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How to Shoot Aerial Photography

How to Photograph from the Air

Many magnificent corners of Alaska are reachable only by air. Aerial photography is fun and not terribly difficult, but there are a few recommended considerations when shooting from the sky:

  1. Choose a shutter speed that’s at least double the focal length of the lens. This will compensate for vibration from the motor and movement of the aircraft.
  2. A wide angle lens will capture the expansive landscape, whereas zoom can bring attention to a specific feature, like a hanging glacier on the side of a mountain. Focal ranges from 16-200mm should be sufficient.
  3. Aperture sizes F/8 or F/11 will usually produce a crisp image and wide depth-of-field. For less noise, try keeping ISO in the 100-400 range. Unless you’re up near dusk or dawn, or visibility extremely poor (which is unlikely or wouldn’t be flying), you’ll be able to get adequate shutter speeds with these settings.
  4. Consider a door-off option on heli tours. It doesn’t usually cost a lot more on private tours, and you won’t have any glass between you and the lens.
  5. Nothing beats door-off tours for serious shooting, but you can still get decent shots through a window. Get as close as possible but take care that the lens doesn’t touch the glass, especially in a helicopter. Heli’s have delicate windows that scratch easily. Watch out for glare, which can usually be easily eliminated by tilting the camera a bit one way or the other, or wrapping a piece of clothing between the lens and window.
  6. Don’t worry if parts of the aircraft, like tie down ropes, wings or even the window frame gets in the shot. Compose the scene with the least amount of unwanted object possible, and then crop or clone out the rest in post processing. Or leave them in to support the scene!
  7. Finally, don’t expect your images to look spectacular straight out of camera. They will most likely be flat, until you bump up the blacks in editing. Also play around with vibrancy and the dehazer, and prepare to be amazed!

– Jody

Dehavilland Otter flying over jagged peaks around Denali.

Sony A7RII | FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA | 1/50 sec | f/18 | ISO 100

Alaska Photo Treks offers photography tours year round.  Sunset Photo Safari operates May- September.  Twilight Photo Tour runs September-April. Departure times for both tours are dependent on sunset, which at this latitude changes dramatically throughout the year. The times for each week are posted on the respective pages for each tour. Cell phone photographers will enjoy the fun, fast-paced InstAlaska Smartphone Photography Tour. Winter months also include the northern lights viewing adventure, Anchorage Aurora Quest. Explore Alaska Photo Treks to learn more about these excellent, instructional day tours and multi-day tours and workshops.


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