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Make The Most Of Your Plane Rental - Do You Need An Aerial Near SFO?

Published: 29/04/2013
By: larry

aerial_Sample_01Here's an idea that I just got from Scott Hargis that can help cover your plane rental if you are going up to shoot an aerial shot. Send out an e-mail to all your regular customers and every listing agent that has a high-end listing in your area. Offer to shoot their current listings while you're up. Notice that you can offer to shoot landmarks and lakes, not just current listings on the market. Try and get a long shoot list so you are making money the whole time you are up in the air!

Update 4/29: Peggy (in the comments) raises a good question on what are some tips for shooting from an aircraft? There are many readers that shoot this way. There have been many discussions in the PFRE flickr group over the years on aerial photography. Take a look here for a list of aerial photography discussions.

Oh and BTW, if you are in the San Francisco/Oakland area and want a great aerial shot of your listing or your favorite landmark Scott is going up to shoot aerials. Contact Scott (510.551.3647) before 8PM Monday 4/29 and get on his shoot list.


6 comments on “Make The Most Of Your Plane Rental - Do You Need An Aerial Near SFO?”

  1. Some thoughts from a pilot/photographer with 40 years of experience:
    Fixed wing: Primary advantage is cost (about 1/3 the cost of a small helicopter). Primary disadvantage is that you often can't get low enough to shoot anything but a plan-view. That might be fine for a large estate or shopping center, but can be a real problem for a residence. (You just see the roof!)
    Helicopter: Much more maneuverable, but also more expensive.
    For a 'copter you want the door off (most small 'copters are set up to pop the door off easily) or, in a larger copter, you'll want to sit in the rear with the door open. (You'll need a safety harness).
    If you choose fixed wing you'll want a Cessna (high wing) and you'll want to get the passenger side window completely open. On a 152 or 172 (most common Cessnas) this requires taking out a little screw that holds the restraining arm that otherwise keeps the window from opening wide enough. Most pilots are familiar with the procedure and are quite willing to do it, but be sure to mention it in advance so that they'll have a screwdriver with them. (All Cessnas that have a wing strut are certified for flight with the door off, so opening the window wide is not a big deal.)
    Shutter speed is everything. Forget gyros and even VR. You'll be far enough from your subject that depth of field is not an issue, so you'll want a lens that's sharp nearly wide open.
    If needed, adjust your ISO so that you can shoot at 1/1000 or higher. My general "sunny day" formula is ISO 200, f4, 1/3000. If it's late in the day, or the subject is very dark, I may go down to 1/1200, but I increase the ISO rather than go slower than that.
    In a fixed wing plane a wide angle lens is useless. You'll have the wing, wing strut, or wheel (or some combination thereof) in the frame on every shot. In a 'copter you can get lower and shoot wider, but you can't see the rotor blades while you're shooting and one of 'em is almost certain to be in every wide angle shot. I use an 85mm and a 135mm on my D800, or a 150mm on my medium format camera. I sometimes use my 24-70 zoom when I'm shooting from a 'copter, but when I've tried it in a Cessna I find myself at 70mm all the time anyhow. A 70-200 zoom could be useful, but my Nikon is so long physically that it often sticks out into the slip-stream and that causes it to shake.
    I'd be happy to answer any questions:

  2. All of the above sounds right to me, although I do think that renting a gyro is well worth it. Wide apertures work OK when you're shooting at a high angle down to the ground, but for shots out towards the horizon you'll want to be more like f/8, which will push your shutter speed down to a point that IS/VR or a gyro really makes sense.

    A really good tele lens means you can orbit your subject from a few hundred yards out, which gets you a more pleasing angle even when the altitude is higher than you'd wish for. I use a 1.4 converter on my 70-200 to give me 210mm-300mm, works pretty good.

  3. I did some shots from Bell Jet Ranger with the doors off for an airport. My biggest problem was the 4 point harness chaffing my neck as I was turned to get the camera pointed out to the side. Shooting from a back seat where you might be able to orient your body towards the open door would be much more comfortable. I couldn't talk my pilot into taking out the UH-1A Huey. It gets horrible "mileage".

    It might be impossible to change lenses while you are up without taking a significant chance of dropping a lens overboard so take 2 bodies if you think that you may want to change lenses or you are unsure of the focal length you will need. VR or IS is going to help a bunch. Without an aircraft stabilization system, shooting video is going to be near impossible.

    If you are hiring somebody to fly you around, they need to have a commercial license if you are charging for your photo services. It may never come up, but your insurance and the pilot's may be void if something happens such as dropping a lens through somebody's skylight.

    I don't mind heights and I'm a roller coaster junkie. If you have a weak stomach and get queasy looking down from a diving board, you may want to find somebody to go in your place. It is easier when looking through the lens of your camera, but it might get you at some point. We had to drop off the producer after a couple of minutes in the air before she lost her breakfast. You could have tied some string around my waist and let me stand on the skid, I was having a ball. The best part of the job is I get paid a really good wage for aerials!

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