Any aviators up there doing aerial photography?

Tradewind35Tradewind35 Posts: 77Member
edited March 2014 in Nikon Film Cameras
Questions for any aviators about what to use for aerial photography. (I tried the search button but it keeps taking me to a locked out page on the old site.)
So - question - what best to use for aerial photos from a small fixed wing?
The mission is to get some stills of a river valley and village for a new Facebook site
Photos will just go on the web - so amateur stuff adequate.
Have an aviator friend who I am going to ask to do the easy bit of the operation - supplying the wings, gas and pilotage.
Available hardware - FM3A and two FM2s, MD12 motor drive with full spread of good mf prime Nikkor glass from 24 mm though to 300.
What does the panel recommend re focal length to get village, quay, slipway into a shot? (Low flying is permissible but not at tree tops.)
Regarding film speed I normally use 100asa- is that going to make me hostage to fortune if the light is less than perfect?
Lastly - I don't want blurred shots so what shutter speed to use? Obviously on the FM3a I have the auto exposure capability.)
Any thoughts from above?

Post edited by Msmoto on


  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,398Moderator
    My thoughts are if one is serious about aerial photography, considering the cost of operating the aircraft, purchase a digital body, full frame, maybe a D800E. But, if film is it, use two bodies with 24mm and 85mm lenses. In full sunlight, 1/1000 at f/4 - f/5.6. You need no DOF, the lenses most likely will be best about f/4 - 5.6 and 1/1000 sec should stop most motion.

    Please understand this is from shooting film in "F" bodies in the 1960's….. Plus-X rated ISO 80, developed in D76 1:1 for about 80% of normal times….and using a 24mm f/2.8 and 85mm f/1.8. And, I was in a helicopter...
    Msmoto, mod
  • sevencrossingsevencrossing Posts: 2,800Member
    edited March 2014
    My thoughts are if one is serious about aerial photography, considering the cost of operating the aircraft, purchase a digital body, full frame, maybe a D800E. ..

    I think almost any current Nikon DSLR is going to be better than film

    Post edited by sevencrossing on
  • NSXTypeRNSXTypeR Posts: 2,287Member
    Unless you're doing this as a film project, I think you'd benefit from going digital.
    Nikon D7000/ Nikon D40/ Nikon FM2/ 18-135 AF-S/ 35mm 1.8 AF-S/ 105mm Macro AF-S/ 50mm 1.2 AI-S
  • IronheartIronheart Posts: 3,017Moderator
    @trade, I would bring some 200 and 400 ASA as well just in case the light drops on you.
  • Yes, I did it a lot of times air-to-air shots with Ben Ullings (the photographer) , because I 'am a formation pilot with antique airplane on airshows in The Netherlands. At the moment he uses the Nikon D800 with the 24-70mm f/2.8, when we fly a couple of meters from the other airplane.

    Is this what you have in mind?
    Those who say it can't be done, should not interrupt those doing it!
  • IronheartIronheart Posts: 3,017Moderator
    edited March 2014
    One other thing to consider is the tint of the windows on the aircraft. Sometimes there may be a very strong green cast you may want to balance out with a red/blue filter. Realize of course that the tint and filter will both reduce available light. Perhaps this is something you can investigate ahead of time, even shoot through the glass while the craft is parked on the ground.

    Edit: I looked at my filters and it is a tiffen CC30M that works for the cyan tints on airplanes, trains and buses. Basically you want to correct whatever the tint is with the opposite. The 30 is 0.3 density (1 stop) and the M is magenta. recommends FLD or FLW for the same purpose, since correcting the greenish tint from a florescent bulb is somewhat in the same color area. I'm sure these burn a stop too...
    Post edited by Ironheart on
  • framerframer Posts: 491Member
    Msmoto advice on exposer and shutter speed are dead on for film.

    I hope the plane you get is like a high wing Cessna that you can open the window. 50mm - 85mm is perfect.

    Most small planes have clear plexi windows. You may find that your exposer meter is off. The sunny 16 rule may help by comparing it to your cameras meter. I would consider taking three shots at a time with 2 under, 1 under and one what your camera says.

    Going digital would make this much easier with instant checking to see if it's what you want.

    Have fun.

  • NSXTypeRNSXTypeR Posts: 2,287Member
    Does that 1/1000 shutter speed still work for propeller planes?

    I was shooting helicopters flying by and 1/125th was just about slow enough to get me the blur I wanted in the blades.

    Nikon D7000/ Nikon D40/ Nikon FM2/ 18-135 AF-S/ 35mm 1.8 AF-S/ 105mm Macro AF-S/ 50mm 1.2 AI-S
  • AdeAde Posts: 1,071Member
    I'm also a pilot, like @ton, and have done some aerial photography as the pilot and as the photographer.

    Random notes:

    - @MSMoto is spot on as usual. Digital is the way to go, and the D800E is a very good choice.
    - High wing aircraft (like Cessna's) are preferred, except if you can afford to rent a helicopter. :)
    - On some older Cessnas, the passenger-side window is fixed (doesn't open).
    - On Cessnas with openable side windows, there is a strut/brace preventing the window from opening all the way. You can ask the pilot owner or mechanic to remove this brace before flight.
    - Use care when opening the window and make sure that everything that can be blown away has been stowed and secured (maps, documents, camera accessories, etc.) -- the wind will be intense.
    - It's unusual for side windows to have a green tint. When flying high, it's more common to get a blue-green tint from atmospheric effects (Rayleigh scattering -- the same reason the sky is blue). I don't recommend using a color correction filter. If you must, you can use a circular polarizer.
    - Airplanes fly higher than helicopters, so you need somewhat longer lenses. If you want to detail shots of individual buildings / smaller landmarks, you'll probably want something in the 200mm range. On the other hand, you might want a 35mm for landscape shots or larger geographical features. So a 24-70 and 70-200 will get you covered.
    - I'd concur with 1/1000s or faster in S mode. I will say that I've gotten away with 1/500s when using wider focal lengths (35mm).
    - Don't be tempted to rest your camera or lens on the window-sill for support. The entire plane vibrates a ton. Keep the camera and lens inside the cockpit, not directly touching any part of the airplane, and away from the wind blast.
    - Generally speaking, best time for aerial photography is probably late morning.
    - Coordinate with the pilot beforehand on key landmarks you will be shooting. Ask the pilot to fly an arc around each landmark instead of simply flying past it back and forth. ("Turns around a point" is a required ground reference maneuver students practice to get his/her pilot's license).
    - In an airplane, lower is not always better, as points on the ground will seem to move relatively faster. In the US we can fly as low as 500ft legally outside of congested areas (settlements, towns, cities). For photography, 1500ft - 3000ft is probably more common. Canadian rules are similar but I don't know about Europe.

  • What @Ade writes is exactly how to do it. The 24-70m and the 70-200mm covers everything for you.

    I put a small slideshow on my site, you can only reach by clicking the next link.

    These are all made with digital Nikon's, D100, D200, D300 and D800 with the 28-70mm f/2.8 and the 24-70mm f/2.8, because it was done with formation flying, what means that you fly between 5 to 10 meters distance. The pilot needs formation flying skills for that. When these skills are not available, use the 70-200mm f/2.8 and keep a good amount of distance and keep out the danger zone. We better look at pictures from you on PAD and not in the press.

    They where made with 1/320 and 1/400, f/16 and f/18, open windows. In these cases you have a lot of light.

    Those who say it can't be done, should not interrupt those doing it!
  • IronheartIronheart Posts: 3,017Moderator
    edited March 2014
    @Ade, I don't know where you live in the world, but it must be near the arctic circle. Almost every civil aviation aircraft on tarmac here in California has tinted windows, mainly to reduce heat-load into the cabin. The rest of your notes are very helpful. My point is to familiarize yourself with the aircraft a few days before the scheduled flight for all of the idiosyncrasies, how far does the window open, can you get your 70-200 to poke through, where are the best windows to photograph through, where to stow the gear, etc...
    If @TradeWind35 were using digital, color cast and white balance would be moot points, but with film you want to try and correct these things before the $h1t hits the fan, err.. I mean the photons hit the emulsion :-)
    Post edited by Ironheart on
  • AdeAde Posts: 1,071Member

    OK, "unusual" probably wasn't the best description. But the green tint went out of fashion many years ago... most of the tinted windows on aircraft today are not green but one of two types of gray (one with and one without UV protection).

    Also, sometimes Cessnas will have a tinted windshield, but clear side windows. That's because on Cessnas, the side windows are underneath the high-wing which offers some built-in shading, so there is less reason/benefit to have them tinted.

    Not to say there aren't Cessna's with green tints throughout, because there are -- especially on older models. But I would say the majority of Cessnas today will have either clear or gray tinted side windows.

    And I think we can agree that one would be much happier shooting through an open window or an open window vent/port, rather than trying to use correction filters.
  • Tradewind35Tradewind35 Posts: 77Member
    Many thanks guys and gals, that is very informative, wait out for nice weather....
  • I hope you share some of the fun on PAD :)
    Those who say it can't be done, should not interrupt those doing it!
  • framerframer Posts: 491Member
    Many rental planes I've seen have that window strut/brace already removed. You may get lucky. When opening the window without the brace hold on tight and allow it to slowly open all the way. It will be held against the bottom of the wing by air pressure.

    Low wing planes generally are very poor photo platforms.

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