Shooting from a helicopter

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by mooseontheloose, Oct 23, 2010.

  1. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,488
    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2007
    Location:
    Kyoto, Japan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I currently work at a university that has one of the few pilot-training programs in Japan. I also happen to be part of a team of teachers that has set up a very expensive, high-profile English-language program at the university. The result? The president of the university (whose pet-project this is) wants to thank us by giving us a helicopter ride to nearby Mt. Aso (the largest caldera in the world and the largest active volcano in Japan). Obviously I would like to take a camera up with me, although I'm not sure how easy it will be to take photographs from the helicopter, as I've never been in one and am not sure what the seating/window/door situation will be like with this particular one.

    Assuming I'll be in a situation to take some decent photos, are there any recommendations in terms of film speed (400?) and shutter speed (more than...1/125)? More than likely, I'll be bringing my Nikon F100 (and possibly FE as back-up) -- trying to shoot with my Bronica SQ through a WLF seems like it would be an exercise in futility in this kind of environment. I have a wide-angle zoom (18-35mm)/3.5, a 28mm/2.8, 50mm/1.8, and 105mm/2.8 for the nikons. My thought was to have the 105 on the F100 and a wider lens (either the zoom or the 28) on the FE. Ideally I would like to be shooting around f/8 to get some decent depth of field but I realize that with the vibrations from the helicopter a higher shutter speed will probably be necessary.

    To make a long story short, I would appreciate any advice about shooting from a helicopter.

    Cheers.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 23, 2010
  2. ian the framer

    ian the framer Member

    Messages:
    15
    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2010
    Location:
    Central Port
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I had the pleasure of shooting from a helicopter during a trip to New Zealand, was given this advice:

    Don’t worry about depth of field, you (hopefully!) wont be flying close enough to have a problem with the focal lengths you are using. Set the focus to infinity and as wider aperture as your lenses will allow, and forget about it. This will help with the shutter speed too so you should be able to get away with ASA 100 or 200

    The biggest problem is getting decent pictures through the windows, the pilot will not be too keen on opening them and they are also worried about them getting damaged by pressing a camera lens against them. So your main problem will be optical quality and possible flare from them. Perhaps a rubber lens hood to protect the windows and if you have any say ask the pilot to keep the sun behind you where possible

    Cant comment on the seating arrangements I guess you will have to argue with your colleagues as to who gets the best seats!

    And enjoy

    Ian
     
  3. Marco B

    Marco B Member

    Messages:
    2,981
    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2005
    Location:
    The Netherla
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Take a look at my "Heliflights" gallery on my webpage:

    http://www.boeringa.demon.nl/heliflights/index.html

    It was the first and only time I flew with a helicopter, and I was lucky enough to be seated next to the pilot.

    I used my Minolta Dynax 7 with my F2.8 28-70 zoom to take all shots from within the helicopter (some ground scenes with 70-200 zoom). Film was TriX 400. I don't know if changing lenses is a really viable thing, especially on short flights. I was glad to use the zoom. Yes, there are vibrations, but with any half-decent lighting, you should be OK. The sky is your backdrop and light source!

    Actually, your biggest concern should be staying healthy! :D

    After some 10 minutes of sometimes quite vicious turns, while looking through the viewfinder a lot, I was close to p******g... Had to ask the pilot to fly a bit less fancy full, and just made it to the ground in one piece. I was OK after some 10 minutes lying in the grass :wink:

    A helicopter is tremendously agile, and I would definitely urge you to specifically ask your pilot to restrain himself and only make modest moves if you want to be able to fully take advantage of the photo opportunities. At some point, we made turns with the heli at 45 degrees... Sensational, but not if you are trying to keep your head straight to take pictures and your stomach healthy.

    DN1_0069_24.jpg
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 23, 2010
  4. Mick Fagan

    Mick Fagan Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,095
    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2005
    Location:
    Melbourne Au
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Rachelle, the size of the helicopter could be important. Mostly there are two seats in the front and a bench seat at the rear, which usually seats three people.

    If you score a front seat, then a good lens hood could be important as the bubble can act as a beacon for sunlight into your lens.

    I have always liked the left rear seat, after the front seat that is. The reasoning is simple; I can swing to the left with my right hand on the shutter more easily than with a right swing.

    Ensure your camera straps are long enough to allow you to wear both cameras with ease, don’t contemplate putting a camera down.

    Lens length would be ideally designated by the distance away from your subject and the intended usage. Thinking of a trip in central Australia over meteor craters in a helicopter, the best pictures were with the 18mm and the 105mm. The 18mm gave a really good overall picture and the 105 was about perfect for more detailed stuff and also when the aircraft was higher whilst en route

    Space is very, very tight in a helicopter.

    I have never been in a big commercial helicopter, just small ones.

    Mick.
     
  5. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,488
    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2007
    Location:
    Kyoto, Japan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Hi guys!

    Thanks for the quick responses so far. There will be two flights to cover all of us -- five teachers and one Japanese staff person per flight. Ideally I'll be able to score a seat next to the pilot (but I'll have to work on that). Some of the other teachers have already had the privilege of a helicopter flight (although not as far as to this location -- usually it's just from the university to the airport and back) so I hope they'll do the right thing and allow the other teachers (like me) better seats. Everyone at the learning centre is aware of my keen interest in photography so hopefully they'll be gracious enough to allow me a good seat. In any event, I hope the pilot doesn't try any fancy moves as I suffer from motion sickness in all kinds of transport -- I'll be sure to take some Gravol (canadian reference only!) before the flight.
     
  6. Marco B

    Marco B Member

    Messages:
    2,981
    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2005
    Location:
    The Netherla
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A wise thing, and just inform the pilot of this. It is perfectly possible to have a smooth and level flight in a heli, but my pilot "doubled" as an air-force heli-instructor, so you get the picture... :wink: He did go for a smooth home flight after I warned him of my issues though.
     
  7. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,390
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2006
    Location:
    Rural NW MO
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    When shooting from helicopters I usually taped the focus on infinity, used fairly fast film, and favored high shutter speeds over small apertures. Avoid touching the camera to any helicopter parts while shooting: your body will then absorb much vibration.
     
  8. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

    Messages:
    16,799
    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2005
    Location:
    Delta, BC, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Sounds like a great opportunity Rachelle.

    You may want to avoid referring to it as shooting from a helicopter.:wink:

    Do any of the people here who have experience with this have an opinion about using a polarizing filter?
     
  9. resummerfield

    resummerfield Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,361
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2005
    Location:
    Alaska
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Helicopters tend to fly closer to the ground than airplanes, so wide angle lenses work better for me, and they tend to lessen the motion blur. I try to keep the shutter speed as high as possible and angle the camera so that the horizon is visible at the top of the image.
     
  10. eddym

    eddym Member

    Messages:
    1,927
    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2006
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Good advice so far so I can't add much, except to say that helos typically vibrate a lot, so use the fastest shutter speed you can and don't rest the camera against any part of the aircraft.
     
  11. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

    Messages:
    25,771
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2005
    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    As a veteran aerial photographer, I must agree with all of the above. The way you shoot will depend on the helicopter, windows and seating. I had the luxury of opening the cargo doors and stepping out on the skids to shoot with no windows. I did wear a harness for safety though. :wink:

    I guess you can't do that, right? Makes for good clear photos though. Canopy reflections and flare are real problems. However, even with them these photos will be valuable someday. Don't worry, just shoot! You can see these defects on just about every photo in my gallery posts of air to air photography and I feel that the photos still "work". Vibration and focus are your real bugaboos.

    PE
     
  12. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,371
    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2004
    Location:
    Montgomery,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It's not hard, really. Infinity focus, 125/250 shutter speed & appropriate f stop= good to go.
    As mentioned, don't rest anything on the machine itself & your body absorbs the vibration.
    Be nice if you get a door open though.
     
  13. BrianL

    BrianL Member

    Messages:
    547
    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2010
    Location:
    Toronto ON C
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Does a polarizer help? I've never shot frpm a choper but when I did try from a smaller plane, I found the polarizer helped with the color saturation where and without colors were muted to washed. I did not have time to focus, meter and adjust the polarizer back then but, with newer automatic evedrything, I'd think there may be more time to work the polarizer.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. jp498

    jp498 Member

    Messages:
    1,467
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2009
    Location:
    Owls Head ME
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I haven't shot from helicopters, but have from a variety of planes. I don't usually use zoom lenses, but this is a situation where zoom lenses are very helpful. You want to spend you time watching and shooting, not changing lenses as the scenery changes. You may not have any place to safely set the extra lenses either unless you recruit someone to hold them for you.
     
  16. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

    Messages:
    25,771
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2005
    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Actually, if using color, a UV filter would help. A polarizer would not hurt.

    PE
     
  17. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,561
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Location:
    Pacific Nort
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The last time I photographed from a chopper was when I was in the Seabees, I photographed a beach invasion sitting facing out with my toes over the edge.
     
  18. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,260
    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2002
    Location:
    British Colu
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I've done this a lot for work, and all of the advice above is good: fast film (400), fast shutter speed, focus on infinity, don't let the camera touch the helicopter. I've usually used a zoom with my F100 (28-80) with an F65 as a backup and to use while changing rolls in the F100 in case something really good comes up while changing film. Put fresh batteries in before you go up. You can tell when the glare and/or reflections on the window will be a problem. Really wide angle lenses will often get part of the helicopter in the picture and movement is exaggerated with a telephoto of course, but you won't have any control over the altitude the pilot is flying at, so a mild telephoto might be useful to have along. Take lots of film (36 exposures) and lots of pictures. Keep the exposed film in one pocket and the new in another.
    Enjoy the trip and don't worry about what the pilot is doing. In any case, he won't be hot-dogging with 6 people on board. If you think you might get motion sick, take something before you go. Don't drink too much coffee before the flight, bathroom space is limited.
    Fight for the right-hand seat in the front. Have fun!!
     
  19. david James lee

    david James lee Member

    Messages:
    72
    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2008
    Location:
    cuernavaca,m
    Shooter:
    35mm
    the most important thing is fresh bateries and extra bateries. the chill factor will drain them real fast, especially if you get the chance to shoot without a door in the helicopter. it happened to me once.
     
  20. JohnArs

    JohnArs Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,075
    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2002
    Location:
    Switzerland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I worked for 3 years as airophotog here in Switzerland and recomand to use a camera as heavy as possible and the neg format as huge as possible and ask the pilot if he could fly with a camera door or without the door on your side, as I did it all the time!
    If the tracking of the Heli is okay it should work with 35mm at fast speeds 1/1000 and shorter if you can use one of the Nikon lenses with VR then use them at activ modus! Do at least one MF film!

    Cheers Armin
     
  21. Paul Goutiere

    Paul Goutiere Subscriber

    Messages:
    625
    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2006
    Location:
    Canmore Ab C
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    This was done with my Hassleblad 501CM, 80mm lens w/hood. I put the camera against the plexi, gently, and took this shot.
    It was a nice bright day, If I remember it was at a 1/250 or 1/500th sec. and I used Fuji 160C.
    It appears quite sharp on the negative.

    [​IMG]
     
  22. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

    Messages:
    2,936
    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2006
    Location:
    Misissauaga
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It can depend on the day. My helishot were in Queensland mid day sunshine while working in Australia, on a Busway project. The state gov't hired a chopper for the final project photos, and I got to ride along. The prime photographer sat in the front, and shot out of a 'hole; in the door.

    I sat in the back behind the pilot, and the rear door was latched open. Everone wore 5 point harnesses. Mine was clipped to the seat and the roof. I made sure I wore a loose windbreaker with a large access front pocket under it. We took off at 5am, and the air was quite cool then. I had film, out of the cans, in that pocket, and a spare lens. I went with 100asa film since I anticipated the need to blow up and crop; I was not the guy who was calling the 'shots'. I did tape the lens to infinity, and also made sure to use my winder, to both advance the film, and give more to hold onto. I went with a 50mm f/1.4 and a 135mm f/4 to allow sticking to 1/250 for the slowest shutter speed. I left front lens caps on the ground.

    Try to change the film over your open jumper pocket to reduce the risk of the cassette fumbling out the door when changing film. I made it though 5 rolls of 36 in a 70 minute flight. It was great opportunity.
     
  23. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,488
    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2007
    Location:
    Kyoto, Japan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thanks everyone for the great responses so far. I think the flight won't last more that 40-45 minutes, based on the location that we are flying to, and I'm pretty sure that in all likelihood the doors and windows will be closed (Japan is a "safety" country, to quote my students). I was hoping to avoid changing film and lenses in the helicopter, which is why my plan is to bring two cameras with different focal lengths attached, possibly with one in colour and the other black and white (that being said, I'll bring extra film just in case). At least a third of the flight will be flying over the city just to get out of it (and back in) so I'm not anticipating any need to photograph that part. We'll be flying at midday which will be good in terms of using slower film I suppose, though not necessary for light.
     
  24. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

    Messages:
    25,771
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2005
    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Joto desu! :D How would you like to climb that?

    PE
     
  25. Marco B

    Marco B Member

    Messages:
    2,981
    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2005
    Location:
    The Netherla
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Don't forget taking pictures on the ground!

    There may be good opportunities there too, especially from a more "documentary" style approach:

    DN1_0064_18.jpg
     
  26. kraker

    kraker Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,256
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2005
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Why not? There might be some interesting views there as well. Just... be sure to take that extra roll of film with you, just in case.