Tips on shooting from a helicopter

When I went to Kauai in September I knew I was going on a helicopter tour.  I had never flown in a helicopter let alone tried to take photos from one.  I feel pretty confident shooting from the ground.  I usually know which lens to grab and camera settings to use for a particular situation.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from riding in a helicopter though so I did a bunch of research beforehand in order to be prepared. I wanted to share what I learned, both from others’ recommendations and now my own experience, here.

I chose Jack Harter Helicopters in Lihue, Kauai, for our tour.  This decision was easy because I knew I wanted a helicopter that flew with no doors in order to get the best photos.  Jack Harter was the only company in Kauai flying a doors-off tour.  Flying doors-off also meant that I’d be restricted in the amount of gear I’d be able to take.  I wouldn’t be able to change lenses as there can be nothing loose in the cabin since it could fly out the door!  In addition, I knew there would be extra vibration from wind entering the cabin and I’d need to take that into consideration when choosing a shutter speed.  I chose a mid-afternoon flight which departed at 2pm.  I usually like to take photos at dawn or dusk, but the woman I spoke with on the phone at Jack Harter said that afternoon was great for photographers because the high sun allowed a lot of light to get into the narrow Kauai canyons.

Lens choice

Question #1: Which lens to take?  Wide?  Telephoto?  Something in the middle?  My first thought was that the 24-120mm f/4 should be pretty versatile on my full-frame Nikon D600.  I’d be able to do both wide for big vistas and moderate telephoto for landscape abstracts.  I did worry about the fact that the barrel extends when zooming on the 24-120 and thought that might allow a lot of extra dust to enter the lens in a windy environment.  I considered renting the pro-built 24-70mm f/2.8 as an alternative, but as I started looking around 500px and flickr to see what focal lengths people were using from helicopters, I began to think that I was going to want something wider than 24mm.  The super-wide shots looked very impressive!  I also got recommendations from a few photographers I found online—including someone who had specifically shot over Kauai—that I’d want wider than 24mm.  My 16-35mm f/4 was starting to look like the best choice for focal length and, because its barrel doesn’t extend when zooming, I didn’t have to worry about dust either.

I ended up going with the 16-35 and have to say it was a great choice.  The majority of the shots I took were wider than 24mm.  There were a few times I wanted to go past 35mm, but not many.  After the flight, I actually had people with kit lenses come up to me to say they were jealous I had a wide-angle lens!  I’d like to point out that I think the even wider pro 14-24mm f/2.8 would be a worse choice than the 16-35 too.  Firstly, if you go too wide you start to get the inside of the helicopter or rotor blades in your shots (and you can’t stick your lens out the door because the wind will grab it!).  Secondly, I used a polarizer (more on that later) which wouldn’t be possible on the 14-24.

Camera settings

I’ve been using cameras long enough to know that you can’t fix a blurry image once you get home so I wanted to make sure that I had a fast enough shutter speed to counter the motion and vibration of the helicopter.  I read recommendations online for a shutter speed anywhere between 1/250th and 1/1000th of a second.  The recommendations for 1/250th seemed to be coming from people who hired an airplane or helicopter specifically for photo shooting where they could tell the pilot to slow down.  I wasn’t going to have that luxury.  I wanted a lot of shutter speed to eliminate any possibility of coming home with a memory card full of blurry images even if it meant that I was going to have to increase my ISO.  The noise, even at ISOs over 1600, is manageable with the D600, so I wasn’t too worried.  I decided I would try 1/800th and go from there but as soon as we took off and I realized just how much wind there was and how fast we were moving, I bumped it up to 1/1000th and didn’t look back.

I chose an aperture of f/8.  Now, shooting from a helicopter pretty much means that focus will be set at, or close to, infinity and depth of field just isn’t going to matter.  I could’ve chosen f/4, had more light, and about the same depth.  The 16-35mm f/4 is plenty sharp at f/4, but only in the center.  Sharpness on the edges is pretty lacking at f/4 and isn’t much better at f/5.6.  For a lot of shots this doesn’t matter but for landscapes where the entire frame is the subject, you want sharpness from edge to edge.  The 16-35 does this starting at f/8 so that’s where I set it.

Given that I knew I wanted an exposure of at least 1/1000th of a second and an f/8 aperture I used the D600’s Auto ISO feature to fill in the ISO.  I set the camera to aperture priority (f/8) and set Auto ISO to go up to 6400 but keep the shutter speed at least 1/1000th.  That’s it!  I was free to shoot and not worry about exposure anymore (well, except in a few extreme circumstances).  Pixel-peeping once I got home I can see that there’s still some slight motion even at 1/1000th.  Certainly not enough that you can see at web size but enough to know that I’m glad I shot as fast as I did.  I ended up with ISOs in the 450-6400 range, the majority at 1400 or higher.  On a less capable camera those ISOs just might have been too high, but I felt it was fine on the D600.  The images cleaned up pretty well in Lightroom and look great down-sampled.

I shot in Continuous High mode.  This meant when I pressed the shutter I got 3 or 4 nearly similar images that I could choose from when I got home.  Many of the shots at or near 16mm ended up with the helicopter rotor blades in the shot.  Having a few images to choose from meant I could pick the shot that didn’t have rotor blades (if I was lucky!) or at least the one that didn’t have a blade right in the middle of the image.  I actually used the information from the other shots to help me Photoshop out the rotor blades if I needed to.

Other settings: Auto White Balance, Matrix Metering, AF-S (could’ve easily been AF-A or AF-C too), Single-point AF (using the center point), and 14-bit RAW Lossless compressed.  Given that Vibration Reduction has little to no effect at shutter speeds over 1/500th (and there’s some that say it could actually do more harm than good) I left VR off.  I didn’t bracket my exposures.  I felt the D600’s metering was good enough and given the range in RAW sensor data I could push or pull an extra stop in Lightroom if I needed to.

Other considerations

As mentioned above I took a polarizer (I use a B+W Kaesemann).  I was uneasy about this for two reasons: (1) Being at 1/1000th and f/8 I was already going to be low on light even in the afternoon sun.  Adding a polarizer was going to lose me an additional 1-2 stops.  (2) Using a polarizer on a wide-angle lens can be a little weird because the polarization effect won’t be even across the frame.  I decided to bring it because I’d seen so many recommendations to have a polarizer and just as many “I wish I would’ve brought a polarizer!” comments online.  Given that we’d be flying over water and possibly damp foliage, I figured cutting the reflections from the mid-day sun and getting more vibrant colors was a justified tradeoff to the light loss.  Was it worth it in the end?  I think so.  I obviously don’t have side-by-side with-and-without polarizer images to compare, but because the effect was a little uneven across the frame on the wide shots I can see where it was most useful.  I think the images look good even if the effect is a little uneven.  There’s a lot of detail and texture in my shots (and not a lot of clear blue sky) so it’s not too noticeable.  That said, the polarizer was an added complication in shooting because I had to keep turning the polarizer as the helicopter moved to get the maximum effect.  If I did it again I’d still take it though.

I left my lens hood at home.  There was a good chance that it would’ve flown off unless I taped it on; I really didn’t need anything else for the wind to grab onto and make shooting more difficult.  Also, given that I used a polarizer, a lens hood would’ve really gotten in the way.

I wore a wrist strap for security (which I usually do even just walking around town).  I didn’t want my camera flying out the window and the wrist strap feels really secure.  I use—and love—the “Cuff” from Peak Design.

I hope this helps anyone looking to take a helicopter tour and is wondering about camera settings or lens choice.  The experience was out of this world and by far the most memorable and exciting part of our trip to Kauai!  If you’re considering going on a tour, I highly recommend it!  For photographers, go with a doors-off option if you can.  I was a little scared myself at the prospect of flying with only a seat belt for protection, but after about 5 minutes I got used to it and it was no big deal.

If you have any questions I haven’t addressed, leave them in the comments.  Also, I’d love to see your helicopter shots!  Post a link and let me know if you have any good tips that I missed!

Click on the images here for a larger view and be sure to see my Kauai gallery, which has more helicopter shots!

107 thoughts on “Tips on shooting from a helicopter

  1. Nice post Jason, it’s a good balance of imagery, content and technical detail. I was curious, what time of the day did you take your tour? Judging from the shadows I’d say it was pretty close to noon.

    1. Thanks, Jeremy! Our flight departed at 2pm. When I asked at Jack Harter when making my reservation, this was the time I was told was best for photographers as the high sun would have a chance to make it into the narrow Kauai canyons. Having all that light worked out well as even in the bright afternoon sun I still had high ISOs given that I wanted 1/1000th at f/8 with a polarizer. Any more dim and I would’ve had to start making compromises.

    2. Thank you for sharing Jason.
      In 2 weeks’ time, I will be having my first helicopter ride over Sydney. My camera is Nikon D7200.
      My lenses are: Nikon
      AF-S 35 1:1.8G
      AF-S DX 16-80 f/2.8 – 4E ED VR
      AF-S 70-300 1:4.5 – 5.6 G
      Tamron 16-300 F/3.5 -6.3

      Any suggestion which lens I should use? My heart says the AF-S DX 16-80 f/2.8. But I’m not sure if I should just use the Tamron. Please advise. Thanks.

      1. In an ideal world, I think you’d want something wider than 16mm on the 7200, but given those choices, I’d go with the 16-80. I don’t think you’ll have much use for the 300mm reach (and with the vibrations and wind it’d be difficult to get a sharp image at 300mm anyway!).

        Let me know how you’re ride over Sydney goes! I’ve visited Sydney a few times and always thought it’d look great from a helicopter!

  2. Thank you so much for this post! You have provided me with so much helpful information. We are taking a 2:00 p.m. Jack Harter doors-off helicopter flight, too. I am so excited about shooting up there!

      1. Great advice! I am also scheduled for ‘doors off’ flight with Paradise in two weeks. This is great information. I am just hoping for clear weather.

  3. Jason,great shots.
    I am trying to find the best lenses in a helicopter. May be doing a shoot over hotels in Las Vegas. I will take all of what I have, but looks like my 10-22 ultra wide and even a 24-105 would be fine. I will also take a 70-200 just in case I need to get closer and a different perspective.


    1. Thanks, Tim!

      10-22 is probably your best bet if you can only take one lens. It’s difficult to change lenses in a helicopter as there isn’t a lot of space and you risk getting a lot of dust in your camera. Take multiple cameras if you want multiple lenses. I doubt you’ll need the 70-200.

      With a 10-22 lens it sounds like you have a crop-sensor camera. Do some tests with your 10-22 before you go and figure out which aperture will give you sharpness edge-to-edge. Also, determine what your max, acceptable ISO is (crop sensors don’t fare quite as well as full-frames at higher ISOs). You might be able to get away with an aperture like f/5.6, instead of f/8 and you likely won’t need a polarizer over a city–that should give you a few additional stops of light to work with.

      Have fun! I’d love to see your photos when you’re back if you want to share!

  4. Hello Jason
    Thank you so much for this post… It is the best that I’ve read about this subject =)
    I live near Iguassu Falls (between Brazil and Argentina) and this week I’m going to take photos from a helicopter. I have a Nikon D7100 and I think that the best lens I have for this situation is the 18-105mm…. I still don’t know which focus is the best… I’ve never used focus to infinity. Is it the best? or can I use auto focus?
    Best regards

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Andrea! Happy to help.

      Wow! How amazing to live near Iguassu Falls! I’m jealous of your upcoming helicopter ride!

      You’ll want the widest lens you have, so if that’s 18mm, that’s what I’d take (if you have something wider like a 10-24mm or 12-24mm go with that instead).

      You can definitely use auto focus–that’s what I used. Probably just set your camera to use the center focus point and press down half way to focus like you normally do. Most likely, the camera will focus at or near infinity anyway.

      Have a great ride and be sure to come back here to share your photos!

      1. Hello Jason,
        Thank you so much for replying my question.
        You have no idea about how much I was expecting your answer 🙂

        I’m feeling better and more confident about the camera settings.

        For sure I’ll share my photos with you because you helped a lot.

        The weather was not good, and just today I could fly over Iguassu Falls…

        On the link below, there is one of my photos from my fly…

        I can’t thank you enough !!!!!!! Your tips are priceless !!!

        Flying over Iguassu Falls

      2. Hi Jason,
        Gorgeous pictures!
        I apologize for butting in to this question, but regarding auto focus on the helicopter, would that be continuous, or single auto focus?
        Ill be taking a Kauai helicopter tour this August (I have to do doors on), with a landing at Manawaiopuna (“Jurassic”) Falls. Im hoping for a good seat, and great shots. Thank you so much for this post Jason, and for your advice!

      3. Marie,

        I’d say single auto focus is fine just to keep things simple (that’s what I used). You’ll be focusing near infinity anyway, so the focus shouldn’t really change that much at all from shot-to-shot.

    1. Hi Eric!

      It was definitely windy, but I never thought that I needed ski goggles or anything like that (actually, wearing ski goggles would’ve made it hard to see out of the viewfinder of my camera!). As long as your head, arms, and camera stay inside the helicopter you’re fine.

      1. Hi Jason,
        I just wanted to thank you for your post and let you know how helpful your tips were for me. I just got back from Kauai and took a Jack Harter “doors off” 2:00pm flight for photography specifically based on your recommendations. The camera settings were a huge help, specifically the shutter speed. I can only imagine the horror of taking the flight and then looking at a bunch of blurry pictures afterwards. 1/1000 is a must. I was able to shoot effectively from the start without having to experiment with settings on the go and possibly miss something. Thanks again. It was one of the highlights of our trip and I got some great shots.

  5. Great tips! Thanks for the write-up – Got my first assignment to do Aerial Photography late yesterday. With ‘zero’ experience in this area, I’m still comfortable and excited to be doing it, a big thanks again to your write.

  6. Hi So happy to have found this resource and amazing photos. i’m considering a NYC heli trip with doors off. I am not afraid to admit I and a little wary of the heights. Secondly as a amateur with limited experience, what lens would you recommend for a NYC at dusk and would the default settings (auto) on nikon d5500 be adequate? thanks!

    1. Hi Nick! A NYC helicopter tour sounds fun!! I’m a little afraid of heights too, but I got over it pretty quickly on my ride.

      I would think that you’d want a relatively wide angle lens on your D5500–probably wider than the 18-55 kit lens. My vote would be for the new Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 (I had the 11-16 f/2.8 when I had a D300s and really liked it.) I’d vote for the Tokina over the Nikon 12-24 f/4 because it’s a bit wider and you might actually need that large, f/2.8 aperture if you’re flying at dusk!

      Test whatever lens you choose and see at which aperture you get sharp corners. It’ll probably be f/8 and that should be your target aperture. In the low-light at dusk though, you may need to sacrifice some corner sharpness and open up to f/4 or f/2.8 if you can.

      I wouldn’t use Auto mode. I’m guessing that the shutter speed won’t be fast enough on Auto. I’d use Manual at 1/800th or 1/1000th at your target aperture and turn on Auto ISO. The camera will pick the proper ISO for a correct exposure. Only if your ISOs are too high or you find that your shutter is dropping below 1/800th would you need to change the aperture wider.

      If you don’t want to mess with settings while flying, I’m guessing a safe bet would be 1/800th, f/4, Auto ISO.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Hi Jason, thanks so much for posting this, I’m taking a jack harter tour this morning and would probably have waster half the trip changing settings had I not read your blog. It was really helpful and I’m really pleased to have come across it!
    Thanks Denise

  8. Jason, thanks so much for the heads up. We’re taking the 1 hour Jack Harter doors off tour at 3pm today! I’m a Canon guy (5DM3) and was going to take my 24-70 F2.8L thinking 24 would be wide enough and the 70 would give me a little bit of zoom. After reading your post I realize that my new 16-35 2.8L is really a better choice and I will take my polarizer as well. TV at 1/1000 it is! I’m not sure I’m comfortable with auto ISO (I like some control) but I may have to give in! I’m not too worried about noise as I shoot raw and the full frame sensor does a nice job.

    Thanks and looking forward to the experience.

    1. Glad I could help, Steve! Yeah, the 16-35mm is definitely the better choice in my opinion–I hope it worked out for you! I don’t like seeing ISOs go too high either, but I figured it was better to have sharp images with a bit of noise instead of a memory card full of blurry photos. And you’re right, today’s full frame sensors, handle high ISOs pretty well!

      How was your trip?

  9. Great post, Jason. Yours was the first I read and was very informative. I am also taking the Jack Harter Kauai doors off tour at 2 pm in a few days. I will shoot with a D800E and a Sigma Art 35 mm f1.4 that I love because it is so sharp across all apertures. Would like to have a wide zoom but only bought primes for the D800E.

    1. Did the helo tour of Kauai a few days ago and between my wife (port side) and me (starboard side) we took about 720 photos. Set up my D800E like you suggested (S priority 1/1200 sec or faster) with auto-iso and rapid frame rate. I got a lot of images with rotor blades but using this technique also got a lot of useful images. My wife also got some great images using my Olympus TG-4. Thanks again for the help.

      1. Rotor blades can definitely be a problem! Most of my wide shots ended up with rotor blades in frame. In many cases, I was able to easily Photoshop them out. Given that I used burst mode, I had a few frames to choose from and could pick the one with the rotors out of the way. Worst case, I used the neighboring frames to help fill in the missing scenery in Photoshop.

    2. Dave.
      How did it go? I am off to NZ soon and wondering about best lens for D810. I have a sharp 35 mm prime but trying to decide between the 17-35 and the 24-70 who’s is the sharper of the two. If you only used the 25 then maybe getting the wider solution is not necessary.

  10. Nice shots and good thorough advice. Do you still think the 16-35 is a better choice than the 24-70? The later is sharper,no? Would you consider using VR/IS if the lens has an “active” mode. This is supposed to work better from car or train but maybe not at 1/1000. I am heading to New Zealand in January and have three open door flights booked. Love to hear back from you and I will post a few shots when I return in Feb. cheers, JH

    1. Thanks for the compliments, John!

      I’d choose the 16-35 over the 24-70 if I were to do it again for the wide angles. Many of my shots were taken wider than 24mm and there were only rare occasions when I wished for something a bit longer than 35mm. Take a look at my images and see if you can find some others online, maybe even some from NZ, with published focal lengths and see if you’d be happy not going wider than 24mm. I found the edges of the 16-35 to be plenty sharp at f/8, which is what I tried to use. I think the only advantage of using another lens would be to use one that’s sharper at the edges before f/8 so ISOs would not have to go so high. If I were doing a sunrise/sunset shoot, I might choose a different lens so I could open up more, but in that case I may choose the 14-24 because I like the look of the wide angle images.

      I don’t believe that VR has any effect at 1/500th and above. There are a number of articles I found online that suggest that VR at those shutter speeds could do more harm than good so I just left it off. However, if I needed to go below 1/500th (due to lack of light) I’d give VR a try. Since you have three flights booked, you may want to experiment with/without VR and various shutter speeds to see if it makes any difference.

      The helicopter I was in was moving pretty fast. The pilot was on a schedule and they do a lot of these tours each day. Some aerial photographers hire their own pilots, pay by the hour, and can ask to go slower. In those cases maybe a slower shutter with VR would be ok? Still in an open door helicopter there is a lot of vibration and a fast shutter seems to be the best way to mitigate it.

      1. Thanks for the good responses. Last question is whether or not you think the UV or haze filter would be a good idea. I don’t typically use one, and am in the school that with digital sensors, the UV issue is not what it was with film. Just wondering if it is a bit humid and there is dust, whether or not the haze filter would improve colors in the distance.

    1. Many of the tips here would still apply, I imagine. If you’re shooting early or late in the day where there might be less light, I’d forget the polarizer and maybe think about a lens like the 14-24mm which might have better performance at wider apertures. I’d imagine you’d still want a pretty wide-angle lens. You may want to experiment with somewhat slower shutter speeds than 1/1000th if you’re hiring the pilot and can fly a little slower than I was, too. Have fun!

  11. Hello Jason, thanks so much for the post! I have booked the same helicopter at 2pm next week for Kauai, and then I found your post. Thank God. I am very new at photography and just got a Nikon Coolpix p900. I wonder if you can help me to set up the camera? I went to the Manuel set up to get 1/1000 shutter speed and F8, but I don’t know where I can set up Auto ISO? I know I can go to U to set up Auto ISO, but when I turn it to M, I don’t see it on screen anymore. We’d you please help?

    Another thing, if I Take photos of surf wave, how should I set up my camera? Thanks very much.


    1. Hi Camille,

      I’m not familiar with the P900, so I wouldn’t be able to give you specifics. It’s possible that Auto ISO doesn’t work on the P900 in Manual mode. You could try using Aperture priority at f/8 and set Auto ISO to not go lower than 1/1000th, which would be the same thing.

      Given that the P900 is not a DSLR and has a relatively small sensor you may find that very high ISOs do not work that well. Experiment and know what is acceptable to you before you go. You might need to open up a little on the aperture (smaller f-number, like f/5.6) to get more light–I chose f/8 because it was the best aperture for the lens I used and had the ISO latitude to do so. You may also consider dropping your shutter to 1/800th or 1/500th if super-high ISOs won’t work for you.

      Are you talking about photos of surfers? You’ll simply need a fast enough shutter speed to freeze action. 1/1000th is a good starting point.

      Enjoy your trip!

      1. Thanks very much for your help! I tried on my camera, by switching it to S, setting up Shutter speed to 1/1000, then switch it to A, setting up apperture to f8, and then switch it to M, then chose auto ISO. But I have no idea how high ISO the camera could have. Maybe I can find out.

        How high the required ISO for this shooting be for the setting you have. From the photos you post, most are below 3000, isn’t it?

        If like what you said, then I have to choose slower shutter speed and smaller number of f stop, right?

        When you said 16-35mm as your choice of lens, on my camera, does it mean only zoom to 35mm?

        Sorry for asking very beginning questions, but you certainly would help me to get the right photos for this trip and maybe I should take some photographing classes!

        FYI, Yesterday I went to see the surf, just use the auto, ok photos only. It is a bit too far. All the forms appeared as white cloud.

        Thanks again.

      2. Just checked, auto ISO could go to 6400. The focus length is 24-2000mm (equivalent to 35mm), which I don’t understand, because on the camer it printed equivalent of 135. If it is equivalent to 35mm, then my leans is similar to your lens, if it is 135mm, then I should not zoom too big.

        On the other hand, I thought when you say 24-35mm, I thought you meant wide angle shot. Am I wrong?


      3. Your focal length is 24-2000mm equivalent to a full frame camera like the one I used. A image that you see here at 24mm is as wide a you’ll be able to get and is likely what you’ll want most of the time.

        Auto ISO works by setting a maximum ISO and a minimum shutter speed. You’re telling the camera to not go over a certain ISO and not go under a certain shutter speed. You should be able to set this in your camera’s Auto ISO menu somewhere. To mimic my settings you’d set a max ISO at 6400 and minimum shutter at 1/1000th. At this point you could just go into A mode and f/8 and be ready to go.

        Just because your camera can go up to ISO 6400 though doesn’t mean that you’ll be happy with the results. I’d take a few images at ISO 6400 and see what you think–it might be pretty noisy. By lengthening the shutter speed (to 1/800th or 1/500th?) and opening the aperture (to f/5.6?) you’ll let in more light, the ISO won’t have to go as high, and the images will have less noise.

        Hope this helps!

  12. Thanks for your help! I have two questions, do you mean you set up S 1/1000 and A f8 with auto ISO, so no matter you use 24mm, or zoom into 35, they are all Fine. No need to change shuttle speed and aperture during the ride? It would be easy for me this way.

    You mention to at the end to set it up at 1/800 and f5.6, then I am confused. Is it good enough for fast moving helicopter? Have you tried that? Did you like it? I do not know how to set up ISO on my camera, so I prefer not to touch it.

    If I don’t have to set up f stop, then I will shoot at Shutter Speed and set it up at 1/1000, then aperture would be set up automatically. Is it OK for the helicopter shots? There is no choices for choosing ISO, so I guess it is automatic too.

    I am a bit confused now.

    1. Camille,

      There’s no need to change the aperture or shutter speed when you zoom. If you’re setup to capture something like 1/1000th @ f/8 that’ll be fine regardless of the focal length, especially at the wider angles like 24-35mm.

      In a fast-moving helicopter, focusing near infinity, the shutter speed is more important than the aperture. I chose 1/1000th because I had the latitude to do so, but 1/800th would probably work well too (I didn’t try it). If you look around 500px or flickr you’ll see a lot of helicopter shots taken as low as 1/100th. If you pixel-peep those images I guarantee that they have blur caused by the helicopter motion, but some of them were taken at dusk where there was just no other choice. Also, people who charter flights specifically for photography may be able to ask the pilot to slow down a bit. That won’t happen on the tours in Hawaii.

      The aperture you set is really up to you. I chose f/8 because the specific lens I used was sharpest at f/8. The limiting factor in your camera is likely not the lens, but the small sensor, which is why I suggest that something like f/5.6 would probably work just as well as f/8 and will give you a bit more light and slightly less noise. Setting S mode at 1/800 or 1/1000 and letting the camera choose the aperture is probably ok too. (You’d really need to test various apertures from f/2.8 to f/8 when focused at infinity to see if you can tell any difference in the quality of final images to know for sure though.)

  13. Hi Jason,
    I read your article with interest as I was looking for advice on taking shots from a helicopter whilst I was on a trip to Cape Town in january. I followed your advice although I set the ISO to Automatic as I didn’t want to miss the photo opportunity of a lifetime. Your advice worked perfectly. There is a lot of camera shake from such a small aircraft so the shutter speed was changed a few times to the highest settings. Also I explained to the pilot beforehand what particular shot I was looking for and he took the helicopter out towards Robben Island and said “there you go here is your shot”! Wonderful. The doors were shut so my photos were taken through a very small open pane where I was sitting at the front of the helicopter and also through the glass so I was very happy with the resulting photos. Thank you for such a great article, people like me really do appreciate it when an expert such as yourself shares your knowledge. I would love to send you a couple of photos for you to comment on as I only have one posted on my Instagram account. Best Regards. James.

  14. Hi Jason.
    Sorry to bother you. Hope you are able to assist some what. I have a nikon D5500 that came with the 18-55mm lens. I am totally new at this photography stuff but love a sharp crisp photo so hoping to learn to use it correctly. I dont know what most of the terminology means so please bear with me if i sound silly 🙂
    I am doing a 12 minute nyc flight in september. The sunset time is around 6:57pm and the flight is at 7:00pm so im thinking the city lights probably wont be on (though hoping they would be for more effect) i am assuming the sky will just be starting to have that golden glow to it if the weather is good. The flight is also mainly harbour based ie statue of liberty, brooklyn bridge and freedom tower end of the City. Hope i have givem you an idea of the scene i will be facing.
    Therefore do you think you could recommend another lens that will capture a more crisp, sharp and clear, no grain images than the kit lens? And what settings i would likely need. As it is such a quick flight i wont have time to be figuring out settings up in the air, plus the fact i hate heights and the doors are off. I have to try operate a camera at the same time. But i am determined to capture some amazing aerial shots with the sunset (if glowing) true to colour as i see it. Something i have been struggling to capture while taking practice sunset shots recently. I would also like the lens to be versatile enough to capture crisp cityscape photos at night like the empire state building, times square etc as well as day time whether its cityscape, beaches or mountain scenery.
    I was looking at the nikon 18-140mm, 55-300mm and 55-200mm – all have VR. But not sure if any of these have the right versatility i am after, dont really understand what all the zoom range,mm etc mean.
    Sorry for all the info, my camera shop assistant wasnt much help today when i was in store inquiring.
    I Would be grateful for any info that may help me achieve what i am looking for. Thank you so much.

  15. Thank you so much for posting this. We are taking trip to Hawaii this summer and plan on taking a doors off ride. I had thought about using 24-120 for the same reasons that you stated and wasn’t going to take 16-35 at all but now may need to reconsider it. I’m bringing 14-24 to do some night milky way shots but now will need to give it a lot of thought.
    I was actually concerned that the polarizer would shake itself off the lens. I’m guessing you didn’t run into that issue at all.
    Your exposure setting will come in real handy to hopefully avoid blurry shots. I may try your setting in manual then turn auto ISO on. I shoot with 810 and find that it works great for hand held shots. I’ll have to check the rest of your site out to see if you have more tips for shooting in Hawaii. If I get any keepers I’ll be sure to post them.
    Thank you again for the information. It was a great article.

    1. Thanks Darrell! Yeah, if I were to do it over again I’d still take the 16-35. Most of the shots I took were wider than 24mm and the number of times I wished for something longer than 35mm was pretty small. You’re better off wide, in general, anyway given that longer lenses would magnify any motion blur. I don’t have a 14-24, but I feel like the 16-35 is still the better lens for daytime shooting given the extra range and ability to use a polarizer. I might try a 14-24 if I were shooting in low light so I could open the aperture up a bit more than with the 16-35. I didn’t have a problem with the polarizer shaking off, but you definitely do not want to take a lens hood. Have a great trip!

  16. Hi I found your article and planning a tour next July. I have a Canon Markiii and only have prime L series lens (35,50,135 and 100macro). Shall I buy the 16-35 or can I just take my 35 and do the job ??? Thanks !,,

    1. It depends on what types of images you’re after. Many of my images were shot wider than 24mm and most close to 16mm. I appreciated the ability to go wide and if I were going to take only a prime, I’d want something wider than 35mm. Take a look at my images and see if you can find others on 500px or flickr with Exif data. Do you like the ones shot at 35mm or do you prefer the wider ones?

      You may want to consider renting a lens too, instead of buying it. Just give yourself a few extra days to test and get familiar with the lens before taking it on your tour!

  17. Hi Jason,

    I am going to Kauai next week and your blogpost will help me a lot! I have a fujufilm x-t10 not a full frame camera. Should I still use a 16-35mm f/4 ? What will be the lens for an equivalent angle of view for a crop sensor ?

    1. Hi Eleonora!

      I’d try to go as wide as possible. Roughly 11-24mm would be the equivalent on your crop sensor and something along those lines, like a 10-24mm or 12-24mm (I’m not sure what you have available to you) should work great.

      Have a fun trip! I just did this tour again on my last trip to Hawaii about a month ago and it was still as awesome as I’d remembered.

  18. Hi Jason,
    Great information – thanks for sharing!
    My wife and I will be taking a Jack Harter doors-off flight in 2 weeks, and was wondering where it is best to sit in the Hughes 500. I understand that the right side is best, but Is there any advantage or disadvantage to front vs. back seats? I’ve planned to bring a mirrorless camera (Sony A6000) with Zeiss 16-70 (24-105eq) lens. Center is dead sharp, but edges soften a bit. I also have a Sigma 30mm (50 eq.) with better edge-to-edge sharpness, but it seems it may not be wide enough. Any thoughts on that?
    We had planned to go earlier in the day (9:45am) due to calmer air, but from your comments about lighting we may be better off rescheduling to afternoon.

    1. Hi Andy!

      Unfortunately, you won’t get to pick your seat. They will load for even weight distribution (they will weigh you when you arrive at the office). In a group of 4, the heavier folks will sit in the back and the lightest will get the middle seat up front. That said, I think the best seat is the rear right. The back has more room and the right typically has better views. The worst seat for photographing is the middle front seat (but best if you don’t like the idea of no doors).

      Regarding lens choice, I think wider is better. I had a 16-35mm on full frame and wouldn’t have been happy at all with a 50mm fixed. Do some tests to see which aperture is the most even edge-to-edge with your 16-70 and go with that, provided you have enough light for the shutter speed. Likely f/5.6-f/8 would work well.

      The best time is always a gamble. I’ve taken two tours now, both at 2pm. On the first, it was actually raining at 9:45am and I was worried our 2pm tour would be canceled. By the time 2pm rolled around, it was beautiful (the photos shown here). The last time I went it was pretty much grey all day. The weather varies so much across the island though, our pilot did his best to find some sunshine.

      Have a great trip!

      1. Hi Jason,
        Thanks for the great information. One additional question: I’ve read about Mauna Loa Helicopters and see that they fly doors-off as well. They have good ratings on Trip Advisor. They use Robinson R44 helicopters and will take 2 of us, each with a rear open-door seat. Do you have any familiarity with them, or any comments you can share about their flights/equipment as compared to the Hughes 500 for aerial photography?

      2. Hey Andy,

        The last time I researched helicopter companies, Jack Harter was the only company on Kauai that had a doors-off tour, so that made my decision of which to fly easy. 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t have experience with any of the others! If you go with Mauna Loa let me know how they work out…might give them a try next time if there are just 2 of us.

        BTW, Jack Harter will take 2 or 3 guests, but you have to pay for the empty seats so it’s not necessarily cost-effective, but still an option…

  19. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the tips, super helpful! We were debating between Jack Harter and Mauna Loa as both fly with doors off. We decided on Mauna Loa since it’s private and we’d be guaranteed window seats. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    I have a Nikon D40x and trying to decide which lens to use between Nikon AS-F 12-24mm and the 18-55mm kit lens. I think I know what your recommendation will be but still wanted to ask.


    1. Hi Mike!

      I’d take the 12-24. I heard numerous people with kit lenses say they wish they had something wider when we finished the tour. Take a look at my images and see if you can find some others with published camera settings. If you like the wider ones better–go with the wide lens. Keep in mind on your D40 you multiply you focal length by 1.5 for the equivalent full frame focal length.

      Have fun!

  20. Hey Jason! Question for you. I’m taking a helicopter trip next week and have a small Lumix GX7 Micro 4/3. WHICH I LOVE!…Can only take one lense up with me and im torn between
    Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 OR the

    Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6

    Going up just before Sunset… What do you think is better?

    Thanks for your AMAZING post. Was a great read.


    1. Without knowing too much about that camera system or its lenses, I’m guessing the 12-35 f/2.8 would be your best bet. It’s probably a higher quality lens given the constant f/2.8 aperture, and if you’re going up just before sunset, you might need to open up to f/2.8 to get enough light. You may be able to get away with a shutter below 1/1000th with the Micro 4/3 format (and likely will have to if it’s too dark). I don’t think you’ll miss the 35-60mm focal length. You’ll probably be at 12mm the whole time.

      Have a great trip!

  21. Great post. I am going to take a Harter flight in a couple of months. Right now my alternatives would be the Nikon 24-70 and the 14-24. I don’t have enough room to get a different lens considering the other lenses I am taking for other shots no the trip. I will see if there is any rentals in Kona. The main question is I am a photographer and want the doors off but my wife is now afraid to go without the doors. Do you think she will be too uncomfortable? Thanks

    1. I’m mildly afraid of heights and was a little scared too, at first, but a few minutes after takeoff I was perfectly fine and had an amazing time. I liked it so much, I did it again just this last September when I was back in Kauai. I think your wife will love it!

      If it were me I’d take the 14-24 lens, especially if you’re going in the morning or late afternoon when there’s less light and you might need to open up a bit. You’ll just won’t be able to take a polarizer, but that might not matter much. Check my and others’ images online to see if you like the ones wider or longer than 24mm though and make your decision that way.

      Have fun!

  22. I am newer to photography and have a quick question about lenses. I have my kit lens with my Canon T3i, a 18-55 lens. Plan on a helicopter tour in Kauai as well. Will this be suitable for the trip? When you say a wide angle lens I am not sure what that means.

    1. Sue,

      A wide-angle lens just means a lens with a wider field of view (the ability to get more in the frame). Kit lenses like yours are medium-wide to medium-telephoto. Ideally, you’d probably want something a bit wider…a lens with a number smaller than the 18mm yours has. (Something in the 12mm range?) That said, you can certainly use the lens you have, you just won’t be able to get images with as wide a field of view as the ones shown here.

      Don’t go too high with the ISO on the T3i. It doesn’t handle high ISOs as well as a full-frame camera might.

      Have a great time in Kauai!

  23. Hi Jason. Thanks for this awesome read. My future wife and I are heading to Kauai for our honeymoon and we are doing the doors off tour. We have a Nikon D3300 and lenses 18-55mm and 55-200mm. From the posts and your writing I will be using the 18-55mm. With this model and make, do you have any suggestions on what settings to use for Iso, aperture and shutter speed? And for a polarizer, any suggestions? I have never used one and do not have one, yet. Since from the article it appears it would help out a lot with quality from the helicopter. Thanks so much!

    1. Hey Josh! Congratulations! Kauai will make for an awesome honeymoon!

      Definitely go with the 18-55 over the 55-200, but if you can get your hands on something even wider I think you’d be happier. Your D3300 is a cropped sensor which means your 18mm is equivalent to a 27mm on a full frame camera like the one I used. Maybe you could rent one for the trip?

      If you’ve not used a polarizer, just skip it. It’s just something else to fumble with–you’ll need to rotate it for maximum effect constantly as the helicopter turns. You’ll also lose 1-2 stops of light by adding a polarizer and since the crop sensor cameras don’t behave quite as well at high ISOs you might want the extra light.

      The other recommendations on this page still hold. 1/1000th @ f/8 with Auto ISO is a safe bet, but if you know your camera doesn’t hold up at the higher ISOs you can open up the aperture to something like f/5.6 and/or slow the shutter a bit to 1/800th. Time of day and weather may play into this as well. Obviously if it’s overcast or at dawn/dusk you’ll have less light to play with than 2pm clear and sunny.

      Let me know if you have other questions and have a fun trip!

      1. Thank you so much for replying. There is a camera store near us that we can rent out lenses and accessories. Which lens should we think about renting? Our tour is around 2 as well if that makes any changes to settings. We will have to take a couple pictures once we get up to see how the ISO holds up and will definitely write down all of these settings before going. Thanks again

      2. You basically just want something wider than 18mm made for a DX camera. If it were me, I’d go for either the Nikon AF-S DX 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G or Tokina AT-X Pro 12-28mm f/4 DX.

        I took a number of test shots before my vacation to see which aperture was best. With my 16-35 f/4, f/4 to f/5.6 were ok in the center, but a bit blurry on the edges. At f/8 the edges cleaned up, so my goal was f/8 but I could do f/5.6 if I needed more light. During the flight I was in manual mode, 1/1000th, f/8, and made sure auto ISO was on and allowed to go up to 6400. If I felt I needed more light (e.g., under clouds or in a crater) I could open to f/5.6 or drop the shutter a little to 1/800th with no major side effects.

      3. Hey Jason! Thanks for the info. Just curious about the polarizer – do you need to adjust it a lot in-flight? Seems like if it’s around midday you can just adjust it before takeoff and that should be fine, it’s much easier than using it around sunset. Curious to hear more tips around this 🙂

      4. I’m also curious about going mid-day. I feel like if I wanted to take a photo of the NaPali coast (facing south) at mid-day, the sun would be right behind the cliffs and provide some very harsh lighting, so doesn’t that mean it’d be better to go more early? Do you have any shots facing south?

      5. Jimmy,

        Even with the midday sun, you’ll still need to adjust the polarizer constantly during the flight. The helicopter makes a lot of turns and banks and your shooting direction in relation to the sun will change frequently.

        When I inquired about the time, I was told that due to some of the narrow canyons, the only way they would be illuminated would be with midday sun, so afternoon was a great time to photograph. That fact, combined with my desire to use a polarizer, f/8, and a fast shutter speed meant that I’d take as much light as I could get. I’m sure that an early morning or late evening flight on a clear day would result in some amazing images too–you’d likely just need to compromise somewhere with a slower shutter, wider aperture, no polarizer, or higher ISO (or maybe a combination of all of the above) to get enough light. With a newer model full frame camera and good glass that shouldn’t be an issue.

        The shot of Hanalei Bay toward the top of the article was probably taken facing due south.

        Hope this helps!

  24. Great post and thanks for the advice! I’m taking a polariser and using my 16-35 but had’nt factored in the vibration from the chopper and shutter speed…ironically my flight leaves today at 2pm…really good post!

  25. Hello Jason,
    We are taking a doors off tour with Moana Loa May 19th. I was going back and forth about getting an upgraded wide angle for the trip. I am a Canon girl but my lens that I already have which is a Canon 16-35 sounds perfect. I have never worked with a filter before but just ordered a polarizing one. Our flight will be on the last day of the cruise we will be on and I guess I’ll get some practice on proceeding islands. Do you think that will be enough practice to be able to adjust it on the fly? Thanks for the tip about the hood too! I did not think of it blowing off. I didn’t think of a wristlet either and will order what you suggested. We have to go in the morning at 8:30 because of when the ship leaves. Do you think the shadows might be such in the canyons etc that I would not want to use a polarizer please? To such an amateur as myself I truly appreciate all the setting info too!!!!! Blessings Galore!!!!

    1. Hey Stephanie,

      If you have a full frame camera, your 16-35mm will be perfect! You’ll have less light in the morning and you lose 1-2 stops of light with a polarizer, so you may not want it for your helicopter ride. Practice with it during the first part of your trip. Note how the water and sky change as you rotate the polarizer and change your angle to the sun. If you get the hang of it and it’s a particularly bright morning for your helicopter ride, take it. You will need to constantly adjust during the flight. It’s an extra burden for sure. If you think it will be too much trouble, don’t worry about it and enjoy the extra light not having it will provide!

  26. Hello Again Jason,
    We will be in Kauai the day before the helicopter tour too and renting a car. Since we will see the Canyon and North Coast from the air, would suggest the car tour to be to the South and West?
    PS. I am a Christian Public Speaker and have a new blog for this. I need images to use in my blog. Do you have a reasonable subscription service for utilizing your images for this commercial purpose?

    1. Viewing Kauai from the air and from the ground are completely different. Don’t worry about covering the same area twice. By car you can take your time. You’ll zip by everything pretty fast in the helicopter! I enjoyed driving up Waimea Canyon to the Kalalau lookout and stopping at various places along the way. You can also drive to Wailua Falls. Kauai is so pretty though, you can’t go wrong anywhere!

      I sell licenses of my images through 500px. Here’s a link to my Kauai gallery on 500px. If there’s an image on my website that isn’t on 500px, I can sell a license directly for the same price under similar terms. Message me through my contact page.

      Have a great trip!

  27. Jason, thanks for all this info!

    I have a question when shooting in helicopter during sunset time in the summer in Chicago, early sunset so still decent light. Aiming to shoot city buildings, landscapes, and sunset sky with the tips of buildings. I’m a beginner/intermediate shooter, and have the Sony A6000 mirrorless, with the stock lens it comes with (16-50mm lens) F/3.5-5.6. Thinking 1/500 as light isn’t dim, but it’s not super bright like when you were over Kaui at 2pm. Just want to be an all manual shooter from now on. I don’t have any other lenses, no filters, just a hood. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks for all your help, your responses to others have been a great read too.

    1. Hi Howie,

      I’ve seen aerials at sunset shot much slower than 1/1000th. With less light, compromises have to be made. I’ve seen shots at 1/200th at f/2.8. They look perfectly fine on the web, but I’m guessing that at 100% they’re a little soft due to motion blur and lens sharpness wide open. Its also possible these photographers hired a plane or helicopter and they could ask the pilot to slow down when shooting. I didn’t have that luxury.

      Your estimate of 1/500th is a good goal. I’d do some tests with your camera/lens combo and find the highest ISO you’re comfortable with. You’ll probably use that ISO the entire night. A little noise is better than blur in my opinion. Then find which aperture gives you good edge-to-edge sharpness (it’s probably f/8), but see if you’d be ok at a wider aperture to let in more light. f/5.6 is probably fine. f/4 might be just fine too. It’s best to test focusing at infinity. Try your tests from the top of a skyscraper or hill–get shots similar to what you’ll get in a helicopter, if you can. At that point you’ll at least have a better idea of the limits of your camera and ideal settings. Once you’re in the air and see how dark it is you can compromise from your ideal settings. Either open up the aperture to get more light or slow down the shutter.

      Hope this helps!

  28. Hi Jason,
    Do you use any editing software for post processing photos? If so, do you have any recommendations for beginners that are possibly free to test out or that are even good enough to use. Thanks for the help again. What was your ISO range set for as well for the Auto. Thank you!

    1. Hey Josh,

      I use Lightroom and Photoshop for editing. Neither are free, obviously, but I think there are trials available. I’d recommend at least Lightroom or a tool like it. Photoshop might be overkill for a beginner. I’d also recommend Scott Kelby’s book on learning Lightroom to help get you started (see my Gear page for details).

      I usually set Auto ISO to go as high as I’m comfortable with with whatever camera I’m using. With a D600, I was fine going up to 6400, so that was my upper limit. On my D750 I might be ok up to 12800.

      Hope this helps!

      1. With the lenses Nikon AF-S DX 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G or Tokina AT-X Pro 12-28mm f/4 DX and using a polarizer, are these too wide of a lens to where the sky blue will not be even across? Ive just seen some videos of where they talked about polarizers and how the sky can change color if the polarizer and lens don’t work well together. Sorry if that is confusing. Or did you have the polarizer take the light more away from the plants, ocean, and just not have it hitting the sky/clouds too much?

      2. Yup, with both of those lenses you’ll get an uneven polarizing effect. If you look closely at my images above, you’ll see it–especially in the water. A lot of your shots won’t be of the sky–it’ll be land and water. You’ll still get the uneven effect, but it’ll be less noticeable with all the texture. Watch out for it as you shoot and you can maximize the effect where you need it the most.

        Or, to simplify your life–especially if you haven’t used a polarizer before–just leave it at home. One benefit of not using a polarizer is that you’ll have more light and, therefore, less noise.

      3. Sorry with all the comments/questions. I checked out those two lenses and right now they are out of my price range at the moment. I don’t want to pay less for a lens that will not produce as well but if there is one comparable do you have any suggestions? If not, if I just used my 18-55mm Nikon lens do you think I will be ok with a polarizer on that lens and no vignetting? Thank you again for all the help, we really appreciate it.

      4. The Tokina is probably the best in terms of cost and value right now. Have you considered renting either it or the Nikon?

        You can certainly use your 18-55, but the ultra-wides make much more impressive images in my opinion. Most of my shots were taken at 16mm on full frame (~11mm on a cropped sensor). My best advice is to look at a few aerial shots and note the focal length they were shot with and see what you like. Keep in mind that you need to divide by 1.5 to convert a full frame focal length to cropped sensor focal length.

        The polarizing effect will be more even at 18mm than at 11mm, but 18mm is still probably wide enough that if you look closely the effect will vary across the frame. Vignetting is another issue, and I don’t have experience with any of the 18-55 to verify, but I doubt adding a polarizer to the 18-55 would be a problem.

  29. Hey Jason,

    I am a super novice at this, but I am going to be in Kauai come September. I have a 745AM flight with Jack Harter. I am planning on renting a camera and lens or possibly more than one lens for this trip. Right now, I have the Nikon D5600 and Nikon 28-300mm f3.5 as my selected camera and lens. Do you think this setup works for the helicopter or would you recommend something else? I am up for any suggestions as I am doing a lot of research. Do you think that going first thing in the morning, I would still need a polarizer? I am concerned that there might not be enough light if I use that, but I seriously have no clue. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hey Brian,

      I’d add a wide angle lens to your setup and take that to Hawaii along with the 28-300. The Nikon 10-24 or any of the Tokinas for APS-C size DSLRs would work. The Tokina 12-28 f/4 would be the most versatile and cost effective, but I wouldn’t discount the f/2.8 lenses either, especially in the morning as you might want the wider aperture to get more light.

      Take only the wide angle in the helicopter. You should not change lenses once airborne. That said, I think you’ll like having the wide angle on the ground in Hawaii too!

      Skip the polarizer. If you’re not used to using one it just adds complexity and robs light. I think you’ll want the extra light for the morning flight especially with a cropped-sensor camera.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Hi Jason, so a similar question.

        I have a Nikon D5300 with a Tamron 18-400 mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD lens. Would you still suggest using a wide angle lens in place of this one in the helicopter over Kauai?

        Thank you. This has been very helpful.

  30. Jason,

    Your article is so helpful and informative. Thank you. I am going on the same doors off helicopter tour over next 2 months. I have a Nikon D7100 and began researching photography tips for this and found your article. I would not have thought to use a wide angle lens so now looking into wide angle lenses. I see you have recommended several wide angle lens in addition to what you used (16-35mm). Given D7100 is not full frame DSLR, you have a suggestion on what might be good to consider? While I would be getting one for this helicopter ride for taking photos, I can see benefits for use in other photo opportunities too and until now never felt I had a real need to buy a wide angle lens.

    1. Hi Mary!

      Wide angle lenses are great in a lot of situations. In fact, I’m on a beach vacation right now and my 16-35 is what I go to the majority of the time. I think you’d have fun with one!

      Don’t get the 16-35 though. It’s not very wide on DX. Look at any of the Nikon wide angles made for DX: 10-20, 10-24, or 12-24. Alternatively, Tokina makes great wide angle lenses too. When I shot DX, Nikon didn’t make a wide angle I wanted so I went with Tokina. I don’t usually buy third party gear, but I loved the 11-16 f/2.8 I had. It looks like they have a 11-20 f/2.8 and a 12-28 f/4 these days. Personally, I’d go for the 11-20 due to the wider aperture, but if you think you’d mostly be using it for landscapes, the 12-28 range is more versatile.

      I haven’t researched wide angle DX lenses since moving to FX, so definitely read some reviews before purchasing any of the above. These five would be where I’d start my search though.

      Hope this helps and have fun on your trip!

  31. Hi ! Very nice and informative. Thank you for sharing your entire experience. What lenses would you recommend for a MFT (Micro Four Third) ?

    1. Thanks, Bogdan. I haven’t used any MFTs, but with a crop factor of 2 over 35mm, the equivalent of the full frame lens I used would be about 8-17mm. Not sure if a lens like that exists for your system, but something in that ballpark is what I’d recommend.

      If you’re shooting in a place like Hawaii where you’ll be flying relatively close to the landscape, a wide angle is ideal. Have fun!

  32. very helpful info & thanks.

    if i shoot S priority at 1/1000th, with my 24-70mm 2.8 lens, my D810 picks the aperture. does that just leave me with fiddling with the ISO? i had noisy results with auto ISO on basic landscape photos last year, so i avoid auto ISO. i’ll be using my CP, as well.

    i’m a bit confused. i’d welcome your comments!

    1. Hi Norm,

      The way I see it, between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, you can pick two and the camera can pick the other one. I knew that I wanted 1/1000th and f/8, so I setup in Manual with those settings and let the camera pick the ISO with Auto ISO. I still think this is the most straightforward way to approach it.

      If you’re worried about high ISOs, you can always set your aperture to something wider like f/4 or even f/2.8 with that lens. That’ll give you enough light that the ISOs shouldn’t get too high.

      In Shutter Priority at 1/1000th I think the camera is probably going to want to choose f/2.8 to get enough light. You might get some shots at base ISO with these settings, but I’d still want Auto ISO on in this mode in case f/2.8 wasn’t enough light.

      Hope this helps!

  33. Great post.

    I’m booked for a 1245 flight at the end of March but they also has 3:15 available. Would you advise switching to the later flight?

    1. It’s hard to know if one time would be better or not on any particular day as the weather changes so frequently. Keep the time you have unless 3:15 fits better into your overall vacation plans. I think either time would be good for photography.

      Have a good trip!

  34. Thank you very much for this info, going up to shoot the floridia keys. Going to use a Sony Batis 18mm 2.8 w/99° coverage, looking to get the wide views of the keys. Might let the wife hold on to the other body with the 16-70mm. Doors off… Can’t wait till next week. Tkx again.

  35. Thanks. A lot of good information there. I don’t normally take landscapes so have nothing peersonal to draw from. Your choices and explanations are just what I needed.

    We are taking a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon in May. I don’t have to worry about lens choices on the ground but do need to be careful in the helicopter. I don’t want to change lenses, nor carry two bodies. I’m still mulling over which one lens would be right for the helicopter portion of the trip.

    (All APS-C)
    I can go with the 16mm f/1.4 prime, or for more versatile go with the 18-50mm f/2.8. I can try the 18-135mm with Optical Image Stabilization but you say with shutter speeds over 1/500 the OIS might not add anything.

    1. Hi John!

      Tricky decision! Ideally, I’d recommend something wider than 16mm on APS-C (like a 10-20mm zoom), but given these options, I think I’d go with the 18-50/2.8. The wider aperture will give you more options for more light and I think you’ll like the flexibility of the zoom over the prime. The image stabilization on the 18-135 probably won’t buy you much and your aperture will be much more restricted.

      Before your trip, do some experiments with your 18-50 at infinity to see where the edges sharpen up. That’d be the aperture I’d aim to use (probably around f/5.6). But of course, open up to f/4 or f/2.8 if you need more light!

      I haven’t photographed the Grand Canyon (jealous!!). Over Kauai, the wide-angle lens was helpful because we got so close to the landscape. It’s possible that over the Grand Canyon you’ll be further away and wide angles will be less important.

      Have a great trip!

  36. Going on a helicopter tour over the Grand canyon in September of this year 2023. I have a Sony 77 Mark II and I’m thinking about taking a either Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 or a Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 .
    From what I read here, I think you’ll be leaning towards the 18-35 even though it has a crop sensor.

    Is that correct?

    1. Hi Kevin! A helicopter over the Grand Canyon sounds like a fantastic opportunity!!

      Tough decision between these two lenses. On an APS-C sensor, the 11-16mm is equivalent to a 16-24mm full-frame, and the 18-35mm acts like a 27-52mm. I used a 16-35mm over Kauai, so your 11-16 is probably a closer match, even though the range is limited. Your options have no overlap, so you’re either really wide or just medium wide.

      I have no experience with the Grand Canyon, so I’m not sure how close you’ll be. Over Kauai, we got relatively close to the landscape in places and I enjoyed the wider angles. I also took a helicopter tour in Seychelles in 2019. There we did two rides, so I switched things up a bit. I used the 16-35mm in the morning and 24-70mm in the evening. The 24-70mm was nice too! Take a look at my Seychelles gallery and see if you prefer the aerials taken with the wide lens or the normal zoom. You might also want to seek out some aerials of the Grand Canyon and see if there’s a particular look you like better.

      Will your Grand Canyon helicopter have doors? I couldn’t change lenses over Kauai because we were in a helicopter with no doors. If that’s not the case for you, you may be able to change lenses in the middle of your flight if you decide you want a different perspective!

      Let me know how it goes!

      1. Doors and Windows will stay on.
        I’m now considering either 18-35 f/1.8 or my 24-70 f/2.8 since I could be able to change lenses.
        Either lens, I feel will be a good choice though.

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