Film Speed for Aerial Photography

A number of photographers continue to use film for their photography. This section is intended for them, and also for students of photography who have an interest in the pre-digital era.

Comments about shutter speed, aperture settings, ISO settings and filtration, however, apply to both digital and film photography.


Aerial photography generally requires high shutter speeds to ensure sharpness while shooting from a moving, vibrating aircraft, but since depth of field is not a major concern, film does not necessarily have to be of the fast variety.

Resolution of detail is essential for aerial pictures since so much of the scene appears relatively-small. Slow film’s fine grain provides the detail needed for sharp enlargements. Film in the range of ISO 64 to 100 will generally permit sufficiently-fast shutter speeds, around 1/500 sec at ƒ5.6 or ƒ8 on bright, sunny days, even when using a polarizing filter, which is recommended for most aerial work. But, remember that additional exposure of one to one-and-a-half stops is needed when using a polarizer, so you will want to be sure that lighting levels are bright enough for your camera to maintain a sufficiently-fast shutter speed when exposure is adjusted for the filter factor.


Slow film should your first choice on bright days, but this does not mean you can’t or shouldn’t use faster films, say ISO 400 or even ISO 800, because you certainly can, particularly if the day is not brightly lit or if you must shoot into deeply shadowed areas. Higher-speed films can be of benefit when taking pictures from very high altitude or when conditions are overcast, due to their increased contrast. Lack of contrast is often a problem in aerial photography due to excessive atmospheric haze. In low light conditions, you may have no choice but to use a fast film in order to achieve sufficiently-fast shutter speeds.


Although most of us probably automatically think of color film for aerials, black and white film can also produce interesting pictures, and occasionally a scene will look better using black and white.

The key is to employ appropriate filters to enhance your black and white images. If you plan on taking black and white film into the air, we recommend you first visit our section entitled Colored filters for B&W photography.