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Aerial Abstractions: Nature, Art or Dr. Suess?

When shooting vertical aerial photography, we usually are mapping large areas or documenting the status of a property. Frequently we just fly along and have the camera automatically fire and record the images. We only see the what was shot during the post processing of the images. Every once in a while I see something unique and artistic amongst those images. Here are some images we shot over Soda Lake, California on the Carrizo Plain.

When viewing these, I first thought of Dr. Suess characters, but they could also replace the ink spots in the psychiatrist’s office (or at least the spots I saw last time I was there).


About to take a bite?


Some sort of rodent?


Wild turkey?

David Byrne, October 28, 2015


Photographing Mt Whitney From the Air

Mt Whitney is the highest point in California and the highest point in the lower 48 states. After hiking up the mountain several times, I had the pleasure of planning an aerial photo shoot of the mountain.

The goal of the shoot was to get the façade of the mountain in morning light, with the background still in shadow. I planned this so the mountain summit and ridge line would stand out against the background, rather than blend in with it. Doing this would require getting the airplane higher than the summit of 14,494’ above sea level, and in the correct position at just the right moment. I measured the area to be photographed and came up with the correct position to be in, which I entered in the airplane’s GPS. All we had to do was to be at that correct point in space at the correct time.

We took off from Lone Pine airport, which is just 14 miles from the summit of the mountain. Sunrise that day was at 5:58 am, so we took off around 5:15 am to provide plenty of time to climb to 16,000’ by sunrise.

5:47 AM, only predawn light on the mountain.

5:57 am, the first morning light on the facade of the mountain.

6:07 am, level at 16,000′, we accomplished the goal of the flight.

6:24 am, after just 17 minutes, the color of light changed completely.

I have not done any color or white balance adjustments in the images in this post to show the changes we saw that morning.

My planning of this shoot primarily considered the sun angle on the mountain and the background. The flight turned out to be a fantastic lesson in the color of light as the sun rises. The red morning or “magic hour” light completely disappeared in the 17 minutes between the last two images.

For more information on the color of light in photographs I found some great information on this web site – http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/sunrise-sunset-calculator.htm

We offer these posters for sale from this shoot through the http://www.whitneyportalstore.com in Lone Pine and http://www.sierraelevation.com in Lone Pine. They can also be ordered through us directly through this link – http://focal-flight.myshopify.com/products/first-light-on-mt-whitney-poster


Sharp Air-To-Air Photography

Photographing other aircraft in the air has unique challenges. It is a very dynamic environment with both the subject aircraft and the photo aircraft in motion against a continually moving background. When photographing a propeller driven airplane, there is one additional feature to consider, and that is the propeller of the subject airplane.

Most aerial photography is done with very high shutter speeds to help insure sharpness of the subject. Slow shutter speeds often result in blurry subjects because of the motion of the aircraft and camera. High shutter speeds reduce motion blur, which is normally desirable, but high shutter speeds can even effectively stop any apparent motion of a propeller. While this will help insure the overall sharpness of the image, it eliminates one of the most unique characteristics of a shoot like this, which is the motion of a spinning propeller.

The propeller appearing as a spinning disk, adds a dynamic “in motion” look to the subject aircraft. The camera’s shutter speed is what will determine whether that prop looks like it is spinning or fixed. To determine the maximum shutter speed to get this result, we first take the revolutions per minute (RPM) of the subject airplane. A typical light airplane will use an RPM of about 2,400. Divide the RPM by 60 to get the revolutions per second. In this case 2,400/60 = 40 revolutions per second, which means that in 1/40th of a second, the propeller will make one revolution. If the propeller is a two bladed propeller, the entire disk of the propeller will be covered in 1/80th of a second. To insure a complete propeller disk in the image, in this situation we would us a 1/60th of a second. This will account in variations in the subject airplane’s engine speed.

Anyone with photography experience will know that getting sharp images while hand holding a camera standing firmly on the ground with a shutter speed of 1/60th is difficult at best. Now try hand holding the camera while shooting from a moving airplane with a strong wind coming through the window with the subject airplane in motion against a moving background. Our first attempts at this type of photography resulted in only about 15% of the images being sharp. This was very frustrating and impractical since about 85% of the images were too blurry throughout to use.

Then we found a solution through Kenyon Laboratories, www.ken-lab.com, the leading manufacturer of gyro stabilizers. We purchased a Kenyon 6 x 6 gyro, which is a 3 axis gyro designed to stabilize cameras up to 11 pounds, which would accommodate our camera equipment. A gyro stabilizer is basically a stabilizing platform that dampens motion and vibration. This piece of equipment made air-to-air photography at slow shutter speeds possible. Once we started shooting with the Kenyon gyro, about 90% of the images shot were sharp as opposed to the previous 15%.


Contact Focal Flight today to discuss your aerial imagery needs

Focal Flight, LLC
226 West Ojai Avenue
Suite 101-173
Ojai, CA 93023-2406

(805) 630-0065
(805) 585-3710 Fax

info@focalflight.com


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