The good, the bad and the ugly of aerial photography – part 2: aircraft
In the previous article I talked about some of the advantages of aerial photography. Now we'll talk about some logistics, starting with the aircraft. There are two main options here: a light airplane or a helicopter. Yes, you can shoot from a hot air balloon but that’s not really an option in most places, plus it’s far less maneuverable, so I’ll gently disregard it. Also, while drones are taking the world of aerial photography by storm, the considerations discussed in this series don't really relate to them, and so I won't be talking about them at all.
It will probably come as no surprise when I say that a helicopter is the better way to go, by far. It might cost a bit (or a lot) more, but the advantages it offers make for a very different, vastly superior experience.
A helicopter is a flexible craft: it can fly slower than a plane or even hover in place, which gives you much more time to shoot a desired composition. But that’s not all: perhaps the greatest advantage is that some helicopters allow the doors to be opened or even completely removed for the flight. Once the door is off, you have a huge field of view, and wide-angle shooting is possible. You need to be careful not to have the rotor in the shot, but that can generally be avoided when pointing the camera downward.
The huge field of view also means that you have the option to try the same shot more than once should the first try fail, and you can shoot different angles of the same subject even after you’ve moved ahead. That’s a critical advantage which can make the difference between getting a shot and losing it.
Huge icebergs finally released from Kangia Fjord after floating there for years. Can you spot the (fairly large) boat?
The most common helicopter for aerial photography is the Robinson R44. It’s a small helicopter fit for a pilot plus three passengers, and you can take both doors off in a minute, which is crucially important for getting crisp images without reflections or aberrations (if the pilot refuses to take the door off don’t even bother). Its small size also makes it relatively cheap to fly and maintain (emphasis on relatively).
What’s considered cheap? Well, one of my R44 flights cost me $850 (around €760) an hour, the other €1500 (around $1670) an hour. It really depends on where you fly, and costs worldwide can vary even more than that in both directions, but primarily upward. In places where a small, cheap helicopter isn't available, costs can rise quite ludicrously. For example, I've recently gotten a quote of $4200 an hour for a larger heli in a place whose name I won't mention. That's $70 a minute. Yes, my reaction was similar to yours.
In the image below you can see a wide-angle shot of the dunes of Sossusvlei, Namibia, taken from an R44 helicopter with the doors taken off. It’s quite striking to see these intricate dunes from this angle, and the helicopter allowed me to take a very wide shot and include the entire dune, which is a huge advantage.
Shooting from a light plane is different. You usually shoot from an open window, and that’s in the best case scenario: about a year ago I did a photography flight in Greenland in which I had the dubious pleasure of shooting through a 15cm hatch in the front window. This means that shooting-angle selection was extremely limited (forget about ultra-wide lenses), and that once you pass a good shooting angle, the shot is gone unless you circle back. This disadvantage is emphasized by the faster movement speed, which frankly gives you a feeling of anxiety to be ready and shoot before it’s all gone.
To sum it up, though cheaper than a helicopter, a light plane with a small hatch (as opposed to a large window) is very limited in shooting angles, supplies less opportunities to get the right shot, and as a result yields much less keepers when the flight is done. I’d seriously reconsider before ever doing it again.
A Cessna with a large window you can open is a very different story. Shooting is much more comfortable and angle choice much less limiting. If you lean back (careful not to push against the poor pilot! I know I did that a few times...), no wind interferes with your lens and stability is quite good. I shot from such a Cessna in the Lofoten Islands and the experience was wonderful.
|Kjerkfjord, surrounded by mountains struck by beautiful pink light. Shot from a Cessna during sunset on my Lofoten Islands workshop this January.|
In the next article I’ll discuss technicalities and parameter selection for aerial photography.
Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez's work on Instagram, Facebook and 500px, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates.
If you'd like to experience and shoot some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth with Erez as your guide, you're welcome to take a look at his unique photography workshops around the world:
Land of Ice - Southern Iceland
Winter Paradise - Northern Iceland
Northern Spirits - The Lofoten Islands
Giants of the Andes and Fitz Roy Hiking Annex - Patagonia
Tales of Arctic Nights - Greenland
Saga of the Seas and The Far Reaches Annex - The Faroe Islands
Desert Storm - Namibia
More in This Series:
Selected articles by Erez Marom:
- Behind the Shot: Dark Matter
- Mountain Magic: Shooting in the Lofoten Islands
- Behind the Shot: Nautilus
- Behind the Shot: Lost in Space
- Behind the Shot: Spot the Shark
- Quick Look: The Art of the Unforeground
- Whatever it Doesn't Take
- Winds of Change: Shooting changing landscapes
- On the Importance of Naming Images
- Parallelism in Landscape Photography
|EveningOut by catastrophe|
from Your City - A Night Out
|The Colorado River and Henry Mountains, Utah by wam7|
from Through the port hole (aircraft)
|The Queen by TheGlennPalacio|
National Geographic has shared a collection of entries hand-selected from editors showing off some of the best entries so far.
Rhino has launched a Kickstarter campaign for its new Arc II 4-axis robotic camera system.
Skylum Software will be supporting 10 artists on the EyeEm platform with $10,000 to help them focus on their photography.
Researchers have been able to exploit an iOS vulnerability in order to access photos stored in the Photo app's Recently Deleted folder.
Nikon's D3500 may be an inexpensive DSLR, but the company didn't cut corners when it comes to image quality. See how it handled fall colors and tropical seas in our sample gallery.
Nikon has released firmware version 1.02 that resolves a flickering issue when scrolling through images, an ISO limitation problem, and an occasional crash that could occur when displaying certain Raw files.
500px has announced an update to its Home Feed that's aimed at getting more photographers more exposure.
DxO announces the latest update to Nik Collection (version 1.1) that brings better compatibility, fewer bugs to the plugin suite it acquired from Google a year ago
The Nikon Z6's oversampled 4K video impresses in both our studio scene and real world shooting. See for yourself.
Bailey Richardson, one of the original 13 employees at Instagram, has deleted the app, saying it's lost its identity.
Fujifilm says firmware updates for its GFX 50S, X-T3, and X-H1 cameras are around the corner, with plenty of new features and functionality to boot.
NASA has shared satellite imagery of the wildfire that's been confirmed as the deadliest in California history.
Google has published a post, explaining the technologies behind its new Night Sight feature in detail, on the company's Research blog.
The new Lume Cube Air is a small, lightweight and affordable portable light source aimed at vloggers, casual photographers and other content creators.
Nikon USA has announced that its Z6 full-frame mirrorless camera will be shipping Friday, November 16th at a price of $1999 body-only and $2599 with the Nikkor Z 24-70 F4 S lens.
The Insta360 One X is the company's latest consumer 360-degree camera, supporting 5.7K video, including excellent image stabilization, as well as 18MP photos. And, in our experience, it's a really fun camera to use.
The New York Times has opened up applications for its 7th annual portfolio review. Applications are due December 10, 2018, less than a month from now.
Picfair has announced Picfair Plus, a paid version of its service that adds custom domains, template options, and more to its Picfair Store platform.
ON1 Photo RAW 2019 brings an updated interface, more powerful Lightroom migration, better camera/lens support, and more to ON1's flagship editing program.
We've just started shooting with version two of Tamron's SP-series 15-30mm F2.8 – take a look at how we're getting along with it so far.
Gear Offer is an online marketplace for selling and buying used camera gear with fees lower than both Amazon and eBay.
Experiencing life through the lens of a camera might mean you miss out on special moments, warns Casey Cavanaugh as he shoots a short film through the viewfinder of his Hasselblad 500CM
The New York Times has teamed up with Google to start the process of digitizing more than five million photos stored in a vault nicknamed "the morgue."
Lastolite has announced HaloCompact, a new collapsible lighting tool with a patent-pending design.
Ambitious goals, new challenges and looking ahead to 100 years of the Z mount – we spoke with senior executives and engineers at Nikon about what lies ahead.
After years focused primarily on landscapes, Erez Marom leapt on an opportunity to return to his roots in wildlife photography. A trip to the mountains of Uganda photographing endangered mountain gorillas yielded some stunning photos – and an experience of a lifetime.
YouTube channel I Did A Thing has shared a satirical video showing off five camera tricks for getting the most from your camera on a budget.
Digital cameras have made it incredibly easy to do time-lapse photography, thanks to the ability to take hundreds—or even thousands—of photos without interruption. This week, Chris and Jordan walk us through the process of planning and shooting compelling time-lapse videos.
Mexico City architect and photographer Moises Levy uses composition and timing to create surreal beachside street photography.
Cinematographer Casey Cavanaugh shares how he created a DIY Hasselblad XPan camera with a Hasselblad 500CM and an anamorphic lens.