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How To View the World like a Bird: Tips for Aerial Photography

Do you wonder what the world looks like to a bird? Aerial photography, which is becoming increasingly popular, allows us to see the world this way.

Aerial photography is perhaps the best way to capture panoramic images of oceans and other bodies of water, cities and towns, mountains, landscapes, herds of animals, and more. But it’s not easy to take these photos. In fact, it not only requires skill and patience, it takes time, energy, resources and an adventurous spirit.

So, are you ready to capture photographs from a birds-eye view? Here are 11 tips to capture the perfect aerial shot.

Featured image credit: MsSaraKelly / CC BY 2.0

1. Airplane or Helicopter?

aerial-grass
Image credit: Kai Morgener / CC BY-SA 2.0

One camp of photographers believe airplanes are best suited for capturing that bird’s-eye view. On the one hand, planes tend to be more accessible: you can rent one or, for a small fortune, even buy one. On the other hand, airplanes can’t fly slowly, nor can they fly lower than 1000 feet above congested areas and 500 feet from structures, people and vessels.

If you do choose to use an airplane for your aerial photography, high-wing Cessnas are your best bet because of their slow speeds and larger, openable windows.

Helicopters, however, offer several benefits that are hard to ignore. You can fly with the door removed, avoiding window glare and stains in your photographs. Helicopters can be flown at any altitude in open areas. They can fly most efficiently at 60 miles per hour and can even hover or fly backwards.
 
aerial-sydney
Image credit: Beau Giles / CC BY 2.0

2. The Best Time of Day

aerial-florida
Image credit: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater / CC BY 2.0

From high above, the Earth appears rather flat during the midday hours. Because of this, it’s better to fly in the beginning or end of the day, when the angle of the sun generates shadows. The shadows will help viewers understand the shapes in the photographs, whether they are hills, buildings, or people.

3. Prepare For Your Flight

aerial-skydive
Image credit: Skydive Andes Chile / CC BY-ND 2.0

Once airborne, you sometimes only have seconds to capture that perfect shot. To save precious time, it becomes crucial to prepare for your flight in advance. Make a list of spots you want to photograph, mark them down on a map and then bring the map along. (You can also use satellite view in Google Maps.)

And don’t let the intended subject of your photo sneak up on you. Before takeoff, identify highways, lakes, towns, etc. that can help you keep oriented once in flight.

4. Clean Your Windows

aerial-croatia
Image credit: Yacht Rent / CC BY 2.0
This is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re shooting your photographs through airplane or helicopter windows, there are three risks: reflections, unfocused images and stains. To avoid reflections in the glass use a UV filter, don’t wear bright clothes, and get as close to the window as possible. Also make sure the windows are clean to eliminate stains or unfocused images. Nothing will ruin a photo like a big yellow splotch in the middle of it.

5. Camera Protection

aerial-castle
Image credit: Vicki Burton / CC BY-SA 2.0
It’s critical that you protect your camera and lenses from damage and shock during your flight. Using a protective UV filter for your lens, or a lens hood if you don’t have a filter, will help to keep the lens from striking the window, window handle, or other parts of the craft.

6. Choose the Right Optic

aerial-cinqueterre
Image credit: Daniel Stockman / CC BY-SA 2.0
Given the aircraft’s movement, turbulence and space restrictions, it’s difficult to switch lenses. That means you must choose the right optic lens ahead of time since it will likely be the lens you’re stuck with during the entire flight. What lens you choose will depend on what kind of picture you want to take:

Telephoto Zoom Lens

aerial-beach
Image credit: Yacht Rent / CC BY 2.0
This lens works best for close-up pictures. It can isolate a subject nearer to the ground.

Wide-Angle Lens

aerial-panorama
Image credit: Wajahat Mahmood / CC BY-SA 2.0
The wide-angle lens captures landscape pictures, panoramic views, and other scenic shots.

Zoom Lens

aerial-nycabove
Image credit: Marcin Wichary / CC BY 2.0
Perfect for your first aerial photography excursion, the zoom lens gives you the opportunity to try different shots, from panoramas to close-ups.

Prime Lens

aerial-nyc
Image credit: Daniele Pieroni / CC BY-SA 2.0
If you’re experienced in the field of aerial photography, this is likely the lens for you. While the prime lens will provide sharper images, it’s challenging to use.

7. Manage Camera Shake

aerial-paragliding
Image credit: texaus1 / CC BY 2.0
With the movement of the aircraft and the turbulence, capturing a sharp image presents one of the bigger challenges in aerial photography. Use short shutter speed to reduce camera shake. Also, you can stabilize your camera with the side of your left palm against the window.

8. Use Manual Mode

aerial-town
Image credit: Daniel Zimmermann / CC BY 2.0
Familiarity with your camera’s manual mode, which gives you complete control of shutter speed and aperture, is a must for aerial photography. Consider using ISO between 100 and 200 to minimize the noise.

9. High Speed Shutter

aerial-desert
Image credit: Ville Hyvönen / CC BY-SA 2.0
Another key to great aerial photography is the right shutter speed and the higher, the better. High shutter speeds allow you to capture sharp images despite the movement of the aircraft or any turbulence that might occur. A good starting place is 1/2000s shutter speed with a wide aperture and 1/250s for a narrow one.

10. Aperture

aerial-peninsula
Image credit: Yacht Rent / CC BY 2.0
When taking aerial shots, you want a bright, sharp photograph. Wider apertures are better because you can use higher shutter speeds to achieve the sharpness, with the added bonus of a lighter image.

11. Image Composition

aerial-surfers
Image credit: Joel Kramer / CC BY 2.0
Lastly, it’s important to get the right composition, not an easy task. It depends on if your aircraft has wings, its position in the air, the size of its windows, how much turbulence you experience, etc. Just remember to keep a wide angle, look for intriguing subjects below and have fun!

   
 
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