Aerial photography: the world's natural wonders from above

Braided rivers in Iceland photographed from above to reveal their winding patterns. Taken by Lucia Griggi.
The geological phenomenon of Iceland's braided rivers makes for stunning abstract images when shot from above by photographer Lucia Griggi. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 135mm, 1/5000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO200. © Lucia Griggi

With the helicopter door wide open, there is very little between photographer Lucia Griggi and the perilously cold Arctic Ocean thousands of feet below. Held inside the chopper by a single harness, the nature and adventure specialist leans over the edge, gripping her camera close as she takes aerial photographs of the glaciers and ice shelves beneath.

"The funny thing is, I'm scared of heights," says Lucia, who has been shooting from the air for 10 years. "But that's the thing about photography – I love it so much, I become focused in the moment. As long as I get that shot, nothing else matters."

Lucia's images have featured in National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveller and on ESPN, and she has worked with brands such as Rip Curl, Billabong and Jeep. Today she works full-time in the travel industry shooting images of nature and wildlife, mainly in the polar regions.

Here she shares her creative approach to capturing the natural world – and how shooting with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) has made it possible for her to realise her vision.

A vast ice shelf casts a reflection onto the waters of Antarctica. Taken by Lucia Griggi.
Photographed on Lucia's travels, a vast Antarctic ice shelf casts a reflection onto the water beneath it. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 16mm, 1/5000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO100. © Lucia Griggi
An aerial shot of clouds reflected on an ice sheet. Taken by Lucia Griggi.
Clouds reflected on an ice sheet on the waters of Antarctica make for a surreal image. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 35mm, 1/800 sec, f/10 and ISO100. © Lucia Griggi
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Seeing the world from above

Lucia began her career as a surfing photographer. Travelling the world shooting extreme sports forced her to conquer her fear of flying – and inspired her to photograph the landscapes below. "To get to remote places we had to take small planes, so I started to take these very idyllic shots of tropical waters and the composition of the Earth from above," explains Lucia, who grew up in Venice, Italy and Surrey, England. "You get a completely different context and perspective. Now, when I'm shooting in the polar regions, I use those couple of hours in transit to shoot."

Lucia has photographed glaciers in Alaska and Siberia, the mountains of Patagonia, icescapes in Antarctica and braided rivers in Iceland. She favours simplicity, colour and pattern. "The braided rivers of Iceland are actually glacial runoff that runs through dozens of interweaving mountain crevices and cracks towards the ocean," she explains. "Looking down, you can see how the waterways make these beautiful patterns, sometimes almost symmetrical. The colours are fascinating, especially as the freshwater runs into the seawater. It's a very special thing to witness."

Braided rivers in Iceland photographed from above to reveal their winding patterns. Taken by Lucia Griggi.
This braided river in Iceland is made up of a network of small channels that continually split and join. Iceland has one of the most highlighted braided rivers in the world. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 67mm, 1/1000 sec, f/4 and ISO320. © Lucia Griggi
An infrared shot of a bridge across a still lake in which the trees appear bright yellow. Taken by Pierre-Louis Ferrer.

A fresh perspective on landscape photography

Three very different photographers reveal how unusual angles, left-field locations and creative techniques can help your landscape photographs stand out.

One chance to get the shot

Lucia shoots through an open window of a small plane with a range of cameras and lenses, but when she's buckled in inside a helicopter or a plane with open doors, she has to narrow down her three favourite camera setups to two bodies – and a telephoto and a wide angle lens. "The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is really light, which makes it ideal for shooting out of open doors," Lucia says. "It's also great at capturing realistic colours, so I use it a lot for the braided rivers."

Lucia also uses a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, which shoots at up to 14fps. "When you're flying over this type of environment, you're lucky to do one flypast, so every second counts," she says. "In that situation you really need that high-speed burst mode."

She also sometimes shoots on a Canon EOS 5DS. "It's larger in terms of megapixels, which is great if I'm shooting wide," she explains. "I can crop in later as I'll have room to reframe – with aerial photography you can't always turn around and try again."

Lucia Griggi sat in a helicopter flying over the Andes.
Lucia's passion for photography has enabled her to overcome her fear of flying, taking her to incredible locations such as the Andes, here. © Andrew Shiva

Lenses for aerial photography

Lucia often uses zoom lenses such as the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, but she favours prime lenses where possible and bases her lens choice on both technical and practical needs.

"If I'm shooting low, or down out of a window, I prefer to use a lighter lens to get the angle, such as the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM," she says. "But when the doors are open and I'm on a harness, the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens is a dream for shooting ice shelves or glaciers. I can shoot handheld, crop in for an abstract shot and the images are still very sharp."

The frozen waters and otherworldly brown landscape of the Icelandic interior. Taken by Lucia Griggi.
The landscapes Lucia photographs can often appear bleak, so lighting is key. The sun breaking through the clouds over the Icelandic interior highlights the frozen waters and the otherworldly brown landscape below. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens at 85mm, 1/8000 sec, f/3.5 and ISO250. © Lucia Griggi

A delicate balance of light

Getting the lighting right is one of the biggest challenges Lucia faces when shooting from the sky. "You have to consider which direction you can shoot in and utilise the sun and cloud cover, which acts as a natural softbox," she explains. "Shooting glaciers and ice shelves can be challenging because of the whiteness of it all. Unlike a braided river, with its vibrant colours, glaciers are practically monochrome, so you have to go in the right weather to bring the most out of it. You're looking for something different, a pattern to paint a picture with this sort of abstract vision in mind. With braided rivers it's about the colours, but with glaciers it's about lines and shapes."

Lucia recommends using semi-automatic modes, in order to "worry less about the technicalities of shooting and concentrate more on framing and balancing the light". In terms of shutter speed, to maintain sharpness she tries not to drop below 1/1200. She adopts the same approach to ISO, which she tries to keep under ISO200, but if the light is compromised and the aperture is wide open, she will bump it up to a maximum of ISO800. In low light, she uses a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens to get a sharp image.

"Aperture depends on the conditions," she says. "If it's bright sunshine, I set it to about f/8; if it's low light, such as sunrise or sunset, I'd have it at about f/2.8. The distances involved in aerial photography are more forgiving, so you don't have to adjust your settings. That's the great thing about Canon cameras, you can trust them to get it right and concentrate on framing and exposure."

It's not only her cameras that Lucia has to have faith in. "There will often be a tricky manoeuvre – hovering a few metres above the frozen ground or flying less than a metre from a 50ft ice wall," she says. "I'm attached to a harness, shooting away. I have to trust the pilot, otherwise I wouldn't be able to do what I do."

Напишано од Natalie Denton

Lucia Griggi's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Lucia Griggi holding a Canon camera in the Andes Mountains in Patagonia, South America.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

No matter what you’re shooting, be assured of uncompromising image quality and a thoroughly professional performance. "The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is really light, which makes it ideal for shooting out of open doors," Lucia says. "It's also great at capturing realistic colours."


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