Aerial Photography

August 3, 2018

Capture Stunning Chicago Air & Water Show Photos

Aeroshell_Dennis_Biela.jpgLooking to capture stunning images of the 60th Chicago Air & Water Show? Then register for Helix Camera's Tips & Techniques for Taking Great Aviation Photos event hosted by Aviation Photographer Dennis Biela.

Biela says it doesn't matter what type of camera you have as long as you know the limitations of that camera and take photos that suite the camera's capabilities. For instance, if you are using a phone or a camera with the limited range he suggests "Watch the smoke trails written in the sky. Focus on the interest beyond the little dot in the sky." A perfect act for this is Team Aeroshell, flying four T-6 Texans, that throw down a lot of smoke. Dennis suggests capturing shots of them performing loops and using the smoke trails to drive interest.

Biela points out that a propeller driven plane with a still prop looks weird. Be sure to play with shutter speeds of 1/25th to 1/60th to capture some prop blur. Also, consider panning rather with the aircraft to capture some blur in the background.

He suggests finding your way to show center to increase your odds of getting a great shot. For the Chicago Air & Water Show that is North Avenue Beach. It offers a great spot to capture the action but can be overcrowded. Another great option is to get up high in a skyscraper to capture a unique view. Check out our Chicago Air & Water Show viewing guide for some additional suggestions.

You can get more tips by attending the Helix Class on Wednesday, August 15th, the class costs $39. The timing of the class is perfect as performers begin arriving on Thursday and will be flying over Chicago on Thursday and Friday practicing for weekend event.

Dennis has been photographing airplanes for most of his career. His father made him a deal in High School that he would fund any flying lessons his son wanted if he agreed to wait until after graduation to drive, sounds like a great deal to me. He went on to earn his license and has ratings in gliders and hot air balloons. His work has been published in Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine and EAA's Sport Aviation. He embedded with the Blue Angels a few years back and is finalizing a book comprised of photos from this experience. Check Dennis Biela out on Instagram to see some of his great work!

May 25, 2011

San Francisco Bay Aerial Tour

GoldenGateBridge.jpgVirgin America is starting service between San Francisco (SFO) and Chicago O'Hare (ORD) this week and I have the opportunity to fly on the inaugural flight to Chicago. While in the Bay Area I decide it would be fun to take a Cessna 172 up and do a San Francisco Bay Aerial Tour.

Earlier this week I reached out to Jason Miller who is a local CFI and also host of the Finer Points Podcast. Jason suggested we fly out of San Carlos Airport (KSQL) and fly North past San Francisco International Airport over the city and then tour the bay before coming back south along the Pacific coastline.

After arriving commercially, I started the day with lunch at Sky Kitchen a restaurant just off the west side of the San Carlos airport. There I sat at a giant table in the middle of the restaurant surrounded by a group of pilots that meet for lunch nearly daily, some of them for more than 40 years. I enjoyed taking in the camaraderie and enjoying hearing some long tails. This is a new favorite $100 Hamburger destination.

toddandjason.jpgAfter lunch I met Jason at West Valley Flying Club. We pre-flighted the airport then launched to the North. Soon after take-off we received hand-off to the San Francisco Tower that allowed us to transition the San Francisco Class B Airspace. It was a thrill flying parallel to the commercial traffic landing on runway 28L and 28R. Just three hours before I had been in one of those tin cans. I much preferred being pilot in command over traveling like a sardine.

Next we flew directly over San Francisco I did a lap around both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Having visited both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz before I loved seeing them from this new vantage point. Then we flew over Point Reyes National Seashore before turning south to fly low along the Pacific coastline.

Heading south along the coast we paralleled scenic highway 1 as it winded its way down from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay. As we descended to 1,400 feet to stay below Class B Airspace NORCAL announced a traffic advisory at our 11 o'clock. The traffic was a 747 departing San Francisco International and quickly became no factor, but it was a thrill none the less to briefly share the airspace with a Boeing 747 about 500 feet above us and climb.

Another enjoyable flightseeing experience in the book and one I highly recommend to all pilots. There are few icons as thrilling to fly by then the Golden Gate Bridge.

Get the flash player here:

May 18, 2010

African Air: Viewing Africa from a Motorized Paraglider

George Steinmetz has one of the coolest jobs in the world. Steinmetz is a professional photographer who uses a motorized paraglider to capture unique sights from around the world.

africanair2.jpgOne of the greatest benefits of my private pilot's license is the ability to enjoy a unique viewpoint of the world that the few of us that can fly enjoy. Steinmetz takes that privileged to a whole new level flying on of the most primitive flying machines and gets airborne over some of the most remote parts of the world. His reward is our treat, award winning photos that have been featured in National Geographic and Life Magazine.

I have always been intrigued by aerial photography. Previously, I have written about Yann Arthus Bertrand and his aerial photography book Earth From the Air. Both Bertrand and Steinmetz are extremely talented photographers however I am drawn to Steinmetz's photos more maybe due to the intimate nature of flying so primitively in such remote destinations.

This time last year I had the opportunity to go on Safari in Zambia and Botswana. I was blown away by the stunning landscape and the amazing wildlife. Seeing Steinmetz's photos brought back this wonderful place to the forefront of my memory. He merged my love for Africa and Travel with the excitement and thrill of aviation.

The video below will give you a snapshot of some of his amazing photographs. You can buy his book "African Air", view more of his photos, or learn about his motorized paraglider on his website.

George Steinmetz - African Air from George Steinmetz on Vimeo.

Posted at 7:04 PM | Post Category: Aerial Photography | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story

August 14, 2009

Flying with Team Oracle Prior to the Chicago Air & Water Show

team_oracle.jpgEach year at the Chicago Air & Water Show Sean D. Tucker becomes a crowd favorite as he performers a memorable aerobatic routine in his Oracle Challenger bi-plane. I have always enjoyed his performances but it was an act outside of the plane that helped solidify him as my favorite airshow performer. A few years back at the Chicago Air & Water Show after a tiring performance he came down to show center and took the time to talk to the kids that were gathered and to sign a few autographs. His joy for flying was eaten up by the kids looking up to him and I realized he is one of the best ambassadors aviation could have.

In advance of this year's show I was offered the opportunity to spend half a day with Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle and jumped at the opportunity. I had no doubts, but after meeting Sean it was obvious that he absolutely loves coming to work each and every day, in fact I am sure he wouldn't call it work. You can see his enthusiasm first hand in this Chicago Tribune video interview.

My day started by joining a few other photographers and videographers in the Team Oracle Piper Seneca. We shadowed Sean in his Oracle Challenger bi-plane and Ben Freelove in the Oracle Extra 300 as they conducted a formation flight over Chicago. This was an amazing experience to watch two extremely talented pilots communicate and manage formation flying. Additionally, it provided an amazing vantage point for taking photos and some video.

Shortly after we landed I moved from the bulky Piper Seneca and into the sporty Extra 300. Ben got us airborne then said a magical thing "You have the plane". From that point forward he let me fly for a good 15-20 minutes while teaching me how to do various aerobatic maneuvers. We started with the basic rolls and loops and then he taught me how to combine the basic moves to do more advanced maneuvers like the Immelmen, Hammerhead & Cuban Eight. I was amazed at how well this plane performed and how easy it made all of these maneuvers. I am sure it helped that Ben is a phenomenal instructor which I am sure is a result of his experiences teaching at the Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety.

I finished off by doing my first spin. In my five years of flying, I have never been through Spin training. I had always assumed it was somewhat dangerous since it was not part of mainstream training. I was surprised to learn how easy it was to recover from a spin.

Prior to flying Sean had told me to be sure to have Ben show off the a few high-G maneuvers. After I had my share of flying I gave Ben his plane back and he put me through a 7.5G Hammerhead and then a high-G somersaulting roll, both of which were amazing. I love flying in general, but today's flight was an experience like no other I have had and I think I now have the aerobatic flying bug. I think I will have to seek out more opportunities to fly in an Extra 300.

If you are in the Chicago Area be sure to get out to the lakefront this weekend and enjoy the Team Oracle performance!

To the right you will find a few videos from both flights and also some photos below. I apologize for the shakiness of my video from the Seneca, this was my first stab at aerial photography.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

July 4, 2008

A Private Pilots View

MoonlightBay_Aerial.jpgOne of the things I love most about being a pilot is to be able to see the world from a unique perspective. We live in a world of beautiful sites. Yet, there are limits to what can be seen without the ability to get airborne. Whenever I fly commercially I love sitting in a window seat so I can check out amazing landscapes and look for sights that might otherwise be missed by those on the ground.

Since learning to fly I have enjoyed on several occasions discovering something from above that I would surely have missed or been unable to see from the ground. Things like corn mazes, shipwrecks and Civil War Munitions Factory.

While enjoying the Fourth of July holiday in Door County, WI; My wife and I decided to spend an afternoon flying. It was during this flight that we enjoyed checking out another beautiful view that we would have missed without the aid of the airplane. We overflew Moonlight Bay, from the ground it is just another beautiful bay along the Door County Peninsula. But, from above it was an amazing mixture of colors. The bay had a rust color close to shore that then melted into the deep blue of Lake Michigan. We circled the bay and snapped a few photos to share with the family. Cynthia and I have been by Moonlight Bay before while visiting nearby Cana Island Lighthouse. But, had no idea how drastically different it looked from the sky. You can view a wonderful ground level photo of Moonlight Bay on Flickr that shows how drastically different it looks from the ground.

todd_cynthia_flying.jpgThis was just one of many highlights during the flight. When we arrived at Ephraim we thought we were the only airplane in the area as the radios had been silent and no one responded to any of my calls to the Ephraim CTAF. As we started to enter the pattern for the asphalt runway their I spotted a tail dragger taking off from the turf runway. Shortly after taking off he abruptly cut into the pattern for the asphalt runway and proceeded to land, completely oblivious to my presence, despite my frequent radio calls. I made a few more radio calls without a response from that plane. It was apparent they were not equipped with radios or simply were not using them. I decided to circle and setup for a new entry into the pattern to ensure there was plenty of separation between me and this plane. Just about then another airplane chimed in that they were inbound for landings at Ephraim and commented they would follow us in the pattern.

As I was about to turn on to final approach to land, I noticed that the radio-less plane decided not to clear the runway and wait at the end before back taxiing and started to slowly back-taxi on the active runway. So, I decided to perform a go-around. I gave the inbound airplane and update on the situation. From that point forward the two of use would share updates with each other about what this other plane was doing. After another ride around the pattern we landed at Ephraim.

There we were met by my older brother and two of his three kids. They were in the area and knowing we were planning to land there decided to stop in to watch. I enjoyed showing the kids the plane and letting them sit in the cockpit. While we were on the ground the airport traffic picked up and four or five planes arrived while we were enjoying our time on the tarmac. The pilot that had shared the pattern with me, the one that I had been in frequent communication with on the radios, stopped over and introduced himself and thanked me for the updates. It was nice meeting the pilot and putting a face to the voice on the radio.

On the flight back to Sturgeon Bay we had an aerial view of the 2008 Door County corn maze and also checked out a 1,000 foot ship leaving dock in Sturgeon Bay and heading out into Green Bay. All in all it was a fun afternoon of flying!

September 13, 2004

Aerial Photo on

oxd_small.jpgIn August, shortly after earning my private pilot's license, my wife and I flew to Oxford, Ohio. While flying over their airport we took a photograph of the airport and I subsequently sent it to is one of the most comprehensive websites for airport information. However they were missing a photo of the Miami University Airport in Oxford. has recently added my photo to their page dedicated to the Miami Unversity Airport. I encourage all pilots to use and assist in submitting photos for any airports that are missing information.

Posted at 10:57 PM | Post Category: Aerial Photography, General | Save & Share This Story

August 6, 2004

Aerial Photograph for

oxd_small.jpgThe Midwest is being blessed with a beautiful weekend. Temperatures are in the mid-seventies and the skies look to be clear for a few days. The wife and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and the new pilot's license with an after-work flight today. We met at the airport and decided to fly to Oxford, Ohio home of Miami University.

The winds and turbulence made for a bumpy ride to Oxford but once we made it there the ride seemed to smooth itself out. It only took us about 15 minutes to get there while by car it easily takes an hour.

Prior to our flight today, I had visited one of my favorite aviation resources,, that offers great airport information. For most airport listings they provide a variety of pertinent information and often the display a photo of the airport. I noticed they did not have a photograph on file for Miami University Airport in Oxford. It is the first time I had found an airport on their site without a photo.

So I decided to bring the digital camera along for our flight. My wife captured a nice photograph of the airport that I will submit to later today (view the photo). As you can see the airport is in the process of building a taxi-way. Currently pilots need to taxi back down the runway after landing.

I fly next on Monday when I will take my first flight in the Cessna 172. The 172 is a four passenger Cessna that is not only bigger than the 152, but more powerful too. I will be flying with my instructor in that just to ensure I am comfortable with the transition to the larger plane.

Posted at 7:38 PM | Post Category: Aerial Photography, Cessna 152, Flight Time | Save & Share This Story

May 23, 2004

Window Seat - Deciphering the View From Above

window_seat1.jpgI was reading the June issue of Men's Health, in their Guy Wisdom section they referenced a book by Gregory Duncan, Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air. The book contains more than 70 aerial photographs and a foldout map of common flight paths in North America.

The maps and photos are meant to help the window seat passenger to decipher what they are seeing below. Whenever I travel I always select the window seat. I usually plan ahead and think about what direction we will be approaching the destination city and choose which side of the plane to sit on in order to have the best view of the city. For instance flying into Newark I find more often than not sitting on the left side yields a great view of New York. During flights like the one to New York I often see a ton of towns and cities and wish I knew what they were. The only landmark I usually recognize is Niagara Falls. I always regret not having brought along some sort of map.

This book sounds like it helps readers see cities, landmarks and geography from 30,000 feet and understand what they are and what is coming up next. Photographs in this book are said to include the Rockies at Aspen, Mississippi River, the GM Lansing assembly plant, the San Andreas fault, Disney World, Niagara Falls, the Chesapeake Bay, Chicago and much more.

In an Arizona Daily Star book review, the author was quoted, "A century ago, nobody on Earth could have hoped to see this view, and yet it's yours -- free -- with every flight you take."

As soon as I read the reviews about this book I decided I needed to check it out. I ordered a copy today. I will keep you posted.

Posted at 5:29 PM | Post Category: Aerial Photography, General | Comments (2) | Save & Share This Story