Behind the image: shooting from a helicopter

By Nick Rains 7 November 2013
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AG photographer Nick Rains gives us his insight into what its takes to get the perfect shot.

I DO A LOT of shooting from helicopters when on assignment for Australian Geographic; the different perspective you get from the air adds a lot to the variety of the picture sets and reveals details not visible from the ground.

When I was shooting in Kimberley region, I wanted to get a classic image of a full sized road-train, all 150 tons of it, as it hurtled along a dirt road kicking up huge clouds of dust.

I had plenty of images taken from ground level so I figured a chopper would be the answer – as long as I could get low enough. So I flew out to Carlton Hill Station near Kununurra, now more famous as the location for many of the scenes in the movie Australia, where I landed and waited for a couple of road trains to be loaded. Once full they set off back to town and I followed in my little R22 helicopter.

My pilot spent much of his time heli-mustering cattle so when I said I wanted to get nice and low, and right in front of the truck, he just gave me a small nod of the head. I’m sure he was thinking “You want low? OK you asked for it…”

And off we went, 80km per hour right in front of 150 tons of speeding steel, and sideways. I needed to shoot from the open door so my pilot could not fly along the road as normal; he had to point me towards the truck which meant he was flying completely sideways at tree height with me going backwards.

What a blast! I’ll never have any problems on funfair rollercoasters again. And the pictures were not bad either. (See another of Nick’s spectacular results below.)

Nick Rains has been an Australian Geographic photographer for 10 years and was ‘Australian Geographic Photographer of the Year’ in 2002. He is also the editor of Better Digital Camera magazine. You can see more of Nick’s photography and read his blog here: