MASTER AERIAL SKILLS
Taking images from a helicopter requires some careful consideration, although the hardest part of aerial photography probably isn’t what you imagine
When I trained as a photographer, the traditional route was studying and then assisting for a minimum of two years in a studio. I lasted a couple of months before taking the plunge to full-time aerial photography. In my opinion, no amount of mastering skills can make up for real experience on the job!
The vast majority of techniques I use are really no different to a landscape or editorial photographer. You need a good sense of composition, an eye for framing, an awareness of good light, and knowledge about exposure and shutter speed. You also need to know about your camera and make sure using it feels like second nature, so it doesn’t distract you in the moment.
When it comes to techniques specific to shooting from a helicopter, the most useful one is building up the best rapport you can with the pilots you use. When you’re spending £25 per minute on the aircraft, every second counts. It’s essential that your pilot fully understands what the brief entails and what you need to achieve before you take off.
For example, recently I was shooting a site next to Centre Point in London. I needed to be looking directly down at night, which meant tipping the helicopter right on its side and banking over in a very fast manoeuvre. Consequently, I had literally two seconds of shooting time on each orbit, and it would have been impossible to achieve that without the full co-operation and expertise of my pilot.
Interestingly, the real difficulty with aerial photography isn’t the technical side, it’s the business. For every day’s flying you do, there are probably two days organising the job and two days editing and developing the RAW files, before delivering the final set of images. You need to work out where your clients are going to come from, profit and loss cash flows, your VAT, accounts and how to promote yourself. Again, these are the kinds of things you can only learn on the job.