Bored on a Plane? Capture Stunning Aerial Shots with These Simple Camera Techniques

You may not have the budget to film actual jets or planes flying through the sky, but you can film your own background footage 35,000 feet in the air to use when you composite an aerial scene.

The next time you travel by plane, you might want to take your camera with you, because there's always an opportunity to film some excellent shots -- and we're not talking about a simple iPhone pick up shot of a blinking "fasten your seat belt" sign like Effects Supervisor Robert Legato got for The Wolf of Wall Street. We're talking about stunning aerials that can be used in a number of different ways, including compositing scenes in After Effects using Video Copilot's Element 3D JetStrike pack (or whichever plugins/3D models you use).

Scott Newman of IndependentVFX shows us just how simple it is to capture some beautiful aerial footage by using some basic camera techniques (and clever travel planning).

What kind of gear works best for these types of shots? Newman makes a few suggestions:

Personally I found 35mm on a full frame DSLR to work really well. Any wider and you start to catch the sides of the window frame (and the wing, depending on where you sit). Also -- the longer lenses are really tough to keep stable -- even the slightest bumps cause a lot of wobble. But 35mm - 50mm is a good range for me.

This isn't a perfect solution by any means if you want to use this footage as a background -- in fact, you might have some aerial stock footage lying around somewhere that might work just as well or better. (And if you don't, they're cheap to acquire.) However, these tips are great to know anyway in case you want to use original material, capture a particular landscape that you can't find in a stock footage library, or just want to do something other than listen to the guy next to you snore as he rests his sweaty noggin on your shoulder.     

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9 Comments

Good idea!

January 14, 2015 at 7:30AM

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Hendrikus De Vaan
Producer - Director
279

great tips! this is consistent with what i've found while shooting out of planes.

things i would add:
1 - Sitting in front of the wing is also important because you avoid the distortion created by engine wash (not just getting rid of the wing)
2 - Shoot at a high shutter so that when you stabilize you don't get weird blurs
3 - I disagree with the primes, use a fast zoom but do not zoom during the shot. reason is zooms often have IS and you can frame your shot better. However zooming too much will reveal a lot of distortion from the window.
4 - To stabilize better, rest your camera on a pillow or blanket. you can stabilize and the soft blanket/pillow will absorb the high frequency vibrations.

I do this every time i fly over the alps :D

January 14, 2015 at 8:04AM

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Another essential item - Lens hood. This allows you to press the camera right up to the window and get rid of any reflections.

January 14, 2015 at 9:24AM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
3005

thanks. i saw another post that said to sit at THE WING. LOL. but it was meant for vacation video. not stock footage.

January 14, 2015 at 9:44AM

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Lens hood & polarizing filter for anything that has glass between you and the subject.

January 14, 2015 at 11:23AM, Edited January 14, 11:23AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1731

HI! My first post, I'd like to say I enjoy many of the articles here. Seems like there's a little of something for everyone. My wife and I made a feature film here in Tanzania, and while I was wrapping up post I had to travel, so I used the occasion to get a lot of shots, of which I used one, to complete a scene in the film, an airliner going down, caught by a passenger in another aircraft. My camera was and is, a Gopro hero 2. It worked great as the point was that it was someone rubber necking, I guess you could say.

I would also like to proudly announce that our film is an Official Selection at the Luxor African Film Festival, Egypt, in March. It is called Our Story, (our first big film) and you can see the trailer and teaser, etc. at the website I created www.our-story.co I am not selling anything, I just want to share our exciting news.

regards to everyone out there!

January 16, 2015 at 9:33AM

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nabakiafrika@gmail.com
Writer, director, editor, vfx, sound and sfx, jokes
178

Yeah good and inspiring tips

January 16, 2015 at 4:36PM

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Viktor Wallmark
Cinematographer
232

Great explanation. Thanks for the video and for sharing the ideas.

January 19, 2015 at 2:23PM

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Spence
DOP, Director, Editor
81

Great tips!

Nice that they were using Lightwave. I've personally found it's great for "aerial" type of photo realistic renderings using the standard render engine. Of course you can nowadays use many other packages with great results, but if you already have LW and know your ways around it you should give it a shot.

January 22, 2015 at 9:58PM, Edited January 22, 9:58PM

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J. Fandino
Drone sales at www.providentialsystems.com
121