Aerial Photography – When The View From Above is Amazing!

Aerial photography is the taking of photographs of the ground from an elevated position. Usually the camera is not supported by a ground-based structure. Aerial photography was first practiced by the French photographer and balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as “Nadar”, in 1858 over Paris, France.

Fort Bourtange Netherlands
Fort Bourtange Netherlands

While aerial photography is unique, it also creates some unique capture challenges. Because of the challenges, here are some tips to increase your chances of success.

Shooting from a Commercial Airliner

Because you have absolutely no control over the path of the flight, you have to know approximately where your flight will go in relation to what you want to shoot. Then you can determine on which side of the airplane you should sit. For example, let’s say your flight path will take you over the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Because it runs east and west, if you are flying north or south, it won’t make a difference. But if you are flying east or west, it will make a big difference.

Obviously, you want to sit in a window seat on the scenery side, but flight paths can vary and it may be hard to know exactly where would be the best place to sit. If your flight is not full, you may be able to move into an empty window seat after being airborne. However, if there are no empty window seats, you may be able to switch your seat with someone who has the window seat. It won’t hurt to ask! If you have the choice between a window seat on the sunny side or the shady side of the plane, choose the shady side; you will have less issues with light refraction from the window and the dirt on the outside.

One final note on seat selection – if your plane has engines mounted under the wing, chose a seat ahead of the wing. Otherwise, exhaust from the engine will create heat waves, making it impossible to get a good photo.

Shooting From a Small Plane

If you are on small fixed or rotary wing airplane not chartered by you, ask the pilot about the scenery along the flight path and the direction of the sun. Identify yourself as a photographer and you might even be able to negotiate a slight course deviation so you can get  a shot or two.

In a small plane, vibration is a big factor. So don’t let your camera or arm rest on anything – free handholding is the order of the day.

Air turbulence can be more of a factor when flying in small aircraft, so if you encounter turbulence when you are trying to shoot, shoot either a sequence of shots or shoot multiple shots in order to get a good clear one. Keep your seat belt fastened tight and hold onto your camera!

Because scenery on the ground goes by faster when in a small plane, use a high a shutter speed and be ready. When you see something that you want to shoot, don’t wait too long or you will have passed it.

Aerial Photography Tips

  • Image stabilization is a must. Be sure to focus on the scenery and not the window.
  • Getting your camera close to the window will help minimize any reflections, but don’t allow your camera to touch the window.
  • Turn your flash off. If it fires, it will illuminate the plastic window and show any dirt on the window.
  • When heavy clouds block the sun and you can’t get a fast enough shutter speed, increase your ISO. For each ISO setting increase, you can gain a stop of shutter speed.

While much of your aerial photography will be of ground scenery, don’t over look also shooting cloud formations, sunrises and sunsets. The view from above can be absolutely spectacular.

Aerial Photography
Victoria Falls

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