January 16, 2012
I recently spent a week shooting from a helicopter in Sicily – lots of fun! When I’ve done aerial work in the past I’ve always shot with Canon SLRs. This time we were shooting for a campaign with a multitude of formats, so I used a Hasselblad H3DII-39 in order to have plenty of room to crop into, and took a Canon 5D II as a backup, with a 24-70 L 2.8 and 70-200 4.0 L. I prefer the 70-200 f4.0 to the f2.8 version as I find it sharper when stopped down, and it weighs a lot less.
Feeling geeky today, so skip this next bit if you’re not interested in technical details… The Hasselblad is limited to 1/800s, whereas the 5DII is good up to 1/8000s. On paper it looks as if the Canon should get much sharper pictures, but my experience with the Hasselblad was so good that after shooting with both the first day, I didn’t bother with the Canon for subsequent shoots. Most shots were sharper with the Hasselblad despite the Canon’s higher shutter speed, although as I needed to keep the ISO as low as possible to minimise noise, I didn’t shoot above 1/2000s with the 5D.
One of the big problems in helicopters is vibration. Image-stabilising lenses don’t help, as the vibration is too fast for them to counteract. Bracing against seats or fuselage doesn’t work, as every part of the helicopter is shaking. To minimise vibration you have to make sure the camera is not touching anything when you shoot. Handholding a Hasselblad gets pretty tiring after a while, but I think its weight actually helped: it’s such a heavy camera that it moved around less than the Canon. The combination of the Hasselblad and G-force almost pulled my arm off when we were turning fast though.
The pictures we were shooting have been combined with studio shots in post-production, so maintaining a constant shooting angle was crucial. We shot most of the pictures tethered to my MacBook Pro, using the Hasselblad capture software, Phocus, to preview the images and overlay the layouts. This was the first time I’d tried shooting tethered for aerial work, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it went. Obviously not as easy as in studio or on location, but definitely worth doing if shooting for montage. And no, we didn’t take a Wacom tablet up with us.
The most important element in getting good pictures of course was having an amazing pilot – thanks to Andrea from Air Panarea, who was an absolute star.