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Books, Posters and Photographs

Kodak Guide to Aerial Photography

chapter introductions


To the prospective aerial photographer, the aerial environment presents an exciting, busy, even confusing field of operation. There are new skills that have to be practiced, a foreign jargon to learn, complicated equipment to become proficient with, and an unusual way of seeing to master. Even as a professional with 30 years' experience in the air, I still feel the excitement, busyness, and occasional confusion. Manufacturers constantly offer more advanced equipment; aviation rules are in a never-ending state of flux; and new challenges present themselves daily. I share with the beginner the same hurdles, the same goals, and the same feeling of accomplishment. Beginning with the apparatus, I endeavor to share with the reader some of the knowledge accumulated over three decades of flight and photography.


After you finally convinced the client to send you on a six-week assignment shooting the most beautiful resorts around the world, it's all downhill from there. Now, all you have to do is arrange for the aircraft, determine how to shoot the subjects, choose the right film, and make sure all your gear is in operating order.


Do you remember your very first camera? I do. My college roommate was the photographer for the university newspaper and was about to purchase a new 35 mm camera. I had been somewhat interested in photography and decided to get one as well, since my father knew a camera-store owner who would give us a discount. That shiny new silver and black camera was pretty impressive and rather complicated, what with shutter speeds and lens settings and even a built-in self timer. I had a "you push the button" mentality, knew very little about camera operation, and was overwhelmed by the prospect of taking even one shot. That single body with a lone 50 mm lens (no filters) occupied me for years, and one of the best images I ever produced, which hangs on my office wall, was made with that simple camera.


Many professional photographers share a similar history. In the beginning we were intrigued with the potential for self-expression through landscape imagery, portraiture, travel photography, abstraction, or another aspect of photography. After some experimentation, acquiring a few pieces of gear, and maybe a class or two, we became hooked. Involvement matured from a passing interest to a deep fascination and engagement with the medium. After further evolution, a few more pieces of equipment, another class, possibly recognition from friends or family, an inevitable question arose in each of us: can I make a living in photography?

Upon evaluation we have quickly discovered the vast difference between photography as an avocation and photography as an occupation, and an education in the business aspects of the profession has ensued. This book does not address general issues concerning the business of photography. There are other books, professional organizations, and other sources for that information. I am not aware of other sources that discuss business issues specific to aerial photography, so I attempt to fill that void in the following pages.


A prominent airline captain-journalist once admitted in a magazine article a string of misjudgments while flying in his youth. Any pilot claiming he or she has never had a scary incident or close call is either fooling himself or herself, or has only logged 50 hours. But accidents are not confined to the young, the inexperienced, or fools. An experienced flight instructor and friend once said no matter how diligent you are, you cannot anticipate all tentative situations or conditions. If your pilot encounters difficulty, how he or she responds will affect the outcome.

(Note: Most pilots learn the information contained in the next two chapter when first earning their private pilot license. The following pages are directed toward both non-pilots and those who wish to refresh themselves with various safety issues and flight procedures specific to aerial photography. Readers experienced in the world of aviation may wish to scan these chapters.)


Virtually anything, if it is taller than you, can be used to obtain an elevated view of the world. Likewise, just about anything that flies can offer a lofty perspective. However, even though flying and photography have been interrelated from the beginning, aviation engineers do not take into consideration the needs of professional photographers when they design airplanes or helicopters. The choice of aircraft type and model will greatly influence the ease with which you accomplish your tasks or your ability to accomplish them at all.