A favorite angle from which I love to make photographs is from very high above my subject. The higher up I get, the more unique the view. This compels the viewer to study the photo longer to discern why it’s different. The longer someone looks at an image, the more it’s remembered. This adds to the possibility the viewer wants to know more about the photographer. This may lead to a photo sale, a future job, or something else that’s beneficial. Regardless of the outcome, get viewers of your photographs curious about what makes yours special.
For a birthday gift, I was surprised with a hot air balloon ride. I have a fear of heights, so I had mixed emotions about going up 3,000 feet in a wicker basket powered by nothing but hot air and the wind. What got me over the hump was the opportunity to get aerial photos. Unfortunately, on the ascension day, it was gray and overcast. I still took some photos, but the results were fair, at best. The reward was I was hooked. The ride was one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve ever had. I scheduled another flight, on short notice, when the weather was more promising. One of the images shot on that day accompanies this article.
One doesn’t need to take a hot air balloon ride to capture aerial photographs. Photograph from a tall building and look down onto the street to create the same effect. Images made from a tall cliff looking down onto the land provides the same perspective. Climb a tree, photograph from a bridge, and even stand at the summit of a mountain peak to provide the same opportunity. It’s not always a matter of how much elevation you gain, but how you use the elevation to your advantage.
Go Light and Wide: Don’t bog yourself down with equipment. Take a minimal amount of gear. On the balloon ride, all I took was a body with an 18-200 vibration reduction lens, flash, an extra battery, memory card and polarizer. The wide-angle setting allowed me to photograph the pilot at close range and to be able to include the terrain in the background. The flash lit the pilot and made him the primary focus. I intentionally underexposed the background by 2/3 stop, so the pilot would be brighter. The telephoto setting allowed me to zoom into some details on the ground as we were ascending and descending. Vibration reduction helped ensure the telephoto images were sharp. Regardless of where you go to gain elevation, go light.
Details and Shadows: When you’re in elevated locations, don’t just start shooting. Study the terrain and surroundings before you press the shutter. If this angle is new to you, take a look at the nuances and exploit the possibilities. Study how the shadows and subjects play off each other and incorporate them into the composition. Look to see how the perspective changes and photograph what’s unique. Spin the polarizer to see if it helps saturate the color. Use the rule of thirds to compose your photos as you would if you were on the ground. If you work from a tall building, go back at different times of the day to see how the light changes and use these different lighting conditions to your advantage. Get elevated to get a real photo high!