The Adventure

Using cameras with helicopters on a summer adventure

Posted by Topher Donahue on Tue, Mar 16, 2010

The views out the window of the helicopter during a CMH Summer Adventure are staggering.  Looking straight down at a glacier, deep into the crevasses where the white of the snow turns to icy blue and the blue fades to black in the heart of the glacier.  Gazing out at a thousand summits receding past the horizon.  Seeing fellow adventurers standing on one of those summits.  Watching waterfalls pour over huge mountain faces just outside the helicopter window.  

Then, when you get out of the helicopter, it will take off against a backdrop of postcard-quality mountain scenery.  If you have a camera, you’ll be trying to capture these memories, but getting a good photo is not as easy as just pulling out your iPhone and pushing the screen.  Here are a few tips for shooting from inside, as well as photographing the helicopter itself.

For shooting inside the helicopter:

  • Shutter speed is everything.  On automatic, your camera will shoot at a 60th or 125th of a second.  This is too slow and the helicopter vibration will cause every photo to be blurry. 
  • Switch you camera to Shutter Priority and adjust the speed to 500 or higher.
  • Turn OFF the flash so it doesn’t reflect off the window onto the camera sensor.
  • Hold the camera close to the window so it cannot focus on the glass and instead focuses on the scenery outside.
  • Watch for opportunities when the sun is not shining on the window as this causes glare.

For shooting your family and friends inside the helicopter:

  • Switch you camera to Shutter Priority and adjust the speed to 500 or higher.
  • Turn ON the flash.  Even if there is enough light, the flash gives sparkle to people’s eyes and adds life to the image.
  • Remember the people closest to you will get more flash than those sitting farther away, so you’ll get the best results if everyone is about the same distance from the camera.

For taking photos of the helicopter:

  • Have your camera ready in an easily accessible pocket, or around your neck.
  • Switch to Shutter Priority, or at least the automatic sports setting so you can increase the shutter speed.  
  • To freeze the rotor movement, you’ll need a shutter speed of 700 or higher.  
  • Cover the lens as the biggest wind gust from the rotor passes, and then pull it out ready to shoot while the helicopter is still nearby.  
  • Look for places where the helicopter is in the sun and the background is in shadow.  This way the helicopter will stand out against the scenery.

The most important photo tip is to try, every chance you get.  During a day of helicopter adventures, if you keep your camera handy and take every photo you see, you'll get the best photos you've ever taken. 

For photographers who want the ultimate shooting opportunity, check out the Lodge-to-Lodge adventure where you will see more mountain photo opportunities in six days than most people see in their entire lives.  For further aircraft photography tips go here.  

Photo by Topher Donahue/

Tags: Adventure Travel, heli-hiking, Family Travel, CMH Summer Adventures