Cold front sweeping down on us today . And there’s just been a long period of being pedal to the metal with retouching in a dark studio .
So to cheer us up in the anticipation of a possible new boat shoot , we took the opportunity to look at a few previous briefs in sunnier climes .
We were in the South of France and our art director made his first request for the upcoming helicopter session.
“Can we do a shot from dead overhead with the water slide out , the giant donut in the water and the tenders and jet skis at the side ”
When doing overheads it’s advisable to have a larger helicopter like the one below that deflects some of the down draft so that you can lean out of the cockpit on your climbing harness and shoot straight down . You will also see from this image that we take portable reflectors in the form of bare legs. We keep these away from the sun as much as possible in order to maintain their effectiveness.
However, on this occasion there was only a small Robinson helicopter available and putting the camera anywhere near the door meant that the camera gained ten times it’s weight and shook violently .
So the only way to shoot was to ask the pilot to get over the front of the boat and tilt the chopper over on its side while flying sideways along the length of the yacht .
This meant putting ultimate trust in our harnesses , and each of us getting maybe one or two frames per pass .
And it meant the donut, jet skis and the tenders holding position . And it worked .
Enthused by the success of this shot our AD got a new idea. On the next project he wanted us to shoot the boat owner’s helicopter flying above the moving yacht while the tenders ran alongside. This was not so much an exercise in photography as one in communication.
We had to be in radio contact with our helicopter pilot, the owner’s helicopter pilot, the yacht skipper and both of the tender drivers. While shooting at the same time.
Meanwhile, our helicopter pilot had to be in communication with the other helicopter pilot. Enough cameras and lenses but a sad paucity of ears and mouths. Had to resort to hand gestures with our pilot. Thankfully, it would seem that English translates relatively easily in to French using this system. He only looked offended a couple of times. We can probably put that down to cultural differences.
And then there was the brief that scared the superyacht’s captain. Not because of the inherent risk to life and limb of the valiant smudgers, but because of the possible damage to his boss’s boat caused by whirling helicopter blades.
The brief was a close up shot of the bow of the boat, dead straight on and with the yacht under way at speed. Like this :
We were blessed with a fantastically skilled but, let’s say, slightly eccentric pilot. Having left the airfield at speed, he then skimmed the surface of the sea all the way to the rendezvous with the yacht. Quite a few innocent bystanders were soaked as the spray from the rotor blades hit them as they were sunbathing on their boats. He seemed to be enjoying himself.
For us to fulfill the brief, he had to fly helicopter sideways while maintaining a fore and aft position to make sure that we were dead central to the yacht. At the same time he had to maintain height and match the yacht’s speed. All of which he did with great composure.
And was he great at close quarters flying. Very close quarters flying.
Afterwards, the captain told us that he was more than a little disturbed when at one point the body of our helicopter disappeared beneath the bow and he could only see the rotor tips. We were worried about spraying the boat with too much salt water and the amount of retouching that would involve .
Here’s another moment when we thought our closing speed was a little more than we wanted and we might be getting a tad too close :
TOP TIPS : When using harnesses in the helicopter, we have a personal preference. We use harnesses that we can release from the front. As a wise person once advised us, when a helicopter sinks, it sinks like a bunch of keys. So you might want to be able to disconnect from it asap if you hit the water rather than thrashing around behind you looking for the caribiner. If you do prefer a harness attached at the rear, yoga lessons wouldn’t go amiss. And maybe practice holding your breath .
Also, don’t have a lifeline that is too long. If you do fall out while getting a little too enthusiastic, you want to make sure that your climb back in is as short as possible. A mountain rescuer friend of mine said that he recalled an embarrassing incident where the pilot had to land very gently and very precisely in order to avoid squashing a previous occupant who was now dangling beneath the helicopter on a long leash. He didn’t say that it was him, but I did notice he now has a very short lifeline.
And keep everything off the floor and firmly locked down. A lens rolling under the pilot’s foot could really spoil your day.
And keep your camera firmly attached to yourself. A camera falling from several hundred feet could really spoil somebody else’s day.