The best way to see Christmas lights

I love Christmas lights.  I wouldn’t call myself Clark Griswold or anything, but since I currently live in a condo I can’t really go overboard on Christmas lights, which means I have to just sit back and enjoy the work of others…which brings us to a North Texas outfit called Epic Helicopters.

Epic operates out of both Dallas and Fort Worth, so they have you covered in North Texas.  They do all sorts of tours, charters, instructing, etc.,  but what drew my eye was their Instagram special for Christmas.  Last minute helicopter tours for $99?  Yep.  In.  Done.

I met the pilot at Addison Airport just north of Dallas at the Atlantic Aviation terminal.  Amidst the private jets was a small helicopter off in the distance (I thought).  The pilot gave me and another couple a quick safety briefing and orientation and, after a short delay waiting for a bit of rain to pass, made our way to the helicopter.

Epic Helicopter

Epic Helicopter

For the photographers

Now, as most of you know, I at least fancy myself a bit of a photographer.  As such, I was very excited to take pictures from a helicopter.  This is WAAAAAAY harder than it sounds, especially at night.  The ride ended up being smooth, but you’re still in a helicopter.  My Sony a7 handles low-light situations pretty well, but even this would put it to the test.  The fastest lens in my arsenal is my Zeiss 55mm f1.8 prime, and I figured it’d give me the best shot at some usable images.  What I found was at f1.8 I could get to a shutter speed of 1/250th (to minimize the relative bumpiness from the helicopter) at ISO 6400.  While this would be noisy, I was pretty sure I could get away with it, especially with some Lightrooming later)

Ready for takeoff!

Cockpit

Cockpit

I sat in the front seat of the helicopter, which was smaller than the last time I had ridden on one (doing a tour of Maui in Hawaii in 1996).  I quickly adjusted to the size once we were airborne.  I enjoyed hearing our pilot, Wes, chat with ATC via the headset.  Calmly and smoothly we ascended skyward much more casually than I expected.  Wes was an absolute pro and made the experience relaxing for all of us, which was a feat considering we were dodging some bad weather.

Our flight path took us northward, then we cut across a nice area called Plano where there are some very large houses with amazing Christmas lights.  Then we made our way south to Fair Park, home of the world famous State Fair of Texas and the Cotton Bowl stadium.

Fair Park and Cotton Bowl

Fair Park and Cotton Bowl

We then made a sweeping turn west (into Love Field’s airspace) and made our way toward downtown Dallas.

Heading toward downtown

Heading toward downtown

Dallas has a great skyline that was lit up and beautiful for us.

We then happened upon two iconic Dallas sights, Reunion Tower and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

Two great landmarks

Two great landmarks

Luckily we made a turn that allowed for a little tighter perspective of the two sights.

Reunion Tower and Margaret Hunt Hill

Reunion Tower and Margaret Hunt Hill

As we turned north (around the “ball” of Reunion Tower) we flew directly over one of Dallas’s newest and most popular sights, Klyde Warren Park.

Klyde Warren Park

Klyde Warren Park

As we turned directly north, Love Field ATC informed us there was a Southwest 737 about to take off to the west of us, and to be careful of wake turbulence.  What a treat to watch a plane take off from such a cool perspective!

Southwest 737

Southwest 737

We then flew over some more neighborhoods with great Christmas light displays, but none to the point that they’d make good pictures.  One of the last sights we saw is a locally famous park in Addison, Texas, called Vitruvian Park.  It’s famous during the holiday season for its colorful tree lights.

Vitruvian Park

Vitruvian Park

Our flight came to a close with a soft landing at Addison Airport.  It was about a 50-minute ride from takeoff to landing and I thought I paid too little for it.  It was an absolute steal at $99.  Epic Helicopters was a great outfit and I can’t wait to go up with them again!

Any other aerial photographers out there, or anyone with cool helicopter trips to tell us about?

 

(disclaimer: I paid for this trip myself, Epic Helicopters did not provide any service in exchange for this review nor did they approve of the content of this post before publishing, as always my thoughts and opinions are my own and don’t represent any other company)

3 Comments

  1. How would one find out about future “last minute” deals with this operator?

    Reply
    • Eric, you can follow them on Instagram and Facebook and theyll usually mention their deals, theres also an email list that I dont have a link to, let me see if i can find a link

      Reply
  2. I also love Christmas lights and you really have the perfect view from above. Great work.

    Reply

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