Aerial photography is a valuable commercial skill that can greatly increase the income of many working photographers. The field of aerial photography can cover many different types of work, including real estate photography, government projects to document construction or environmental issues, paparazzi coverage, court case evidence, in addition to general artistic images taken from aloft.
Getting started in aerial photography. To get started in aerial photography, it is not as difficult as it may initially seem. In most cases, having access to an aircraft of some sort is required. However, there are literally thousands of pilots that are willing to charter a flight for you to accomplish your work. Check with your regional or local airport about chartering a flight for photography. Let them know what and where you are interested in photographing, and they should be able point you in the right direction. Based on my experience, be prepared to pay $100-$300 per hour chartering a fixed wing aircraft, depending on your area and the type of aircraft available. For helicopter rentals, look to pay about 30% more.
Best time of day to take aerial photographs. As with most types of outdoor photography, early morning and late afternoon time frames will yield the most pleasing photographs. It is at this time that the sun's rays produce warmer colors and longer shadows which produce more brilliant colors and beautiful shadows. The longer shadows associated with this time frame add depth to your photographs, by better defining the contours of land or structures.
However, selecting a time of day is also dependent on the type of photography you are trying to capture. During the middle of the day, the lighting is flat which may be better suited to your specific needs, i.e., documenting a construction project, or commercial real estate. Understanding the goals of your photographic mission will greatly impact when you elect to charter a flight.
Best equipment for aerial photography. Selecting the appropriate equipment for aerial photography is a major consideration. Before making any photographic equipment decisions, you must first define how the photos will be used. In most cases, aerial photos will be used for larger prints. Even if you are only shooting images for newspaper or tabloid reproduction, you will want to capture the images in as large a file size or negative size as possible. If you are shooting film, I would suggest no format under 2 1/4″ x 2 1/4″. If you want to shoot film and don't have a larger format camera, borrow or lease one before you schedule the flight. For digital photographers, I would recommend using the largest file size available with your model camera. By not capturing the images in the highest resolution possible, you have greatly diminished the ability for additional uses of these photographs.
Determining the optimal focal length to use, will be influenced with the type of aircraft you select, the subject matter you are documenting, and how close you are able to get to your subject. From personal experience, I most often use the equivalent of a 35mm-50mm lens for the 35mm camera format. You will want to be cautious using a telephoto lens due to the vibration of the aircraft.
Best exposure for aerial photography. In general, I recommend using a shutter speed of 1/500 -1/1000. This shutter speed range is sufficient to stop most action from a moving aircraft and to minimize aircraft vibration. While photographing from 1000 feet or higher, the subject will not be moving as quickly as you think. Choosing the maximum shutter speed, such as 1/2000 or higher, basically robs you of depth of field since you need to open up the lens more to compensate for the higher speed. On the subject of aperture setting, you will want to be in the f/5.6-f/11 range for most subjects. For those familiar with hyperfocal distances, since the closest subject in your photograph will be greater than 1000 feet, depth of field is not a main concern. Keep in mind the middle of your aperture range for a particular lens produces the sharpest images.
Conclusion. Aerial photography produces a view of the world that very few can experience. Whether you are taking aerial photographs as a career or just as a hobbie, the joys of aerial photography are countless!
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