chase jarvis TECH: Complete Guide to Aerial Photography & Video

Although I’ve mixed a whole lotta R/C helicopters into shoots, there are many more times in my profession when climbing into a real A-star is essential to get the shot. A recent assignment in the Caribbean presented another on of those lovely occasions…and while I’ve touched on shooting film + photos from a helicopter in some past posts, I’ve never gone deep on the how-to of shooting from a heli.
And before you dismiss this and say “This is so outrageous, when will I ever get to shoot from a helicopter” …I’ll just say that every photographer who has ever shot from a chopper has said those same words, only to find themselves ripping heavy G turns and shooting from blue skies at some point in their career. So stick with me. And one other note – yes flying around can be expensive, but it can also be done relatively affordably depending on how long you fly, what chopper, and of course…who’s paying ;)

Here’s a few teasers of some of the stuff I cover in this video:

// Helicopter safety. It is critical that you understand how to navigate your way safely in and around this machine. There are two hard and fast rules that all helicopter people live by when it comes to helicopters: 1) Never walk around the tail-end of the helicopter while its on the ground and 2) the pilot is always in charge. Always.

// Personal safety. Strap in! There are a couple of ways to get this done and the video runs thru several of them… If you walk away with one piece of advice, it’s if you’re hanging out of the helicopter – always be connected to it by at least two (2) connection points.

// Gear + settings. In the vid I lay out exactly what gear I take up with me (it includes the D4 and D800), but for the sake of driving some points home I’ll repeat… here two of my gear guides:

1) Remove the lens hoods – this will prevent excessive movement due to rotor downdraft as well as your forward motion, and 2) keep the gear well attached to yo and always pass or move gear with both hands when the door is off. 3)I always shoot manually, mid-ISO 400 range, and a minimum of 1000 shutter speed (I really like 1600 or greater). 4)Shoot with large volume cards to avoid having to change cards while hanging out of the bird.
….and many more in the video

Good luck – hope this helps those of you who are just getting into it, have a fantasy of flying that you’ll someday realize, or hell maybe even a seasoned pro will pick up a tip here and there. And as always if you’ve got other tips to share – please do.

Music by the one and only Big Chocolate.

56 Responses to chase jarvis TECH: Complete Guide to Aerial Photography & Video

  1. Lee Pinney August 13, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Thanks once again for paying it forward Chase. You have given incredible amounts of information through you blog, videos, and webcasts to all. Your recent video on pack, prep, and travel with a GoPro was just what the Doc ordered. I was searching high and low for just the right setup, and yours works great for my situation.

    Thanks for the tips, and keep them coming.

    • Laura November 1, 2013 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks Chase!

      Could you talk more about aerial video? I do aerial photography and looking in to doing aerial video projects, but having a some trouble getting streamlined with the footage and editing.

      Love your videos!

  2. Paul Pichugin August 13, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Awesome guide, some great tips there.. I shoot very regularly from Helicopters and I’ve learned a few things from this. Thanks Chase!

  3. Andrew Lipsett August 13, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Perfect timing Jarvis! I am shooting a wedding in a couple weeks where we will be getting lifted to the top of a mountain for the ceremony and then afterwards up to the other side of the mountain for the bride and groom photos including shots from the helicopter of the bride and groom with the sweeping vistas in the background. Do you attach or suspend the camera from the chopper with rubber cords? Do those high shutter speeds eliminate the vibration in the helicopter? Thanks so much!


  4. Meik August 13, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    Great video, but one thing – what do you do about video, your shutter speed would be really low (40-60 range) then i guess you get at lot of vibration??

    How do you stabilize for shooting video at low shutter speeds?


    • Anonymous August 14, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

      When shooting video from a heli you’re usually mounting the camera onto the front of it in a gyro of some sorts…

      It’s much more complex than just hanging out of a plane and shooting (from what I’ve and seen and heard at least… Could be more straightforward, just haven’t seen that in my expierence)

    • Nate August 23, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      Shutter speek in video is different that a still photo. For video you’re looking for someway to stabilize the whole camera system. gyros are one option. Support by bands attached to the heli or yourself is another way. Anyway that you would stabilize applies to in the air only x10 which probably a more expensive option. The go pros did well because an arm and pole with a camera on the end or on a headband is a good way to go because the body absorbs a lot of the small vibrations from the heli. There is also some stabilizing you can do in post but the more you do to stabilize the camera the better off you’ll be. I hope this was helpful.

    • Richard Steinberger August 28, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

      Hey Meik, maybe I can weigh in here. Not sure why Chase is recommending “… mid-ISO 400 range, and a minimum of 1000 shutter speed (I really like 1600 or greater).” unless you really have to freeze all motion. I shoot from a helicopter quite a lot for my marine work and here are my settings: iso 100, shutter speed 1/60 and at times as low as 1/30. That keeps the boat I am shooting tag sharp and the water very smooth. It just makes it look good. Shooting boats at 1/1600 is crazy. And here is the secret: You use a gyro. I personally have the KS-6 and it’s perfect for for my 1ds M III, even with a 70-200. Even boat-boat, rough water. It’s just an amazing piece of equipment and I usually don’t shoot handheld without it. Here is where you can get one, I think they may rent them as well: Works even better for video.

      It takes all the vibration out and for video allows you to do smooth pans. Of course if you’re shooting a building or landscapes using a higher shutter speed doesn’t make as much of a difference.

      Hope this helps,


      PS: Chase, not sure if you’ll agree with me, but would love your input on the above. Better yet, lets shoot some boats together, I’ll be shooting in Florida Keys in a couple weeks :)

  5. JC Ruiz August 13, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Great tips. I would love to shoot out of a helicopter, you know, once I get over my fear of heights lol

  6. David August 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    You might have forgotten to talk about the bungee cord stabilizer you use. Its in one of the shots during the video, and ya, you have talked about it before, but it would have been sweet.
    Question; does using that unit allow for shooting at a slower shutter speed?

  7. Bram August 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    Awesome vid Chase. Also love the motivational piece about how you could just turn out to be part of the target audience for this vid sooner than you may expect.
    The one on the lens hoods, would never have thought of that, brilliant.

  8. Tony Rath August 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm #


    Great video. Flown with Astrum Helicopters many times. Wish I’d a known you were going to be in Belize, would have been great to meet up and possibly show you some of Belize’s hidden wonders. Thanks for all the great information and motivation over the years.


  9. HD Cam Team August 13, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    GREAT stuff

    Thank you very much once again Chase for sharing your experience and advices with the community


  10. Cameron August 14, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    Article I wrote way back in 2004 for about how to shoot aerials safely. Essay delves into types of aircraft, preparation, gear and emergency procedures. Your readers interested in aerials may find it to be useful.


  11. faisal August 14, 2013 at 5:07 am #

    Awesome guide, thanks a ton for sharing.

  12. Costas August 14, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    OK, now I understand why you insist on using 1/1600 shutter speed: it is because you like to sit outside, with the downdraught hitting you. I usually like to sit just inside the door (sideways on the helicopter seat, always securely tied down with a climbing harness, of course), where I can shoot without the wind blowing my camera around.

    If you only shoot air-to-ground, it is better to use a shutter speed faster than 1/1000th, but if you shoot air-to-air also (as I often do), you can -and sometimes you should- work with slower shutter speeds.
    For example, when shooting another helicopter, you need a shutter speed below 1/160th (depending on helicopter and rotor type) in order to have a nice rotor blur and not have its rotor blades frozen in an awkward position.
    Also, when shooting during dusk or dawn, you don’t have a choice, you need to try and work with slower shutter speeds (that’s when you use your motor drive on Continuous High and hope to get at least one good frame from every burst)
    Here is an example (dusk flight, air-to-air Huey mil heli, shutter speed around 1/40)
    When shooting like that, my tip is to isolate the camera from any vibration by using your whole body as a shock absorber, from the seat of the heli to the hand holding the camera (you should avoid picking up any vibration from anything, so sit away from the back of the seat or the frame of the door).

    Thank you Chase for being such an inspiration and for giving away such a wealth of knowledge!

  13. art meripol August 16, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    I have shot some from Helicopters. One trip was to an offshore oil rig. The pilot, a Viet vet, walked me out to the chopper never saying a word. I got in, strapped myself in good as he started it up. Just before we lifted up he turned to me and said “when we hit the water wait till we’re upside down to get out.” I thought WHEN WE HIT THE WATER? And off we went.
    Of course the message was in case of a water landing wait until the water stops the rotor before getting out. Good thought.

  14. Ben Lucas August 16, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    I’m doing a video shoot from a helicopter soon. Is it a problem to shoot at slower shutter speeds during video due to vibration? Or do you still want to shoot at 1000/sec+ ?

  15. Norma August 26, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Amazing video…

  16. JeffreyB September 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    When shooting video with a dslr, what would you recommend to keep it steady and vibration free? I have made stills from a heli before, but never any video..

  17. Benjamin Burrows October 11, 2013 at 4:52 am #

    You can rent gyros! For video, check out the Kenyon labs ks4x4 or ks6x6.


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  19. Jorrit Lousberg August 28, 2014 at 3:15 am #

    Nice video! One totally non-photography related remark: The way you have your harness closed in the front (with the metal buckle connected to the metal ring) is not the correct way of doing it. You should connect the metal buckle to the textile loop which also holds the front metal ring. The metal ring is for connecting fall-arrest lines, not to close the harness with. Check image 5, page 4 of the Petzl manual linked below.

    Happy and safe flying!


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