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  1. #1
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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    Shooting from a helicopter

    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 mooseontheloose; 10-23-2010 at 07:19 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

  2. #2
    ian the framer's Avatar
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    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. #3
    Marco B's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mooseontheloose View Post
    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.
    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!

    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

    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.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Marco B; 10-23-2010 at 07:20 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    My website

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    "I don't know, maybe we should disinvent color, and we could just shoot Black & White." - David Burnett in 1978

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  4. #4
    Mick Fagan's Avatar
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    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. #5
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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    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.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

  6. #6
    Marco B's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mooseontheloose View Post
    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.
    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... He did go for a smooth home flight after I warned him of my issues though.
    My website

    "The nineteenth century began by believing that what was reasonable was true, and it wound up by believing that what it saw a photograph of, was true." - William M. Ivins Jr.

    "I don't know, maybe we should disinvent color, and we could just shoot Black & White." - David Burnett in 1978

    "Analog is chemistry + physics, digital is physics + math, which ones did you like most?"

  7. #7
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    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. #8
    MattKing's Avatar
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    Sounds like a great opportunity Rachelle.

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

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

    “Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”

    Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2

  9. #9
    resummerfield's Avatar
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    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. #10
    eddym's Avatar
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    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.
    Eddy McDonald
    www.fotoartes.com
    Eschew defenestration!

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