I can say loud and clear that flying a Heli was one of the best experiences of my life.
It was January in Finland and as the sun rose, I got to picture Helsinki and Suomenlinna island from above all covered in snow and with just the perfect light. It was amazing.
Other cool flight experiences followed. There were seaplanes, small planes and hot air balloon rides among others but nothing compares to flying a helicopter, trust me.
Good news is that these days it is easier than ever to step foot on one of these bad boys and, if you are like me, fall for aerial photography madly.
To help you make the most of this experience, here are some easy photography tips that will help you take some great shots from above.
1. Do a little research and book your trip with the right company
Not every helicopter company out there will fulfill your expectations in terms of portraying the experience. Some of them will be too short, not at the right time of the day for optimum light (of course around sunrise and sunset times your chances of walking home with great pictures increase a lot!), too crowded or the destinations won’t be interesting enough to you. In any case, checking them out beforehand will go a long way and disappointment can be avoided.
Finally, if you are the only photographer on board or the flight will be full of them, communicate with the pilot what you aim to shoot for the best aerial photography results. Your headset should allow you to do so during the flight as well but it is better to know everyone is on the same page before taking off.
2. Make sure the doors can come off
If that’s what you want. Pay attention to the safety harness and seatbelt that will keep you attached to the helicopter and remember to stay inside. Your photos and films will be significantly better and sharper if removable doors are available.
Picturing the world through a glass window is not great as flares and reflections could easily ruin it.
In any case, if the doors cannot come off, try to sit near a small actionable window if there are any.
It might be also a great idea to bring a polarizer filter – to bring colors and skies to life – with you and dressing in dark clothes to try to keep those window reflections to a minimum.
3. Plan your equipment
If you have two cameras, take both with you. Changing lenses up in the air can go wrong and takes some of your time, better spent enjoying the experience.
A telephoto zoom and a wide lens are always a great idea, especially if you will fly over a city but if you cannot get hold of one, a 24-70mm will do too. We have already talked about filters so don’t forget those either.
Finally, dress warmly. It gets chilly up there!
4. Mind the shutter speed.
It’s a fact. Even the smooth and modern helicopters vibrate. That’s why to avoid blurry pictures you need to figure out the settings you will be shooting with depending on the existing light.
Your shutter speed doesn’t really need to be mega fast. Depending on the lens you are using, 1/250 for wide lenses and 1/1250s and higher for telephoto lenses could do. And do not forget to adjust the rest of your settings (ISO and aperture) accordingly.
That will also help you to keep the blades out of the frame around once every 5 or 10 pictures lol. Trust me, shooting with a wide angle lens is lots of fun but those rotor blades are always in the middle! And without further context, they definitely do not belong there.
5. Enjoy the ride!
You are flying on a freaking helicopter! Something definitely not attainable by everyone on this planet and an experience to remember.
So here and there, remember to put your camera away and simply enjoy the flight.
It is also a great idea to take a few shots including the helicopter itself to capture the experience. Like one of those where you can see part of the interior with the outside showing through the windows.
Is flying a helicopter on your list? Where did you experience it already? Have we missed any tips? Let us know in the comments below!