Back up in the air today, and boy was it frickin chilly!  No matter… helicopter work has to be one of the most exhilarating aspects of my business, and I am always game regardless of the air temp!

Today’s shoot was for a local Cambridge client.  We were primarily focusing on shooting video “B” roll of the Greater Boston area.  This footage will be used along with video interviews and lab “B” roll in order to give the feeling of their environment.

When I shoot here in Boston, I like to use my friend Stephen Boatwright’s outfit called Blue Hill Helicopter based out of Norwood, MA.  Blue Hill owns a couple of Schweizers, and today as we were going to be up in the air for a while, flew their C model.

prepping gear

prepping gear

The Schweizer 300C is not the perfect platform to shoot from.  It is small, slow, bumpy, cramped, and a bit scary… but what makes it so damn appealing for a photographer is that it is very inexpensive to fly.  The biggest reason for this is that the 300C is a piston driven helicopter, where the Bell 206 Jet Ranger or Eurocopter AS350 is a turbine and are dramatically more sophisticated machines.  All three are single engine airplanes, however both the Bell 206 and the AS350 can carry much more load (4+ people vs/ the 2 in the 300C) fly farther, and are more stable.

Mark

Mark

Sometimes the choice of rental is made for you.  If the shoot requires an assistant, or the art director and client wish or need to come along, then you move up into the larger turbine, but when it is a nice and mellow shoot that is not to complex, most certainly save the cash and go for the Schweizer.  There is a big difference between $350/hr and $1600/hr.

Photo Flight Plan

Photo Flight Plan

My rule of thumb is this:  If the shoot is complex, and I need an assistant, or if we are off-shore and the water temp too low (don’t like to crash in icy water,) than I go for the larger bird.  A good example of this was a shoot we did down in Puerto Rico for US Shipping.  That day, I needed an assistant, and my client was traveling with us.  We had to meet one of their tankers 20 miles off the coast, and the shoot was a bit more complex.  That day, we shot both film as well as digital.  We were also shooting multiple formats.  For the job, I shot with the D2X, the Nikon F5, the Hassleblad X-Pan, and the Mamyia 645 (all with Fuji Velvia.)  If I didn’t have an assistant on that job, there was NO WAY I could have kept up with loading all those bodies.  On that shoot, we rented a Bell 206 which allowed me to wear a harness and stand on the skid so I could shoot straight down at the boat during steep turns.

View of Boston's plan

View of Boston

When shooting from a helicopter, it is important to know a little bit about the machines before you get up in the air.  For example, in the Schweizer, your seating position is pretty much straight ahead.  It can be hard sometimes with a wide lens.  You are always battling with both the skids and the rotor trying to keep them out of the shot.  Also, if you are going to be up in the air for any length of time, you end up wrenching your back because you are constantly twisting in order to get the camera to the side.

Keep an eye out for the rotor

I would also urge photographers to take an hour or two of flight training.  This will prove invaluable over your career as you will develop a good working knowledge of aircraft systems which in turn will allow the photographer to better communicate with the pilot ultimately translating into better images.  And if you do want heli training, Stephen is a great resource to begin with as he is an excellent pilot and teacher.

Anyway… Richard and I AGAIN started our day before the sun rose.  We met at 5am, packed our gear, and headed out to the airfield to meet Mark our pilot.  I have flown with Mark in the past.  He is an amazing pilot who really works well with photographers.  Mark chiefly operates out of New York in an AS350 flying tours, charters, as well as photo and motion picture work.  Mark also flies here in Boston for Channel 5.

On the way out to the Graves

On the way out to the Graves

When we arrived, Mark had already preflighted the helicopter, and removed my door and controls.  In the 300C, this is pretty important for shooting photos.  The cockpit is already tight, but with the stick, pedals, and collective in place, forget about moving around or setting a camera down anywhere.

When up in the air, I try not to bring too much.  2 camera bodies and just the lenses you think you need.  Changing lenses in the air is no big deal, but the last thing you want to do is drop a 14mm lens through someones sunroom roof from 5oo feet.  Also, make sure your straps are all good and secure on your camera bodies.  Dress warm!  Remember, it may be nice and warm on the ground, but the temp can sometimes be much colder up at altitude.  I like to wear a coat like the North Face Mountain Jacket.  It will not only keep the wind at bay, but it has nice deep pockets so you can store things you might need like a battery, cards, or a second lens.  Keeping the things you need close is very important.  Once you are strapped in a harness or sholder harness, you cant always reach that important piece of gear that you stuffed in your back pocket thats now underneath your gortex pants.

Richard goes up for a his first flight!

Richard goes up for a his first flight!

The most important part of the aerial day is the pre-planning.  The better your plan, the better your job will go.  Remember, time is money….especially in the helicopter.  The 300C is roughly $6/min, and the 206 can be as much as $27/min.  If you have to hover on station while you make a phone call from the air trying to get information from the ground, you can easily waste valuable time.  Know exactly what you are doing, and where you are going before the rotor starts turning.

We live in an amazing time, and technology is just incredible!  The best thing to do before your flight is to take advantage of Google Earth and fly the flight virtually the day before.  I like to print out my maps and go over it with the pilot in your pre-flight briefing.

The Graves Lighthouse

The Graves Lighthouse

For this AM’s flight, the plan was to head north east across the water to Boston Light, then to The Graves Lighthouse, then south of Logan International into the city for shots of the waterfront.  From there, we would head around the Prudential, Fenway Park, and over to Cambridge to shoot Harvard University and MIT.  Lastly, we would head back into the city for a shot on the new Rose Kennedy Greenway, and then back south to the airport.

All in all the day went great.  The weather cooperated perfecely with no clouds in the sky.  I think the coolest part of the day however was getting to watch Richard as he strapped himself in the heliocopter.  Since Richard had never been up in a chopper, I decided to have Mark take him up for an intro flight.  He had a blast!  Thanks for your continued kick ass help Rich!

Advertisements