Amateur Aerial Photography!


View from above! – California. 5D Mark III & 85mm 1.2L II at f9, ISO 400

Aerial photography is taking photos from an elevated position such as an aircraft or drone. Aerial shots can be very dramatic as the view point is normally unique and unfamiliar to us. I say ‘amateur’ because good aerial photography is quite scientific, and there are photographers who specialise in nothing but aerial photography. Taking photos from the air is certainly new to me, but I wanted to share my findings on a recent experience. A couple of weeks ago I went to the US, and spent some time in California.

I had to make several internal flights, and thought I’d make the most out of it and try my hand at some aerial photographs. Hope you like the results and the post.

Here are some well known tips on aerial photography;

  • Most photographers suggest using a very fast shutter speed, faster than you might think. Sort of 1/1000 territory.
  • Depending on the scene, many suggest a focal length of around 100mm on fullframe.
  • Many also suggest using a polariser on your lens. This is to cut down reflections if photographing through windows. Also, the use of a polariser will increase colour saturation.
  • If on a commercial flight get a seat in front of the wings for an unobstructed view.
  • Don’t rest the lens on the window or any part of the aircraft as the vibrations can translate into blurry images.

On my flights, I decided to use my 5D with the 85mm 1.2L II lens. I’m a prime guy, and my only zooms are 16-35mm 2.8L II and 100-400mm 4.5-5.6L IS II and I didn’t think they would be suitable. I started off using a polariser but that didnt work too well with the perspex windows. So I had to take it off. I used shutter speeds around 1/1250 and an aperture of about f9 – f11. For me on that day this required a sensitivity of iso 400 which isn’t a big deal.

I then concentrated on finding some good subjects, which as we were flying over the Rocky mountains wasn’t a problem. After looking at the images on the computer, initially I was quite disappointed with them. The images had a lot of haze in them, which was over-powering. In Photoshop I tried the “dehaze” function in combination with other processing and it worked very well. Refer to below example.


Arizona USA, 5D Mark III & 85mm 1.2L II at f8, ISO 400

My experiences;

  • Commercial aircraft windows such for photography…
  • Don’t use a poloriser as you will get some weird colours happening through the perspex windows.
  • The 85mm focal length was good for me, but 50mm would also have been good (didn’t bring it..).
  • The raw files needed a lot of work to get them looking good. Although the detail was there.
  • The ‘dehaze’ function in Photoshop is very useful to get the most out of hazy images as can be seen below.
  • Contrast and saturation tweaks are also important to get the most out of the images.
  • Ensure you use a low ISO and a small aperture to get the best image quality, and as always, shoot RAW!



Before and After processing showing how effectively the haze can be removed. Arizona, USA.


Some Results!