Aerial Photography Wiki

photo sorties camera/photo processes

The air crew training missions have been focusing on photo missions over the past three months. As these will continue in the future, a number of operating parameters for the photos mission have been identified that will improve the ability to take photos that are a result of trying various combinations of camera settings and aircraft positioning. The following is not intended to replace photo training sessions but to augment this training if you are participating in the training. The following are the suggestions;


1. The air crew must work as a team. The photographer is responsible for the briefing, specifying the parameters of the flight over the target, and de-briefing the sortie. The Mission Observer is the recorder of the specifics of each photo taken. The pilot takes direction from the photographer in order to position the aircraft for the photos.

2. The camera is critical. Single lens reflex cameras are the best option for the photos. These should have through the lens viewing through a view finder.

3. The camera should be capable of being set on shutter speed priority for the photos. This will allow the camera to select the aperture of the photos for the speed of the shutter. It is not recommended to use the automatic mode for the pictures as this will not produce the ideal settings for the photos on a consistent basis.

4. Optical zoom should be used as opposed to digital zoom. The best combination is a 200-300mm zoom lens. It is not recommended to zoom out to more that 100mm on the 200mm and 150mm on the 300mm. If you have to use a higher zoom you are probably too far from the target. If you zoom all the way out you increase the chances of blurred pictures due to the camera shake induced by the aircraft vibration that you probably do not feel.

5. ISO should be greater than 250 with 300 - 400 being the setting that produced the best pictures.

6. Shutter speed should be greater than 1/750th, with settings of 1/800+ producing consistent quality images.

7. Use manual focus at infinity.

8. The target should fill 75%+ of the viewfinder for the best shots. If you are taking a photo that is larger than the frame in viewfinder then take two shots of the target to capture both ends. If you zoom out to capture the entire target you will lose resolution by being too far away optically. If you have to make multiple passes that is better than trying to get the whole target in one frame and missing the details due to distance from the target.

9. Altitude should be 1000' agl with safety as a consideration. Distance is 1/4 mile ideally, but not more than 1/2 mile from the target. The ideal angle from the camera to the target is 45 degrees. One quarter of a mile from the target is more than 45 degrees but the result of taking pictures 1/4 mile from the target is acceptable as opposed to being too close with not enough time to set up the camera before the target is on you. Be aware of the lighting on the target. Early morning or late afternoon might not be ideal if images from all four

cardinal directions are required as you will be shooting into the sun on some photo passes.

10. Air speed should be 80-90 KIAS. The faster you go the more susceptible the pictures are to blurring.

11. The aircraft is flown level, not in a turn. The photographer calls the position of the aircraft. The process that works best is to fly directly over the target to select the best course to fly the initial pass. Come around and set up at 1,000', safety permitting, 1/4 mile from the target, in level flight and fly one side of the target for the first photo. Fly a level run and then make a 270 degree turn to fly the second side, 270 turn to fly the third side, and a final 270 turn to fly the fourth side. The photographer reviews the pictures on the camera and decides if another run is necessary. It is better to take multiple pictures on multiple passes if there is a question rather than having to repeat the sortie when you review the pictures back at the base.

11. The lat/long recorded is of the target, not each individual photo. The best time to record the lat/long is on the initial pass over the target.

12. Use a camera window if possible and keep the camera out of the slipstream. Not only will the slipstream pull the camera out of your hands, but if part of the lens gets into the slipstream it will jiggle the camera enough to blur the picture. The slipstream is not laminar coming off the prop and will jiggle the camera if the lens catches this slipstream. Do not brace

your hands on any part of the aircraft as it will blur the image.


When the crew returns to base the pictures are downloaded to a computer and processed via a photo processing software such as Google's Picassa. Do not load the pictures into WIMRS directly as they will need to be cropped to center the target in the picture. When you load the pictures, name the location of the picture in terms that someone not familiar with the area can find the location. When you name the pictures, put the photographers last name in (brackets) after the name so it is known who took the pictures. Double check your lat/long entries to make sure they are correct. After you load the pictures and exit the screen, click on the camera icon as a quality check . A google map will come up on the screen. If the map shows anything larger than Colorado there is a mistake with the lat/long that needs to be corrected. Scroll down below the map and look at the lat/long on the photos to see which one, or ones, are not correct.


I have been asked what constitutes an acceptable photo. The best answer is to imagine you are the customer who is going to pay for the photo(s) that you just took. Looking at these photos, would you write a check to CAP for them as photos you would gladly pay for? If the answer is no, don't upload them. Part of the debriefing is deciding whether the photos have to repeated or are acceptable to use.

Bill O'Connor

ES Training Ofcr