Shooting is for the birds (eye)!

Sky Sillhouette

One of the things we always hear about is that changing your perspective is a great way to see a new angle on things.  Many common methods of changing your perspective include things like

  1. Shooting from a higher position looking down
  2. Shooting from a lower position looking up
  3. Renting a lens you’ve never used before and only using that for a week
  4. Try shooting portraiture or product photography – something you’ve not done before.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but imagine taking even one of these to as much of an extreme as you can!  I recently had an opportunity to shoot from #1 – a higher position than most get to see.  It was from a helicopter!  The generous folks over at Rotors of the Rockies agreed to take me up for a few shots in exchange for some shots of their fleet to use in their own marketing and promotional work.  It took a great deal of planning, scheduling and coordination to get all the logistics together, but in the end, the venture was totally worth the experience.  I learned quite a bit, and a full-length journal article is likely going to be out shortly after the first of the year.

Here, however, I wanted to share a few of the experiences and my thoughts with the listening and reading audience as a sort of “primer” on what’s to come soon.  First off – the learning experiences:

Shoot the Fast Glass

Use the fastest glass you have and shoot wide open!  I had two lenses with me, my Caon 10-22 and the Sigma 50-500.  Wide open on each was f4 and f4.5 respectively.  While the latter had IS to combat the helicopter vibration, I still had to crank ISO pretty high in order to be confidant in avoiding camera shake/blur.  The end result was mostly stills of the blades in the other chopper that was airborne, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you are going for.

Expect the Unexpected

While I was aware of the concept of shooting “doors off” in a helicopter, the experience is nothing you can really prepare for, so you just have to go into the situation with an open mind.  I must admit I had a few butterflies on take-off.  But, by the end of the flight, the pilots (there was another trainer getting some air time) said I was leaning about as far out the side of the bird as my harness/belt would let me go.  The upshot – expect the unexpected.

Don’t Try Too Much

Believe it or not, while I only went up with two lenses, I only changed lenses once, and quickly changed back to my first lens (the 50-500).  Shorter range lenses just won’t be able to capture much detail.  Now if you are going for panorama shots, then use your shortest lens, and leave the long glass at home.  But in these types of situations, changing lenses only decreases your shooting time, and with so much to capture, having to shift gears going from tight zooms to sweeping panos mentally is very challenging.  On your first trip, just pick a “subject” and stick with it – don’t try to get too much.

You have many things to think about – your harness, your gear staying safe, the wind whipping all around you, staying in constant communication with the pilot, then there’s your composition, and much much more.  If you mentally try to shift gears from one set of shots to another by switching lenses, you are likely to miss something important in the process (and I did – I missed an aerial of Invesco Field, one of the ones I wanted!).

And now, as promised, the shots.  Due to licensing restrictions, I am limited in what I can show here (many went to the folks over at ROTR).  Some of the shots will also be exclusive to the forthcoming complete journal article that covers every detail of the event from beginning to end.

Taking Off

Taking Off

First View from Above

First View from Above

Aerial Shapes and Patterns

Aerial Shapes and Patterns

What "Doors Off" Really Means!

What "Doors Off" Really Means!

Skylines and Sunsets

Skylines and Sunsets

As you can see, it was quite a blast to be up to get a new/angle and perspective on things.  Not only can you get some great shots, but it can also give you a jolt of creativity when you need to “break out” of your familiar routines.  This perspective went higher than the average, but there’s other ways to go too.  Imagine going way lower than most.  Consider spelunking!  Silhouettes in caves would be cool too, not just in the air!  Finding a new vision or perspective is what it’s all about…and like the familiar phrase from David DuChemin:

Gear is Good, Vision is Better

Where is your vision going to take you today?


(Also would love to have feedback on the content especially for this post as the writing and imagery will be similar to what goes into the journal article!  Like it?  Hate it?  Needs more?  Needs less – please share your thoughts via the comments or email!)


Editor Note:  I would like to give special thanks to the folks out at Rotors of the Rockies.  Not only were they open and receptive to the idea, but were totally cool to work with and they have kept superb lines of communication open.  I would definitely recommend them for those interested in taking an aerial adventure.  Rates are available for 30 minute and 60 minute sessions on their website:

Please follow and like:

1 comment for “Shooting is for the birds (eye)!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *