There are certain photos that you are only going to capture from an aircraft. And the helicopter is an extremely flexible aircraft platform to shoot from. Our recent photographer fresh off of our helicopter on the coast of Lake St. Clair wanted to share his thoughts on our site.
Testimonial from one of our photographers:
" After deciding that you need to be in the air, you need to select who is going to take you up. Which helicopter company are you going to use? Well, look no further. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND MICHIGAN HELICOPTERS While some locales have little selection in who flies you, I was fortunate to have many options in our local area. To narrow down my selection, I was asking several questions. A priority question was: What type of window seat can be guaranteed? For photography, you want a window seat.
If you fly with a general helicopter sight-seeing tour, you may not end up with a window seat - even if you have been told that you will have one. When boarding, the operator will likely use body weights to place clients in the helicopter - for a balanced load. Even if you get a guaranteed window seat flight, you may not be able to shoot from that seat. The center front seat in some helicopters is low and has controls intruding upon the seating space. Shooting from this position would be tough.
Will the operator reschedule your flight if conditions are not good for photography? Most operators will not want to fly if the weather is bad, but ... there can be a gray area between what is bad for flying and what is bad for photography (lack of sunlight being perhaps the biggest issue). Be sure that your flight operator will reschedule your flight if the weather is not favorable for photography.
Tip: Book your flight early in your trip so that rescheduling can be accommodated.
If not enough clients book a specific flight, some operators will cancel that flight. Find out your operator's policy before signing up. I booked a flight that was guaranteed to fly (with weather remaining a contingency). Again, booking early in your stay can allow for rescheduling.
Doors on or doors off? You can shoot through the expansive, mostly-glass helicopter doors, but ... you will lose contrast in your images. And reflections will be a problem. Be sure to wear dark clothes if shooting through glass to reduce your own reflections.
Better optically is to shoot from a doors-off flight. Michigan helicopters offers doors off flying FOR A REASONABLE PRICE,while others want doors on and closed at all times. One local tour operator quoted me $950 to take the doors off (and wanted $2,200 per hour to fly a private charter). I was later told that the model helicopter they were flying requires the doors to simply be locked open. Basically, they did not want to vary from their scripted tour flights. I don't have a problem with that practice - but that was not the right tour company for me.
There can be nothing loose on the doors-off flights for risk of the loose item blowing into the tail rotor. This also includes camera gear. You are typically permitted to take just the bare camera (I took two) on a neck strap - with no lens hood. Any loose fitting clothes (such as hoods) are going to to be highly irritating if not painful. You will not keep a baseball-style hat on.
Dress warmly. Ask the operator for more specifics on this recommendation, but I wore a winter jacket and jeans with air temps on the ground in the upper 70s (f).
You will likely be given a headset for communication with the pilot and other passengers. The headset has a cord and a mic boom. The wind will then blow your camera strap off of your head and tangle it with those headset accessories. Even holding onto the camera requires a strong grip.
For my charter, I selected the "Photography Flight" . Their 4-passenger (including the pilot) Robinson R44 helicopters are ideal for photography. The rate (per person) was not significantly different from a standard tour rate, but the pilot was able to cater to my needs and desires. Ad hoc requests were not a problem as the pilot was free to go where I wanted (within airspace permissions).
My flight duration was also flexible. I was able to shoot until I was confident that I had captured what I wanted. We had a target time limit to the flight, but finished about 10 minutes early.
I was given the ideal seat for photography. I actually straddled the two back seats (within the tight seat belt's limits) and shot from both sides of the helicopter at times.
While most good pilots able to follow instructions can do a good job for you, Michigan Helicopters has pilots experienced in flying serious photographers. This experience is of course helpful. If you ever get around to a photo flight, I would highly recommend these guys. Thanks again!