Aerial photography is a captivating and efficient way to showcase a client’s project, landscapes, or large-scale developments. In a recent shoot, I was commissioned to photograph 15-20 locations around Hong Kong. These varied from major highways, the Happy Valley racecourse, residential properties in Kennedy Town, container ports, Tsing Ma Bridge, and then over to Sheko Beach with a final hovering around Shatin.
Working from a helicopter is both exhilarating and challenging, it requires great communication and teamwork, with many variables being taken into consideration. The team at Hong Kong Heli services were outstanding. With an experienced pilot, we managed to rise high in the air to photograph just in time, given the weather condition that day.
Below are 10 tips for anyone who is looking to get the best results when taking photographs from a helicopter.
- Shooting with the doors off is a must to get the angles you need and to shoot with an unrestricted view. Harnessed in, you can slide around in your seat, lean out, and feel the wind rush beneath you.
- Take two cameras, one equipped with a zoom lens and the other with a wide-angle. My gear consists of two Sony Alpha 7R IV bodies, a Sony 70-200mm f/2.8, a Sony 16-35mm f/4, a spare Sony ALpha 9 body, and a 24-70 f/2.8. Some flights will allow you to change lenses once the door is closed, others won’t. Make sure your camera is anchored to you with camera straps.
- When it comes to shutter speeds, keep them high. I recommend a minimum 1/1000 of a second which will ensure everything stays sharp. For my aperture, I ranged between f/2.8 and f/5.6, but it will depend on the weather and available light. Keep your ISO on auto. If the weather is changing a lot, then you may need to keep adjusting it accordingly.
- Shoot in RAW, this gives you more flexibility to edit your images. I also suggest keeping your white balance set to auto.
- Remove all lens hoods and anything else that may come off — safety is the most important thing!
- As far as clothing is concerned, dress to the weather conditions and only take what you need. It is a cramped environment you don’t want to be getting tangled up in the headset, camera straps, inflatable life vest, etc. Before take-off, ensure your gear is sorted and easily accessible. In colder climates, a beanie and gloves are a must — the wind is a killer!
- If you can choose the time of your flight, aim for early morning or late afternoon as this is generally the best light and you will have nice contrast and shadows from buildings. Shooting an hour before sunset would be my go-to time.
- Plan your route! We spent an hour before the flight with the pilot to ensure we were all on the same page, and the actual planning for this job took several weeks. Allow a little extra time for the shoot (if you can), as things happen and sometimes you will need more time to get the shots you want.
- Photograph inside the helicopter and whoever you are up in the air with, these are great memories to have and give a great perspective.
- Make sure you have enough storage capacity for the photos you’re taking. I always have at least a 32GB or 64GB card in each of my cameras. The last thing you want to be doing is fussing around changing cards and missing shots. I always record to two cards to ensure the footage is saved twice.
There are obviously a lot more tips and tricks, but I hope this gives you a good look into what I did and experienced during one of my shoots. If you get the chance in Hong Kong to take a flight, do it! That bird’s eye view is something very special and gives you such a different perspective of the city we live in.
About the author: Christiaan Hart is an award-winning photographer based in Central, Hong Kong who works with clients internationally. He covers sports, commercial/brand, events, and aerial photography. Motorsport photography has also taken Christiaan around Asia and as far as Saudi Arabia. Having a sports background the passion for sports photography comes naturally to him. Christiaan was previously a professional tennis coach in Melbourne, Australia. He has resided in Hong Kong for the past 15 years and loves the hustle and bustle of city life. With the current travel restrictions in place, his recent work involves commercial photography and video for superyachts in Hong Kong.
This story was also published here.