How to shoot aerial photographs

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Shooting aerial photos is not as hard as you may imagine. The main thing you need is a good mode of aerial transport – a plane or a helicopter. Other than that you need a good SLR camera with an array of lenses up to 300 mm to capture the world’s beauty from the above.

Airplane versus Helicopter

The first thing you need to get aerial photos is a helicopter or a small plane with windows that open. A Cessna or something similar is ideal and you will probably find these for hire at the smaller airports and airports that are training pilots.

Cessna

Cessna

A helicopter is good as it has greater maneuverability and can fly at lower altitudes which give you better angles to get good aerial photos from. Another benefit of a helicopter is it can hover on one spot and you can bracket your shots. A plane has to turn around and come back. The downside of helicopters is they cost a lot more than a plane to hire.

Avoid shooting through airplane windows as they will distort your photos when using a telephotos lens. So, it is no point hiring a plane for an aerial photographic shoot if the windows do not open.

When you hire the plane or helicopter make sure the pilot knows what you are after. A lot of pilots have taken photographers up in the past and are familiar with what angles and views makes for good photographs. If your pilot is not familiar with flying for an aerial photographic shoot it will make your job much harder. An experienced pilot will actually help the photographer get good aerial photos.

Aerial photography sees the world from a new perspective

Aerial photography sees the world from a new perspective

What Equipment do you Need?

A good camera with a zoom lens of between 28 mm to 300 mm will be get the best results in all situations. If you are a professional you might want to take a panoramic camera with a couple of lenses as well.

Capture a moment in time flying among the clouds

Capture a moment in time flying among the clouds

Aerial Photography Basics

There are two main technical issues associated with aerial photography:

1. Vibration. Airplanes vibrate, and small planes will bounce a lot in the air turbulence. Use a fast lens that has sharp focus when the aperture is opened up to help counteract the plane’s vibration.

2. Haze and Other Phenomena. Rely on your pilot to tell you when visibility is at its best and:

a. use the digital camera’s highest contrast setting

b. shoot through your reddest filter that lets in enough light at a fast shutter speed when shooting bland white aerial photographs

c. use a software editing program to adjust the contrast levels when you get home

Where the sea meets the sea from above

Where the sea meets the sea from above

Lens Speeds and Apertures

For aerial photography you need the fastest lens on the market. The professional f/2.8 lenses are perfect and the fixed focal lenses are good too. What you need in the air is fast shutter speeds. Shoot photos with your lens open to the largest aperture. For a professional F/2.8 lens use F/4 for great results. For any other lenses drop it down two stops.

The key to good aerial photography is to avoid the slower, cheap telephoto lenses, but if you use them increase the ISO to get fast shutter speeds.

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