August 29, 2012

Lofty Shots: Elevated Photos by Pilot Wayne

Aerial view photography is profoundly fascinating as it captures a world, for most people, only occasionally seen. On Piictu, a small community of pilots regularly post their adventures, offering superb glimpses from the bird’s eye. Aviator and aerial photography buff @PilotWayne on Piictu talks about his shots and offers advice on taking photos from a plane. 

-Piictu

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How long have you been flying? 

PilotWayne: I have been flying for almost six years as a pilot, and many times before that as a member of a flight crew, or as a passenger, on different types of aircraft.

What type of plane do you fly? Who typically flies with you?

I usually fly a Piper Warrior or Archer III. Sometimes, I will fly an Archer II.  These are very popular single engine propeller planes, with a “low wing” design. I’ve also flown “high wing” airplanes, including the Cessna 172 Skyhawk. These airplanes typically fly at 110 - 125 knots, powered by a 160 or 180 horsepower, 4 cylinder piston engine. 

When flying for fun, I almost always fly with friends who are also pilots, and we take turns as “Pilot in Command.” I’m also a member of two flying clubs.  We go on group flights, “for a $100 hamburger,” site-seeing, visiting a museum, or sometimes to see an air show. The last group flight we went on was to a great little airport restaurant in Westhampton Beach, for breakfast.

I also fly as a volunteer flight crew member for the Civil Air Patrol (USAF Auxiliary) and the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  This is exciting flying - search and rescue, aerial photography supporting disaster relief efforts, homeland security missions and patrol of local ports and waterways.

What made you want to be a pilot? 

When I was very young, I received an unusual gift: a cardboard mock-up of a Mercury capsule. I still remember sitting in it, and operating the simulated control panel, which actually lit up and had “real” switches and buttons.

I took my first flight in a small plane when I was about ten years old, on a family vacation in Pennsylvania.  We flew “once around the airport”, but I still remember every detail of that flight. Also at a young age, I took a helicopter site-seeing flight over Niagara Falls. That flight also has a big impact on me.  (I would actually love to fly helicopters, but it’s just too expensive.)

I fly for the adventure, the challenge, the unique experience, and to explore new places with friends who share my passion.

Of course, it’s also great to be able to get somewhere in less than half the time it takes to drive!  I enjoy combining flying with digital photography. You can see the world from a different perspective, and there’s always something interesting to take a picture of - unusual clouds, the light and colors of the sky at different times of day, the places you visit (seen from the air and on the ground), and of course, other airplanes!

What type of cameras and accessories do you use for aerial photography?

Most of my aerial photos, as well as airport and air show photos, are taken with a Nikon D5000 DSLR.  I have two lenses: a 18-55 mm, and a 55-200 mm zoom. 

I use a wide angle setting for cockpit shots, so that I can capture as much of the crew and instrument panel as possible. I also use wide angle settings for taking more panoramic shots of scenery and sky together. Sometimes, I will use my 200 mm zoom to capture a close-up of an area of interest on the ground, like an airport. I have also had pretty good success with telephoto shots of nearby airplanes.

I use a UV filter on both of my lenses, but I find that some tweaking of the brightness, contrast and white balance using a photo editing tool can really help improve the final product, especially when you are shooting on a cloudy or hazy day.

Sometimes, I’ll just use my iPhone 4S camera to take quick shots in the cockpit, or videos -  when I don’t have time to set up and use the D5000.

Is it dangerous to take photos while flying?

It’s not dangerous as long as you maintain “situational awareness.” One of the most important things is looking out for other aircrafts in the busy New York airspace. I take pictures when I am the, “Pilot Not Flying” (another pilot is flying the airplane).  You can fly from either the left or the right seats, which is why you’ll see my Piictu photos taken from both sides of the aircraft.

What’s your favorite aerial view? 

The Manhattan skyline. You’ve probably seen my photos on Piictu - flying along the Hudson River and over Central Park.  I also love flying along Long Island’s ocean beaches, especially at sunset. I enjoy night flying, and recently captured some good photos of night landings, using the iPhone 4S camera!

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Thanks Wayne! We can’t wait to see more fantastic shots! 
Follow Pilot Wayne on Piictu
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