Kauai Helicopter Tours by Mauna Loa Helicopters
Bamboo Frame

Aerial Photography Tips

For many of you, this is likely your first helicopter flight, one you will want to remember in photographs. Here are a few suggestions to make those pictures more memorable. These tips apply primarily to more elaborate cameras, though some may be appropriate, as well, to “point and shoot” cameras.

Robinson Helicopter

General Considerations

The topography of the island causes the light conditions to differ between morning and afternoon flight times. The crater on the East Side will be brighter on morning flights, while the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon on the West Side will have more direct sunlight during afternoon flights. Expect to take a lot of images, so be sure your batteries are charged and your memory card has ample storage available. Due to the risk of losing items overboard, if flying with the doors off, cameras must be secured to you with a wrist or neck strap and you will be unable to change accessories in-flight, unless they also are attached with straps. For your safety, you will not be allowed to hold any part of yourself or your camera equipment outside of the helicopter’s airframe. 

Equipment-Specific Considerations

Typically, a moderate wide-angle to short telephoto zoom lens in the 17-85mm range will be your best bet for the widest range of images. If using a fixed lens, a moderate wide angle should suffice. A long telephoto zoom lens magnifies the motion and vibrations of the helicopter, blurring your photos. It also does not allow you to capture the wider panorama of the aerial perspective. Furthermore, the helicopter itself acts as your zoom lens to many of the scenic features, bringing you close to the action. On the other hand, if you choose a fixed ultra-wide angle lens you will likely capture rotor blades, skids and other parts of the helicopter in many of your shots. Activate your in-camera stabilization feature to cancel the effects of vibration.

The easiest way to freeze motion blur is by using a fast shutter speed. You can achieve high shutter speeds with the combination of wider aperture and higher ISO settings. Keep in mind, however, that brightness levels will vary during your flight and you may need to quickly adjust the ISO setting to compensate for changing conditions. Opinions differ regarding the use of polarizing filters. While they are helpful in reducing reflected glare from water or windows, they also decrease your shutter speed and can get in the way.

Aerial Photography Tips

If you are flying with the doors on the helicopter, please do not rest your camera against the window to reduce the risk of scratching the glass. Also, bracing yourself against the side of the aircraft will pick up vibration.

Lastly, while it is tempting to capture every moment through your camera lens, be sure to allow time to delight in the beautiful scenery and breath-taking experience with your eyes and other senses as well!