Aerial Photography and How to Photograph from a Helicopter

Huge clouds photographed from a helicopter at sunset near Ushuaia, Argentina
Huge clouds photographed from a helicopter at sunset near Ushuaia, Argentina

Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens @ 35mm. Exposure Details: 1/250 second @ f4

Helicopter flights are great fun and photographing from a helicopter, with all things equal, can be a very exhilarating experience. This is especially true when you're flying southwest of

Ushuaia

, on the southern most tip of South America, sandwiched between

Tierra del Fuego

and the

Beagle Channel

. The fact that you're on the edge of a wilderness only adds to the excitement.

The above photo was made towards the end of an hour long helicopter flight around the landscape surrounding the city of Ushuaia in Argentina. It had been a great flight, with a short stop at a remote beach where, while the other photographers were enjoying some snacks and champagne, I busied myself photographing the beautifully bleak landscape.

We'd timed the flight well and were rewarded with amazing cloud formations and beautiful, warm light during our flight back to Ushuaia. As all the action was in the sky I made sure to include as much of it as I could in my composition. It's amazing to consider the scale of this picture. Look how big these clouds are in relation to the rugged mountains over which they appear to hover.

If ever you get the chance, a helicopter flight can provide great photography opportunities. But to make the significant cost of the adventure worthwhile its worth considering the following:

  • Try to be up in the air during the golden hour. That's the hour immediately after sunrise or before sunset
  • Photographing from a 30-45 degree angle will often provide a great 3D view onto the landscape
  • Do all you can to secure a window seat. Usually the front seat, next to the pilot, will provide the best opportunities.
  • For maximum saturation after the sun behind you
  • For enhanced shape and texture photograph with the light coming from one side (left or right)
  • Try to ensure your photographing with a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 second.

Actually the shutter speed required for optimum sharpness is dependent on many things including the lens focal length at which you're shooting, your ability to keep the camera/lens still and whether or not you're limited to photographing through a perspex window.

To reduce vibration make sure the camera or lens is not in contact with any part of the helicopter (window frame) that's actually vibrating. You can check by placing your hand on the surface in question. You'll be able to pick up all but the most subtle vibration.

I hope this information proves helpful should you have the opportunity to photograph from a helicopter. Up, Up and Away!

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru