Introduction to Photography (Aerial Imaging)
Introduction to Photography

Aerial Imaging

Images and text by Paul Illsley

There is nothing like a birdís eye view of an area to give you a new perspective on life. Until recently a photographer had to rent an expensive aircraft in order to record aerial images but with the development of easy to fly remotely controlled UAVs (drones), a photographer is now able to record the local landscape in a way that was previously impossible.

Both UAVs and light aircraft have their place. A light aircraft can cover a large amount of territory in one flight which can make it very useful if you have a lot of sites to photograph and little time to record the images. A UAV has the ability to launch and image a site at short notice, record very detailed images from a lower perspective and tends to be relatively inexpensive to fly (after you have paid off the initial investment cost).

If you are photographing from a light aircraft or helicopter there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Donít shoot through the Plexiglas window. Ask the pilot if you can open the window during flight (this is often done), this will allow you better movement and will make for sharper images because you are not shooting through a window. Ask the pilot before you hire him/her if you can shoot through an open window or door before embarking on your adventure if they donít allow this then check around for a pilot that will.

Donít lean against the aircraft when you record the images. Use your body as a shock absorber to help steady the camera. The aircraft is vibrating and bouncing around so isolating the camera from the aircraft will make for better images. Make sure you keep your lens inside the plane and out of the wind. Besides being really cold, the wind will cause vibrations which can create blurry images.

If your lens has image stabilization, use it. Even with image stabilization on try and shoot with a higher shutter speed. Depth of field isnít that important when shooting from the air but a fast shutter speed is. I try and shoot at 1/500 second or above.

A wide angle to short telephoto zoom lens works great for this application. Too much zoom will make for blurry images (due to vibrations) and a super wide angle lens will often include the strut of the plane in the image so a medium zoom lens works just great.

Fly on a clear bright day. Days with no haze will give you brighter and sharper images. If you are around water you can try using a polarizing filter to remove surface reflection from water bodies. This is most useful if you have interesting features just under the surface but a polarization filter does block a good amount of light so it is a tradeoff between shutter speed and final image.

Donít limit yourself to mid-day flights, often great images can be recorded in early morning and late afternoon. The lighting conditions often associated with these times of the day can reveal textures and patterns that arenít visible during mid-day flights. Usually a flying height of a couple thousand feet above the ground will deliver good results but be prepared to increase or decrease this height depending on the terrain, area of interest or atmospheric conditions.

If you are recording images with a UAV you will probably be flying at a lower altitude but many of the same guidelines will apply. Make sure you have a stabilized gimbal mount for your camera. Small UAV platforms create vibrations which if not absorbed will result in blurry images. Try and fly in calm conditions and of course be sure to fly safely and legally.

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