Aerial Photography

November 29, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Photography 

I first flew, from Nice to Corsica, when I was something like 6 years old. I suppose, at that age, you can go either way: be scared or enjoy the ride. I loved it. And, years later, I still enjoy take-offs and landings. I just regret that a lot of times the flight is a lot longer than the 30 minutes that separates Nice from Corsica.

This year, Derrick and I planned a three weeks long holiday back in his state, North Carolina. We had decided to spend one of these weeks on the coast to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean. We went to Atlantic Beach on the Outer Banks (OBX). If you don’t know about the Outer Banks, it’s a chain of small islands that runs along the NC coast separated from the mainland by a rather narrow inter coastal waterway. Looking up all the local activities before going, we realized that we could afford a flight over the area in a small plane, just the two of us, with a pilot. The service was provided by Seagrave Aviation based in Beaufort. I was very excited about the idea of flying in a small plane, get to see the controls and everything but our main goal was to bring back some photos that not every visitor of the OBX has a chance to take.

The day of the flight came around and even though Hanna, the hurricane, was to strike the coast in the following 48 hours, the sky was perfectly clear. The pilot placed Derrick in the back seat while I was riding in front of the small Cessna. We flew over the area twice. On the first run, I was taking pictures from the front seat, with the left wing most of the time in my frame. On the second run, Derrick was taking the photos from the back seat – a far better spot in that plane for photos as he could move around more and shoot from both sides of the plane. He didn’t have the wing in his way and was able to take pictures looking down which was uneasy from the front seat. On the other hand, from the front seat, I could get photos of the plane controls and through the windshield which turned out pretty cool. Still, as a rule, the back seat of the plane is best for photography and actually, a helicopter is even better but eh, I like planes.

Hard to find a better place to have your first flight experience, it’s just beautiful.

Handing over the camera to the backseat now, the views are very different. Then again, Derrick has done aerial photography for surveying reconnaissance and forestry ; he went for different shots. Actually, while Derrick was taking pictures, I asked the pilot about flying and somehow, he then let me fly. I flew us around for 30 minutes ; it was magical.

If you ever get the opportunity to fly in such a plane and decide to take photos, here are a few advice we can share from our experience in North Carolina:

  • To shoot the inside of the plane, bring your widest angle. To take photos of the world below, limit yourself to a 135mm  lens or so.
  • If you have any motion stabilizer on the camera, it could prove useful
  • As for settings, prefer a Tv (manual shutter speed) mode and use rather high speeds as, there should be light up there, and you move, comparatively to the ground, rather fast.
  • Since you have to shoot through the windshield and windows, be careful with reflections on the glass and, if you can, make sure the glass is clean before taking off. We didn’t use filters here but maybe it could have helped on these issues.
  • Even if you badly want a shot of the school of Dolphins below (we did), make sure you’re not going to make any crazy move that could disturb the pilot. I’d rather miss the shot than take the big drink myself.
  • One more thing, the pilot has probably been out with photographers before, if you tell him what shot you’re after, he will probably tilt the plane the way you need it to get the propeller out of the way or make your shot easier. That’s why they give you the earphones, so you can talk to him.

For my birthday, I was offered a card allowing me to pick an activity to go to and I went this morning for a “Baptême de l’Air” with Aeropilot based in Cergy-Pontoise. The sky this time was much more parisien like and you could barely see the other planes of the fleet outside but it was pretty enjoyable. The plane this time was even smaller and could only fit two people. I managed to get a little souvenir shot though and got the permission to make the last curve before bringing the plane back in line with the runaway. If I ever get the money saved up to get my pilot’s “brevet de base” I might go with them. They have a nice collection of planes.

For more information about aerial photography, you can be on the lookout for Compétence Photo n. 7 which has a short dossier about that specific subject.

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