Shooting the beauty of Kauai Island from a helicopter, Capturing a more revealing perspective

In Equipment & Technique, Landscapes, Polarizing Filters, Scenes & Scenarios by Adam Barker

Kauai is the oldest of the four main Hawaiian Islands and it is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and charming places I’ve ever been.

Kauai Photo by Adam Barker

During a recent anniversary trip to Kauai with my wife, I made a half-hearted commitment to keep the camera out of the way for the most part (much easier said than done in such a beautiful part of the world!). To not shoot from the helicopter, however, was never an option. If you’ve never had the opportunity to shoot from a helicopter or airplane, you must put it on your bucket list—it is loads of fun, and offers a truly unique perspective on the landscape below. While I was hoping for direct late light (we purposely booked the last tour of the day), even the overcast lighting we had to work with wasn’t a bad second. It made for detail-revealing conditions, with little in the way of hot highlights and/or heavy shadows.

I’ve listed below a few quick tips on aerial shooting to keep in mind whenever you get the chance!”

  1. Just as in landscape photography, try and go early in the morning or late in the day. Long shadows make for interesting abstracts from above!
  2. Make sure to fly in a helicopter with the doors removed. Windows do not play nice for photography as they give off reflections from inside and limit your range of shooting angles.
  3. If possible, take two bodies with differing zoom lenses. Seems like I shoot most everything in the 24-105mm range. I do have a second body with a 70-200mm as well for any tighter, more abstract shots.
  4. Pay attention to your shutter speed–lots of vibration in these big birds–it’s important not to shoot much slower than 1/320 second or so.
  5. Compose and expose quickly. If you have to think about it, you’ve likely missed the shot. Things move very quickly from up above! I prefer to shoot in full manual, or occasionally TV (shutter priority) mode.
  6. Avoid leaning on any part of the helicopter–the vibrations will transfer through your body and into the camera, rendering your image soft.
  7. Periodically check your display to ensure that your images are coming out sharp, just in case you need to adjust something mid-flight.
  8. Especially when flying over water or otherwise reflective surfaces, don’t forget your LB Warming Polarizer. It’s a must for removing that glare, and revealing the color and detail beneath. Also—don’t forget to keep continually adjusting your polarizer as your orientation to the sun changes. This must all be done on the fly! (Pun intended.)

Have fun up there! Aerial photography is a blast, and gives us unique perspectives that can only be seen from up above.

Adam is currently planning the photo workshops he will be leading in 2014. To learn more about his programs for the coming months visit his website for more imagery, and updates to his 2014/15 workshop offerings. You can also follow Adam through any of the social feeds below for tips, tricks and his latest imagery. And don’t forget Adam’s instructional DVD, Completing your Outdoor Photography with Landscape Filters, which is also available on his website.