Our Foray into Aerial Photography

A side note to my Digital vs. Film blog Post.

[I’d originally written this as part of my post titled “Digital vs. Film,” but pulled it out in an effort to shorten-up that post and keep it more focused on the topic. You might find it interesting if you think you might want to try your hand at commercial aerial photography.]

Pentax 67 CameraI think it was in 2003 that Mike and I decided to try our hands at aerial photography. I bought a book about it (as I usually do, when I want to get a jump start on learning something) and the book said the best kind of camera for this kind of work was a Pentax 67. The camera was huge and heavy and took 126 film, which could not be processed locally. But that didn’t stop me from plunking down $1,500 for a used one. You gotta spend money to make money, right?

The Pentax 67 turned out to be a huge mistake. Although the camera had an internal meter, it did not have automatic exposure. So each exposure had to be set using its meter before snapping an image. Since I was doing the flying, Mike did the photography. He’s set the exposure on the first shot and use the same exposure for the entire shoot. You might think that would work, but it doesn’t. As the helicopter approaches the target from different angles, the sun hits the target differently. Some images were under exposed while others were overexposed. 2/3 of the images were not usable. And because we didn’t know this until nearly a week after the shoot — after the film had come back from the out-of-town processors — we didn’t know until then how bad the results were. We did two reshoots — at my cost — before I decided that camera was not for us. I sold it for $1,000, swallowing a $500 loss after owning it for about a year. Ouch.

I bought a Canon G5 camera. This was a regular digital camera that looked a bit like an SLR. But although it had all kinds of automatic, program, and manual settings, it did not have interchangeable lenses. It did offer 5 megapixel resolution, however, and that was a huge number in those days. We tried our hand at aerial photography with that. The results were better — at least the exposures were good and we could see them immediately — but my photographer was having trouble properly framing the subjects and our clients evidently had different ideas of what their property looked like from the air. I decided to give up on providing photography services. If a client wanted aerial photography, I’d be perfectly happy to do the flying for them, but they’d have to come up with their own photographer.

I’ve since purchased a Nikon D80 with multiple lenses. We’re playing with aerial photography again, but I’m still not interested in taking on any commercial assignments with either Mike or me snapping the pictures.

You can see some of our aerial photography efforts (with more to come) in the Flying M Photos gallery.

2 thoughts on “Our Foray into Aerial Photography

  1. Any suggestions on a good book to buy to learn more about aerial photography. Looking for a gift for my father. He’s a “serious” amateur photographer as well as a “serious” amateur pilot (planes) and is looking to learn more about aerial photography (again, planes not helicopters). Any suggestions about good books would be much appreciated – also, he’ll be shooting mostly digital.

    • I don’t know of any book — that’s why I began writing one last year. I expect to have it done in the spring. If you haven’t found one by then, I hope you’ll look for it here. Good luck!

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