AEROPIX has been in the aerial photography profession for over almost half a century. Over the years, often through trial and error, we have learned a lot of techniques, tricks and tips to taking aerial photos. We learn from experiences, and have perfected the art and business of aerial photography. This page is offered as a service of AEROPIX to help the enterprising aerial photographer in the art and business of aerial photography.
The airplane should serve as a platform from which a somewhat-knowledgeable photographer works. A prerequisite is having the basic skills of photography. It is impractical to learn the basic techniques of photography while flying, the basics are best learned on the ground. For the photographer interested taking aerial photos, here are some of our lessons learned. Your feedback is most welcome.
Frame and compose the picture properly as you are taking it. Vertical components in your subject must align to the frame. What would seem to be obvious, gets overlooked. Compose (or crop) your subject so that vertical objects appear vertical in the final product. This means vertical references, like edges of buildings, trees, flag-poles, etc. must be parallel to the vertical edge of the photo. Such references are ‘givens’ and must be relied on. Do not fall into the trap of composing or cropping for only an aesthetic balance, or using the horizon as horizontal reference. If due to the aperture, your subject has conflicting references, then pick the middle ground.
Aerial Photography too has its ups and downs. Your camera, especially being in an aircraft, is subject to movements and vibrations which can make your photos blurry. Some aerial photographers use a gyroscope-based stabilizer. These units can be expensive. We have good luck with a home-made version. Ours is based on a steel weight such as an auto-body shop dolly used in the process of banging out dents. It is a two-pound palm-sized weight. It is contoured to fit in your hand, but is flat on one side. (If you were banging out small dents in a car, the flat side might go right up against the inside of the dent you were banging out.) To this flat side we weld a quarter-inch thread. This thread would be screwed into the base of the camera (just as you would the thread found on the base of a tripod). This weight, attached to the camera, adds mass, and will absorb vibrations and movements. This is needed because cameras have become lighter and more susceptible to movement in an airplane. By minimizing movement and vibration, you minimize blur in your photos.
While one might believe that photography is seasonal, it is not. It is just that each season introduces different variables into the mix. The higher, brighter sun in Summer allows the use of finer grain film. This, in turn, allows you to shoot at faster speeds. Wintertime, for example, when the sun is lower, a faster film with a coarser grain film needs to be used.
Always prepare for the unexpected. Always bring more than one camera with you, even if you are only shooting one format. Anticipate an equipment failure and be prepared with a second camera loaded and ready to go. Also, anticipate different weather from your take-off position to your shoot site. You may take-off with no overcast, and may find clouds are casting undesirable shadows on your subject. Sometimes you may just go to check out the condition and you may find that you’ll have to do the shoot at another time. Humidity can ruin your shoot too, haze and mist can obscure your subject. In our equipment discussion, the use of filters is discussed in detail.
It’s a good idea to having a camera with you whenever you fly. This way you’ll be in a position to capture unforeseen events, like accidents and fires. A lawyer, for an injured party, for example, might be interested in purchasing photos documenting an accident.
Just as much as a ground photo, your work should be aesthetically pleasing. Balloons are always awesome, and are a favorite shoot from the air too.
Take a lot of photos of your subject.
Take shots from various directions and various angles. You can always weed out what you do not want later. Pleasantly surprise your customer with more shots than he or she expected.
In this subject, Longmeadow Condominiums, in Milford, this view looking southeast emphasises the complex’ proximity to the beach and Long Island Sound.
Just a slightly different view, looking southwest changes the emphasis. The shopping plazas are introduced.
Same subject as above, just a slightly different view.
Prepare your subject, whenever possible. For example, if you are going to be taking a picture of a home, the property should be tidy. Are there toys or junk in the yard? Laundry on the line? Such things are not unobtrusive and can take away from the picture. Are you taking a photo of a business? Typically a business will be look better with cars in the parking lot. So, you may not be able to do the shoot on a Sunday. Never shoot with the sun directly behind you, the picture will look flat. To avoid this problem, utilize shadows. Shadows provide contrast and depth to the photo. Plan the side of the subject that will be in the front, ideally you will not want this side in a shadow.
For more information…
- Cameras and Film of AEROPIX Lots of valuable pointers. We’re always learning ourselves.
- Some books on basic photography:
- How to Take Good Pictures : A Photo Guide by Kodak To buy or learn more about this book.
- The Basic Book of Photography by Tom Grimm (Photographer), Michele Grimm, Cindy King (Illustrator) To buy or learn more about this book.
- John Hedgecoe’s Complete Guide to Photography : A Step-By-Step Course from the World’s Best-Selling Photographer. By John Hedgecoe To buy or learn more about this book.