After receiving an email requesting some Aerial photography advice I thought I would post some information here. There doesn’t seem to be much information out there so please post your comments and hopefully we can get something a bit more substantial.
Unless you are Ken Duncan and can afford to hire the entire helicopter, take the doors off and shoot to your heart’s content you are likely to be riding with others and shooting through a narrow window. If this is the case riding shotgun will allow you a bit more freedom. Don’t expect to be able to take the kit bag up front, space is limited so better make the right lens choice prior to flying. Depending on how high you are flying you want something that is reasonably long. I took my 70-200mm F2.8 Canon L Series glass which was great at 200mm but not quite wide enough at 70mm. I would suggest taking a wide angle lens in a pouch so that you can take it up front with you or even better choose a lens that is both wide and long.
Fast shutter speeds are essential as vibrations from the engine, motion blur and long focal lengths can result in very soft images. Bump up your ISO to get fast shutter speeds, you can also dial down the aperture if you are shooting straight down as you won’t need much depth of field. In the following examples I used F14/F16, in retrospect I could have used a lower value as the scene didn’t have too much depth of field. This in turn would increase my shutter speed and lower my ISO.
Surprisingly the best time of day to shoot ocean and reef shots from above is in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point. The surface reflections are minimal so most of the sunlight penetrates and reflects off the sandy ocean floor giving a more intense blue (the red light is filtered out by the water). You also don’t need a polarizing filter at this time of day so less to carry. For all other aerial shots sunset and sunrise is still the way to go and ideal to capture lovely long shadows.
Finally, don’t stick any part of your camera out of the window, you are likely to lose it or smash the lens against the window frame.
Image Details: F/16, 1/800th, ISO 800