Choosing an aircraft



If money were no object, a helicopter with a removable door or window to shoot through would be our first choice for most aerial photography because of its excellent manoeuverability, hovering capability and wider field of view. However, the majority of us cannot afford to pay $600 an hour or more to charter one. Sometimes it may be possible to reduce the cost of a helicopter by sharing a flight, particularly if either the outbound or return portion of the trip would otherwise be without passengers. Another drawback to a helicopter is its greater vibration, particularly when hovering. This can be overcome by using a very fast shutter speed, or by employing a gyroscopically-stabilized camera platform bolted to the helicopter’s floor or hand-held. These platforms find the majority of their use in motion picture photography. The still photographer might need one only for slow shutter speeds when there is minimal light.


Hot air balloons are an alternative that provide you with less control over altitude and direction, and can be relatively expensive. They offer a stable, vibrationless shooting platform that permits the use of slower shutter speeds, and a virtually unrestricted field of view of the ground. If you are just going up for the fun of the flight and bringing your camera along, then a hot air balloon trip will likely reward you with some great photographic reminders of a fun trip, although you may not be able to manouver into the best position for your subject.


The most practical aircraft is a high-winged, single engine airplane, like a Cessna. The high wings generally don’t get in the way of your photography and there is less turbulence by the window or open doorway. Charter rates are a fraction of those for a helicopter.

Low-winged aircraft have restricted visibility. To get a reasonably-clear view, shooting must be done through the rear baggage hatch. Larger aircraft are generally not as manoeuvrable.


The airplane should have a window that can be opened, with a view through it that is unrestricted by the wings. The window of a Cessna is hinged along the top and can be opened fully by detaching its window retaining bar (which is done before take-off by simply removing a screw). Air flow will generally keep the window opened, but be prepared for it to come slapping down, which it occasionally does when manouvering the aircraft. The window should only be opened under certain air speeds (generally below 100 miles an hour) and with the consent of the pilot in every case. It must be locked shut on take-off and landing.

Bear in mind that the wheels (unless they retractable) and undercarriage will appear in your range of view, and you will generally want to frame your pictures so they are not seen.

You should ensure that the seatbelts are secure and offer the ability for you to turn your body somewhat sideways when shooting.

The aircraft should be fitted with radio headsets so you, your pilot and your assistant, if you are flying with one, can remain in constant voice communication.

There should be space for your photography gear that is easily accessible to you when in the air. The rear seat is usually the best place. If you are shooting from the front, be sure you don’t place your equipment in the far corner of the rear seat, unless you have very long arms.

The front seat should be adjustable so that it can be pushed towards the rear once you are airborne, providing you with more room. If you are shooting from the rear seat, the front seat should be pushed forward with the seat back inclined to the front.


Commercial Aircraft