Overview: What Should You Consider before Taking Your Flight?
Writing by Mike Simpson / Photos from a Downtown Toronto Tour with Fly GTA by Mike Simpson and Scott Harrald
Flying over a city is a really amazing thing. In Toronto, it’s phenomenal! Many of us have had those experiences with a window seat and a nice view of the skyline of a big city and the light is right and everything looks great. The following is partly guide to making the most of your experience and a review of our flight with Fly GTA (@iflygta).
Want to bump that experience into a more intentional photographic experience? Thought so, so here are some general things to consider:
- Where to fly – Location of Aerial Tour
- Type of Aircraft
- Route and Length of Tour
- Time of day or season
- Photo and video options
- Flight experience (safety and comfort)
- Posting to Social Media
This spring I was lucky to be able to take an aerial flight with my pal Scott after he won a ticket giveaway contest sponsored by @6ixwalks and @iflygta – it was an unforgettable experience and I decided to compile my thoughts and offer a little review mixed with some tips and comparisons to other services.
Scott and I arrived at Billy Bishop about 45 minutes before our flight. We were told to arrive 30 minutes early so we had time to kill. We walked through the tunnel connecting the mainland with the island airport and made our way to Fly GTA headquarters.
It’s easy to get to and the airport is also home to services like Helitours which offers helicopter-based aerial tours. Overall the island airport is convenient and a nice addition to other activities in the downtown.
What a great view! This shot of CN Tower and Toronto’s skyline and islands is courtesy of Scott Harrald
What Are Your Flight Options and How Much Will it Cost?
Where to Fly in Toronto
I can’t speak for every city, but in Toronto and cities like Chicago or New York, your air tour is likely to involve flying above the city, the water, and the areas outside the city. Our tour with Fly GTA was supposed to swing along Lake Ontario to Scarborough but we lucked out and got a downtown tour that circled over the city for 25 minutes.
Plane or helicopter?
There are multiple options in Toronto from aerial tours by plane to those by helicopter. The main differences are that planes can usually accommodate more passengers – the Air Van we flew in seated 8 including the pilot while helicopter tours often seat only 4 including the pilot. On our flight the windows were large and the cabin was relatively spacious. Of most importance is probably cost – I’ll address that in the next section.
Cost of your Aerial Flight
A typical promotion for Fly GTA seems to be around $99 per person for their usual Toronto tour. Scott and I entered a contest on Instagram and won two tickets, but the experience was so amazing, I’d recommend paying for seats because the scenery is incredible and the experience is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. Note: extras like champagne or longer tours will set you back more.
Fly GTA uses an Airvan plane for their Toronto area tours. The plane is comfy and has big windows. Photo by Mike Simpson.
Photo and Video Tips
It goes without saying that you should take the BEST camera you own, the fastest SD card, and make sure the battery is charged. Other considerations include: shooting video, shooting in Jpeg or RAW, time of day, dealing with window reflections, and whether you want to focus on taking photos or just enjoy your flight.
I had never done this kind of flight before so I wanted to max out the experience so I could have media for a video or a blog post like this. I ended up rigging a small handheld tripod with a compact camera and my smartphone. I took stills and video. I made some mistakes but overall I got some good images and clips.
In my mind, using a DSLR or high-end compact makes much more sense than only shooting with a smartphone. Get a fast card like a Sandisk extreme, and bring an extra battery.
One thing I never considered and I regret is to check your footage and photos a few minutes into the flight. I regret that my while my media was good I had some slight issues with settings and not everything was usable. Don’t make the same mistake! Take a minute or two and double check things are all working well.
Some reviewers discuss using polarizers and filters to reduce window glare. That could be an important extra to consider. I am comfortable removing defects in editing and I also enhanced window glare in one of my images because it looked golden and warm.
Using Multiple Cameras and Creating Portable Rigs
I used a light-weight compact camera by Nikon and mounted an LG smartphone on the tripod stand so I could simultaneously record video. This has flexibility but is obviously not a substitute for a pro camera. I usually shoot with this camera however and I’m generally happy with the performance for social media and web.
Scott did a similar thing. He had a GoPro recording video mounted in the hot shoe of his DSLR – that way he could also capture video while he was shooting. Much of his footage, both stills and video turned out great. There was only one small issue with the lower frame of the video containing the tip of the camera lens, but the GoPro has a wide field of view so we would end up cropping this in final edit.
Though it didn’t really affect my shooting, one aspect of the above is that sometimes I shot landscape and other times I shot portrait which meant my video clips sometimes had sudden 90 degree rotations in them. One solution for the final edit is to use a square aspect ratio and then it doesn’t matter as much which direction you were shooting or if you rotated part way through.
Looking back I am torn a little at advising this option. It may be better to focus on one aspect of the media at a time, and use either photo or video, but not both. Of course, with experience it is probably possible to balance multi-tasking and be satisfied with the results.
Safety, Security, Comfort
Make sure you fly with a reliable operator. Fly GTA has a great reputation and hundreds of positive reviews. Our pilot was capable and we had confidence in the aircraft. The manager was helpful and overall we really enjoyed the experience.
Of course, if you suffer from motion sickness, consider taking gravol or other products before your flight. I had flown in a small aircraft only once before, between our resort and the main airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was my observation that being shorter and all about the downtown views this flight had more sharp turns and turbulence. At times we flew straight for a few minutes and then the pilot would make a sharp turn and reverse course. This offered passengers on both sides equal time with the various views, but also gave you some serious lookdown views when the plane banked sharply. I was glad the trip wrapped within half an hour. Of course you should talk about this with the flight company either before you book your tickets and before you take off.
Posting Your Aerial Photos and Video to Social Media
Assuming you have more than one good shot, consider posting a bunch in a multi-image post or carousel. You can also obviously spread some of the better images across multiple posts.
By all means, try to crop your best images to portrait, which on Instagram is a ratio of 4×5. You’ll get better engagement with portrait photos (square is an option too, but avoid wide images or video!).
Be sure to tag the aerial tour operator and your friends in the caption and on the photo. Reply to all comments – it’s courteous and helps boost the visibility of your post. You can use up to 30 hashtags – I usually do, because I’d like to get my images featured in reposts and I feel it helps get the image in front of more eyeballs.
Two thumbs up! Fly GTA was professional and courteous while the views were spectacular. I would gladly pay to do this excursion again. I’d also consider taking their flights to Ontario sites like Niagara Falls or Muskoka.
If you have any questions let me know! You can reply to this post or reach out via email or DM on Instagram.
Thank you and credits
Many thanks to the following for making this happen: Scott Harrald (@scott_harrald), 6ixwalks, and Fly GTA – loved the experience and want to fly over Toronto again soon!