Sitting Shotgun in a Helicopter with Thomas Hetzler

Unsplash Photo: Thomas Hetzler (Download)

Unsplash Photo: Thomas Hetzler (Download)

I’ve made it a habit to gain inspiration in my own shooting by looking through the Unsplash New feed, and I know I’m not the only one who does so. There are so many beautiful and unique images that are posted every day, it makes me want to pick up my own camera and shoot.

It also makes me want to go places, as there is always a new vista or stunning scene which shows a slice of the world I have yet to see with my own eyes.

That sense of adventure is not uncommon for photographers, and every once in awhile I come across a photo which screams of exploration and something new. This photo from Thomas Hetzler, captured from the seat of a helicopter in motion, does just that.

I asked Thomas about the photo, how he captured it, and whether or not it described his own desires as a photographer. Here’s what he had to say:

Over the last two months I’ve been traveling around the south island of New Zealand. I took the trip focused on meeting new people, exploring the culture, and capturing scenes of the country’s beautiful nature.
While on the trip, I decided to do something I have never done before — go on a helicopter ride. It was an exciting new experience and I wanted to get as many good shots as I could. Before the flight, I thought about what I wanted to capture. Besides the nice scenery outside of the aircraft, I wanted to get something inspiring which gave a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to be in a situation like this.

While I have heard that some tourist helicopter rides do little but provide a slow-moving aerial view of the ground below, this wasn’t the case for Thomas. As he was taken about the Earnslaw Glacier in New Zealand, the pilot began doing maneuvers which provided a wild and rocky journey through the surrounding area.

The flight started at early midday. The sun was at the highest point and made everything look very crisp. The day started off being cloudy and the sun wasn´t shining, but as often in New Zealand the weather cleared up!
I realized that for anything I wanted to capture, I would only have a few seconds to get the shot I wanted. As we flew through valleys near to the ground, the pilot would move the helicopter in an awesome curving pattern. I was lucky to have a very experienced pilot with a great personality and knowledge, and even luckier to be able to get a clean and crisp image like this!

So how do you take a beautiful image from a winding helicopter, without it coming out blurry and destroyed? Shoot fast:

I recently upgraded to the Sony a7r mk II, so I was super excited to test it out in a more challenging environment. The image quality of the camera is simply amazing, and the in-body image stabilization made it even easier for me to get good shots. My settings were F/13, 1/6400, ISO 6400 at 28mm. Shooting that fast gave me the opportunity to get a good photo regardless of how much motion was going on around me!

I asked Thomas what he hoped to convey in the photos that he shares with the world, and he said that he hopes that anyone viewing his photos sees them the way that he saw them on the day they were captured. Conveying a sense of adventure through each photo is his hope, not only to bring the world into each experience, but also to convey his own life’s desires:

This picture expresses very much how I feel and want to live. I am driven by adventure, and often have an idea for a photo which will form in my head that I then need to achieve in real life.
It’s been a dream of mine to be able to make a living by taking pictures like these, and until I can I’m willing to work very hard and take every opportunity I get.

Looking back on this photo provided Thomas with a moment of self-reflection, thinking about his own journey and how far he’s come:

It’s funny, because though I still feel very new, this photo makes me realize that I am starting to achieve those dreams of mine. I must say, I haven’t felt more joy and freedom in a long time then I did during that two-and-a-half-hour flight. It was incredible to enjoy the views, take photos, and share the experience with other people who were just as stoked as I was.
That was when I really realized that photography is what I want to do as a living! Unsplash gives you and me the opportunity to share photos and the stories behind them. That is what I love about Unsplash as a community, and I encourage everyone else to contribute and never give up on what they want to do. When you’re willing, you achieve!