As an aviation enthusiast and a photographer, it seems natural to combine the thrill of flying with the technical challenges of taking photos. Its hard to put into words the serenity and beauty of getting above the ground, away from the computer and the phone, and just enjoying the view on a calm clear day. Taking a few pics to reflect back on the flight is always a bonus.
A little while back I teamed up with Papa Tango Aviation for an early morning flight and took along my new Canon 5DMkIV for a trial run in the air. We lifted off in a perfectly clear calm day in Papa Tango’s shiny new Air Creations Tanarg, and hit some of our favorite local landmarks that we’ve previously photographed. The back seat of the “trike” makes for a great photo platform, and the extra autofocus points and pixels of the 5D Mk4, teamed up with the Canon 24-105L F/4 lens made for some great air to ground images.
There are a few basics involved in air to ground photography that I’ve picked over the last few years that I’m happy to share. First, second, and third, think safety. You don’t want to fall out of the airplane, nor do you want any of your gear to fall to the Earth onto bystanders or a hard surface, especially if it bounces off of the airplane on the way down. Strap yourself in securely, and remove your lens hoods, lens caps, and any loose items on your clothing or sunglasses. Hats are a no-no, unless its stapled or tied to your head. You can use the camera’s neck strap, but I highly recommend a tether/ vest combination with a backup strap. Your camera’s neck strap is iffy, because the slipstream can pull the strap towards the back of the airplane, which could make you feel like you’re choking. In an aircraft emergency, anything wrapped around your neck could also be dangerous. I will often fly with two camera body/ lens combinations, and having each of them secured to opposite sides of a load bearing vest vs. tangling themselves around your neck is a huge relief. Plan ahead, and take off with just the basics of what you need, have plenty of room on your memory cards, and full batteries. Its best to avoid changing batteries, lenses, or memory cards in the air. Most pilots would forbid you from handling any loose equipment while flying for safety’s sake.
When taking photos, you need to keep the camera as stable as possible, so do everything you can to keep the camera stable in flight. Tuck your elbows together to your chest, forming a tripod while supporting the camera body in the air. If you have a long lens, support the end of the lens with your hand, like shooting a rifle. Its also important to keep the end of the lens out of the slipstream, so tuck in behind the pilot in front, or get as close to the opening of the fuselage of the plane as possible, with the end of the lens out of the slip stream. As tempting as it is, avoid using any structure of the airplane as a brace, it will transmit vibrations from the engine and the flight control surfaces to your lens, so use your body as a shock absorber to isolate your camera from the elements.
You will get the best results from an open window, open cockpit, or an open door (think Piper Cub). If you must take photos through a canopy, find the flattest surface you can to minimize distortion, and isolate the lens from reflections/ glare with a dark cloth or a black glove acting as a hood.
The best camera settings are usually individual preference, but you will generally get a clearer picture with a tighter aperture and a faster shutter speed. This formula goes out the window if you are photographing another aircraft in flight, especially if there are propellers involved. I’ll go over some of my thoughts on this in a future post.
Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts.