Nature creates unique landscapes, and seeing them from up high gives us an opportunity to look at them with a fresh eye. With her new series of aerial photographs, Daria Troitskaia shows us the world in its absolute purity, with a wonderful combination of colours and shapes.
What does the world look like to you from above?
To me, the world looks great from any angle; but from high up it seems particularly unusual. Even places you’ve seen many times before reveal new colours. I enjoy observing the geometry of forms from a bird’s eye view. It’s exciting to see people give up their role as main characters, stop being the center of attention, and switch to a supporting role, once again becoming just a part of nature. Down there, on the ground, human beings set the scene for themselves to be in the spotlight; whereas, seen from up high they turn into elements of the bigger picture, just like any other living beings.
Where was the series taken?
I was in Malta when pandemic restrictions were first imposed. My book on Maltese street photography had just come out, and I was ready for a new project. Due to my lasting fascination with aircraft, the idea of shooting from a helicopter came up naturally. Aerial photography took my fancy straight away. As soon as I could travel, I shot in Sicily and Como, and I’m not planning to stop there: the great wildlife migrations in Africa and a series in Antarctica are on my list.
Do you love the thrill?
It’s the best feeling! I got a chance to shoot aerial right after getting a Leica S3. I’ve always been fascinated by aircrafts and extreme sports; so with aerial photography it was love at first sight.
What do you have to bring with you to “fly high”?
A safety harness, a spare battery and memory card, a second lens or a second camera with a different lens, gloves, warm and comfy clothes – a wind-proof jacket is an absolute saviour.
Please explain about the exact procedure for taking photos from a helicopter. What’s important to keep in mind?
The aircraft’s technical possibilities are very important. You need to fly without doors. My first shoot was on a Bell 505 helicopter, where the doors could be dismantled. Taking photos from behind closed doors seems pointless to me, since flares could ruin them. My aircraft of choice is the Eurocopter: it is fast and the doors can be opened mid-flight. Study your route carefully – drone videos of the region are usually helpful. I list the places of interest and check with the pilot that no special permits are needed. Ask the pilot about the approximate altitude and choose a lens accordingly. Although you can change lenses during the flight, it is easier to mount the correct lens straight away, and ask the pilot to adjust the altitude. Good communication with the pilot is key: he/she should know when you’re about to shoot, so the aircraft can be slowed down or turned.
Which technical specifications did you apply?
High shutter speed is very important, because a helicopter constantly moves and vibrates. If with a 1/2000 shutter speed a photo comes out too dark, one should up the ISO or increase aperture. Here are the approximate settings you can rely on:
Shooting mode: Manual. Shutter speed: 1/2000-1/4000. Try not to go below to maintain sharpness. ISO: 100-800. Better to keep it under 400. Aperture: f/8-f/13. If it’s low light you can open it. White balance: Depends on the lighting conditions you’re shooting in.
Metering mode: Multi-field. You need to be ready to hold the camera tight and make certain the grip is steady, even if the position is odd. At high altitudes the wind can get very strong, enough to blow the camera out of your hands. The most comfortable Leica lens is the 70mm one. It’s the lightest and most compact among the S lenses, but I often use the 45mm lens as well. Be sure to remove the lens hood.
What was it like working with the Leica S3? What made it particularly suitable for aerial photography?
The Leica S3 was my first choice due to its dust and weather sealing. Aerial photography is like an extreme sport, and a fragile studio camera would not be able to handle it. Furthermore, the S3 has the fastest autofocus. Leica S lenses deliver excellent imaging performance, saving you time on editing, as even the raw images look good. The high sensor sensitivity of the Leica S system has an excellent colour gradation, which is essential for printing. I believe it’s crucial to print photos. In print, the photo becomes part of the physical world and affects us in novel ways. Aerial photos, in particular, look astonishing on paper.
What fascinates you about landscape photography?
Landscape photography requires imagination, courage and exquisite taste. It’s captivating that you can uncover hidden patterns in well-known surroundings. When I shoot, the landscape becomes an instrument to express my idea. It is up to the photographer to unveil the unique to the audience. Nowadays, many are shooting with drones. I think you can always tell if a shot was not taken by a human, especially in landscape photography. To me, the shots are much more powerful when a photographer controls the camera.
What do pictures say about our world?
Photographers freeze the moment and present their visions to the audience. Simultaneously, the audience slows down to savour the photographers’ artistic perceptions, in which plain elements have become decorative. Who in the 19th century would have thought that grey pebbles in a glass jar would be a stylish element of decor? Contemporary artists, inspired by minimalistic northern nature and Eastern philosophy, turned it into our reality. Artistic means are influenced by ethical and spiritual experiences, and vary significantly depending on the time period, location and personal experience. Today, extravagant fusions of different art concepts become possible.
The Russian documentary and portrait photographer, Daria Troitskaia, was born in Saint Petersburg, brought up in Vienna, and is now living in Milan, Italy. After releasing Maltese Exposures, a book with street photography motifs captured on Malta in 2020, she is now working on several photography projects. Apart from shooting and learning photography, Troitskaia is also interested in the cameras themselves: she has assembled a collection of cameras and enjoys experimenting with different equipment. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram channel.