A few days ago, I took my first ever flight over N.Y.C. and before even getting in the helicopter, I had a bunch of crazy awesome shots in my head that were ready to shoot and share with the world. After doing aerial photography for just over two years with my drone, I believe that I have acquired the eye to shoot from the sky. However, being in the helicopter with the doors off 1,000-2,000 feet above N.Y.C., and shooting with a 70-200mm lens, turned out to be more of a failure to me than I had thought it would as far as photography goes.
First off, I really had the time of my life up there flying over such an amazing city. It was so cool to sit level with the Freedom Tower and circle around. We saw Central Park and even sat about 500 feet above the Empire State Building. Overall, my flight experience was one of the best things yet, but my experience taking photos didn't exactly go how I planned. Our flight started at 4 p.m. and went to 5 p.m. so we could hit that peak light and shoot the city as the building lights go on. I decided to shoot with my 70-200mm lens and give my buddy in the back my 24-70mm lens. We both had the doors off on the left side of the helicopter so we could stick our head and camera out to shoot. Most of the time we had to be moving because of the wind that day, so there was always some sort of slow drift when we were trying to shoot unless we could hover for a short period of time. With the wind playing a big role in our flight, it was tough to turn around the helicopter so that our side was facing where we wanted it. For the most part, there were plenty of times where I just had to put the camera down and appreciate what was actually going on rather than trying to get a good photo from it.
So it all went wrong right from the start. I had already created these breathtaking images of New York in my mind that I was about to go capture. Because I have a drone and do a lot of aerial photography, I thought this would be an easy thing to familiarize myself with but that literally didn't mean anything when it came to shooting from a helicopter. Never being on a one before, I felt that I was going to be able to adjust to within just a few minutes and pretty much become the camera on my drone. I did not have any specific shot in mind aside from the classic helicopter cockpit shot plus an epic view of New York, but even that didn't come out as I had expected it to. To be honest, I had no idea what I was shooting up there, I was just trying to grab as many photos as I could from that new height I had never been able to achieve before of the city.
In a way, this whole experience reminds me of when I first started doing aerial photography with my drone. Just because I was able to elevate to these heights I normally couldn't, I thought my photos were extortionary and amazing, meanwhile there was nothing to them. Sometimes that initial excitement of something new leads us to believe we are breaking the barrier or creating work that has never been seen before. After flying for so long, I have really tightened up on what I believe is a good aerial photo and what is not, and I think that is what played the biggest role in my failure of shooting N.Y.C. from a helicopter. Having such high expectations for my aerial work is by no means a bad thing, but it does push me to create content that I am happy with. After an amazing flight over the city at sunset, I have nothing to complain about but to stop complaining about not getting a photo I like. For me this was a failure but to many others, it wouldn't be. Either way, I will still have a few photos to share from it and I know the next time I do it, I will probably have more luck knowing what to expect after already being up there once.
My whole reason for writing this article is because sometimes as photographers, we have this perfect picture in our mind that we are trying to create before we even take it. When we fail to get what we want, it hurts and can drive us crazy but sometimes it isn't worth it to beat ourselves up about it. It is a very common thing and sometimes we can go back to shoot again... and sometimes we can't. Either way, when this happens, it is one of the greatest ways to learn and better ourselves in the future. For me, this shoot was strictly for fun and though a helicopter ride over N.Y.C. costs a fair amount of money, going up for that first initial experience was amazing and I now know what to expect for next time. I am completely willing to spend more money to get back up there but I know that even still it will be tough to get the photos I want. Lately, I have been trying to worry less about having to create something or forcing myself to create something because that's when the fun is taken out of it. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the bigger picture to actually enjoy what we are doing. It isn't hard to fall into a funk but if you do, remember why you are doing what you're doing. We can fail, we can make mistakes, but we cant let them bring us down.