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Photographing on a helicopter tour?

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by Replytoken, Jan 12, 2015.

  1. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    I am planning a first-time trip to Hawaii with my wife for later this spring. We will be spending a few days on the Big Island and she is very interested in seeing volcanic activity if possible. Several companies offer 45 minute helicopter tours over the island and take you by these areas during the flight, and while these tours look pretty amazing, I was wondering how they are as a possible photographic experience. I know that my wife will not ride in an open door helicopter (and I am not sure that I would ride in one for my first trip either), and it does not seem like most of the helicopters have windows that open for shooting. But, they do seem to have large glass enclosures, and I did not know if that makes for difficult shooting. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    --Ken
     
  2. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    I've shot from helicopters many times, pretty much always with an open door, and my most recent foray is described here: http://australianimage.com.au/wordpress/?p=517. Shooting through the acrylic can be problematic, but not impossible depending on where the light is coming from, but if you can have an open door, use it. I'm not sure what you use, but image stabilisation is an absolute boon, though not an absolute necessity, when shooting from a helicopter.

    One of the most important things to do is communicate with the pilot before you take off. During the pre-flight briefing, ask a lot of questions about where you're going to fly, how high, close, hovering etc, what can and can't be done and the like. Try and understand from the get go what the pilot can and can't do, due to local flight restriction etc. If you show interest in what he can and can't do, he'll more than likely try and accommodate what you'd like to do.. You should also be using a headset to hear and talk with the pilot, so that you can tell him what you'd like done at the time regarding positioning of the helicopter. The pilot won't know what's on your mind, so be clear and precise.

    Finally, I'd also shoot in burst mode rather than single shot, as that increases the number of good shots you will get. Also, AF tracking can help, or not, so be prepared to experiment.
     
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  3. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Thanks for the advice, Ray. I will probably use my E-M1 so IBIS will be available. I am not sure how much sway I will have over the pilot, but I would certainly try to show some interest with the understanding that they would be able to tell me what is or is not possible during flight. It is the acrylic that is a bit of a concern.

    Thanks,

    --Ken
     
  4. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    If you show some interest in what the pilot does and trying to understand how flight regulations etc affects what he can do, he may be a lot more responsive to any request that you might make. Also, explaining to him what you'd like to achieve and what can restrict you from achieving that will help him understand your technical issues. An intelligent conversation and mutual respect can work wonders.
     
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  5. maritan

    maritan Mu-43 Veteran

    388
    Oct 30, 2014
    How timely. My wife and I will be visiting Kauai for our honeymoon in early May and while I don't believe there's much volcanic activity on Kauai, we still might take a heli ride to check out the island in its entirety. Good tips, and I will be sure to keep an eye on this thread.

    That said, Ken - hope you enjoy your trip. And Ray, thanks as always for your tips.
     
  6. peter124

    peter124 Mu-43 Regular

    I took one of those tours in 2004. The weather was pretty bad; in fact looking back I'm surprised we went up at all. There were 4 passengers in the helicopter, as I recall, and all of them had reasonable sightlines through the windows. Not as good as an open door deal, obviously.

    The only camera I had at that time was a Canon S50. Here are some of the shots I was able to get:

    112_1228.

    112_1234.

    112_1236.

    Not great photos, although the weather conditions didn't help! The overall experience was well worth it though!
     
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  7. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Totally agree. And, I actually am interested in what the pilots and equipment can and cannot do, so if we do take a flight, I'll try to arrive early to see what I can learn before we go up.

    Thanks,

    --Ken
     
  8. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Early congratulations on your upcoming wedding. Please just do not ask any of us to photograph it for you! :biggrin:

    In all seriousness, a work colleague always heads to Kauai every year for R&R, and she says it is one of the few places where she can truly relax. So, I hop you have a great Honeymoon and trip!

    --Ken
     
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  9. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Thanks for posting your pictures. I had forgot about rain on the windows (a pet peeve of mine as I work in office tower with amazing views, but it has the dirtiest windows due to rain and wind). Nonetheless, your shots look better than I was expecting given the conditions and equipment. Normally I would not be so picky about the whole affair, but I would love to nail a really good shot of flowing lava so I can make a nice enlargement for my wife - seeing a volcano is on her "mid-life bucket list" (although I am not sure about flying in a helicopter).

    Thanks,

    --Ken
     
  10. walter_j

    walter_j Mu-43 Veteran

    364
    Sep 10, 2013
    Hagwilget, B.C., Canada
    Walter
    I've never got any outstanding photos from a helicopter, but I haven't had an open door either. You can reduce glare from the windshield by increasing contrast, but the front seat also has a tiny window you can photograph out of on some helicopters. Get a few shots, but also make sure you enjoy the experience and not get too caught up in taking pictures. Just make sure you get shots of your wife getting into the helicopter, etc.
     
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  11. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    Barry
    A polarizing filter can sometimes help with reflections on windows.

    Barry
     
  12. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    You must have been reading my mind, Barry. I was wondering if I should bring one for that purpose, and was going to ask if others had done so with success.

    Thanks,

    --Ken
     
  13. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    If we go up, I plan on enjoying the experience, camera or otherwise. But a good photo is always nice too.

    Thanks,

    --Ken
     
  14. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    The problem with using a polariser on plexiglass is that it very likely will introduce all sorts odd colourations.
     
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  15. budeny

    budeny Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 4, 2014
    Boulder, CO
    From my experience of photographing through regular windows, the best strategy is to get lens as close to glass as possible, i.e. press the hood into it - helps both with reflections and prevent focusing on window. I also use some paper or just hand to cover from sun.
    I wouldn't suggest polarizer on your trip as it will steal much needed 1+ stop and by adjusting it you may miss more shots than gain anything good.
    Here is semi-successful example shot through not so clean window in ghost town of Bodie, California:

     
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  16. walter_j

    walter_j Mu-43 Veteran

    364
    Sep 10, 2013
    Hagwilget, B.C., Canada
    Walter
    Eagle flying below us

    I cropped this, and increased contrast a lot, but it was shot through a side window.
     

    Attached Files:

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  17. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    :frown: Better to know now than later.

    Thanks,

    --Ken
     
  18. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Hi Walter,

    I am still sorting and processing photos, including some from the helicopter, but I wanted to follow up on your last sentence. I was not certain what you were referring to about a shot of getting into the helicopter, but learned the hard way when we were on the flight line waiting to board. We were not allowed to bring any type of bag with us, so I planned to bring two bodies with me so I would not have to swap lenses. I packed everythign up into my bag when we left on our trip, and then loaded up memory cards into bodies as needed. My E-M1 was my primary camera through the first part of the trip, and I also used my TG-3 on several occasions.

    I was standing on the flight line with my E-M1 w/40-150 and my E-M5 w/12-40. I handed the E-M5 to one of the ground crew so she could take a picture of us in front of the helicopter, and asked her to take a couple of photos. She looked through the viewfinder, and then looked at me while asking why she was getting a message saying that there was no SD card in the camera. :wtf: While I made sure that all of the E-M5 settings were identical to the E-M1 so I could shoot seemlessly between the two bodies, I must have been so excited that I forgot to load a fresh SD card into the body before checking my bag. There is no waiting on the flight line due to their tight schedules, so I took some comfort in knowing that the SD card in my E-M1 was large and mostly empty. The SD card served me well, and I was still happy I had an extra body and lens, but what a rookie mistake.

    And, the photo that the woman took with my other camera came out fine. But, it failed to capture the big smile on my wife's face after we landed. :biggrin: She totally loved the ride over the lava fields. I was happy that she enjoyed the ride, because it almost did not happen. We were rescheduled due to bad weather two times, and were leaving Hilo later that day. Thankfully the weather cleared upon our departure. I'll try to post some photos of the lava fields as soon as I can. So yes, I did get a shot of my wife on the flight line just before departure, and no I did not get too caught up in taking photos. My wife's big smile was just too captivating.

    --Ken
     
  19. walter_j

    walter_j Mu-43 Veteran

    364
    Sep 10, 2013
    Hagwilget, B.C., Canada
    Walter
    Good. I went through a similar experience, where documenting a common experience with someone important to you may be more important than a scenery shot. Esp. something that may be very unique and may be unlikely to happen again.
     
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  20. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    I balanced it well. My primary photo goal was one good lava shot so I could make a large print for my wife to enjoy. I am still processing, but I believe that I have a few good candidates. Your post reminded me that we bought the video of our flight. I need to review the files for corruption, so perhaps we'll take a flight this evening, this time complete with peanuts and beverage service. :wink:

    --Ken
     
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