Aerial Photography – Top 5 Photography Tips For Getting Great Aerial Pictures.
Aerial photography is perhaps one of the most challenging forms of landscape photography there is. A lot of the world’s most interesting patterns are only apparent from the air however the landscape passes you by fairly quickly thus you must find the composition, pattern or colours you find appealing quickly and shoot. The opportunity for great aerial photography comes but a few times a year or perhaps a decade for most of us so you’ll want to make the most of the experience.
If you have the choice between a helicopter and a plane I’d opt for the helicopter. They can fly with the door removed which gives you complete freedom and a helicopter can be legally flown at a lower altitude and a slower speed. The best planes for aerial photography are the high winged Cessnas like the Cessna 177RG Cardinal which has wide windows that open, no wing struts and retractable landing gear so there is less to impede your aerial image.
And remember, the next time you’re flying on business or vacation on a commercial flight grab a window seat, not over the wing, pack your camera in your carry on and hope for good visibility.
Below are my top 10 tips for getting great aerial pictures, commit them to memory and you’ll be ready when the next aerial photography opportunity presents itself.
- Fast Shutter Speeds: Unlike being on the ground with a tripod, aerial photography has inherit motion given the forward acceleration of the plane and vibration from wind and the engine. These factors add up to the need for faster shutter speeds. I recommend manual mode or aperture mode with f stops between f/4 and f/8 to allow for faster shutter speeds which help to minimize the motion.
- Wide Angle Zoom Lenses: You’ll appreciate the flexibility your wide angle zoom lens provides over a prime lens as it will allow you the flexibility to include and more importantly exclude those things you do not want in your aerial photograph like wing tips. Think 18-24 on the low end and 105 -200 on the long end although I would not be opposed to going longer and the Nikon 28-300 has been getting great reviews.
- High ISO: If lower f stops are not enough to produce shutter speeds greater than 1/640 you’ll want to increase your ISO until you reach the desired shutter speed. Be sure you know how far you can push your ISO before you take to the air but remember you’re far better off with noise which can be dealt with in post production than motion blur that can only be fixed with the delete key.
- Minimize Vibration: You’ll be hand holding your camera for aerial photography, no tripod for this mission, so technique will be important. You’ll want to press your elbows into your body as a brace and avoid coming in contact with the frame of the door or window you are shooting from as this will enhance vibration.
- Scan the Landscape: Aerial photography is a bit like playing chess, you need to be thinking five moves ahead. Be scanning the landscape well ahead in the direction you are flying so that you may compose the shot as you come upon it. Timing is everything in aerial photography and it’s too late once the landscape is upon you as you literally have seconds before the shot passes you by.