At Vermejo Park Ranch, they carefully manage the elk herds to keep a healthy population and as part of that effort, do aerial surveys. I was there during a survey last month and begged my way onto a back seat. With the doors off of the little helicopter, I got to hang out the side and take quick pics of the elk below, as the survey team counted their numbers and assessed their size and health. It was beyond fun.
I am not expert at shooting aerials, but I do know this – shutter speed is your friend. Vibration and wind will quickly turn what is usually an adequately fast shutter speed into a blurry near miss photo that will leave you cursing when you pull the image up onto a computer. When you are looking down from above, you don’t really need much in the way of depth of field either – the back of your camera is almost parallel to the ground so shooting wide open is perfectly fine as long as you have a sharp lens to start with. And if you have a good sensor, don’t be afraid to jack your ISO way up to get your shutter speed as high as possible. And finally, don’t forget to turn on your image stabilization. This is when you need it most. Then just focus, compose and fire away!
I managed to get some nice shots, and here is one I really like. The helicopter passed directly over this harem so I had to stick my camera out the side window and point it blindly below and behind me. I missed the composition a little bit, but got most of them into the frame. I still like the image, though.
I don’t know how bull elk do it. I have all I can handle with one wife. Trying to keep a whole harem of cow elk happy and together is quite a feat, especially when other suitors are constantly challenging you to head butting contests. Sounds like a lot of work if you ask me, but then I don’t have the raging testosterone levels of a bull elk, either.