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Safety first

Some words of caution


This shot was taken through an open window only after the pilot gave the go-ahead to open it
This shot was taken through an open window only after the pilot gave the go-ahead to open it

SUDDEN MOVEMENTS ARE A NO-NO

A good safety rule to remember in the air is to avoid quick movements. Flying can be exciting, and you may see something that causes you to want to react quickly. A sudden turn or movement where your camera or elbow collides with a flying instrument, where you accidentally plant your feet on the floor controls or inadvertently grab a hand control to steady yourself, or where you open the window at too high a flying speed can have disastrous results. No photograph is worth the possibility of putting you or the aircraft at risk.

KNOW THE BASICS OF THE AIRCRAFT

If you are not sure where the primary controls are or what they do, ask the pilot for a quick rundown to ensure you know what not to touch.

COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR PILOT - ABOUT EVERYTHING

Aerial photography is not the time to keep things secret. Even if you may become embarrassed, talk to your pilot about anything - your most trivial concerns, what you just did and you didn't mean to - whatever it may be. And don’t do anything that might affect the operation of the aircraft without first informing the pilot and receiving an okay.

If you don’t clearly hear what the pilot says, do not assume you have clearance to, for example, open the window. Double-check if you are not sure you absolutely understood what was said. Be extra cautious. Don't think the pilot must have said "Okay" because it may really have been "No way!"


DOORS CAN OPEN AT 4,000 FEET

The interior door handle of a small aircraft may be in a location where you can actually open the door by accident with your elbow when you turn to see out the window. Check out the likelihood of this occurring when you first climb aboard and ask the pilot whether the handle can be secured shut to prevent it from happening. If not, remain aware of this potential danger throughout the flight and ensure your seat belt is always secure.

THE SEATBELT IS YOUR LIFE-LINE

Remember, the pilot will always assume you are securely tied in by your seatbelt unless you notify him or her that you wish to undo it, so keep it firmly attached at all times. (Many experienced aerial photographers use strong tape to wrap several times around their seat belt buckle after it is firmly attached to ensure that it cannot be accidentally unbuckled when in a tight turn. Not a bad policy!)

Keeping your seat belt attached at all times particularly applies if you are taking pictures with the door completely removed, which may be the best way to shoot aerials from certain aircraft. With the door off, the photographer can sometimes take pictures more efficiently from the rear seat, with the front seat either pushed fully forward or completely removed from the aircraft to provide more working space. We have even heard of photographers who tape their ankle and lower leg to a firmly-attached seat support or another solid interior structure as added insurance when they lean out an open door.

USE A NECK STRAP TO COMBAT GRAVITY

Take precautions not to drop anything from the aircraft. Because you will likely be holding your camera even with the window frame or sticking just outside the aircraft for the majority of your shots, there is a real danger of dropping it unless it is attached to you by its neck strap. Wear the strap around your neck at all times. The first time you open the window, you may be surprised by the rush of air, the temperature change or even the noise. Be ready for it.

Go over the basics with the pilot before take-off. The cockpit is a small space, and you want to know how to behave in it.
Go over the basics with the pilot before take-off. The cockpit is a small space, and you want to know how to behave in it.

When you are in a steep bank to shoot almost straight down is not the time to wonder if your feet should be pushing against the floor pedals.
When you are in a steep bank to shoot almost straight down is not the time to wonder if your feet should be pushing against the floor pedals.

STRAP IN YOUR GEAR, TOO

Before take-off, make sure your equipment and camera bags are solidly attached to the aircraft's seats, and be sure that bags are zipped shut. If the plane should make a quick banking turn for any reason, you do not want to see your equipment heading for an open doorway or window. Be sure that exposed film or full memory cards for digital cameras are placed in a zipped pocket or closed bag before you resume shooting with a new roll or memory card. Tossing a roll of exposed film or a digital memory card on the seat is an invitation to Dame Fortune that she may just turn against you.

IT CAN BE AWFUL BLOWY UP THERE

Be sure the lens and filters are firmly attached, and when you remove the lens cap, do it while the camera is inside the aircraft. Airflow can tear a lens cap from your fingers and, incredibly, even from your lens if it is not firmly snapped on. Be sure to securely stow your lens cap in a pocket or your camera bag, where the wind can't fling it out the window.

IF THE PILOT SAYS "CLOSE THE WINDOW," CLOSE IT, THEN ASK WHY LATER

Finally, when the pilot gives you an instruction, carry it out at once. Questioning it or delaying, even a second, can create a risk. You may be concentrating so much on your photography that you don't notice what the pilot sees, and he or she may need to make a sudden manouver with minimal time to give you warning. No matter what your immediate photographic opportunity is, be prepared to give it up immediately when the pilot says you have to do something else.