Take to the skies with new perspectives
Choosing a provider
First things first — you can’t take aerial photos from the air without a pilot and an aircraft. For aerial photography, I opt for a helicopter. They’re nimble, agile, and can go everywhere an airplane can go — and many places they can’t. The ability to precisely position yourself to get the shot you want is invaluable.
That said, there aren’t too many companies that offer these services in the region — it’s a niche service. I know of four, though I’m sure a few others exist.
I personally recommend Rotorzen, based out of Midway airport. These guys know how to fly and are really great about custom flight plans; which brings me to my next point…
To tour or to charter…that is the question
Most providers have standard tours of downtown Chicago. There’s a fixed cost, a fixed flight path, and little you can do to customize your flight to fit your needs — though this is still a great option as an introduction to aerial photography. But if you’re serious about getting the best photos possible, you’ll want to pony up for a private flight.
With a private charter you’ll be able to:
- Fly with the doors off: Not only is it exhilarating, but allows you a much wider field of view, and most importantly, no glare or dirty windows to shoot through.
- Custom flight path: You’ll be able to direct the pilot exactly where you want (within FAA rules) to get the shot you need. Want to orbit John Hancock multiple times at different altitudes? No problem.
- Weather flexibility: The right light and weather is very important to my work so I want to fly when the conditions are favorable. If you book a tour, you’ll have to fly at that time/date regardless of photogenic conditions (unless weather is too dangerous to fly). However, if you opt for the private flight, you usually have more leeway in changing your flight schedule without having to pay a re-booking or cancellation fee to suit your needs.
Does a private flight cost more? Yes and no. The nice thing about booking a private flight is that you have three passenger seats to fill. If it’s just you, it will definitely cost more than a tour. But If you can find a couple friends to throw down on the other two seats, the per-person rate can actually be less that the standard tour rate!
Time to fly
Once you’ve got your flight booked and you’re strapped into the helicopter, the fun begins. The biggest thing to keep in mind is to shoot fast. You’re moving — and shaking. A helicopter isn’t the smoothest mode of travel, as the rotational forces of the rotors translate into a heavy vibration in the cabin.
The key to sharp, blur-free aerial photography is a fast shutter. Generally speaking, whatever ISO/Aperture combination it takes to get a shutter speed of 1/1000+ is a good place to start. It’s not uncommon for me to shoot at ISO 800+ in broad daylight so that I can achieve relatively deep focus (apertures between f/5.6-f/8.0) at fast shutter speeds.
My go-to lens for aerial photography is the 24-70 f/2.8. It’s wide enough for epic cityscapes, but gives you enough zoom for tight architectural shots.
Photographing at night poses its own challenges, but I’ll go into much greater detail on equipment, settings and other tips during my Out of Chicago Summer Conference presentation, but I hope this gives you a taste of how to get shots from the air.
Check out my latest blog post to see some recent shots from my flight with FlyNYON over Manhattan >