Sometimes you have to be spontaneous and just go for it without thinking about it for too long. That's exactly how I felt about a week ago (Saturday 8/27). "It" in this case was booking a spot on a door-less New York City helicopter ride with FlyNYON.
I've been on helicopters before (Grand Canyon flyover and on other occasions); however, FlyNYON promises the ultimate helicopter experience - a ride on a helicopter with no doors. As you can imagine, access to a helicopter with no doors is a photographers dream, and an even bigger one if it involves New York City.
Not sure what triggered it. One minute I was talking to my fellow photog friend Ray who decided to buy one of my NYC prints, and then the next minute, out of the blue, I decided to check if FlyNYON had any available seats. A couple of clicks and forms and before you know it I had a seat booked on the 7pm flight the next day (Sunday).
I picked 7pm on purpose. Shooting film means I need light, but at the same time I also wanted to capture the light of the buildings, the switch from natural to artificial light in the city. Sunset was scheduled for 7:30pm on Sunday, so a 7pm take-off and 30 minute trip time meant that I would have enough natural light, as well as the buildings lit.
The rest of the evening I spent researching the topic "taking photos out of helicopters". I've taken plenty photos in the streets of New York City, and plenty photos from top of the Empire State Building, One WTC and Top of the Rock. However, taking photos out of a moving helicopter is a different "beast". I also revisited fellow photog Riley Joseph's New York helicopter experience .
In the spirit of sharing, following is a list of the equipment and settings that I used, and a few tips.
My equipment and camera settings:
- Hasselblad Xpan, 45mm lens and Cinestill 800 film; lens at f/4 and shutter at 1/125
- Leica M-A, Summicron 35 and Cinestill 800 film; lens at f/2 and shutter at 1/125
- Leica MP, Summicron 50 and Kodak Portra 800 film; lens f/2 and shutter at 1/125
- I didn't bother metering during the flight. I metered about 30 minutes before the flight using my incident light meter, as well as right before take-off using the spot meter of the MP.
A couple of quick tips in case you plan on going on a similar helicopter ride, whether it is in New York or some other city:
- Go "wide", both lens and aperture. See above, I took all my photos at f2 and my lenses ranged from 35mm to 50mm max. Being on a helicopter with no doors means high winds and vibrations that you have to battle with. I doubt you want to stick a 300mm lens out of the helicopter. Good luck holding it steady and getting sharp photos.
- You don't need the fastest shutter speed, 2 or 3 times the lens' focal length is enough. I took all my photos at 1/125.
- Learn how to focus your lens manually. In some cases it doesn't really matter anyways, just turn off autofocus and set your lens to infinity.
- If you shoot film, use 800 ISO film and take advantage of the film's latitude. Flying around sunset time also means that light will vanish quickly.
- Know your camera and lens, as well as settings by heart. This way you can switch quickly up there. You don't have a lot of time and in some cases you only get a certain viewpoint/perspective once and only for a few seconds.
- Know what you want to take a picture of before take-off and know the layout of the city.
- Try not to lean against anything in the helicopter to avoid/reduce motion blur in your photos from vibrations.
- Limit the items that you plan to take. Any loose items, i.e. lens caps, lens hood and filters, are a "no no". All items that you take must be secured. I took three cameras with me and quite frankly it was one too many. Two cameras should be enough for film shooters and I dare to say that one camera with a decent 24mm to 70mm is enough if you use digital.
- Once in a while put the camera down and enjoy the view.
All photos developed and scanned (Noritsu) by Richard Photo Lab. Amazing 24h turnaround by the lab.