Shutter Speed in Aerial Shooting
I guess one of the important things that we've gotta do is when we're up in the air--
Get it shot.
How do you do that?
Shutter speed! So what would be the preferred shutter speed that I, I'm just tempting you there with this slide.
Okay, so I would prefer to be shooting at 2000th of a second or faster.
Yeah I know that's good.
2000th of a second.
And ISO 50 or 100?
Lowest ISO I can get comfortably, but generally because I'm pushing ISO, pushing shutter speed up, I'll keep my ISO around 100. It does depend on the camera system because--
I'm talking about the optimum. If we were in a perfect world--
I'd shoot at the lowest ISO native.
And what aperture would you use?
I would probably shoot around five six.
Oh not F11 which might be the sharpest aperture for your lens?
No because I don't need the depth of field, I need the shutter speed, but if I could get to an F and still get 2 1/2, 3/1000 of a second, and have ISO 50, yeah m...
aybe I'd go F11.
So I guess what I'm saying is that if we're a landscape photographer, we normally go out I mean people talk about F22, F16, whatever. We find with our lenses at any rate F11 gives us adequate depth of field, which we might need to focus stack but it's the sharpest part of the, it's the sharpest aperture on the lens so that if you're shooting wide open, around the edges of the picture it's not quite as sharp. Whereas if you get down to F11 it's sharp everywhere and it's the clarity of the image is even sharper, and then when you go past that to F16, past F you get issues with--
Defraction which softens the image and so you're losing the benefit of depth of field. So in a perfect world, I'd like to be shooting at F from the air because I know when I make my big two meter prints, when people walk up close and you know all photographers walk up close to look at a print from about six inches away.
Isn't that where they're supposed to be viewed from?
I'm sure it is, but I want that, want there to be lots of detail and I want it to be sharp. So for me, it doesn't matter whether we're shooting from the air or shooting from the land. My ideal situation would be F11. I was just prompting you to, baiting you for perfection but it's not going to--
Live on camera and you want to make me look silly.
Well that's not true because you're going to talk about this particular shot, which actually did meet those--
It did actually, so what will happen on occasion is if you're shooting over water particularly, and you have full sun coming in there's certain angles of an arc where the light's bouncing off the water straight back into the lens so it's a full reflection and that's very bright, and in this situation I was able to get it up to around F11. Actually I think it was probably more like F9, F and I was able to shoot at 4/1000 of a second. Interestingly enough, within 90 degrees of that arc those requirements would have dropped back to about F56 at 2,000, because the light would have dropped off quite a lot as soon as that reflection goes out of the viewfinder, so there was an opportunity.
So why do we want those fast shutter speeds?
Because essentially we're moving, so the plane is moving, is vibrating a little bit. We're holding a camera. We're not got it steady on a tripod, and the ground is moving relative to us as well. So there's a whole lot of moving factors that are contributing.
And if you start to use a slight telephoto lens you're magnifying all of that even further.
The longer the lens, the more the effect.
But it comes down to a matter of practicality. What can our cameras, with the technology that we've got, do today? And I suppose that if we say that you have to have a fast shutter speed, and I've had people tell me you only need 1/500 of a second, you only need 1/1000 of a second, you only need a 16/100 of a second. Tony said to me you need a 2000th of a second a couple of years back, and I looked at this advice and I found that when I had 1/500 of a second, I could get shut photos most of the time. 15/100, most of the time. 2000th of a second nearly all the time, and I was so disappointed with some of my shots at 1/500 of a second that I thought Tony's right. I need to keep my shutter speed with a plain helicopter at a 2000th of a second and sometimes it does drop down a little bit slower, but that's my aim point because nothing kills an aerial for me worse than mush, when it looks like mush.
There's nothing, 'cause you look on the back of your camera you think I've nailed it, and these opportunities, they don't come around very often. Even if you came back and flew back across it, you might take a slightly different path, the light shifts, everything changes.
So the shutter speed is the most important. Our cameras today have great ISO performance, so I'll set my ISO to 100 to 3200. I'll go up to 3200 and keep my 1/2000 of a second shutter speed because I'm going to get it shot, there'll be a little bit of noise. Some cameras there's hardly any noise. I mean 3200 is a walk in the park for a lot of the new DSLRs that we've got today. So but I'll try to keep it at 100. And then I'll go between F2.8 and F5.6. Now I would probably go for F5.6 if I could. I'd probably move my ISO up to so if I go to F5.6 rather than F2.8, but we've got these three things to play with and so it's a matter of setting them in a way that's going to give you the best result so that when you want to come back and do post production, you've got a nice, sharp image.
Yeah, you know it's interesting how different people approach it 'cause we'll talk a bit in a moment about automatic versus manual, but you need to understand each system is different so whether you're using medium format, what quality of medium format, what quality of lenses, DSLR, mirrorless, each system will have its strengths and weaknesses in terms of how far you can push ISO.
That's a good point.
How far you can push the lens. If you've got you know like we use our phase one cameras with Schneider lenses on them. We can open them to 2.8 and they're going to be pretty good all the way to the edge. But one of the things that's not so strong is the fact that we don't want to be, can't shoot at 3200, it's too much noise. So we can push to 200, maybe and that's not a discredit to a great camera system. It's just the way it is. But we can get the most amazing sharp images all the way to the edge at 100 megapixel, 2/1000 of a second absolutely beautiful two meter prints. If you're working with a DSLR camera like maybe a Canon, I can push the ISO a little bit higher but perhaps it's not going to be quite as sharp and wide open depending which lens, they're still great lenses and a lot of the shots you won't notice it because it's not only about the quality of the lens and the defraction and the way that the light's coming and hitting the edges of your lens which stops you going all the way out, it's also about when you shoot wide open what happens is you're using the edge of a lens as you're turning, so you're looking down on the ground, the plane's turning, and that movement on the edge is coming through the thinnest part of your lens so there's even another drop in quality.
There's more speed around the outside than there is over the middle, 'cause you're rotating around it. So it's quite amazing how you can open up some of your files and you look at the middle of the file and it's tack sharp, you go yes I nailed it! You go over to the lefthand corner and you go wow, that's blurred and how did that happen in the one frame? But that's exactly it.
So every camera system understand what its strengths are and working within those strengths at the same time as having a baseline of there's a minimum shutter speed for the type of vehicle you're in. There's a minimum shutter speed for the height because the higher you go, you can actually drop your shutter speed a little bit because if you think about it when you're taking off, 2/1000 of a second's not gonna freeze it you know? It's all about relative groundspeed, so so many factors to consider.
Exactly, so you might end up shooting at a 1/500 of a second and get a sharp shot. If you're up there, take it. You might be at ISO 3200, that's okay. You might be at F2.8 or as wide as your lenses, it's all okay. Still shoot it, but that's what we aim for. We certainly have got a lot of photos at both settings as well.
And then I'm just going to ask you, one of the things we didn't touch on in body position. You know there's two things to keep in mind. Number one, you don't want the lens protruding from the fuselage of the slipstream of the plane because if that's the window that you're shooting out of and you stick it out, there'll be no air movement here but it's 150 kilometers an hour here, so you put your lens out and you may not think you feel it, but the lens has got vibration. You need to be inside, inside that slipstream at all times. Lens hoods, people often leave the lens hood on out of habit. Flare, I don't take lens hoods out. I don't have a lens hood on because if I have a lens hood on it's just another thing to catch the wind. I don't want to be right back in the plane 'cause that limits my perspective. I want to be near the edge, but nothing to catch the wind. Secondly body position. When you pick up that camera and you're going to shoot either way, what are some of the things you think about whether you do it consciously or unconsciously probably now, how would you position yourself?
Well the most important thing is not to lean against the plane.
Or the helicopter, because that's vibrating and that's, my body becomes an insulation system.
Shock absorber, yeah. So I keep the camera hard against my forehead, and so it's still and stable and then I'm just moving around like that and making sure that I'm not leaning on anything. Not leaning into the back of the seat either if I can, but that depends on the aircraft of course.
Because you do see people with their camera. They'll be shooting, and then they get excited and they're kind of looking like this and then also with the modern small cameras they use only an LCD screen so they're holding it out like this and they're actually creating more movement.
Then you need a 1/20000 of a second shutter speed.
That's right, so yeah. Shutter speed is probably the key, getting that right. And you learn, you know we've got some photographer mates Christian Fletcher's a friend of ours, and he does tend to nail that 1/800 of a second pretty consistently. I can't do it.
Yeah yeah. So it's not that you're not going to get sharp photos, it's that you're not going to get lots of sharp photos. So with our camera settings then, basically what we're saying is that you need to ensure that however you set it, you get a nice fast shutter speed 'cause that's the most important thing. Yeah you think about it, just to summarize that, Peter, if you think about photographing sports cars you tend to be in one place and you can be quite steady. The car is moving, but relatively everything else is still. Aerial is the one place where the person holding the camera is moving by virtue of the plane. The vehicle you're in is actually vibrating separately to that movement, and the subject is moving, everything's moving.
Yeah that's right, so just to reiterate so we've got camera movement, subject movement, and aircraft movement to deal with and what we're trying to ensure is that we get image sharpness. We get edge to edge detail, so that means maximum detail everywhere and we don't want any noise. And so that's a big ask, so when we look at a photograph like this of yours Tony, you might talk a little bit about it and why noise would kill a shot like this.
Well it's just this is about the subtleties of the tones of blue you know? Any noise in this would kill it. This is literally a shot where you can hardly tell where the horizon meets the sky. The beauty of this and the challenge of this is because it's such an oblique angle whereas most of my stuff is a planar view, when you start looking up you are extending the depth of field. We didn't talk so much about the aperture on the camera, but one of the advantages of aerial shooting down is your depth of field needs to be relatively small unless of course you're shooting mountains and things, but when you're shooting you know water and reefs and things like that, you don't need big apertures for the depth of field. You need them for the reasons as we discussed. As soon as you bring the camera up, your depth of field extends. So that's where you may not even on a good camera go to 2.8, in fact on a medium format if you go to 2.8 you've got less depth of field than on a 35 mil. So what we want to do is keep that up so it changes the priorities of those three little triggers that you get to play with. And this shot here, noise would have killed it as you said because it's all about the beauty of the blues, yeah whereas an image like this you know it actually was shot at a I think 200 or 400 ISO which on the older million format cameras was quite a bit of noise, but because of the contrast in the image you can hide it so that what I guess I'm saying is that doesn't mean you don't take photographs at non-optimum settings, but that's what you aim to get. Because you know another thing we talk about edge to edge and maximum sharpness or at least good sharpness is because you're going to produce fine art, and we're talking about fine art landscape, talking about fine art aerials. You generally in terms of what we do, make them quite big and there is nothing more disappointing than having something that is perfectly sharp in the middle and it really becomes quite mushy on the outside, so that's important. And just to finish off, just to emphasize, that plane view, you've got a better chance of keeping everything sharp on a shot straight down than you have when something's like that, in my view. Particularly the standard lens. However, go back to Peter's first experiences. It is a different way of shooting, particularly in a helicopter where you're just falling out so you've just got to be careful because you need quite a bit of lift. Pilot should look after you, and then you got to tilt further to look down. Kind of an interesting view.