Aerial photography is an extremely fun and relatively easy way to create new and unique images. Over the past couple years I've been fortunate enough to have taken several flights over Iceland, Hawaii, NYC, the Canadian Rockies, and other stunning landscapes.
Through these flights I've learned a lot about aerial photography so I decided to share a short tips & tricks guide. I hope you find it helpful!
Aerial image of a lake in the Himalayas
Typically, most flights range from $750 - $2,000/ hr. To reduce cost, bring friends!
Usually, helicopters & other aircraft allow for at least 2-3 people on board. Splitting a flight three ways can help to make aerial photography more affordable.
Abstract Aerial image of a glacier in Iceland Abstract Aerial Image of a River System in Iceland
Use a fast shutter speed! Vibration from an aircraft and windy conditions can make it difficult to create sharp images. In most situations I’ve found that 1/250 of a second just won’t quite cut it. Depending on my focal length, I try to keep my shutter speed at around 1/500 or even higher if the light allows for it.
Just remember to bump your ISO or open up your aperture to compensate.
Aerial image of Landmannalaugar Iceland
If you’re chartering a flight, you’re the boss! If there is a specific peak or valley you want to focus on shooting, communicate with your pilot over the radio or better yet, talk to them beforehand so you can maximize your time shooting.
If you find yourself wanting to reshoot a location or see what something looks like at a new altitude or positioning, communicate with your pilot and they’ll do what you need to get the shot. You’ll always walk away with more if you communicate!
Aerial images of two mountains in the Canadian Rockies
Shooting through the glass window of a helicopter can be a nightmare. To avoid glare in your aerial photography, request that the doors be removed ahead of time. Trust me, it's super fun flying without doors.
While your overall flight experience and content will be drastically improved, you’ll also be quite a bit colder so come prepared with a warm jacket and gloves depending on the season/ locations you’ll be at. Remember that it's always colder the higher you are so even if it's summer, be prepared with a jacket if not gloves!
Aerial image of the Na Pali Coast on Kauai
Shoot in continuous mode!
If there was one piece of advice you should really pay attention to in this guide, it would be this.
It can often be difficult to properly compose your images in the windy and shaky cabin of a helicopter. Shooting in continuous mode is a great way to have flexibility when selecting the perfect frame when you get back onto the computer.
Just remember to bring a large memory card and an extra battery! It would be so frustrating to run out of memory or battery life halfway into an amazing flight!
Aerial image over New York City Aerial image of a waterfall on Kauai, Hawaii
Find out where the helipad is in relation to your shoot location.
When I was in New York City for a helicopter flight, I didn’t consider that it would take nearly 2/3 of the flight time to travel back and forth from the helipad to where I could shoot. When all was said and done, I ended up only getting about 15 minutes of shoot time out of the hour I paid for.
An aerial image of a mountain in the Canadian Rockies
Remember to use a polarizing filter! If you happen to be on a flight with the doors on, a polarizing filter will help you avoid glares.
Even if you're flying doors off, a polarizer will help you reduce glare on lakes and rivers and help you maintain an overall cleaner image. I really enjoy using Benro Filters.
Taking an aerial flight over the Canadian Rockies with my friend Michael
If you're on a doors-off helicopter flight, It can be hard to safely switch between lenses.
I've found that the lens I use most on flights is a 24-70 f/2.8.
You can always bring multiple cameras with different lens setups, just make sure they all have straps! All pilots will require that you have your camera bodies properly secured during the flight.
For aerial flights, I've enjoyed using a wrist strap by Osiris & Co.
An aerial image taken over Iceland An aerial image taken over Kauai, Hawaii
Remember to pull some cash before your flight for your pilot once you land. They work hard to keep you safe while you enjoy your flight and deserve a tip.
Aerial images over Kauai, Hawaii