Tak­ing images from a he­li­copter re­quires some care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, al­though the hard­est part of aerial pho­tog­ra­phy prob­a­bly isn’t what you imag­ine

Digital Photograper - - Techniques -

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.

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