Inherently, aerial photography is a gas. My first assignment was in a fixed wing aircraft, doors removed, harness attached, photographing legendary stunt pilot Sean Tucker doing barrel rolls over the tree tops near Scranton Pennsylvania. This time around, the subject wasn't moving at 150 MPH so a helicopter was the vehicle of choice. Shooting through a plexiglass dome is useless, the helicopter has to be equipped for photography. Bussman Aviation in Manassas Virginia specializes in carting video, film and still photographers around the area. Steve Bussman's copter is rigged to fly sans doors or with a a side mount photo platform. For the sharpest images the helicopter's inherent vibration must be neutralized with the use of a gyro stabilizer rig. Steve offers two styles, the one I used for this 3-flight project was a gyro that screws into the tripod socket of the camera making hand held photography viable. The camera of choice for the daytime shooting was the Leica medium format camera with a 120MM lens. For the evening shots I used a Canon 1Dx capable of low noise high ISO images.
Washington is a beautiful city for sure, but L'Enfant's design is even more impressive with a bird's-eye view, but getting there isn't easy. Air space in Washington has always been restricted, more so since 9/11. Altitude is important as commercial air traffic in and out of Reagan National airport is near constant. Helicopters have to fly at around 150 feet or less and although the pilot is in frequent contact with air traffic control, a sharp eye is kept for airliners. Hovering is frowned upon, it tends to freak people out, but slow flight, necessary at such low altitude for sharp photos, is permitted. We made several orbits around specific areas on each flight. On the first outing we arrived at our starting point over Key bridge around 4:00 P.M., the light was beautiful and the angle of the sun near perfect to render the sites. The second outing was at twilight allowing about 30 minutes of prime shooting time to catch the sparkle that is Washington at night. The third run was at dawn. There was more atmospheric haze than I would normally expect in late October but it lent an ethereal quality to the long shots of the city.
Click here HERE and you will be taken to the Above Washington section on my web site.