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Altitude


The aerial haze evident in this image of Traban-Trarbach in Germany could have been reduced by lowering altitude and getting closer to the subject.
The aerial haze evident in this image of Traban-Trarbach in Germany could have been reduced by lowering altitude and getting closer to the subject.

FILL THE FRAME

You are at the ideal altitude when your aerial subject fills the frame – i.e. no extraneous surroundings – at the shooting angle you want, and the scene appears sharply-defined and bright.


Determining the right altitude to properly photograph your aerial subject is basically governed by your selection of lens or its zoom setting. If your lens is not long enough, ground details become too small at high altitude and your subject can become lost in a panorama that is too big for it to be easily identified. If your lens is too long, you will need to increase altitude to fit your subject in the frame, but an increase in altitude brings a decrease in overall contrast and brightness because there is more atmosphere between you and the subject.

Contrast and color are much improved when there is minimal haze, however this scene was photographed from too high an altitude to see detail.
Contrast and color are much improved when there is minimal haze, however this scene was photographed from too high an altitude to see detail.

Getting closer by dropping altitude brings out the detail. The image could still have been improved, however, by choosing a time when the sun illuminated the fronts, not the backs, of the homes.
Getting closer by dropping altitude brings out the detail. The image could still have been improved, however, by choosing a time when the sun illuminated the fronts, not the backs, of the homes.

HAZE INCREASES WITH ALTITUDE

Atmospheric conditions will change from flight to flight, and an altitude that works well today may be too hazy tomorrow.

If the scene appears washed out due to excessive haze – lacking brightness and contrast – everything else being equal, you need to shoot with a shorter lens at a lower altitude.

If your subject is lost in a vast but otherwise well-exposed scene, you need to get closer to it, either by using a longer lens at the same altitude or by dropping altitude to get physically closer to your subject.


The headgear required in flying at very high altitude in a military fighter jet makes it difficult to use the viewfinder, requiring true point-and-shoot skills. Self portrait by Robert Dall, Northern News Services.
The headgear required in flying at very high altitude in a military fighter jet makes it difficult to use the viewfinder, requiring true point-and-shoot skills. Self portrait by Robert Dall, Northern News Services.