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To all the lucky people who received drones for Christmas, I have two confessions:

1) Yes, I am oh so jealous; and

2) It’s ok, because there’s still nothing that beats the thrill of photographing from a helicopter.

One of my favorite aerial photos is among my favorites not because of what it earned… but because of what I learned.

About helicopters…

Helicopters are expensive. At approximately $10 to $15 per minute, from lift-off to landing, it’s nice if you and another photographer can share the experience and split the costs. Don’t worry about the competition. You have different eyes and different equipment, so you’re going to get different photographs anyway.

If you can fly doors-off, great! Shooting through a window is harder. Windows are often too scratched for sharp images and you can’t always get the angles you want.

Boost your ISO as high as you dare and set the shooting mode to Shutter Priority at a fast speed so your images won’t blur.

Here’s an example from my very first helicopter flight shooting doors-on, in windy (borderline no-fly) conditions…

#5039_aerial photos

I shot this after Great Escape Publishing’s South Africa photography expedition in 2013 flying from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope.

By comparison, here’s the image I captured in light wind with doors off at 500 feet just this past year at a regatta.  

MIAMI BEACH - Professional sailors have traditionally been a rarefied breed.   With the growing popularity of televised events like the America's Cup, and of spectator racing in Europe, however, Australian Barry Cuneo may be at the leading edge of a tipping point.  His mission, to develop young sailors that are so good, he looses them to the competition.  The current crop, pictured here keeping the boat flat and fast in heavy air, wraps up the Melges 32 World Championships on December 7th.

MIAMI BEACH – Professional sailors have traditionally been a rarefied breed. With the growing popularity of televised events like the America’s Cup, and of spectator racing in Europe, however, Australian Barry Cuneo may be at the leading edge of a tipping point. His mission, to develop young sailors that are so good, he looses them to the competition. The current crop, pictured here keeping the boat flat and fast in heavy air, wraps up the Melges 32 World Championships on December 7th.

My skills have improved a bit, of course. But this was still only my second helicopter trip, so you can see what a difference the conditions and the ability to shoot out the door can make.

While at the regatta, I was attracted to this particular boat and its crew, so when I pitched the story and my photographs to a regional sailing magazine, this is the angle I took – a story about the boat and its crew.

The $500 didn’t come solely from the magazine, though. I also reached out to the skipper and told him of my interest in his boat and crew. He looked at my photos and bought one, too.

Here’s how you can go about replicating this success…

  1. Know the subject and share the story. Sailing is my passion, so it made sense to pitch this story to a magazine full of readers with my same passion. I didn’t choose a travel magazine or a food and wine magazine. I stuck to what interests me and other people like me.
  1. Have at least one assignment lined up before you go. Before I stepped foot on that helicopter, I’d already contacted the editor of the publication, secured the assignment, followed her instructions, and met deadlines. If you need help with this, find one of Great Escape Publishing’s workshops where Kyle Wagner is speaking. I love her method.
  1. Shoot for the cover as well as the story. Heeding expert photographer Efrain Padro’s advice (also on a Great Escape Publishing tour) – take both vertical and horizontal shots. Leave room for the masthead of the magazine and copy space for designers to put text over your photos. It’ll help you secure the cover shot in addition to the photos that go with your piece. Covers are always vertical with text on top.

#5534_aerial photos

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[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can fund your travels and make an extra income with photography, travel writing, blogging, and more in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Profit From Your Photos: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]

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