These articles are designed to help you appreciate how professional photographers approach assignments and the techniques they use, including some helpful tricks of the trade. In this issue, editor Paul Burrows is airborne shooting graphic aerials… something that’s now much more accessible via camera drones.
An aerial study taken from a hot air balloon flying near Byron Bay in northern NSW. The small lake is surrounded by trees and partially covered in water lilies, creating a graphic combination of shapes and colours.
Camera editor Paul Burrows is particularly passionate about aerial photography and jumps at any opportunity to get airborne. Hot-air balloons are a favourite because of their speed – well, actually, more their slowness – and stability, making them an ideal camera platform.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 with M.Zuiko Digital 70mm f1.8 ED prime lens (equivalent to 140mm). Sensitivity set to ISO 200; the exposure was f5.0 at 1/50 second with multi-pattern metering and auto white balance.
It seems logical to select a wide-angle lens for aerial photography, but viewed from the air, a landscape is full of graphic shapes and patterns that can be best exploited with the tighter cropping of a longer focal length. Of course, you can always crop an image later on, but to maintain the optimum resolution, framing in-camera is the better option… especially when the scene contains a lot of small detail as is the case here.
How It Was Done
Hot-air balloons operate the most effectively when the outside is cold, so flights generally start in the early morning just as the sun is coming up. The sun’s low angle in the sky creates long and deep shadows which, in compositional terms, can either work for you or against you. This image was taken a little later into the flight when the sun was higher and the shadows less obvious. The key was waiting until the balloon was almost directly over the subject to give a very flat perspective which enhanced the graphic elements of the subject. The image is reproduced here exactly as it was framed in-camera. Shutter-priority auto exposure control was used to maintain manual control over the shutter speeds, but as the balloon was drifting so slowly – which gave plenty of time to set up for the shot – a speed of 1/50 second was quite sufficient.
Tricks Of The Trade
With any form of aerial photography it pays to keep things simple and straightforward. You’ll waste valuable (and expensive!) time fumbling with gear so settle on one cameraand-lens combination or have a second body with a lens already fitted if you think you’ll need more flexibility. Forget trying to dive into your camera bag every few minutes. Load up memory cards with plenty of space – you’ll always underestimate how many shots you’ll actually take – and, of course, make sure all batteries are fully charged… and carry a spare in a pocket just in case.
Degree Of Difficulty (Out of 10)
First get your hot-air balloon… but, seriously, part of the fun of aerial photography is the completely different perspective it gives, and so there are interesting pictures to be had everywhere, especially when flying just after dawn. Once you get over the initial excitement, it’s a case of looking for the more interesting compositions and then getting in the right position to capture. The balloon pilot gets a ‘10’ here, the photographer a ‘9’.
Can You Try This At Home?
Unless you’re fortunately to have a friend who owns an aircraft of some sort, aerial photography used to involve hefty rental costs. But you can now get airborne quite cheaply using a camera drone (see the introductory feature in this issue) which, in many ways, can create more involving and dynamic images thanks to operating at low altitudes and in locations beyond a normal manned aircraft.