On Aerial Photography

©Alina Oswald

My Thoughts on Aerial Photography


In last week’s post I mentioned photographing projects related to luxury air travel, an extravagant, elegant way one might choose to travel. In today’s post I’d like to talk about another kind of air excursion–that is, a more affordable one, involving no doors, motion sickness, and breathtaking views that make it all worth it.

Aerial photography is exciting, exhilarating, and adventurous, offering that adrenaline rush we all need every once in a while. And every once in a while, whenever possible, I get to try my hand at aerial photography. That means taking a ride in an open-door (aka no-door) helicopter, when in Hawaii, and photographing the Aloha Islands from the sky.

Aerial photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Aerial views of Garden Island as seen from an open-door helicopter. Nihau, the Forbidden Island of Hawaii, is visible on the horizon line. Next to it, the tiny Lehua ‘island’ which is a bird sanctuary. Aerial photography by Alina Oswald.

Yes, I’ve taken aerial snapshots from airplanes, while traveling across the country and continents. I’ve also shot aerial shots while still on the ground–from the top of Haleakala in Maui, from top of One World Trade Center while taking in the sights of New York and New Jersey or while capturing a 360-pano view of Philadelphia from the City Hall building. When it comes to aerial photography, what I enjoy the most is taking pictures from a no-door helicopter, while flying over the Hawaiian islands. It’s not an inexpensive experiment or adventure or activity, but I’d absolutely recommend it.

A few things to consider when planning a helicopter tour over the Aloha Islands:

  • helicopter tours over Hawaii usually last between fifty minutes to one hour; you will be in the air for almost the same amount of time
  • if you have a choice, book a tour in a no-door (open-door) helicopter; this way, you’ll get unobstructed views and no reflections at least in part, which is great, especially if you plan on taking pictures and/or video
  • don’t eat much, in particular don’t drink much, if at all, before the flight, especially if you know you are prone to motion sickness! Or eat a small bite of something solid, like a banana or a cracker. It can make a difference once you’re back on the ground. Sometimes it does help minimize nausea.
  • when you book the tour, make sure you understand all the guidelines and instructions that you will be given
  • do your research in advance and book in advance
  • some helicopter tours give you dark overalls to put on over your clothes during the flight, to minimize window reflections
  • if you want to take pictures, bring one camera with a zoom lens but not the heaviest one; no long, telephoto, lenses either (a kit lens would work just fine); you will be allowed only one lens; make sure you can secure your camera and keep it close to your body when in flight; shoot stills and video, if you can
  • do not bring flip-flops or anything that can detach from your body during the flight, because it will; plus, your toes will freeze; most likely, you will not be allowed on the tour with them on you anyway (on our Maui helicopter tour, one of the passengers was wearing flip-flops; she was asked to take them off and had to pick them up after the tour)
  • up high in the air it does get really, really cold; dress accordingly; dress in comfortable clothing that does not leave much skin exposed to the elements–long pants and long-sleeve shirt/sweatshirt; no hats; if you wear glasses, make sure they’re secured on your face and around your eyes
  • this goes without saying but just want to mention it: most likely you won’t be the only passenger in the helicopter (most of us can’t afford to book all seats in the helicopter)
  • prior to the flight, you will be weighed; you, plus clothing, plus gear; based on that total weight, you will be seated in the helicopter (these “birds” need to be balanced and safe, when up in the air); I always get to sit center front row, next to the pilot (love that!)
  • if you do sit in the front row, do not touch anything; again, keep your hands and camera close to your body
  • you will be given headphones and you’ll get to listen to the pilot’s instructions and stories about the places you’re flying over, and you can ask questions, too
  • do use your seat belt; actually, nobody will fly if you don’t
  • all pockets should be secured
  • do not use a smartphone to take pictures or video!
  • photograph as much as possible, especially places the pilot points out to you
  • do not lean out of the helicopter; you can’t really do that, because of the seat-belt; keep your camera/lens secure; zoom in/out
  • don’t look only through the viewfinder; look and take in the view with your eyes only, too. Enjoy the experience!
  • at the end of the tour, when you’re back on the ground, maybe take a picture with the pilot, thank him or her, and you can also email a few images to the pilot or company organizing the flights, as a courtesy, especially if you enjoyed the experience
  • after the flight, you might be a bit dizzy or even feel sick, nauseated; take it easy


Here’s what a no-door or open-door helicopter looks like:

Helicopters and airplanes landing and taking off from Maui airport. Helicopter pilot getting ready for our ride over Maui. Photo by Alina Oswald.

No matter what Hawaiian island I’m lucky enough to visit, I make a point to take a tour in a no-door helicopter. And I might repeat myself, but try to plan ahead of time, to make sure you schedule your tour on the best day possible, at the best time possible.

Helicopter flying over Napali Coast. Aerial Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
From One Helicopter to Another. Helicopter flying over Na Pali Coast. Aerial Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

When flying over Maui, one can see the shape of the island, like a dormant eight (8) or an infinite symbol. When flying over Valley Island (Maui) one can see the giant Haleakala dormant crater. It was nice to see Haleakala from the air as well as on foot, up close and personal. [When at Haleakala, high above the clouds at 10,000 feet above sea level, one can witness an optical illusion named after the place where it was first observed. I’m talking about the Brocken Spectre, which is actually a self-portrait created with the help of our amazing Mother Nature–your shadow appears surrounded by a rainbow.]

There was rain and dark, low-hanging clouds when flying over the Big Island of Hawaii, or Hawaii Island how is also known. At times we were flying low, so close to the smoking lava fields that we could smell the lava and feel its heat.

Flying in a no-door helicopter sounds (and feels) kind of like this:

And this is how it feels when flying through a double-rainbow.


Here are a few results of my trying my hand at aerial photography:


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Here are a few more aerial images of the Aloha Islands.

Na Pali Coast, on the NW side of Kauai Island (The Garden Island) can be accessed only on foot, and only by advanced cliff and mountain climbers, I should say. But Na Pali Coast can be seen from the air. Here are a few shots:


Na Pali Coast. Kauai. Aerial Photography by Alina Oswald.
Na Pali Coast. Kauai. Aerial Photography by Alina Oswald.


Another aerial shot of Na Pali Coast:

Na Pali Coast, Kauai. Aerial Photography by Alina Oswald.


And here’s a glimpse of Nihau, The Forbidden Island of Hawaii, as seen from the air:

Aerial views of Nihau and Kauai islands. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Enjoy the flight, and taking pictures while flying, too. Enjoy the adventure. Be safe.

Aerial views of Kauai, Hawaii. Photo by Alina Oswald.


And sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you can even fly through a rainbow.

Aerial Photography by Alina Oswald. ©Alina Oswald
Flying through a full double rainbow in Hawaii, in a no-door helicopter. Photo by Alina Oswald.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Alina Oswald



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.