©  Tim Shields Landscape Photography.  Specializing in high resolution panorama landscape photography.

Aerial Photography - It is not as easy as you think!

May 2, 2019

 Video:  Aerial Photography - How to get great aerial photos.


Have you ever needed to take photos from the air, and a drone shot just won't do?  If you are a photographer then sooner or later you are going to need to photograph something from the air. If you are in need of aerial photos then you have three choices: 


 Aerial view of the City of White Rock - May 2019 - 47MP image 


1.  Drone.  Everyone's first thought when aerial photography is needed is to use a drone, but drone use has certain limitations. The first limitation is that the image size of a drone photo is quite small when compared with the image size from a full frame camera. A full frame Nikon D850 has an image size of 47 megapixels whereas a drone has less than one-quarter of that. The other limitation with a drone is the lack of dynamic range. Drone photos almost always involve taking pictures of parts of the sky and this creates a big problem when there is not a high amount of dynamic range available especially when compared to a full frame DSLR camera. And finally there are so many  restrictions on the use of drones that photographers often find they don't have permission to fly the drone at the location where they need the aerial photos.  This may not seem like a big problem but if the photos are going to be made public or will be sold to a client then the proper approvals need to be in place.


2.  Helicopter.  A helicopter is that go-to solution for most photographers when they need aerial photos.  The one downside of helicopter use for photography is the cost.  Helicopters can easily cost $1000 for a 30 minute flight.  Helicopters are clearly very convenient for aerial photography but the downside of the high cost often prohibits their use.  Having said that, helicopters in my view are clearly the way to go for aerial photos. 


3.  Airplane. This is the option that I chose when I needed aerial photos of the pier located near my home. I needed the highest possible resolution photos, so a drone was out of the question. I didn't want to spend a lot of money for the photoshoot so that ruled out a helicopter. A friend of mine owns a small plane and I was able to go up in the plane with him to get the aerial photos that I needed. Even though an airplane is less expensive than a helicopter, it brings with it some serious drawbacks for aerial photography. The biggest drawback is the presence of the airplane's wing. No matter which direction I wanted to photograph in, it always seemed like the wing was in the way of the shot. The plane also did not have opening windows except for one very small opening in the window beside the pilot. This meant I wasn't able to take photos on the passenger side of the plane unless I was shooting through the plexiglas window. Although some of my photos taken this way worked out very well, many of them had nasty reflections that rendered the photos unusable.


One of the most important aspects of aerial photography is choosing the right shutter speed. You have to remember that you are moving at a speed of more than 100 miles per hour when you're in a small plane. I have a general rule of thumb or in scenarios were I as the photographer is moving.  I will use a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. So for this daylight flight I used a 1/500th of a second shutter speed which worked out well for most of the photos. Having said that, there were some photos that were not tack sharp and I should have used the faster shutter speed - probably 1/1000 second.