WORDS BY ALISON JONES | NOVEMBER 16, 2017
Professional photographer and National Geographic contributor, Toby Harriman, is known for his scroll-stopping aerial landscape photos and time-lapse videos.
Here, Toby offers up several of his top tips for those wondering where to begin when pointing a camera at impressive landscapes in the hope of capturing the grand scenery and stunning views (especially from a helicopter).
1/ On The Best Lens to Use in the Heli: I tend not to go with a wide lens when flying as you get the wing or helicopter blades in your shots. When shooting in helicopters, I rapid fire as you will realize you get a gap and some will get the propeller. The benefit too with not using a wide lens is you’re able to get a better zoom, allowing you to focus on the details and patterns the Earth offers below.
2/ On Shooting Through a Window of a Heli): Wear as much black as possible, as it will help cut out reflections your camera may pick-up from the window. Sometimes it takes a little moving around and finding the best angle to shoot through. Also be aware of your lens hitting the window as it will scratch it and ruin the view for you and everyone after!
3/ On Camera Settings: When it comes to tech specs, I’m self-taught. To me, it’s all about trial and error, and that’s how I have learned best! When I’m in a heli that’s hovering, I try always to shoot faster than 1/250. If in motion, I will be at 1/2000 or even faster. My ISO starts off at 100 to 250, unless it starts getting darker and then I’ll start pushing that into ISO 800>3200. My f-stop is usually around f/7 and up to f/2.8 or even higher if you have a lens that opens that much. Again, these are my personal settings, and some aerial shooters may have very different settings to recommend.
4/ On Shooting Videos: These days I also take a ton of video, especially with my iPhone. You’ll see me constantly switching between two cameras and my iPhone, grabbing as much content as possible. As I am trying to tell a story, capturing all the moments becomes crucial in my storytelling
5/ On Carrying Camera Equipment: When I fly, I have a Peak Design strap leash and attachments all over. It means that I can have both cameras attached to my strap, as well as one of their little pouch bags to hold extra cards and batteries. I also have the wrist strap which allows me to detach and reattach from leash to wrist strap easily.
6/ On How to Show the Scale of Landscape: To do this, I always try to have either a human element or a subject (like a helicopter) or both in the shot. To me just shooting the mountain usually doesn’t cut it as it’s hard to share the sense of scale when you don’t include a foreground element. Having a ‘model’ or just a friend that’s willing to deal with your nonsense every time you need them to be in a shot is great!
7/ On Capturing People: Try to capture people ‘in the moment’ rather than setting up a shot. Have your model walk-by on their own or in a group hiking, rather than just standing still. I’ll also try to have them wear colours that pop against the scenery. Sometimes I’ll get people to wear the jacket I’m wearing as I buy all my stuff with pictures in mind; bright blues, yellows, red, etc.
8/ On Composition: For landscape shots, I find my iPhone does almost as well as my bigger pro DSLR cameras. Not always, but it’s getting close. The important thing to me is the scene. Factors include the time of day, lighting, the composition and how you lay out your foreground subject to scale against your big background. Sometimes I’ll try to find a tree in the foreground and then shoot my subject from far away, using the tree to create a blurry (bokeh) framing around the subject. This adds a sense of depth to the scene but still keeps the focus on the subject.
About Toby: One of my all-time favourite aspects of being a photographer is actually being in the niche of aerial photography. I started off self-funding my aerial adventures, flying over cities across the country from NYC, Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego, and into the mountains of Aspen, Colorado. Then, this past March I moved up to Anchorage, Alaska. It’s a place where flying is sort of standard, and it’s normal for your friends to own a bush plane. I guess I moved to the right place!