Top Tips for Aerial Photography (Old School Style)

written by:
Macca Sherifi


Top Tips for Aerial Photography (Old School Style)

An alternative view of Helsinki, Finland, and how to do take photos from a light aircraft

All I could hear was the rhythmic purr of the engine in my ears. Occasionally, I would see the flash of the propeller from the corner of my eye, a reminder of how I was suspended 10,000ft up in the air.

As I looked out the window all I could see were tiny little islands dotted around the city, gleaming brightly in the morning sun like emeralds scattered across a blue blanket.

Off into the distance were landmarks like Helsinki Cathedral and Uspenski Cathedral, both drawing the eye and dominating the flat landscape.

It’s only from this height that you really appreciate how beautiful a city Helsinki is.

Half hanging out the window, I fired off a few shots. In a tiny four-seater Cessna airplane there’s not much room to manoeuvre, which is both a help and a hindrance.

Raine, my pilot for the day, turned to me. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’ll never get tired of that view. You’re lucky, not many people get to see Helsinki let this, especially on a bright and sunny day like today. I wish everyone could though!”

Soon after Raine asked me if I’d like to take the controls for a bit. I smiled back at him and shook my head. I laughed and shouted into the microphone, “I’ve got too many photos to take!”

I was at Malmi Airport 10km outside of Helsinki. Just a short 15-minute bus ride away from the city centre, Malmi has been serving as an aviation training centre for decades.

The community of aviation enthusiasts and pilots is so tight here, and the majority of the time these pilots are keen to take photographers up in the air to show them an alternative view of Helsinki. Seriously, all you need to do is ask. You’d be amazed how often this works.

With that in mind, here are some top tips for aerial photography (and no, we don’t mean using a drone!)

Be prepared and plan beforehand

If you’ve never flown in a Cessna or light aircraft before it can be pretty daunting at first!

The thing about these airplanes is there’s not much between you and the outside world, so you feel every gust of wind. That can be incredibly off putting, especially when it comes to taking photos.

Usually light aircraft rides are fairly short, around 15 to 20 minutes, so you don’t have a long time to get what you want. Also, as I’ve already mentioned, things are pretty cramped in the cockpit so it’s hard to constantly switch and change lenses.

That’s why it’s really important to think about your kit beforehand so you maximise your time up in the air. Think about what shots you want and how you’re going to get them.

Use a wide-angle lens

I’ve been in a few different light aircrafts now and I’ve found the best lens for getting everything in is my wide-angle.

To get a really crisp background, I rarely dip below f/8, and I use a fast shutter speed too, say 1/1000.

It’s also a good idea to have constant shooting mode on. That way you can squeeze off bursts of five to give you a number of different options of the same shot afterwards.

Bring a zoom lens with you too and focus on shutter speed

The one downside of a wind-angle lens is it gets everything in the frame – the cockpit, the wing, everything.

This is good and bad. Good because it shows perspective; bad because it can take up too much of the frame.

That’s why I always take my 24-105mm zoom lens too. I want a zoom to get past the cockpit and the wing of the plane so I can get a clean shot of the buildings or the landscape. You’d be surprised, but even shooting at around 1/1000s at 100mm can give blurry photos, so make sure shutter speed is your number one priority.

Sit at the front of the plane and look for alternative perspectives

As a rule of thumb, you’re always going to get the best views sitting in the front of the plane. If you can, ask to wind down the windows too so you can have a clear view with no reflections.

Even though most of the time you’ll concentrate on taking photos out the window, don’t forget to take photos of your pilot and fellow passengers to for an alternative perspective. It’s always nice to get a memento of who you shared your experience with!

So there you have it, some top tips for aerial photography, and there’s not even a drone in sight!

Hopefully these tips will help you be prepared to take the best shots while up in the air. After all, usually it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so it’s all about making the most of it! Oh, and enjoy!

Macca Sherifi

Macca Sherifi is a top travel blogger, photographer and presenter. Along with his award-winning travel blog An Adventurous World, Macca is one of the main Lonely Planet Trailblazers and he has collaborated on exciting campaigns with some of the world’s biggest travel brands. Macca’s looking at capturing the world one destination at a time so make sure you follow him on his adventures!

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