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Braided rivers are an iconic part of the New Zealand landscape and are found in just a few other places on earth. They are formed by huge quantities of pulverised rock sediment being washed down from alpine glaciers and forming gravel river courses, the varying water flow creating islands, channels and inlets which are forever changing their shape.
From the air these rivers assume extraordinary patterns, making great subjects for wide angle views such as this one, or more abstract close-ups. There is really only one way to photograph the braids of a river like this and that is from a helicopter with the doors removed.
The Godley River flows for around 30km from its headwaters in the heart of the Southern Alps to its delta at the head of Lake Tekapo. Surrounded by high mountain peaks, the optimum time to overfly this particular river is about an hour or so after daybreak, when the sun is just high enough to softly illuminate the valley floor, bringing out the silver-blue colours of the glacial river snaking its way through the gravel beds.
When photographing from a moving helicopter I need to achieve a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th of a second; having no real depth of field to worry about and with everything focused at infinity I can use a wide aperture; and to avoid changing exposure settings during the flight - it can be so cold up there your fingers may go numb, making it very difficult anyway - I set the camera up to achieve a correct exposure for every frame using the Auto ISO function.
There is also a distinct advantage to using a mirrorless camera in this situation. Shooting at wide angles can sometimes mean the rotor blades of the aircraft inadvertently appear in the corner or top of the frame, spoiling the composition. The blades are rotating so fast that they cannot easily be seen through an optical viewfinder, but with electronic finder, they are clearly visible. Pointing the camera down a touch, or using a slightly longer focal length, solves the problem instantly and improves the success rate of the shoot.