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Photographing from a Helicopter help!

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by j_inalaska, Aug 12, 2009.

  1. I have been hired to photograph a friends helicopter in the air from an airplane to put up on his website for a new business. I live in Alaska so the idea is to have beautiful landscapes behind the aircraft. We will be photographing over the Kenai River and Skilak Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. I have a Nikon D300 with these lenses ... 70-200mm f2.8, VR, 300mm f4, 85mm f1.4, 24-120mm 3.5-5.6 VR, 12-24mm f4.

    My question, what do I use? Or should I borrow something else? My first instinct would be to use my trusty 70-200mm VR. If that was the right choice, would I set the VR to active, as if I was in a car??

    My backup camera is a D200. Another thought would be to put another lens on it and take it as well. Maybe a longer or wider one?

    Any thoughts would be appreciated!!!!
  2. DangerKilo


    May 14, 2009
    another option you have is taking pictures from inside the helicopter. Fly somewhere scenic, hang your feet out the door, and shoot the view with your feet and the landing "foot" in the photo. Those are pretty cool. Best of luck with the Airplane does Heli photography :D !
  3. That is a good idea and will be able to do that another time. I can ride in the helicopter whenever I want to get those kind of shots. We are renting the airplane for specific in flight shots of the helicopter with beautiful Alaska backgrounds.

    Thanks for the comment!
  4. I'd use what you're used to (and a helicopter sounds like a definite location for active VR :smile: )

    I don't know how crowded or controlled Alaskan airspace is, but getting the maps out and doing a bit of planning would be a good idea...
  5. BobC


    Jan 3, 2006
    Upstate New York
    Your title says you're going to be photographing from a helicopter but your text says you're going to be shooting the copter from a fixed-wing aircraft.

    If you're shooting from a small plane, see if you can't remove the pin holding the window in place so that the window will be open while flying. The air will keep the window open in flight if it's like the small Cessnas I've shot from.

    The 70-200 VR, set in active mode, would probably be the best, and both pilots will have to communicate to get the two aircraft oriented well and at a suitable distance for the shots you want.

    Use a high shutter speed and certainly plan this out, in detail, in advance, with both pilots.
  6. You might want to consider renting a gyro stabilizer. http://www.ken-lab.com/ It will make the camera amazingly stable and enable you to get a slower shutter that can blur the helicopter blades, yet still keep the cockpit sharp.
  7. Jen

    Last year, I flew with the Civil Air Patrol on a single engine Cessna from Ft Lewis, WA to Seatle. I used a borrowed D2x and 17-55mm lens.

    Space was tight and the turbulence in a small plane was more than I expected. Sight lines were obstructed from the wing and landing gear. I was able to get clear shots with the window down when the pilot was able to roll the plane to get the landing gear out of the way.

    I wish I had a bit more reach and had a filter to cut thru the haze. At wide angles, the wing or landing gear was in the picture. I had to shoot with high shutter speed (1/250th+) because of the turbulence. As previously mentioned, renting a gyro is a good investment. This will remove vibrations and unexpected movement and allow you to focus on content

    Afterward, I felt like I was on a 90 min long roller coaster ride.

    Good luck and enjoy the ride. :smile:
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 12, 2009
  8. SteveK


    Mar 16, 2005
    Hi Jen,
    You'll want to have an open window if possible; plexiglass distorts images. If you can't open a window fully, and you have to shoot through the plexiglass, be very careful not to put your lens directly on the plexiglass, as it will scratch it, and you'll have a very mad plane owner. Avoid leaning on the airframe as it will cause vibration. You might want to take both the 70-200 as well as 12-24 for a wider view. Ask the pilot to slip the plane to lift the wing on your side (assuming a high wing Cessna or Piper). Take lots of shots, and bracket the shots. If you have the time, fly over the Tustemena glacier to the other side. There's some great backdrops in the Kenai Fiords.
  9. SteveK


    Mar 16, 2005
    I have a gyro, though the battery is presently in need of replacement. While the gyro will stabilize a camera, it also is a bit of a problem using one in a plane. The gyro prevents you from moving your camera quickly to get a different angle, as it wants the camera to be stabile and not move. Over years of experience, I have found it isn't necessary to use a gyro in a plane or helicopter, and I've literally shot tens of thousands of images from aircraft.
  10. CombatCam


    Mar 20, 2009
    Columbia, TN
    be sure your straped if your going to be hanging out of it! =P
  11. wgilles


    Apr 25, 2008
    Whoa those are expensive!!
  12. Thanks to all that have replied!!!

    You are right. My heading did say photographing from a helicopter. Sorry ... I am photographing from a super cub that has a window down with no obstructions. The pilots will be in constant contact and there will be no other aircraft in this area. Pretty remote.

    This is all going to happen next tuesday or wednesday so, I have an option of borrowing a lens perhaps (if needed) but no gyro stabilizer. I am just "wingin it" sort of speak.

    I am gathering ... my 70-200mm VR w/stabilizer on will be what I need?

    I do have some filters and will use if needed. I also have a monopod. Do you think that would be of help or too much vibration from the floor?

    What about shooting RAW??

    This is all going to happen in about 1 or 1 & 1/2 hours.

    Settings?? I am wanting the blades in motion? Just some idea would be wonderful!!!!
  13. I think a shutter speed of around 1/200 should be slow enough to give some rotor blur.

    I wouldn't use a monopod - as you say, it will just transmit the engine vibration straight to your camera...
  14. BobC


    Jan 3, 2006
    Upstate New York
    I have no advice on shutter speed, but that's something you can try, possibly even before you get in the air, to see what effect different shutter speeds give you.

    You want to allow your body to absorb as much vibration from the engine as possible, so don't use a monopod, don't allow camera or lens to touch the frame of the window.

    Shooting NEF + JPG will allow you to choose either type after you're done. You'll need to carry sufficient (or sufficiently large capacity) memory cards of course.

    I suspect 70-200 will be good, but it depends on distance between the two aircraft. Take along a shorter lens in case that works out better. (If you leave it behind you can't use it.....)

    I did some low altitude aerial photography a number of years ago with a simple setup, a medium format camera using its normal lens. I was shooting buildings and other objects on the ground, however, and my main problem was keeping the wing and wing support on the Cessna I was in out of the picture. Sky clarity is very important, and a murky sky is something that a filter won't be enough to counteract. Also watch sun angle. If you have a certain background in mind the time of day should be considered to take into account the position of the sun as well as the two aircraft.

    Good luck!
  15. In the past 24 months I have been taking pictures using either a Cessna 150 or Aeronca Champ as platforms.

    Only last week, I was taking pictures of a friend's newly acquired Cessna 150 while flying in another Cessna 150. Brought my D2x w/70-200VR and D300 w/17-55mm. My experience has been with the 70-200VR is that it is a bit unwieldy to move easily around in the cabin. If the Super Cub you will be flying in is anything like the narrow cabin of a Cessna 150, my suggestion would be to use your 24-120 and 12-24, leave the 70-200VR off the camera. Or better yet, borrow a third camera body so you can experiment with the 70-200 and see what you are comfortable with. Try it out while sitting in your car... Come to think about it, I believe that the doors from a Super Cub can easily be removed, so if being out in the open does not bother you, you will have a clear field of view. [apart from the struts].

    I envy you as this is stuff I love to do... Good luck!
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 13, 2009
  16. mobeious1


    Oct 24, 2008
    70-200 with a 2x tele if u need it deff get that gyro
  17. I've some formation flying and some air to ground photography, but not air to air. A few years ago there was an interesting article in the AOPA Pilot magazine (aopa.org) on how they do air to air. Also check out "Flying" magazine.

    If you can, see if you can sit in a Piper Cub and try the various lenses for mobility. If you can do that, and are sitting around any airplanes on the apron, check out the FOV to see what lenses would be best.

    This sounds like a blast!
  18. wingspar


    Mar 16, 2008
    The 70-200 VR set to Active would be my first choice. Your 12-24 might be nice for some static shots on the ground, but don’t bother taking it up with you. The 24-120 I’d leave home, and the 85 f/1.4 is already covered by the 70-200. You are certainly not going to be shooting at f/1.4 up there. You will probably find yourself stopping down quite a bit in order to slow the shutter speeds down so as not to blur the rotors. You might find the 300 f/4 handy, but you might also take the TC-14E for the 70-200 instead of the 300. It is usually much brighter in the air than it is on the ground, so if you have any ND filters, they might be useful for achieving even slower shutter speeds that you will need for blurring the rotors if it is real bright out.

    Use as slow of a shutter speed as you can. You do not want to freeze the rotors. A suggestion would be to go to an airport where there is significant helicopter operations, and practice on them from the ground before you go up for the shoot. The rotors are not always turning at the same RPM’s, so probably no one shutter speed will work, but practicing on the ground will help out.

    A monopod would be in the way, and if I was the pilot of the Super Cub, I’d probably tell you to leave it on the ground.

    While this is not an air to air shot, I shot this at 1/90 sec and f/18.0. Blurring rotors on helicopters is more difficult than Blurring props on an airplane. Notice the difference in speed between the main rotors and the tail rotors.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
  19. Good to know. Thanks.
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