what makes this place special. 

Listen to in-depth coverage scattered throughout Morning Edition and All Things Considered today, tomorrow and Friday, a continued celebration of the grand opening of our new Tacoma station at 930 Broadway. 

When it's all said and done, we think you'll like Tacoma. 

The "You'll Love Tacoma" sign — a temporary, guerrilla art installation at Titlow Beach in Tacoma — reflects on the water below during a summer sunset.
Credit Aaron Bender / Courtesy of Over Tacoma
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Courtesy of Over Tacoma
The "You'll Love Tacoma" sign — a temporary, guerrilla art installation at Titlow Beach in Tacoma — reflects on the water below during a summer sunset.

FOLLOW OVER TACOMA Instagram: @overtacoma | Facebook: facebook.com/OverTacoma

Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.