Luckily enough, the other passengers were tourists, and didn’t have opinions on things to fly by! So, starting up by the park and working down, we got to see most of the city. We lead with the bottom of Central park, with some loops around midtown to hit the Empire State Building, Times Square, and Rock Center. Of course, being in this area also meant flyovers of Bryant Park, the Chrysler Building, Columbus Circle, and the other midtown landmarks. After a few nice circles there, we headed down the Hudson for some hovering at the WTC, and then around to the far side of the Statue for the iconic shot with the city in the background.
Overall we flew about 35 miles- have a look at the map of the route (runkeeper, sorry, should have used a ballooning app).
For this or other photo shoots, look at a map first! Check where the sun is going to be, and work a route (or your locations and angles) based on light position!
Prior to the flight I was lucky enough to speak with pro photog Tony Granata. In addition to running aviation photography workshops, he also shoots with NYonAir. (Check out his website here: www.tgranata.com). While I do lots of in-the-air shooting from my balloon, moving <10 mph in a balloon is slightly different than a helicopter. I’ll summarize his comments while providing my advice:
Bring multiple camera bodies! As the helicopter door is open, everything needs to be strapped in, so there is no changing batteries, lenses, or memory cards. Let’s get the easy / obvious thing out of the way first- use big, fast cards. To maximize chances of getting a good (not shaky) shot, I always shot in rapid bursts, sometimes until I filled the buffer. Then, it was time to pick up the other body and try a new composition. I brought 2 bodies, my everyday go-to D800, and also a D610 (chosen for its low light abilities). For the extra light, dynamic range, and Mpix count, I definitely would recommend a full frame.
As far as lenses go, Tony was very helpful here. I was always planning on bringing a wide and a tele lens, but I wasn’t sure how wide, or how tight I should go. He mentioned that with a really wide lens you need to worry about getting the chopper in the frame, especially the rotors. Further, he really recommend a long lens, 200mm + long, for getting nice and close to some of the details- great advice!
My go-to all-around lens is a f4 24-120 (previously reviewed here), so I took that along to cover the wider part of the range. I briefly considered my 14mm, and while it could give some awesome shots, I didn’t want to deal with my manual focus version, or worry about getting parts of the aircraft in the frame. Since the flight was just before sunset on a sunny day, the f4 24-120 was plenty fast. On the long end, I rented a Nikon 80-400 (the new version), as recommended by Tony… great idea. This let me get close to just about everything, and turned out to be bright enough (thanks to the sunny weather). I really liked the lens choices and would recommend this for a first flight. If I go again, I think some wider shots from the 14mm would be interesting to take, and I also might take the quintessential VR 70-200 2.8. Part 3 will have shooting tips and camera settings- I like the VR, but for a sunny day, I think a fast lens and shutter speed can work just as well.
Bring 2 bodies, with big fast memory cards. One wide and one tele lens makes for a great combo, but be conscious of your camera’s light and ISO capability when selecting a lens.
To see some of the photos I took during the flight, check out the related blog posts. Also, look at my instagram or facebook! Check back for part 3, where Ill discuss camera settings (in a much shorter post!).