Twelve Apostles From The Air

March 21, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Port Campbell National Park from the air.
Canon EOS 5DSR, 17-40mm lens, 1/6400 second @ f4, ISO 1250

It's always a challenge giving advice to photographers about to shoot from a helicopter. On the Canon Collective Tour to Geelong last weekend,  two dozen photographers took a spectacular drive along the Great Ocean Road to Port Campbell National Park and the 12 Apostles. We all had 25 minute flights booked over Australia's most spectacular stretch of coastline.

The one thing you know when shooting from a helicopter is to keep your shutter speeds up high, but this depends on the helicopter, the location and the weather. The smaller the helicopter, the more it bounces around and so the faster the shutter speed required. The more unstable the weather, the more the helicopter bounces around and when you're flying over uneven ground, there can be updrafts that bounce you around as well.

I have tack sharp photographs taken from a helicopter with shutter speeds as slow as 1/250 second, but I have many more that are blurred. Even at 1/2000 second you can have blurred shots if the chopper is moving around a lot.

I suggested to the photographers that they needed a shutter speed of at least 1/2000 second to ensure they took sharp photographs, but there were a few compromises. First, as we were shooting in the late afternoon, to get a 1/2000 second shutter speed probably required a reasonably wide aperture - and wide apertures are not always optimum in terms of image quality (the edges can be a little soft, although the middle is normally pretty good).

And even with a wide open aperture, the ISO may need to be pushed up a little to ensure correct exposure with the shutter speed and aperture combination. One approach is to set the shutter speed at, say, 1/2000 second on Tv (shutter priority) mode and turn on auto ISO. Once the camera reaches the widest aperture, it then starts to increase the ISO to ensure correct exposure.

So how come this photo is taken at 1/6400 second? Well, old habits die hard and I usually shoot in aperture priority mode - but I keep an eye on my settings. I set the aperture and the ISO so that when I was pointing the camera at the ground, my shutter speed was around 1/2000 second. However, if there were breaking waves in frame with lots of white water, the camera would push the shutter speed up higher to maintain correct exposure.

The caveat on this advice is that we had a fixed flight path and time. If you have more time, you can slow yourself right down and think your options through. On the other hand, there's something really exciting about spending 25 minutes on a flight and shooting like mad! It's an amazing flight and worth booking at 12 Apostles Helicopters.

And thanks to the Canon Collective for inviting me along. You can find out more about the Canon Collective at

To see the photograph as it was captured in camera, click through to the website below...

Processed raw file before adjustments. 

Yes, you're right! I have squished the headlands together a bit, just to add a little extra drama. Note to self: I must take another flight on a sunny day - it must be simply spectacular!

And if you're interested in a photography workshop later this year, I have trips going to Karijini, Kununurra, the Daintree, Arnhemland, New Zealand and Bhutan. Full details on the Better Photography website!



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