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Aerial Photography

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island

Last summer I vacationed for  a few days in Mackinaw City with extended family.  While there, my brother-in-law and I decided to take advantage of a plane ride that could be had over the Straits of Mackinac.  The plane flew out of the County Airport in St Ignace on the north side of the Straits.  The plane was an old, open cockpit, bi-wing (Red) airplane. I wish I would have taken a picture of it!  This decision was made by my heart, before my head kicked in!  Not because I ended up being afraid, but the reason I wanted to go was to take pictures from above Mackinac.  There would be so much one could take pictures of once they were in the sky.  What I didn’t think about though, was what I would (technically speaking) need to know to take pictures in an old, open cockpit, bi-wing plane.


Downtown on Mackinac Island

I have taken pictures from a small plane before.  I took pictures of the Alma Walmart (when it was being sold) from a small single engine plane (through plexiglass windows) for the agency selling it.  What I soon learned upon climbing into the open seat with my 6 foot plus brother-in-law, was there wasn’t much room to move around.  Plus, I had to wear a leather helmet and goggles (like WWII Motor Cyclists wore).  Again, I missed a Kodac moment when I didn’t take pictures of my fellow passenger in this getup!  How on earth would I take pictures while looking through those babies?  Once we were airborne there were more problems I had not anticipated.  The plane vibrated badly and the wind was so strong I had to treat the experience like shooting sports, keeping my shutter speed at 1/1000th or better in hopes of getting a sharp image.  These settings don’t usually translate into great landscape pictures.  At times, I was afraid that the camera was going to be ripped out of my hands from the wind.  Not that I would have lost the camera to the Straits if it shook loose.  I had taken the precaution to securely wrap the strap around me.  Now if I lost my grip, it would just be beaten into a thousand tiny pieces on the side of the plane!

Mackinac Bridge

Most of the time I found that I was just pointing the camera in the direction of objects below that I wanted to take pictures of.  It was near impossible to tell if they were in focus or not while looking through my goggles.  Framing of pictures had to be largely done in post editing.  Many of the pictures were garbage, but I did get a few keepers.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience.  The Pilot is an old guy (look who’s calling this guy old!), that flies the plane up to the Bridge every year from South Carolina (in stages I’m told).  He and his wife come out to the airport on nice days and make some serious ‘fun’ money (I think it was like $120 or $140) taking people for a joy ride.  I ended up having an experience that was a lot of fun and one that taught me about being prepared properly for a new photographic experience.  I hope to go back this summer.  Not to fly again, but I would like to get some HDR shots of the plane.  I think the deep red color of the plane, with the old pilot standing next to it would make a great picture!


3 Responses

  1. Excellent work. I especially like the upturned boat with the bridge in the background.


  2. Bruce:

    How can I buy a copy of the picture of the Grand. It is a special place for my mom. I would love to frame it and give it to her!


  3. Doug, that picture (as well as the ‘boat’ picture) you can click on and it will take you to my Smugmug site where you can purchase a copy of it.

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