View Full Version : Other Techniques Aerial Photography

04-05-2008, 04:55 AM
I really feel guilty. I'm always asking for help and never find myslf in a position to help others! Perhaps when I become a "Sage" I will improve!
I have been invited to go on a flight in a two seater light aircraft and obviously will want to take as many photos as possible. The adrenalin will be running high and I don't want to have to fiddle too much with equipment so ideally I can set my camera up on terra firma before taking to the skies. I an have an E-400, 14-54mm 1:2.8-3.5 lens (my best one) a 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 and a 40-150mm 1:4-5.6. All have UV filters. I have polarizers to fit all. I have searched Google for advice and can only find an old site that uses a 2.4mpx compact camera.
Any tips and suggestions to make this once in a lifetime opportunity memorable photographically would be most welcome. I am just three score years and ten so may not get a second go at this!

roger h
04-05-2008, 04:43 PM
John, having done this a lot many years ago, I'll offer what I can. You don't mention exactly what you're shooting, or which aircraft you'll be flying in, so you'll have to adapt what I tell you. I presume you won't be able to fly under 500' above ground level, and that you'll likely be higher.

First, use the highest shutter speed conditions will allow. Remember that at a distance your depth of field will be pretty good anyway, because you'll likely be focused on infinity, so don't worry too much about it. DON'T use auto-focus or auto exposure. Exposure on the ground from the air can be just too variable. A good UV/Haze filter is really worthwhile, particularly on a sunny day.

Flying slow and low is best, and a good pilot can wing the airplane over and crab it so you don't get wings and/or strut shots. If it's a high wing plane, like the smaller Cessnas, the window will open up toward the wing and the air pressure will keep it open for you. Have your pilot fly at about 40 knots, (just above stall speed for the small high-wing airplanes) and shoot as fast a shutter speed as you can for light conditions. You won't have window glass/plastic to shoot through so you'll have optimal shooting conditions. Just remember to use a neck strap. Dropping your camera out an open window isn't the kind of experience you want to remember!

If you're flying in an aircraft where you have to shoot through glass (or plastic) window, find the flattest part of the window to shoot through, and use a rubber screw-on lens hood against the window. The polarizers won't do you much good other than to act as a neutral density filter and cause you to either loose depth of field or shutter speed. Pressing the rubber screw-on lens hood against the glass will allow you to shoot at some angles out the window, isolate the camera (and you) from vibration, and cut out all of the extraneous reflections from inside the cockpit that may otherwise ruin the contrast.

Last, remember that every landing is merely a controlled crash, and every one you can walk away from isn't that bad. My favorite line upon landing has always been "I cheated Death again!" :D

Seriously, I've always enjoyed doing aerial work from small planes, and I'm sure you will have a great time.

Good luck!


04-05-2008, 06:59 PM
There's an article by Galen Rowell on aerial photography in the list here:
It's in the 1996 section, titled "Aerial Wisdom". It's from a film era, but a lot of the advice is still useful.

04-06-2008, 12:37 AM
Roger, Thanks so much, that's exactly the kind of help I was seeking. The aircraft is a small Cessna and the pilot being a great friend, I'm sure will try to help me as best he can. I will, to coin a phrase, be in his hands so must leave all the flying decisions to him depending on the weather conditions on the day. The subject will mainly be the wonderful Cornish coastline. We are blessed with the clearest air in the UK. Indeed the air has a very special quality here and attracts many famous artists to the area. I will try to post some results eventually. I shall try to forget the "controlled crash" idea!
Thanks again

04-06-2008, 04:44 AM
Thanks bg2b, Very interesting reading. As you say a little old but still very useful.

04-06-2008, 10:10 PM
John: I don't want to argue with Roger, as he obviously has lots of experience, but I'd be a lot happier if you asked the pilot to orbit your target at a safe altitude and airspeed, and let him choose the numbers. Flying at 40 knots or below with the controls crossed, in a crab, can result in the aircraft "departing" controlled flight and stalling, or even spinning. If your pilot is any good, he'll know his limitations, and he'll finesse problems with struts, etc. One other piece of advice I can offer is to try and not spend too much time in the viewfinder, as it can lead to airsickness. A lot of times, I get our (crime scene) photographers to set the focus, shutter speed and aperture in the VF, and then pull their heads up and shoot instinctively. Good Luck, and enjoy your flight.


roger h
04-07-2008, 04:30 AM
Rocky, you're absolutely right... the "slow and low" part is what you tell your pilot. He'll figure out what that means. The "40 kts" is about what you'd expect for "slow" in a two-seater high wing plane like the small Cessnas. In a more powerful aircraft with a different engine/wing configuration, stall speed may be nearer to 70 or 80 kts, and you may not be able to open windows, or they may have only a small slider that opens.

I've never been able to use it since all of my aerial shooting was in film days, but it occurs to me that live view may be a really nice feature for this.

I didn't intend that John should to try to dictate to the pilot how to go about flying the plane, I was just trying to give an indication of what John might expect.


04-07-2008, 04:49 AM
I didn't intend that John should to try to dictate to the pilot how to go about flying the plane, I was just trying to give an indication of what John might expect.
Which is exactly the way I understood it. I certainly would not try to tell the pilot how to fly his earoplane. The most I know on the subject is you probably don't have a reverse gear on a plane. I have heard of reverse thrust but try not to think what that might mean (I presume it is a breaking system, but I'm trying not to think of the word "breaking")
Anyway many thanks for all the help. I hope to survive the "controlled crash" to enable me to put something up on the Forum. We have an unusually cold snap of weather here with fluries of snow from time to time so things are delayed for a few days

04-11-2008, 08:21 AM
Happily I survived not one but two "controlled crashes" Perfect flying day over the stunning north Cornwall coast in the south west of the UK.
Was not displeased with the results. Here's a taster. For those who are interested there are a few more at:
I have a total of 120 reasonable shots! Taken over a couple of hours flying. m now addicted and want my own Cessna. :D
Thanks to all who offered advice! I did my best to take it onboard.

heavy wind lover
04-11-2008, 01:00 PM
you did good John,, I sure would feel good with some of those photos in my book,,


roger h
04-11-2008, 02:00 PM
Nice job, John!


04-13-2008, 02:19 PM
I find that when shooting from a plane or helicopter (Though I haven't had a ton of experiences) That my photos need a lot of Contrast, and saturation to help cut the haze.
So that would be my PP tips. Very nice experience though, and great shots.

04-14-2008, 01:21 AM
Thank you Tony - praise indeed! On the PP front I nearly scrapped a couple of shots as the haze was quite bad but found that Lawrences "Tip of the week" "Putting 'Pop' into a picture" worked perfectly.

04-14-2008, 01:24 AM
Thank You!

04-14-2008, 01:29 AM
Thank You Roger. You were quite right about the window. The pilot had seen someone open the window and when closing it, the air pressure pushing the window up was too great. The passenger let go and the window shot up and damaged the underside if the wing. We decided that the windows would stay tightly shut.

04-14-2008, 08:42 AM
Good luck!!

I took some shots about 5 years ago out of the side window of a Cessna 172, about 1000ft, using a 300mm lens on a Nikon film camera. ...

Yes, aim for the highest shutter speed. Yes, preset the focus.

If you get someone in the back seat to lift the window flap and you poke the lens outside: Be prepared to have your hands frozen immediately and the camera almost wrenched from your hands !!

Obvious really, but it was a shock to my system first time round :smile:

All the best


04-14-2008, 08:54 AM
Thanks Pete, but as you will see from the previous posts, I have already been up and posted some results on this thread.