— Chris Burkard



About This Course

Just like an airplane or helicopter, a drone is a great tool when used for the right job. Chris Walks you through his kit, and how he uses it to capture the shot

Acquired Knowledge

Aerial photography offers a captivating perspective that allows photographers to capture breathtaking images from above. Whether you're shooting from a fixed-wing aircraft or a helicopter, there are key skills and strategies to learn in order to create standout photographs. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of aerial photography, covering everything from planning and communication to equipment selection and execution of plane-to-plane shoots. By the end, you will have the knowledge and expertise to produce exceptional aerial photographs that leave a lasting impression.

Composing Stand-Out Photographs

One of the fundamental aspects of aerial photography is composing visually striking images. While many composition principles apply to both ground-based and aerial photography, there are unique considerations to keep in mind when shooting from the sky. By understanding these principles, you can elevate your aerial photography to new heights.

First and foremost, take advantage of the aerial perspective to capture stunning compositions. The higher vantage point offers a fresh outlook on landscapes, cityscapes, and other subjects. Experiment with different altitudes, angles, and focal lengths to play with scale and create dynamic compositions. Incorporate leading lines, symmetry, and balance to guide the viewer's eye through the image.

Moreover, aerial photography provides an opportunity to highlight patterns and textures. From the air, natural and man-made patterns become more apparent, such as fields, roads, rivers, and architectural elements. Look for these elements and emphasize them in your compositions, adding depth and visual interest to your photographs.

Consider the foreground elements and framing in your aerial shots. Utilize natural or man-made objects in the foreground to add depth and context to the image. Clouds, trees, buildings, or other elements can help frame the main subject and provide a sense of scale.

Planning Your Aerial Photography Mission

Extensive research and careful planning are essential for a successful aerial photography mission. Before taking to the skies, conduct thorough research to identify key points of interest in the area you intend to photograph. Landmarks, natural features, and subjects that align with your creative vision should be noted.

Study maps and satellite imagery to gain a better understanding of the terrain, topography, and potential obstacles. This information will help you plan your flight path and determine the best vantage points for your photographs. Additionally, consider the lighting conditions for your desired shots. Golden hour, which occurs during the early morning or late afternoon, provides soft and warm light that can enhance the mood of your images. Blue hour, before sunrise or after sunset, offers a beautiful blue hue to the sky and can create a magical atmosphere.

Briefing Your Pilot and Communicating Your Vision

When working with a pilot for your aerial photography mission, effective communication is key. Before the flight, brief your pilot on your creative vision, desired outcomes, and specific shots or angles you have in mind. Providing visual references, sketches, or example images can help convey your vision clearly.

Coordinate with your pilot to ensure they understand the flight maneuvers required to capture your desired shots. This may involve circling specific areas, flying at different altitudes, or making smooth turns. Establishing clear communication and understanding between you and your pilot is crucial for a successful aerial photography session.

Choosing the Best Aerial Craft

Choosing the right aerial craft is essential to achieve your desired outcomes. Consider the available options, such as fixed-wing airplanes or helicopters, based on your specific needs. Each type of aircraft has its advantages and limitations, so choose the one that best suits your desired shots and budget.

Fixed-wing airplanes offer stability and smoother flights, making them suitable for capturing wide-angle shots and covering larger areas. On the other hand, helicopters provide more flexibility in terms of hovering and precise positioning, allowing for close-up shots and capturing specific details.

Selecting and Managing Gear in Flight

Selecting the right gear and effectively managing it during the flight is crucial for capturing high-quality aerial photographs. Choose a camera that meets your requirements for image quality and features. A wide-angle lens is often preferred for aerial photography as it allows you to capture expansive views. However, telephoto lenses can also be useful for isolating specific subjects or details.

To minimize vibrations and blur in your aerial shots, stabilize your camera using image stabilization technology, whether it's in-camera stabilization or external tools such as tripods or gimbals. This will help ensure sharp and crisp images, even when shooting from a moving aircraft.

Consider using filters to enhance your aerial photographs. Polarizers can reduce glare and enhance color saturation, while graduated neutral density filters can help balance the exposure between the bright sky and the darker land below. Experiment with different filters to achieve the desired effects for your shots.

Executing Plane-to-Plane Shoots

Plane-to-plane photography adds an extra level of complexity to aerial photography, as you will be capturing images from one aircraft to another. Safety should be your top priority in such scenarios. It is crucial to coordinate with the other aircraft and establish clear communication between pilots.

Ensure that both pilots are familiar with the flight plan and the maneuvers required to execute the shots safely. Maintain a safe distance between the aircraft and follow all aviation regulations and guidelines. Clear communication and coordination between pilots and photographers are essential for successful plane-to-plane shoots.

In conclusion, aerial photography provides a unique and captivating perspective that can produce exceptional photographs. By mastering the skills of composition, research, planning, communication, gear selection, and execution, you will be able to create standout aerial images. So, take to the skies, explore the world from above, and capture stunning photographs that leave a lasting impression on viewers.


Chris Burkard
Chris Burkard is an American photographer and artist, based in the California Central Coast region. He photographs landscape, lifestyle, surf, outdoor, and travel subjects. Burkard takes a photojournalistic approach to make editorial projects, using multiple media. He uses natural light to capture humanizing moments.


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