Aug 27, 2015

Flashing a heli

Not all of my photographic projects come together as envisioned. But a recent project that I've been planning for months came together just as I had hoped. After all, everything looks NatGeo quality on the rear of the camera. Only after I get home do I see missed focus, or see a distracting element in the photo that I didn't see during the shoot. 

My flashes and triggers are key to this project's success. Without them, I'll only have a silhouetted hole in the sky. With them you get a glimpse of what makes these machines fly; an instant connection to the human element of man made flight. But what I didn't know was how they'd work, or even if they'd work, in a helicopter, with me on the ground, 150' away. 

 The front flash with a 1/8 inch grid spot

The flash on the dashboard and one in the rear console

Several months ago the helicopter here was giving rides, and with this project in mind I handed a flash to a passenger so they could tell me if it worked, while I triggered it from the ground . It did, and from longer-than-needed distances too. No time for shooting that day, and the helicopter would not be back for three months, so there was time enough to plan.

The heli returned last week, but with hectic schedules the shoot actually happened two days behind schedule and rather last minute on the actual day. 

Mark and I got to hangar at about 5pm, pushing the time envelope. I wanted the sun setting with dramatic skies, but we still needed to mount the flashes and test the lighting levels. With one flash strapped in the rear of the cockpit, the challenge was finding a place for the front flash that will light Mark's face. We finally landed on duct taping it to the dashboard, and covering the duct tape with black electrical tape to keep the grey tape from showing in the final image. In less than 20 exposures, with the lighting balanced, it was time to fly. 

Adjusting the lighting levels on the ground- free! During flying- $$$$

Mark's altitude was a low 60', just enough to clear buildings that I did not want in the frame. Not wanting to see the underbelly, I asked, that on my cue, he'd pitch forward and fly straight at me while I shot. With the cameras AF on tracking-mode, this worked out remarkably well. The first go around made me realize just how close I was to the helicopter, and more importantly, the blades. A safe distance I'm sure, but closer than I am used to. It was a sticky west African night, but the rotor wash kept me quite comfortable.

The first few runs were practice, but with Mark and I talking via radio we quickly got synced and I am very pleased with how the images turned out.

Mark Spangler flies the SIL helicopter in the northwest of Cameroon, ferrying translators to and from their village allocation which has extremely bad roads. In fact, these translators don't even own vehicles and rely solely on the helicopter.

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