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Plan your aerial shoot


TALK FIRST; FLY LATER

It would be wise to meet with the pilot beforehand to plan your flight.

The position of the sun (see Lighting & the time of day) is only one important consideration of pre-planning. You should also discuss your objectives so the pilot will know beforehand what is expected. For example, do you want a view of an entire town or just the town hall? Each requires a different altitude, and may require a morning or afternoon sun. Are you after a shot of a ferry coming into the terminal? Then, you will need to consult a ferry schedule to aid in the timing of the shoot.

If you have several different locations to photograph, mark them on a map in advance, and plan your route with the pilot before you take to the air. If you know what shooting angles you want, now is the time to say so.

Being organized will save you time and misunderstanding, and help you to get the shots you want.

The timing for this shot was planned in advance using a ferry schedule
The timing for this shot was planned in advance using a ferry schedule

PREPARE FOR THE AIR

Be sure you and the pilot both understand signals or procedures for turns or altitude changes, and ask for a quick explanation of the plane's controls so you will know what not to touch in flight.

And, of course, have a thorough understanding of safety procedures - how your seatbelt works, for example - and whether the door can open by hitting its handle with your elbow, or how the radio headset works.

There will be times when the pilot is talking to other aircraft or to air traffic controllers, and can't stop to pay attention to you. Knowing these things in advance will make your aerial photography not only more pleasant and productive, but also safer.

A distant scene may be worthwhile photographing en route to a planned destination. But, wait for the pilot's okay before opening the window.
A distant scene may be worthwhile photographing en route to a planned destination. But, wait for the pilot's okay before opening the window.

NOISE

You may be surprised by how much noise there is in a light aircraft or helicopter once it's in the air, particularly when the window is open or the door has been removed. Be prepared for it, and recognize that there may be so much noise that you will not hear sounds you usually hear from your camera, so you may not know if it is functioning as you expect it to. This is why you should check it thoroughly before take-off. If you are wearing a radio headset (which you should, to communicate with your pilot), it will muffle some of the ambient noise, but make it even more difficult to hear camera sounds.

Preplanning will put you in the right place at the right time.
Preplanning will put you in the right place at the right time.

THE PILOT WHO IS NEW TO AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

The pilot may be inexperienced in aerial photography, but may otherwise be a good pilot. When you discover this (and we say "when" not "if" because any good pilot will let you know you are his or her first aerial photographer), you should:
1. ask him or her to make most of the turns, while you are taking pictures, using rudder turns rather than flap turns that make the aircraft bank steeply, so the aircraft remains in relatively-level flight;
2. ensure that the pilot reduces airspeed when you are ready to shoot to minimize vibration and forward motion, and permit you to open the window; and
3. ask to be notified when you are traveling at the right speed for you to safely open the window or lean out the door.