From the Ground Up…or Down

February 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

MD900 N57RP San Jose aerial 20080729 193o I shot the above image from the ground. The client wanted to sell this helicopter and, rather than pay for a full air-to-air shoot, they asked for — and I was able to provide — a ground-to-air solution that satisfied the requirement for high-quality marketing images and that fit their budget. If your budget is extremely limited, how we worked this out could work for you.

That image, while dynamic and not overly obviously shot from the ground, does have some of the telltale graphic elements of an earth-based photograph: we're seeing the underside of the aircraft, which also means the shadows of the underside. Not the more attractive "side" of an aircraft, and not the best lighting.

A couple of things going for this image are, it does not appear to have been shot at an airport, which is good, and there is interesting (but not too interesting) terrain off in the background. But it would look even more air-to-air if we were looking down onto the aircraft — and not just having the aircraft bank very sharply to provide a brief top-down angle on the airframe. We want to look from above and see terrain below. So, that's what we planned for and that's what we got.

Getting High, Man
We launched from San Jose International Airport, California, and flew southwest to the hills and, most importantly, the ridges adjacent to the valley. My assistant and I egressed with our gear on one such ridge and for the next half hour the pilot made his way from one side to the other, above and below and to the side, banking and hovering with pedal turns, coming and going.

MD900 N57RP San Jose aerial 20080729 071o Which is how I was able to provide the client with a broad range of images showing off this beautiful aircraft from what was, essentially, an air-to-air photo shoot — it's just that the chase ship was a skinny ridge fixed high in the air and the target had to do all the dancing.

MD900 N57RP San Jose aerial 20080729 376o MD900 N57RP San Jose aerial 20080729 389o MD900 N57RP San Jose aerial 20080729 091o Air-to-air photography would yield a greater range of terrain, lighting, and compositions, but creative and skillful planning and execution can bring home plenty of good stuff. Perhaps enough to do what needs to be done.

P.S. The mirror of this article would be about photographing the ground when you're up in the air — read about that by clicking here.


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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