Amateur Aerial photography

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Hipnomac, Dec 4, 2011.

  1. Hipnomac macrumors regular


    Jun 14, 2007
    I'm currently in centeral america, and could potentially have access to hire small prop airplane, and/or something that resembles a swamp boat that flies (can't think of the name).

    I am interested in maybe doing to aerial shots, and was wondering if anyone has any experience or tips.

    I would be shooting probably from around 1000 feet, maybe a bit lower I'm lucky. I would be shooting from the aircraft, with the window open.

    the lens i have to work with are: 50mm, 55-250, and a sigma 120-400mm.

    I'm thinking the sigma will probably yield the best results...

    any tips, or previous experiences? thanks!
  2. Vudoo macrumors 6502a


    Sep 30, 2008
    Dallas Metroplex
    The biggest issue you will be dealing with is vibration. If your lenses don't have vibration reduction technology, you're going to have to boost your speed and ISO to compensate. A bean bag to rest your lens on the window sill may help. Also keep in mind that you will be moving quickly, so zooming in on something may be out of your field of vision soon. A second body with a wide angle lens would also be a good idea if possible.
  3. lensupthere, Dec 11, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2011

    lensupthere macrumors newbie


    Dec 11, 2011
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Aerial Photography Tips

    A flying swamp boat. Sounds perfect! Sounds like it can fly slow, which is good.

    I've been taking aerial images from a high-wing Cessna over the last 2 years. Here's a few tips:

    1. Do not rest your arms or hands on any part of the plane. Your body will dampen much of the engine vibration if you just free hand the camera. If you're shooting out an open window (good) do not have any lens hoods attached. Try and keep the lens within the cabin as you point it through the window - to reduce wind buffeting/vibration.

    2. Find the aperture sweet spot for focusing for your lens - typical f/5.6 - f/8 (no vignetting, sharp focus). This will usually result in good depth of field for most oblique imagery. If you need longer depth of field, it's o.k. to go up (f/11 or higher) but you may find yourself having to boost ISO in order to maintain a fast shutter speed.

    3. Keep your shutter speed at 1/800 or 1/1000 or higher. This may be difficult to do depending on lighting conditions - play with f/stop and ISO to see if you can capture a quality image at the desired shutter speed. Moving ISO to 400 is usually acceptable - higher can introduce more grain into image.

    I've flown with both Nikon VRII (vibration reduction) and Canon IS (image stabilization) lenses. In both cases, depending on the shot, I've successfully captured sharp images down to around 1/500 shutter speed.

    4. Prime lenses will typically result in better images (50mm). Many zoom lenses (especially consumer grade lenses) have a lot of movement and a lot of elements in them (try your lens, hold it up to your ear and shake it - do you hear a rattle?). Though, if that's all you have, then go ahead and use them, just make sure to take 3 or 4 shots of the subject to ensure you get one good one.

    5. What type of camera? I assume digital, is it a cropped sensor or full frame? If cropped, then your 50mm will act like an 85mm (the same ratio will apply to your other lenses) and you may find that you'll need to fly higher in order to capture the field of view you desire. The problem with flying higher is that you may increase the amount of environmental haze between you and the ground.

    6. If you are flying in bright sunlight and especially over water - use a circular polarizer filter and learn how to use it before you fly. If you are flying over water, high noon is not a good time, since the reflection of the sun will be directed right back at you. 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. are usually better. However, earlier or later in the day, and you will encounter long shadows from buildings and landscape - which can muck up (darken) a shot and you end up losing detail.

    7. I don't think the Sigma will yield as good of a result as you think. I've been using Nikon 70-300 VRII and, at low altitudes on a cropped sensor camera, I just couldn't get a wide enough field of view most times. When I fly with a Zoom, I use an 18-105 and that proves good enough for most low altitude situations. My opinion is that you don't want to zoom in too close, otherwise you lose the "from above" effect (unless you're shooting naked people on the beach :) ). Vudoo's comment about the field of vision moving by quickly is true - that's exactly what happens.

    If you do end up using the big zoom, start out wide and center the ground target in the lens, set your focus, then zoom in. Pan the camera as the plane flys by as you capture the images.

    Also, you may find that going to the extremes on a zoom lens (narrowest or widest) will yield softer images. Try to stay within the extremes - don't go all the way to 250 or 400, stay around 200 or 350.

    Plane time is expensive - You don't want to have to make multiple passes to "get the shot." Take several of the target at once.

    8. Prior to getting on station (at the target location), take a few sample snapshots and view them (make sure to zoom in on the preview) to make sure your settings and handling of the camera yield the best results.

    9. Post production. If you're familiar with Photoshop, open each of your selected picture in Adobe RAW and boost the blacks slightly - I think you'll find that it will help reducing some of the whitewash effect you may get with hazy conditions (especially from higher altitudes) and reflections of the surface of water.

    10. Night and Low Light shots. Of the hundreds of night time aerial photos I've taken, only a handful have managed to be good enough to share. They were all hand held shots and I used a 30mm f/1.4 Sigma lens with an ISO set to around 1600. The lock on and pan technique is really helpful in this situation.

    Have fun. Take many pictures and I hope you get some amazing results.

    - LensUpThere

    Equipment used: Canon 5D Mark II, Nikon D90, Canon T2i, a myriad of lenses

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