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Author Topic: Aerial landscape photography tips?  (Read 6103 times)
atlnq9
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« on: January 15, 2013, 12:03:55 PM »
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Looking for tips on aerial landscape photography from airplanes.  Not surveying type images but landscape images.  Will be looking to do a several aerial photography flights in the future.  Have a pilot and plane lined up which we will be pulling a door off of and giving me a harness to hang out a bit. 

I have a Pentax 645D and a complete kit of lenses as well as a Nikon D700.  Probably looking to use the Pentax the majority of the time.  Figure there isn't a massive need to stop the lenses down very much as the foreground won't be close allowing for a higher shutter speed and targeting and ISO of about 400.  I don't need the full resolution of 40mp and I am fine cutting the resolution in half post. 

What should be the minimum shutter speed target?  1/500th?

What focal lengths will be most used (lets keep it as a 35mm reference point for simplicity)?  Figuring between 35-85mm.  My concern is with a long focal length of 85mm if it will become difficult to achieve sharpness.

Daylight?  I presume a couple hours after sunrise will be best time to start so there is plenty of light to use a faster shutter speed.  The probably I foresee is the airplane shadow unless photographing perpendicular to the light.  Midday would be best to avoid the shadow and fully light the scene but not sure how well that will work out with the harshness.

Communicating with the pilot?  Just work out hand signals?

Vibrations?  Probably not that much of an issue in a plane as opposed to a helicopter, my bigger hurdle will be that the plane is that the subject will be moving through the frame. 

Altitude?  Probably just trial and error.  Pilot will fly low if I want but that makes the landscape move even faster across the frame...

Lens changing, probably keep that to a minimum if at all...

What else am I missing?  Any good links with tips?  Any insight is helpful.

Thanks
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John Nollendorfs
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« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2013, 12:19:34 PM »
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Hope you are planning on using a high wing aircraft? I would not bother with taking the door off, the flip up windows work pretty well, and that way you don't have to bother with the harness either! Slipstream is your main problem with the door off, and all the hassle involved.

A lot depends on wind direction, and what you are photographing. I've photographed between the diagonal wing brace and the prop and have the pilot side slip toward my subject, and avoid getting either in the shot. Also can shoot to the side and backwards.

35mm to 85mm is probably a good range for lenses. Any longer, and you get too much atmospheric haze, and shorter, you start getting plane parts in the shot. If you are shooting countryside, try to fly as low as possible.

Mornings is a better time to shoot, before the atmosphere heats up, creating haze, and bumpy conditions.

Have fun!
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atlnq9
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« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2013, 12:42:29 PM »
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Yes, high winged.  Likely be one used for skydivers so door off is probably easiest.  Not sure if it even has copilot seat so using an open window may not be possible.  But we could always look into a different aircraft.  May cost a bit more. 

Maybe you can help me understand a bit of this slipstream problem and that hassle that will be created so I can make sure we start off with the right aircraft?

Have you ever had any luck shooting earlier than 2hr after sunrise?
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stever
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« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2013, 10:20:54 PM »
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i've done this casually, and only with stabilized lenses.  i recall George Lepp talking about using a gyro stabilizer in the days before stabilized lenses.  Michael and another of others have been pretty adamant about the need for tripods with MF cameras for maximum resolution.  Makes me a bit concerned if you're intending to make large prints.

perhaps someone with mf experience can contribute here
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atlnq9
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« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2013, 01:50:16 AM »
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As I mentoined above I don't need the full resolution so cutting the pixels in half will take care of any issues.  I can even take the ISO to 800 if I do that to run faster shutter speed.  Noise will not be visible at 50% viewing with ISO 800.  But if I can get full resolution I will have it.  Better to have to downsize the 40mp to what the D700 outputs and have the chance of catching full sharpness than to be stuck with no chance of anything better than the D700...

The need for a tripod is only for low shutter speeds (<1/250th) with medium format.  Which in most times is the case, photographing in sunset/sunrise light with low ISO...  However, I push my equipment and use it outside of the optimum/intended use quite a lot.  I have taken many perfectly sharp images from my Pentax 645D from vehicles and hand held.  That is how I have to work as I do a lot of wildlife photography with the system (primarily African wildlife).  All you have to do is balance shutter speed, ISO, and aperature...  70% of the time I only end up with an output print equivalent to how large you would go with a 20-30mp camera.  But on occasion I will get the right conditions for an image producing full sharpness of 40mp; and when that happens and the subject is desert elephants walking through sand dunes then it is stunning.

However, there will always have to be compromises when thinking aboiut using a tool outside of it's optimum operating limits.  And that compromise is reducing the file size to say something close to 20mp.  But from my experience files reduced from the 40mp always come out clearer and with a bit more pop than files straight out of say the D700...  So to say I am pretty confident I will arrive at what I want from the Pentax 645D, but worse case I do have the D700 with stabalized lenses.
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Schewe
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« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2013, 03:11:38 PM »
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perhaps someone with mf experience can contribute here

I've shot out of a small plane (Cessna 162 I think) with the over-wing and through an open window. I was shooting with a Phase One 645 and P65+ back with a 75-150mm lens. We were at 400-800 feet. Before the flight I pre focused the lens and set the shutter speed to 1/500 and used a fixed F stop (since the area was sunlit about 9:30AM). In retrospect, 1/1000 would have been better for when I shot more towards the 150mm side. The cover of my book, The Digital Negative was shot on that trip.

And yes, you do want to keep the camera out of the wind because it causes severe vibration. The sharpest shots were where I pulled back and kept the camera completely inside the plane.
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LesPalenik
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« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2013, 07:25:18 PM »
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Before you lean out, take off your eye glasses or put them on a safety strap.
Learned it the hard way, the wind takes it off your face in fraction of a second. Quite nice frame with good glass is resting now somewhere on the bottom of Georgian Bay, just north of Parry Sound.
 
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langier
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« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2013, 07:37:11 PM »
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One camera, one lens, old pilot with experience, high wing and open window or door off.

I now shoot with a camera that has two card slots and a mid-range zoom, 24-70 is a good place to be.

Tape the focus at infinity and turn off the AF. Shoot it like a box camera at say f/4-f/5.6 aperture priority and the highest speed you can get. Run the exposure about -1/2 stop since things seem to get a little overexposed, in my experience. Make sure your battery is fresh and well charged!

If you are looking at landscapes, the edge of the day is good. For the smoothest ride, morning is usually better than afternoon.

Take a look at the work of William Garnett, George Steinmetz, Bill Fortney, & Adriel Heisey for great inspiration.

Say a little prayer, shoot like mad and enjoy the ride!
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Larry Angier
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bill t.
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« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2013, 11:09:15 PM »
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From helicopters, severe air turbulence under the rotors can kill sharpness down to about 20 degrees below the horizon.
.
Test where your true infinity position is.  Just a tiny bit off will make a visible difference in sharpness, even at small apertures.  It's surprising how critical that is.  If you miss focus slightly on normal, nearby subjects, at least something nearby will be in focus.  When everything is at infinity, you either get it all or miss it all.  My personal experience is that autofocus is not very reliable at finding a good, low contrast infinity focus.
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Atina
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« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2013, 08:56:32 AM »
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From helicopters, severe air turbulence under the rotors can kill sharpness down to about 20 degrees below the horizon.

From the horizon plane to 20° below it? Not the horizontal plane I am in in the helicopter?

Test where your true infinity position is.  Just a tiny bit off will make a visible difference in sharpness, even at small apertures.  It's surprising how critical that is.  If you miss focus slightly on normal, nearby subjects, at least something nearby will be in focus.  When everything is at infinity, you either get it all or miss it all.  My personal experience is that autofocus is not very reliable at finding a good, low contrast infinity focus.

How do you do it?
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2013, 10:44:46 AM »
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Communication with the pilot is critical for safety as well as photography. Hand signals are inadequate, especially if you have a window open, when noise increases dramatically. Many aircraft have intercom systems. If none is available, try to rent one.

The higher your shutter speed the better. I'd use 1/1000th as a minimum.  VR helps some, but remember it's subject motion, not camera motion that's most of the problem. Like on a boat,  everything's moving.

I'd prefer two bodies over in-flight lens changes.  Even if you don't drop something, the turbulent air in the cockpit is likely to transport dust directly to your sensor.

A 24-70 would be an excellent choice for aerial landscape.  I've used longer lenses, but they were special-purpose conditions (air-to-air).  Much wider than 24mm and you'll be seeing parts of your aircraft.

Most of your other assumptions are correct.  I'd be shooting long before two hours after sunrise though, for aesthetic reasons.  I usually depart as soon as it's legal to fly under VFR.  Allow time to get to the location.

Dress warmly.  With the window open and early in the morning, it'll probably be colder than you think.  Consider thin, grippy gloves.

Taping the lens at a guaranteed infinity focus is a good idea for landscape.  It's very easy to bump camera settings in the confined cockpit environment.  Check camera settings continually.

Stay calm.  It's a stressful environment.  You'll be tired when you return.



« Last Edit: February 25, 2013, 11:24:35 AM by Peter McLennan » Logged
Atina
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« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2013, 11:49:53 AM »
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Even if you don't drop something, the turbulent air in the cockpit is likely to transport dust directly to your sensor.

So what do you do to prevent that from happening?
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Petrus
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« Reply #12 on: February 25, 2013, 01:21:52 PM »
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So what do you do to prevent that from happening?

Have enough cameras so that you need not change lenses. Often there is no time for that anyway. Clip every piece of equipment into something with climbing quick draws or similar. Have your camera bag also clipped into the seat and HAVE IT CLOSED tight.

24-70 would be the lens to have, then 70-200. Wider would show the plane, longer gets difficult to handle and haze gets in the way. Minimum 1/1000 sec, autofocus on continuous with as many focus points as possible (with modern DSLRs).
« Last Edit: February 25, 2013, 01:24:40 PM by Petrus » Logged
Atina
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« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2013, 06:14:15 AM »
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Understood.

But regarding the infinity focus, when someone writes:


Quote
Infinity is usually a tad short of the focus stop. In the old days that used to be where infinity was for IR photography because different wavelengths focus optimally at different focus settings.


What does that mean? Infinity “a tad short of the focus stop”?
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Petrus
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« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2013, 01:39:43 PM »
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What does that mean? Infinity “a tad short of the focus stop”?

Some lenses turn past the infinity focus point, because they must be able to focus to infinity also for infrared, and I assume also as there might be some thermal movement in the lens. It is better that it focuses past infinity than not to infinity. This means you can not necessarily trust the stop to be infinity when turning the focus ring blindly.
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Rendezvous
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« Reply #15 on: February 27, 2013, 03:42:38 PM »
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I've done a fair bit from light aircraft. Definitely door off or window open, otherwise you have plastic windows and reflections to deal with! Unless it's a very smooth day, then I'd recommend 1/500 shutter or faster, depending of course on what lens you use. If it's a long lens then I'd say go faster. I've had difficulty maintaining focus when I have the end of the lens out of in the air flow, it seems to work better if the lens is a bit sheltered.

Have fun!
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KevinA
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« Reply #16 on: March 06, 2013, 03:35:10 AM »
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Looking for tips on aerial landscape photography from airplanes.  Not surveying type images but landscape images.  Will be looking to do a several aerial photography flights in the future.  Have a pilot and plane lined up which we will be pulling a door off of and giving me a harness to hang out a bit. 

I have a Pentax 645D and a complete kit of lenses as well as a Nikon D700.  Probably looking to use the Pentax the majority of the time.  Figure there isn't a massive need to stop the lenses down very much as the foreground won't be close allowing for a higher shutter speed and targeting and ISO of about 400.  I don't need the full resolution of 40mp and I am fine cutting the resolution in half post. 

What should be the minimum shutter speed target?  1/500th?

What focal lengths will be most used (lets keep it as a 35mm reference point for simplicity)?  Figuring between 35-85mm.  My concern is with a long focal length of 85mm if it will become difficult to achieve sharpness.

Daylight?  I presume a couple hours after sunrise will be best time to start so there is plenty of light to use a faster shutter speed.  The probably I foresee is the airplane shadow unless photographing perpendicular to the light.  Midday would be best to avoid the shadow and fully light the scene but not sure how well that will work out with the harshness.

Communicating with the pilot?  Just work out hand signals?

Vibrations?  Probably not that much of an issue in a plane as opposed to a helicopter, my bigger hurdle will be that the plane is that the subject will be moving through the frame. 

Altitude?  Probably just trial and error.  Pilot will fly low if I want but that makes the landscape move even faster across the frame...

Lens changing, probably keep that to a minimum if at all...

What else am I missing?  Any good links with tips?  Any insight is helpful.

Thanks
The same rules apply in aerial photography as they do on land. Shutter speed and iso will depend on conditions, I don't like going below 1/500th but I have done on several occasions without problem. It will also depend on how your camera performs regarding vibration.
Just the same with lens choice, it's still the same as being on the ground, only if it's from a Cessna 24-28mm is the widest practical lens.
Landscape shooting regarding light surprisingly is just the same as on the ground, not knowing what you want to achieve as an end result limits any advice here.
Gyro stabilisers are good in low light, but mid day sunshine not necessary (I have several, I only use them for night shooting or video) If you feel the urge to use one, a KS8 is the best compromise a KS 6 is good as well, less than that I wouldn't bother with. I doubt the first few times using one will help you much as you need to adapt to how they work.

If you are shooting in mountainous terrain, unless your pilot is very very familiar with mountain flying, the best advice is DO NOT do it.
Nothing changes in the air, you adjust to the conditions as you do on the ground, some days it will be smooth, other days it can be like being in a spin dryer.
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Kevin.
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« Reply #17 on: March 06, 2013, 03:41:47 AM »
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One camera, one lens, old pilot with experience, high wing and open window or door off.

I now shoot with a camera that has two card slots and a mid-range zoom, 24-70 is a good place to be.

Tape the focus at infinity and turn off the AF. Shoot it like a box camera at say f/4-f/5.6 aperture priority and the highest speed you can get. Run the exposure about -1/2 stop since things seem to get a little overexposed, in my experience. Make sure your battery is fresh and well charged!

If you are looking at landscapes, the edge of the day is good. For the smoothest ride, morning is usually better than afternoon.

Take a look at the work of William Garnett, George Steinmetz, Bill Fortney, & Adriel Heisey for great inspiration.

Say a little prayer, shoot like mad and enjoy the ride!

Modern AF lens in my experience can not be taped to infinity, a big problem with my 1DsIII but no concern with the D X.
When I shot with a Pentax 67, it just became natural for me to hold the lens against the infinity stop, even taped after a time the tape can stretch and focus move.
A mid range zoom will need AF on.
Cheers,
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Kevin.
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« Reply #18 on: March 06, 2013, 03:49:15 AM »
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One further point if using 35mm format, judging by eye sharp or not quite sharp is just about impossible in a moving aircraft.
Not sure about the Pentax, but MF on film was easier to judge than 35mm.
As you are not bothered about the pixel count I would just go with the Nikon system and the versatility it offers.
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Kevin.
atlnq9
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« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2013, 09:56:48 AM »
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Just back from my first aerial photography trip.  I must say I have some stunning shots and I am absolutely in love with aerial landscape photography. 

I used the Pentax 645D with the 45-85mm and 35mm lenses.  I used a recently acquired Kenyon Labs 4x4 gyro which worked perfectly.

We were in a Cessna 210 (6 seater with no wing strut).  It worked perfectly.  Door off (stored in back of plane so it can be put back on after landing to keep the natives from playing pilot when you are sleeping), wind deflector on, front seat out, middle seat moved forward to be even with the door frame giving 160 degree view horizontally. 

The logistics of where I wanted to photograph were quite difficult.  It was a very remote area of Namibia.  We spent 12hrs in the air to gain 2 mornings of photography 1.5hr each.  We had quite long detours to get fuel and then back to our lodge and also to the photography area.  We could have simplified a bit if we had wanted to pay $1000USD/night as opposed to $100USD (for 3 nights and 3 guests) but it would have only cut off about 2hrs of air time as fuel was still a long distance.  (Or we could have just thrown up tents by the landing strip and saved a lot of costs but would have further complicated the power and equipment side of the logistics)  The temperature change was horrendous also 38C to 10C depending on altitude, and when you are wearing a harness there isn't much option of putting a jacket on mid flight.

Absolutely stunned.  Of course I couldn't have asked for much better of a location and conditions.  My favorite shots are ones actually looking in the general direction of the sunrise.  The dynamic range of the 645D was a big help for these shots but I did struggle a lot with exposure.  Everything happens too fast to check the histogram, only option was to do a quick check while circling around for a second pass.  But generally the evaluative meter on the 645D did a great job.  This was always my first attempt then on the second pass if I could make manual changes.
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