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Aerial Photography Tips and Tricks

Aerial photography opens up brand new possibilities for the photographer who is looking for something new. The vantage points that you get in an airplane, chopper or balloon are like nothing you’ve ever photographed before. There are many helpful tips that will keep you sane and in charge of your equipment while you’re up there shooting. We’re also going to explore how to make your aerial photographs better, so that when you print them they look great just the way they are.

Flying High in Your Craft of Choice

Aerial photographers are often asked if there is any real difference between taking photos from a hot air balloon, or doing the same thing from a helicopter or plane. People want to know if there is a clear advantage to aerial photography from a specific mode of transport, so that they can make the right decision when they do it. All three experiences are unique in their own way, and the photograph results are very similar from each of them.

Here are the subtle differences:

  • The helicopter is the most noisy, followed by the plane and the balloon
  • The helicopter and the plane vibrate more than balloon does
  • A plane is excellent for high altitude shots
  • A helicopter is perfect for getting in close from above
  • A balloon is the most comfortable to shoot from in open air, but its cold

These differences don’t mean anything if you have the right equipment. That’s why each should be experienced separately and judged the same way.

What Equipment Do I Need?

An SLR or DSLR camera is fine, as long as you have a wide angle lens. You also have the option of buying an aerial camera for extra strength and clarity. It’s good to bring a tripod if you have one, but most of the time you’ll need to have a gyro stabilized system to keep your camera still. Helicopter tours sometimes land high up for a while, so that photographers can take pictures from a new perspective. In that case a normal, inexpensive tripod is fine on solid ground.

Setting Your Camera

Set your camera to maximum shutter speed, position it on your tripod and use a polarized filter when shooting in the morning or afternoon. If you like you can also use a telephoto lens, but it’s not necessary. This set up with ensure that your photos aren’t blurred, and that the colors pop when you print them.

Using the right equipment and camera settings is important if you want clear images.

Aerial Composition

There are only two ways you can shoot in aerial photography. Your options are to point or tilt your camera down to earth for high altitude pictures, or you can photograph the sky, clouds and sun. This obviously changes the closer you get to the ground. In a helicopter you’ll find that there are hundreds of angles and vantage points to choose from on your ride.

The challenge with aerial photography comes when you are given less than a second to take a particular photo from the right vantage point. Balloons can be anchored and are better for framing and considering your composition before shooting it. With planes and choppers however, you need to think, and click on your feet.

Spend some time searching the ground and skies for interesting patterns, textures, light sources and harmony. It’s hard to balance a fast photo, but that’s why you keep your shutter speed on max. Pay attention to vertical and horizontal lines that could leave your photo unbalanced if you don’t frame them just right. These are all over the ground wherever you are, as man made structures tend to be symmetrical.

Find inspiration in natural and man made patterns, and try to frame each photo properly.

Working With The Light

When the day is at its peak and the light is brightest, if you’re not careful your photos will be overexposed. Don’t point your camera right at the sun. The trick with aerial photography is to work with the natural light that you are given, using it to capture images with depth and shadow. Try to take the most photos when the sun is behind you for crisp, bright images. You can also create a vivid effect if you shoot just past the sun at an angle.

Sometimes the weather isn’t always cooperative when you plan your day to be air-born. Don’t give up if its cloudy and overcast, you can do a lot with heavy shadows and edit it at a later stage. If there is still a significant light source, clouds can be a dramatic subject to photograph from the skies. If you can’t take any decent color images, keep shooting, and make your composition count. It won’t be a total bust if you can still edit in new colors and light effects.

Be conscious of your light source and how it affects your position and photos.

If you follow these aerial photography tips, you have a great chance of creating some memorable photos from a unique vantage point. Very few people get to fly around the skies on a daily basis, taking photos all the time. Most of us have to plan our trip, and hope for the best, constantly at the mercy of unpredictable weather conditions. Make a point of experiencing each one of these modes of aerial transport before you decide which one you want to do again.

That way if you feel that the excitement of a chopper, the freedom of the balloon or the height of the plane appeals to you the most, you’ll know what to do the next time you have a free day. Aerial photography is certainly an event to aspire to, and one that must be carefully planned for maximum enjoyment. If you only want to experience it once then go on an air show day, when the skies will be filled with excellent high speed subjects and colorful tents and balloons below.

Meet Evan Varsamis


Evan Varsamis is driven by his passion for technology, innovation and vision of an ever improving and informative web. The company he founded, Cloudie Co. is a testament of that. Evan is constantly seeking to invest in new startup projects that support his vision.