Saturday, December 29, 2018

Photographing the island of Kauai from a helicopter with the doors off

While in on the island of Kauai a couple of weeks ago, I was anxious to take a helicopter ride to capture some aerial photos.  But I have tried photographing through small aircraft and helicopter windows before, with mixed results. I only wanted to do so if I could find a company willing to let me fly with the doors removed. After calling around, I was happy to find out that some of the local helicopter tour companies did offer "doors off" charters.

I scheduled a ride for our last full day on the island. Luckily, the other photographer (Tom) who I had met a couple of days before, had just taken the same flight and reconfirmed my choice of lens and camera settings.

As is always the case, these flights are weather dependent, so I had to wait until the following day to see if the flight was happening or not. I woke up to pretty clear skies and the flight was a go.

After a couple of safety briefings, I was all set to go.

I decided to take up my Canon 1D X Mark II and a Canon 24-105mm lens. I figured that I might want the faster frame rate of this camera, but ended shooting all the images at a medium burst rate, so any of my Canon cameras would have worked. The 24-105mm focal length worked perfectly for getting wide shots and good close-ups as well.

We took off from Lihue airport and flew inland towards the mountains.

Since it rains so much on Kauai, there are an abundance of waterfalls on the island. I took this first shot once this waterfall was in sight.

A couple of seconds later, we flew into a position where I could see the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, and I zoomed in a little closer and took this shot.

There are a couple of challenges when taking photos from a helicopter. They are:

* The helicopter is moving at 100mph, which makes it hard to keep the camera steady when holding the camera outside the chopper.
* There is a lot of vibration from the rotors and the outside weather conditions.
* The lighting is constantly changing, requiring camera settings to be changed frequently.
* Quite often the rotor blades are in the shot, so it helps to aim low with the camera. I also shot in burst mode to try and get a shot with no rotor in the shot. Some images required me using Photoshop to remove the blade from the photo.

This one minute video below will show you some of the challenges I was dealing with. You will see the changing light conditions, the vibrations and even the rotors (towards the end of the video).

Click on the image above or HERE to see a one minute video clip taken from the helicopter

To help mitigate all these issues, I did the following:

* I tried to keep the camera pointing down under the rotors, but high enough not to get the bottom of the chopper in the frame.
* I did use Adobe Photoshop to remove the blade from some photos.
* I tried to keep my shutter speed over 1/1000 sec to get sharp images even with the all the movement.
* I was adjusting my ISO when pointing in very dark or very light scenes.

We flew over Waimea Canyon which is the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. I loved the variations in the terrain and color.

There were numerous times when we saw rainbows, making for some really nice photos.

For the latter part of the flight, we flew along the Napali Coast and took in the amazing landscape. I took many photos as we flew over the deep blue water and along the red and green coastline.

(Photographer's tip: Since we had overcast skies, the RAW images were muted in color and contrast. Each of the images in this blog was brought into Adobe Camera RAW where I made adjustment to bring the images back to the way that we saw them from the air. Most notably, I adjusted the Dehaze slider to +50 and the Vibrance to +30. I also increased the contrast of these images in the +15 range.)

I took this image to include the helicopter in the shot. Having the chopper and the rotor in the shot actually helps to tell the story. No, this is not a drone shot. :)

And here is a similar shot without the helicopter, which highlights the colors in the ocean more than in the previous photo.

The coastline of Kauai is just spectacular. Even in muted light, the formations are breathtaking.

Another rainbow, this time over the Napali Coast.

For the last part of the flight, we flew over the wettest part of the island. This also happens to be one of the wettest spots on Earth, with measured rainfall at over 450 inches per year. Seriously! Waterfalls are everywhere.

We were flying back towards the airport when I saw that the late afternoon sun was hitting just the tops of these mountains. So pretty.

Just before we landed, we flew over the Wailua Falls, which were made famous during the opening credits of the television series "Fantasy Island".

This was my third "doors off" flight and it was another fantastic experience. Not only did it let me experience the beauty of Kauai from the best perspective, but it also let me capture these images to share with all of you.

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D. Balding said...

Thanks for sharing. I've learned a lot over years following your blog. A couple questions: 1. You mention using Adobe RAW. Was this Lightroom or?? Hyperlink is to Adobe Cloud service. 2. Did you use a polarizing filter? If not, when would you use one?

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Dave - Adobe Camera RAW is part of Photoshop. I do use a polarizing filter, mostly with deep blue skies with clouds and also when photographing waterfalls, lakes and rivers. :)