Stills Photography from a Helicopter: Things to Consider

Shooting aerial photos is a rewarding experience, provided you know what to expect and how to prepare. If you’re a specialist aerial photographer, you won’t need advice about what gear you need and what precautions to take during a helicopter flight. Amateur photographers can take stunning birds-eye photos of their favourite locations just like the professionals do, but without the added pressure of a paid assignment.

Here are some things to consider when contemplating your first aerial photography session from a helicopter:

Doors Off

Doors OffFor unimpeded photography, you ideally need an operator that is willing to fly with the doors off. Otherwise, you’ll have the added complication of trying to avoid window reflections and degrading the optical quality of your pictures. Everything in a helicopter cabin must be tied down with the doors off, so if you’re using different lenses you need to have them all attached to camera bodies, each of which will have to be safely tethered to you. Irrespective of the weather, a helicopter flight without doors can become cold, so dress warmly for the occasion.

Choosing Lenses

The obvious choice of lens for aerial photography is a wide-angle. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking all your aerial pictures are going to be sweeping vistas. A telephoto lens is handy for picking off some of those amazing details you see from above. If you’re going with one lens, an all-rounder like a 24-70mm zoom (or equivalent) is probably best. Bear in mind that you need enough focal length to shoot past the helicopter blades and skids, or else you’ll be cropping them out afterwards.

Camera Settings

To counteract the considerable vibration and movement you get from a helicopter, choose the same sort of shutter speed that you’d use for action photography. A minimum 1000th of a second is recommended. Set the camera on shutter priority mode (Tv) or manual mode with auto ISO to keep the shutter speed constant. You’ll usually be able to keep the lens aperture open fairly wide; depth of field won’t be an issue as your subject will normally be far below.