Lenses for Aerials
So we're gonna go up there in the air and, you know, what lens do I take? And, yeah, what lens do you take, Tony?
I take the cleanest, sharpest lens I can find. Now actually, I shoot 90% of my work on a standard lens. So, in a medium format or my Phase One XF system, I use an 80 millimeter Schneider, which equivalent about a 50 mil lens on a DSLR 35 mil. And I like that because that's the way I see the world. That's what I like. Some people prefer slightly wider. Some people do use a zoom and on some projects, I used a Canon system on another project where I had a zoom lens, as in a 70-200. And I had a 24 to 70 but most of it was still 50. I had two camera bodies. 50 on one and the other I switch lenses to be able to zoom in and out to get some context shots and some detailed shots each with their own problems on shutter speed. But generally, if I'm shooting my fine art, I want the consistent perspective and a consistent view so I use standard lenses.
Yeah. So, when we look at wide...
-angles people are interested because you're up there. There are vistas, isn't it wonderful to look at. This is a shot taken over the Great Barrier Reef and it's taken with the equivalent of around about a 14 millimeter lens from a helicopter. But when I'm shooting there I am flaming out a little bit. We slowed the helicopter down because I had to get the skids out of the way. I had to make sure that the rotors weren't up in the top. And I got the pilot to just gradually go up so that the cloud came in over the top. Wide-angle can be used. We're not saying don't use wide-angles. If you want it give it a go but as Tony said you've got to be aware of the aircraft that you're in and what's around.
The peripheral distractions.
Because it is and I only had that angle. If I moved to the left or to the right, up or down I had something in my picture. I had to get the pilot to move around to basically direct me and that's what we're gonna talk about, a little bit what we are talking about. A good pilot who gets you into position, that communication is very, very important. We always have headphones on so that you can talk clearly with the pilot.
The other thing with the wide-angle lens is a good sort of scene setter. Like for me wide-angle lenses sort of capture what everyone can see anyway. When it comes to the fine art hat that I might put on I'm looking to produce something that I saw that everyone else missed or they couldn't see it amongst the cacophony of example in front of them. Whereas the wide-angle will get that whole view, that whole sort of expanse, the overwhelming feeling of looking out. So, everything's got a purpose.
Okay, so telephotos. When we get into our telephoto shot and like a shot like this allows to isolate a little point of the landscape. But there are challenges, aren't there?
Yeah, well, as soon as you go to telephoto lens you're gonna have to up your shutter speed first and foremost because the more you've got, the longer the lens, the more that the ground speed becomes extenuated, the more important to get your shutter speed up.
Let's say that we can do all of that and we've got that under control. What advantage does a telephoto bring?
Well, the telephoto lens for me would bring out the advantage of being able to show people something that again they would have skipped over. It's isolating sections of the landscape. There might be a lot of glare over here, there could be a lot of reflection over here but just in that part of the mountain range, just in that valley there's a nice little section which blows out again. Zoom lens you can just pick that little area and work with that.
What about you? Why do you use because you use them more than I do.
Same reason. But I guess it's a good little segue into when people go up on their first trip, on their first flight and they say what lens do I take? Because we've shown them great shots with telephotos, we've shown them great shots with wide-angles. I'd say a mid-range zoom like a 24 to 70, 24-105 is great.
Yeah, perfect lens.
Because it lets them work out what they want to do. In your case, if that's gonna be your first flight, 24 to 70, 24 to 105. 24 is not too wide and 70, 105's not too long.
Yeah, I think it keeps you and it also, it kind of minimizes the problems you'll have with the extremities of the plane when you're looking out.
It gives you freedom without putting into an area where you might get troubles.
And often, people when they're going up on their first few flights they're doing it for the scenic as much as anything else.
They wanna take photos of what it was like to be up there so they want the horizon. Whereas you look at a lot of Tony and my work we don't have a horizon in our photograph. It's all looking straight down because we're looking for the fine art, the abstract look. But we still take the pretty pretties like this because we've got to show our wives how hard we have been working while we've been away.
I think it's also that until you develop your own vision and have an understanding of it, like, I know what I like to get, I know what I'm chasing when I'm up in the air. I don't know exactly the specific subject but I know the look I'm looking for and it comes from a standard mil, a standard lens for me. Whereas for other people they might like a slightly wider look, you know? Yeah, that's a standard lens, you know? Okay, it's a square crop and most of the time I go for a square crop but it's still the standard perspective view and that shot's probably shot from about 3,000 feet. So when we were looking at it I know we're around 1, and I couldn't quite get the whole tree branch effect so I just got the pilot to take me up. Because I didn't want to shoot with a wide-angle. By going wide-angle I stopped pulling in information from the side but the relationship between what's in the middle and the outside changes. I preferred the flat perspective and then I can work on the textures and things.
And so, the pilot becomes your zoom lens.
Absolutely. I mean, I talked about this in an earlier session that the pilot taking me up to 3,000 or 4,000 feet became my extension of my tripod. I became the zoom on my lens, able to bring me up but I kept that perspective that I like to see. It also means and we're gonna talk about portfolios, exhibitions, books tomorrow but it gives a consistency to my fine artwork that they're all being done with the same perspective rather than have wide shots and long shots. Some people might like that but my choice is to keep that perspective consistent.
Whereas I'm very comfortable to work with a wide-angle and a telephoto perspective is a part of the way that I put my photographs together. Okay, so we're going along quite well, Tony. I think we're almost there.
Can we get back? I was just interested in that shot. It actually made me, I don't know if this is a good example or. But often when you're shooting aerials, the light, the time of day and things is really important. I know we talked about that but this shot is an example that when you do get up in the air, particularly around mountainous areas and uneven terrain, you often get these angles on a hill which turn the middle of the day into a late light shot. Because the hill's coming down like this and the trees might be like that but the light being above because the angle of the hill is different, we suddenly get these different shadows what we would get for this flat ground. Thus, the aerial provides with another opportunity that you don't often get.
And when we because I know whether we do touch on time of day but in a balloon it's always wonderful to get up and get that first light. I still find that the ends of the day are the best times to take photographs from the air. Whereas I know that some of the people we work with they prefer to be there in the middle of the day, one of the arguments I think you said this is that you get the light bouncing back.
It's certainly over water. Whereas for me, having the shadows of the trees next to the water is much more interesting to me. Yeah, no right or wrong.
That's where subject matter and that's where intent, what are you photographing? Now you mentioned water, yes and particularly people like going out now. It's quite a sort of a movement towards salt lakes and colored water. And you worry about Peter and my saturation, you get up and see some salt lakes there is some color and then you have to touch the saturation. But light has to penetrate to come back up at you to give you the color. Early in late light shots sometimes on those water shots there is no color coming out. But middle of the day when you get the color you don't get the relief and that's that balance. What are you photographing? And I know you love that late light shot because you get that relief on trees and things.
You also get it on ripples which we saw on that green shot a moment ago. Yeah, I was gonna say something else but it's gone.
It'll come to you.
I'll come back to it.
Well, what are we gonna wear when we get up there, Tony?
I like to wear clothes.
You know, clothes is good, isn't it?
It's not like it's a single answer because if you're in a helicopter, door's off and you're in the snow that can be and at altitude, that's gonna be quite different than working in the tropics in Kununurra where the ground temperature's 45 degrees and it's a really cool.
45 celsius and it's a nice cool 30 degrees celsius when you're in a chopper at 3,000 feet.
Well man but, you know, the conditions can change all over the world and you got to remember that because you can get very uncomfortable very quickly sitting in a small environment. Interestingly, the other thing about keeping warm of course, Peter, is you put your gloves on, you put your thermals on, you can't move.
Holding cameras when your hands are cold. If you have no gloves on you find it hard to operate the controls. You put the gloves on you can't feel anything, there's all sorts of challenges.
And one of the things you got to be aware of is if you have the doors off or the window open there can be a lot of breeze coming in. So if you've got long, billowing, flowing clothing on.
You mean that dress that you sometimes wear?
Shh, yeah, that's right. It flaps around an awful lot. And so, I had a term tight-fitting clothing and Tony said, "I'm not quite just sure about tight-fitting." He might have been thinking of tight leathers or something like that. But comfortable clothing that doesn't flap around is important. Yeah, question, sure.
Back on the lenses, do you use a polarizer much?
A polarizer, well interesting. Neither of us use a polarizer very much. I have done so but when polarized light comes in the best polarization is at 90 degrees to the light. And if you're in a helicopter or a plane going around then that polarization changes all the time. And yes, you can twist the polarizer. And so, there will be occasions, yes, where I will use a polarizer but generally I do not. It's not to say that I shouldn't and I know some photographers use one quite a lot because it can certainly bring out the blues and the color and the contrast but then, so can post production. (laughs)
And also just on that, so can the angles. So yes, if you photograph, let's say you got a nice little piece of reef in clear tropical waters and it's 10 o'clock in the day so the light's kind of on a nice angle and you're coming into it. Every part of that orbit will provide a different type of response in terms of the light and the color, the contrast et cetera. There'll be a moment or two where it's just full glare and that's where the polarizer would cut in. But that's where I would think to myself, okay, I'm gonna dial it right down so I can really shut down the exposure and I'll get this really darkish image with just little spotlights of glisten. Then as it comes around I'm just opening it up because there'll be another moment where I get no reflection off the water. I work a different way.
You've done a lot of aerials over water. Have you used a UV filter?
I don't, no.
Yeah because I've done work over water where I felt I should have put a UV for ultraviolet just to knock it out. Because I struggled in my files to get rid of blue. Not always, it depends on where you are but certainly on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
Too much blue.
Yeah, there's too much blue. Well, I'm assuming it was blue or ultraviolet but I think it was more ultraviolet that I just, I really struggled to get rid of in the file. You're saying I'm getting rid of color but yes I was.
And you look at this shot here, there's no polarizer on that, there's no UV filter on that. Most of what you're seeing here is very simple. It's just a few curves, a few local area contrast curves, a little bit of saturation and cropping in and straightening things up, that's it. That's it. And because I've chosen an angle of the light when we come around where I don't get that glare, it works.
I just wanna also touch on pockets when we talk about clothing.
Well, that's good, okay.
Okay. One of things to keep in mind is you've got to take a spare battery, spare cards, things like that but you also have to be aware particularly in helicopters where the door's off, you don't want anything flying out the door. You don't wanna drop anything because it's literally quite dangerous and some pilots are a lot more vocal about that, some are quiet but you need to take responsibility.
Something goes into the tail rotor.
That's it, you're all going down.
You might take a little bit of a trip downwards, yeah.
When I'm in a chopper the thing I'm conscious of is whichever side of the helicopter I'm on. I use the pockets that are on the inside. I usually wear pants that have, I don't know if you can see me. Can you see me from there but generally I'll wear pants that have those side pockets, the cargo type pants, hunting pants. And I'll have loose pockets that I can put batteries in, cards in. I'll also have pockets up here that I can, Velcro is better than buttons, drop cards in. And then I have a system where on one side I might have a zip here that I can put used cards in if that happens. The important thing to remember is if I'm sitting on the left side, I'm on the left side of the helicopter in the front, the pilot's there and this is all open. I don't wanna be reaching in here to grab things because generally your battery goes flat you're oh, I'm gonna miss the shot, I'm gonna miss the shot. So you're sort of reaching all on the inside. But be careful of the joystick as well. It's so many little things to keep in mind. As Peter said they don't wanna be loose but you need to be able to access it and that's why I don't like things too tight.
Yeah, so obviously don't wear a hat. Glasses, normally okay because you're going to put a set of headphones on and they're gonna keep your glasses in position.
If you stick your head out well you might lose both glasses and headphone but keep your head inside the plane and you'll be all right.