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Getting that Perfect Aerial Image

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Having flown over 200 000 nautical miles and thousands of hours over Southern Africa in pursuit of that singular aerial image, award winning photographers Jan and Jay Roode offer the following photographic tips:

Getting the right shot requires time, patience and experience for sure, but it also takes a little luck. The funny thing is that your luck seems to increase the more you stick your neck out to get that perfect shot.

There must be billions of cameras out there, billions of lenses pointed at a billion reflections of life but what makes one person’s photos better than another?

Get out there – the most important step to getting fantastic images is to get out into the world, embrace your passion and connect with your subject matter. Getting a great shot often involves stepping out of your comfort zone and trying different things. If you keep at it a certain magic and intimacy will start resonating in your images.

Location - Aerial photography is as much about planning, as it is about the actual process of photographing from above. You should have a clear plan of where and what you want to photograph and at what time of day, and then embark on the grand treasure hunt to find the shot. It's all about maximizing your time and ensuring you come back with some great images.

Aircraft and Pilot - It is essential that one has access to the correct aircraft. Either a high wing aircraft with photographic windows/door removed or a helicopter. Having an experienced pilot that has done prior photographic work and has local knowledge is non-negotiable. The pilot not only acts as a spotter but also needs to have experience in putting you in the right place at the right angle for that perfect aerial shot.

Flying over the Gariep Dam at dusk. South Africa

Light – Always aim to be in location when you are guaranteed the best light. Even if you are in the most spectacular location on earth, if the light doesn't do the scene justice, you will always be disappointed with the results. The best light is always early mornings and late afternoon; those golden hours where light turns into magic. The midday sun is the harshest light, it washes out color and is best avoided.

Learning to adapt to light conditions; be on the look out for unusual lighting conditions that add mood or dramatize the scene, such as a storm rolling across the landscape or light pouring through a break in the clouds.

Our strong advice is that for the most part don’t even begin to think about taking photos until the sun is low in the sky.

An ancient Camel thorn tree stands at the edge of the Tsauchab River in Deadvlei. Namibia

Composition - When viewed from above, the world is all about shape, color and perspective. Harness these aspects and you’ll create scenes that surprise.

Three giraffe pose in the golden light of dawn in the Okavango Delta. Botswana

Think about composition as much as possible and try to perfect it in the field. There is only so much you can do in post production. There are certain techniques one can use to help in composition such as rule of thirds, but ultimately you need to train your eye to see the scene. If it doesn't look right in your view finder, then it wont look good in the final output. Practice will make this become second nature.

- Look for strong, solid lines such as roads or coastlines. Shoot directly above them to emphasize shapes and create abstract scenes.

- Compose your scene symmetrically by looking for recurring patterns and ‘balanced’ scenes.

- Isolate your subject against a uniform backdrop to emphasize its shape and size (such as a dhow on the ocean).

- Exploit long shadows created by your subject when the sun is low to form dramatic scenes.

- Include a recognizable object such as a person, animal or vehicle to accentuate the scale of your aerial image

A fisherman sails his dugout canoe across the turquoise waters of the Save River Estuary. Mozambique

Settings – Use high shutter speeds 1/1000 and above and don’t be afraid of upping the ISO.

RAW Format: If your camera is capable of capturing photos in RAW format, then shoot in RAW. The files contain much more detail and information and give you far more possibilities in post-production without loosing quality. Also if you are wanting to enter wildlife or landscape photography competitions the judges will more often than not request the RAW files.

Learn the rules then forget them all – It’s good to become technically proficient with your camera and learn the basic rules of photography but don’t let them limit you. Photography is an intuitive art form which reflects what we find beautiful or interesting in this world. Some of the most beautiful images I have seen go against all rules. Get out there, have fun, experiment and find your own style.

An elephant wanders through water and light in the Okavango Delta. Botswana

Equipment – At a certain point you will become frustrated with your images because they just aren't looking like the ones in the glossy magazines. Equipment, Equipment, Equipment. Unfortunately no matter how technically brilliant you are at some point you will be limited by what your equipment can give you. A full frame camera and a nice range of fast lenses are essential. I work with a Canon 5D Mark III and 5D SR with my favorite lens for aerial photography being the Canon 300mm f/2.8 and the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5

Post Production – Even the most brilliant of photos requires a little tweak here or there to give it that special something. No matter how advanced your camera is it won’t be able to capture the nuances of colour and light that the human eye can. It is worth going on a basic photo editing course either Photoshop or Lightroom to bring all those beautiful images up to par.

To join us on an aerial photographic workshop over some of the most spectacular wildernesses on earth please visit


Flying thousands of hours in their specially modified aircraft, aerial photographers Jay and Jan Roode have spent more than a decade photographing some of the most remote and spectacular wilderness areas of Southern Africa from above.

The continent of Africa has always held an irresistible allure and fascination for them and they seem content only when free to roam the

skies, capturing awe inspiring

images of the natural wonders of the

region from above.

To view and find out more about Aerial Art, Jan and Jay's new limited edition coffee table book please visit


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