Photoset: Above Door County

Coast Guard StationAlthough it all came together sort of at the last minute, the aerial photo shoot I scheduled for our most recent visit to Door County, WI was one of the things I was looking forward to this time around.

That is, until the rains came and washed out my first scheduled attempt. I managed to get another flight the following day with a small break in the weather, and I’m wrapping up the edits from the photos I took on that little excursion.

My First Aerial Shoot By Plane
Although this was my third serious attempt at a shoot from high above the ground, it was my first from an airplane. The previous shoots were with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters over Maui, once with the doors on and most recently with the doors off arranged by the great folks at the Maui Photo Festival. That reminds me, I need to write up a similar post about what it’s like shooting out the side of a moving helicopter looking straight down with nothing but a seatbelt. What a rush!

Anyway, back to the recent flight. I went up with Dave from Grizzly Scenic Air Tours, based out of Ephraim. The Grizzly folks were a great couple of guys and did everything they could to make sure I was able to get a flight in that weekend with the weather being what it was.

Sherwood Point LighthouseIt was a small two-seater airplane, which was the first difference I noticed from the helicopters I went up in previously. At first glance, it looked pretty cramped, but I actually had more room to move around and switch cameras than I did sharing the back bench of a helicopter with 3-4 other passengers.

The other benefit of such a small aircraft was the one-on-one communication with the pilot and being able to customize the 70-minute flight to my needs. Dave was great at making sure I knew what there was to see throughout the entire peninsula and taking me to the better views.

The Downsides
Now, to the things I struggled with during this flight, through no fault of the pilot or the plane, have you.

  • Shooting through the window – the option to fly door-less with these guys is available, however, with the weather what it was and the time of the year, the temps were too low. I’m hoping to go up again around the May timeframe, so it’s something I’m looking into again.  The window on the door wasn’t that big, at least compared to a door-less helicopter, so that was a limiting factor, too.
  • Plane Stability – I’m probably not the first to observe that, as far as taking aerial photos go, helicopters tend to be a lot more stable than a small airplane. Combined with the weather and the high winds in the area, we were bobbing up and down a little more than I had anticipated. That, and shooting a lot through my telephoto lens even made me a little airsick near the end. Just more experience for me to take with on the next flight.
  • Move Along, No Hovering Here – Along the same lines of stability, I certainly missed the flexibility to hover over a subject to better compose and capture a shot like we did during the helicopter tour in September. That added more pressure on me along with the clouds (mentioned below), but I took it in stride and did the best I could. In addition to not hovering, I also felt that the speed was a little faster in the plane then the helicopter, which makes quite a bit of sense considering even basic aviation principles.
  • The Clouds – As you can see from one of the shots below, the clouds had let up enough for us to fly, but they were playing havoc with my exposures. While I’ve come a long way with adjusting on the fly for changing lighting conditions, it still was tricky with light that was changing so often, working with fast shutter speeds and not a lot of time to get the shot I wanted. I ended up bumping up the ISO in a few places and working with the exposure compensation, but having a more professional camera like the Canon 5D Mark II would have been a big help in some of the noise and blur I was getting. Someday. 🙂
  • A Focal Gap – I ran into another unforeseen problem on my part, leading to more knowledge for next time. I shot with two camera bodies like last time, my 20D with a 70-300mm telephoto and a my Rebel XSi with my newest lens, a 24mm f/2.8 wide angle. What I soon realized after starting to shoot was that I had a fairly large gap between my wide angle and telephoto selection that proved detrimental to some of my composition efforts. I shot with the same pair of gear on Maui, but we were able to get closer to the ground below in the helicopter to where my 24mm frame was full of all the wonderful Aloha goodness done below us. Time to rethink the gear selection for the next trip.

High Clouds

Town of Ephraim

On to the Goodies
That list of downsides is more educational for me, and maybe others, to learn from in future attempts. As it’s been said before, we learn more from our mistakes and failures than our successes, so calling them out and having them to revisit later is helpful for me.

Moving on to the good parts of the flight, it was a great scenic tour and something I’d recommend to anyone who frequents Door County and wants to see it from a whole new vantage point. The guys at Grizzly Tours have a few flight options to fit just about every need, and as they did for me, they’re happy to customize to any special requests you might have.

A few of my hopes coming into this flight and photo shoot were to see the full autumn colors from high above and to see some of the lighthouses, towns, etc. that we’ve visited on our previous visits. Photography aside, those goals were more than accomplished.

Aerial Shot

Cana Island Lighthouse 

Above Sturgeon Bay

I also learned there was even more to see than I knew coming in. For starters, there were more bays, lakes, and harbors than I had thought, and bluffs like the one below were quite a sight from the air after standing near the edge of a few of them.

Ellison Bay Bluffs

On top of that, Dave mentioned there were 27 islands that surround the peninsula, and they even have tours for visiting those and even shipwrecks, too. Needless to say that has my interest piqued for another flight in May, and I’m fascinated that there’s so much to shoot that one or two 70-minute flights couldn’t even cover everything.

A More Photos Left to Go
I tried to go through my best shots from the flight for this post, but the truth is I still haven’t gotten through all of them.

All of these photos, plus some that I didn’t show here, can be found in my Above Door County photoset on Flickr. As I get to the last few photos that need some TLC in Photoshop, I’ll be adding them there as well.

Enjoy, and if some of these notes helped you out or you have aerial shots of your own, please let me know. I’m also trying to carve out time for writing a similar post about the doors-off helicopter tour, which of my three aerial shoots has been my most successful, by far.

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One Comment

  1. Stacy Pearsall November 3, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    Those look really nice! Well done.
    -Stacy Pearsall

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