This post and all the photographs are a long-winded get-well card for my sister Binnaz. Get well soon, Binnaz. Jan and I are sending you our love and best wishes along with these photographs.
A little over seven years ago I took a helicopter ride from Newport. There was no set destination and my friend Dennis and I flew towards Westport and back taking photographs as things emerged. You can see them in a dedicated portfolio on this site. That ride was a joint gift from my final capstone class students who totally surprised me and from my sister Binnaz, and brother in law and friend Ergun as a birthday gift.
This year, we took a similar ride with my friend Jim, we decided to do the same route. While we flew over the coastline and the salt marshes I remembered the first ride, my students, my sister, and Ergun. One can never guess exactly what one will see in these flights as the vista changes by the tides, the time of the day, the winds, and the route the pilot decides to take. This time was no exception. The chief pilot Jeff of Birds Eye Helicopter Tours gave us a great flight.
We flew by the coast watching the waves break on the sandy shore like lace, creating very intricate and interesting patterns against the underwater color and texture. Then, a rock emerged as if a giant manta ray with seaweed forming its long tail. The shoreline is filled with little islands in interesting shapes against the ever-changing color of the ocean.
Then, I saw a series of large ripples as if formed by the careful hand of an artist. One ripple followed the other, gently breaking into delicate bridal veils. At times the water was probably quite shallow and clear, the sea bottom providing interesting backgrounds for the surface detail.
As we flew over the land following small rivers, the salt marshes provided the artistry of collaboration between nature and humans. The carefully cut channels on the marshes were done many decades ago by the Army Corps of Engineers to speed up the water drainage after high tide to minimize mosquito’s breeding grounds. Aside from those channels cut by the engineers, nature herself created others using its forces as if to please the viewers. The points where these little rivers joined the ocean formed interesting swirling patterns of water and sand.
The creations by the human touch ranged from the settlements, towns, to villas and mansions. The elaborate mansions are quite an integral part of Newport but seeing them from the air gives them more of a jewel-like appearance. The boats of various kinds were sprinkled on the ocean resembling the grains of salt on a dark tablecloth. Of course, there is the unavoidable presence of the two bridges that connect the mainland on the west to the islands of Jamestown and Newport, the Jamestown Bridge and Claiborne Pell Bridge which is also known as the Newport Bridge.
In the following collections, you will see the photographs I took with two cameras. One was a regular DSLR, a Canon 5D Mark IV, and the other was a Canon M5 converted to take infrared photographs. The last two collections are the infrared photographs with their false colors. I decided to keep the false color versions instead of converting them to monochrome because the general blue presence fit the scenery quite well. And, the yellowish foliage, although technically incorrect, suits the season as if I photographed fall foliage.
Preparations and Pointers
If you are planning a similar experience, here are the things I planned for and one thing I totally overlooked! The following are not in any particular order.
- First and foremost, look to see new and different things and respond to what you see instead of searching for what others have photographed. Let the photograph find you
- Carry extra memory cards and batteries even if you think you will not need them. Make sure the batteries are newly charged and the cards formatted
- Set your camera for auto ISO. If the setting allows, set the minimum shutter speed to 1/500 seconds. I shot in aperture priority mode on my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
- But, the M5 infrared camera did not allow for setting the minimum shutter speed. So, I set that to auto ISO, manual mode with shutter speed at 1/750 seconds and f-stop of 7.5 or thereabouts. The exposure was handled essentially by varying the ISO as needed.
- Set your camera profile to Landscape and shoot RAW format photographs
- If your camera supports it, set your GPS to work during your flight to mark the locations of the photographs
- The M5 did not have GPS but I got the Canon Camera Connect to record the locations on my phone and then automatically transferred the information to each frame
- Make sure that your camera has a strong neck strap
- Choose a suitable lens for the experience and your camera. On my full-frame 5D, I had a 24-70mm lens which at times felt too short. On the APS-C crop-sensor M5 was an 18-150 mm lens which worked very well for wide angle shots as well as good telephoto when I needed. The full-frame equivalent would be 28-240 mm but something in that range will be very comfortable
- If you chose the date carefully you will likely have good weather with plenty of light, set your f-stop to around 6.3 – 8 and let the shutter speed fall wherever it may so long as it is not below /500 or 1/1000 seconds.
- You will shoot from the left side of the helicopter, if there are two passengers you will both likely sit on the same side.
- Shooting will be mostly looking out and slightly, or seriously down depending on the scenery.
- Many photographs you will bring back may be almost abstract photographs, which I really like
- The wave crests are very bright and may be blown out, so you may want to consider exposure bracketing
- If you are interested in photographing particular structures, say the Newport Bridge, flying parallel to it does not give you good enough angles from the side of the helicopter. Try asking the pilot to rotate the chopper 30-45 degrees away from the bridge so you have a fuller view
- If you get too close to the bridge, you may capture the traffic more than the bridge. For the bridge, a little distance gives a good outline of it.
- Try to let the photograph find you rather than searching for a particular thing, for that may prevent you from seeing many other interesting frames. You will see plenty, try to react and respond to what you are seeing and capture your experience.
- And, don’t forget to check all the settings of your camera. My Canon 5D was a little sluggish, taking a long time to write each frame to the card. In fact, I missed quite a few frames I wanted because it was “busy” writing the previous frame to the card. After returning home, I tried a different card which produced the same results. Then I reset the camera settings to their defaults which worked like a Heimlich maneuver! I could shoot multiple frames per second. Upon careful inspection, I found that the fluorescent light flicker detection and exposure adjustment was turned on (Anti-Flicker Shoot) and the poor camera was trying to figure out the rate of flicker in bright sunlight and adjust the exposure and its timing! Live and learn!
Now, the photographs (if you have really read this far, thank you!)