Follow associate photo producer and photographer Tyler Metcalfe on Instagram @tylermetcalfe as he captures the best of Montana in fall.
Scheduling a photo shoot can often be a tricky task to accomplish due to the fact that multiple elements must align. When airplanes and weather are thrown into the mix, that task becomes even more complicated. For five days straight I was in constant communication with Peter Gross, owner of Montana’a Backcountry Flying Experience, with the goal of photographing one of their floatplanes as it flew over the Bob Marshall Wilderness during sunrise or sunset. This would require great weather and the acquisition of and coordination with a second airplane (which I would be flying in and photographing from). We spent the following three days making phone calls back and forth and checking in on weather—and the possibility of making the flight happen was looking grim. Skies were bleak, winds were high, and the mountains were constantly covered in low clouds. Finally, on the morning of the fourth day, the clouds cleared up and we were gifted with clear blue skies and perfect flying conditions. I was able to spend a few hours in a chase plane capturing Montana’s wilderness and the Backcountry Flying Experience from above.
Photo tip: When photographing from an airplane, having a zoom lens with image stabilization (IS) was crucial. The distance between my plane and the plane I was photographing varied constantly, and shooting with a 70-200mm lens allowed me to adjust accordingly. Additionally, shooting with an IS lens helped to reduce the excessive camera shake caused by the vibrations of the small plane.
Photographed with a Canon 6D and 70-200mm 2.8 IS lens. Exposure settings: 1/3200 sec, f/5.0, ISO 500
(Note: Some experienced airplane photographers have pointed out that Tyler should have used a shutter speed slower than 250th of a second to render the plane’s propeller as a shining disk. This would help enhance the feeling of showing the plane in flight. His choice of 3200th of a second could lead observers to believe the plane’s engine had stopped. Of course with 250th shutter speed the photographer will have a much lower percentage of photos that are sharp. The image stabilization will help reduce motion blur from camera shake, but not movement between the two planes.
We’re happy to learn that there is a proper way to photograph propeller-driven airplanes. —Dan Westergren, director of photography, National Geographic Travel)