Honopu Arch and the Na Pali Coast

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An aerial photo of Kauai’s Honopu Arch, Catheral Beach, and the Na Pali Coast shot from a door-less Hughes 500 flight.

Without question, the Na Pali Coast  offers some of the most stunning views in all of Kauai. The first time I saw this view from the air (about 1000 feet), my jaw dropped. The second time I got up there, although I knew exactly what to expect, I was still blown away by the view – literately speaking since we flew in a door-less chopper. Planning on taking an air tour in Kauai with your camera(s)? Definitely take the door-less flight! Not only it’s more fun hanging out in the slipstream, not having to shoot through plexiglass is a huge plus.

What I learned from my limited aerial shooting experiences:

  • Lenses: Long lens just wasn’t that practical from the air – my 70-200mm on a full frame body (Canon 5D) was way too long. The wind knocked the long lens around more than anything else. For a full frame body, focal length in the range of 24-105 probably works best. 17mm on a 1.6x crop factor body also worked well for me.
  • Shutter speeds: 1/750 was fast enough for me to get sharp images. This particular image was shot at 1/500s. I applied a slight smart sharpening filter in CS3 (0.1 pixels at 20%).
  • Apertures: DoF wasn’t an issue from a thousand feet in the air. I just picked apertures where my lens can produce sharp enough images: about two stops down from the lens’s largest aperture.
  • Focus: Manual focus at infinity.
  • For the Kauai air tours, the best view is near end of the tour. My first time up, I ran out of CF storage when I first saw the Na Pali Coast, thus I had to waste precious time changing CF cards in mid air when I should be shooting.
  • Best time to photograph the Na Pali Coast from the air? It depends on the weather, but I’d take the last flight of the day to get more horizontal light on my back as most flights head towards Hanalei Bay with the Na Pali Coast on the right. So, the best seat is the window seat next to the pilot. Morning flights with the sun in front of the lens would produce extreme contrasts.
  • Towards the end of the flight, I was shivering in my thin tee shirt and beach shorts. Next time I take a door-less flight, I’d wear a jacket.

Shooting in the air is not something that I can do regularly, and I had to learn by trials. I usually plant my tripods on the sand, walk around, frame my shot, line up my fitter, take a few meter readings, photograph the same shot over and over … well, I couldn’t do any of those in the air. In a few seconds, the scene flew by, and I missed the wanted shots. I did had a blast looking through my view finder from a perspective that I don’t see on a regular basis.