View Full Version : Filming from a light plane
Andrew Lee II
April 15th, 2009, 08:34 AM
Does anyone know where I might find advice as to the best way to film from a light plane. I have just flown over Pinatubo and am somewhat disappointed with the results. Although I should have used a Polariser I have been filming on a Sony HVR-A1 with a Sony Wide Conversion lens which does not accept a filter. I could gaffer tape one on, but the whole rotational thing would be a nightmare. Also whilst some of the footage is usable, much of it suffers from too much movement. Gripping the camera to the plane would cause movement, and handholding also causes different movement. I didn't take my steadycam unit with me, though I'm not sure that would have been easy to use in a cramped location. Any suggestions, or idea where there might be suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks, Andrew
April 15th, 2009, 09:29 AM
I shot from a cessna with my XLH1. We pulled the door off, and I had only the seat belt to hold me in. I had the other seat belt wrapped thru the camera handle - just in case. It was tricky, but we did manage to get some pretty good wide shots. The pilot tried to fly slow, and said it was tricky to fly with the door off. I had to be careful not to stick the camera out too far because of wind. The client wanted a tight shot of his house on a rocky bluff, 400' above the water. That shot didn't turn out so well, because of the speed of the plane, but I had told him in advance that we couldn't expect that shot to work really well without a chopper. If you can get the door off, I think laying the camera on a pillow across your lap would work OK.
April 15th, 2009, 11:29 AM
Really, the best way to shoot is with a door off, but that severely limits your options as not every pilot is excited to remove a door and or ... well you get the idea.
The plexiglass in doors can vary from pristine to awful. You should plan to thoroughly clean and polish the window, inside and out. Meguirs (sp) makes a scratch remover/polish and then a wax cleaner/polish. I recommend you use both in that order, using a soft cloth and having several clean ones at hand.
The plexiglass may color the image slightly, but you should be able to fix it in post. Rarely the plexiglass may distory the image if you are shooting through a highly curved section. Rarely do these exist in doors on stock aircraft (modified bubble windows exist and they can introduce significant distortion.)
Make sure your camera is set to manual focus and that it is set on infinity. Auto focus can nicely focus on the window's inperfections rendering your video useless.
High wing Cessnas work best because often you have a built in sun screen to prevent the scratches on the plexiglass from being highlighted by a strong sun at an angle.. a wing makes a great sun screen. Of the high wing single engine Cessnas the Cardinal and 210 both lack struts, which further makes your job easier if those platforms are available.
If relections from inside the cockpit in the plexiglas present a problem, you can make a cloth (black cloth) hood and tape it around the lens and then around the window. This works well on bright days, but pretty much limits your sight to the viewfinder. In deference to the pilot, make sure he or she is ok with that appraoch and use gaffers tape... no residue.
Finally... fly early or late in the day. Any other time will pretty much make holding the camera for a smooth shot potentially problematic. Let your arms float separate from your body and do not rest the camera on any plane part. Once you have the best footage you can, I highly recommend you look into deshaking it using Mercalli ProDad (or other deshaker program).... the way Mercalli turns handheld shots into something approaching steadicam is amazing!
Hope this helps.
April 24th, 2009, 05:47 PM
Had this question my self and got this answer Hello again Kenneth.
Just to make sure I have not misled you, all of that footage was shot through aircraft windows.
As you would have observed, there is nearly always some hazing or loss of contrast when shooting through them due to surface reflection of what is behind the camera view and the imperfect optical properties of the material.
Another option you could examine for the future is aircraft with open cockpit. These can prevent severe challenges for camera operators due to wind buffet. The camera must be tied off otherwise it may fly back out of your hands and brain the pilot in the rear seat senseless, not a good flight configuration at all.
Quality sound - forget it unelss you use a separate mike within the cockpit somewhere.
Here we have the DeHavilland Tiger Moth. Over there you have the Stearman, maybe a few Stampes and Buckers, all vintage and also biplanes. Strut and wirebraced biplanes are very limiting for camerawork due to the two wings and support structures between which block much vision forward and to the side.
Yet another is the aircraft type which has a sliding overhead canopy and is certified for canopy-open ops even thought this may be at a reduced airspeed.
I think over there you have the Nanchang CJ6, a Chinese warbird trainer which has become quite popular but would be an expensive charter.
From an economic standpoint, a Cessna 172 or 182 which has a permitted door-off modification for skydivers and a pilot endorsed to fly one with this mod.
Planes which lift skydivers become rather whipped and shabby due to carefree engine management and airframe abuse from overloaded hard climbs and rapid descents.
I would not be too keen to go out over the water in one. It might be then departing from its normal flight regime within gliding distance of an airport and not have been tested by longer flights until you come along for it as a camera ship.
Some of these aircraft I believe have a redesigned right door, hinged at the top to open out against the underside of the wing. For the Cessna I think it may be a one-piece. IN your location there may be one dedicated to normal charts but possibly modded for aerial photography work and not skydiver abuse.
During certain flight configuations, deploying this door in flight could be dangerous.
I think the Piper Cubs also have an opening door or a half-door.
There are also some aircraft as kitplanes, generally in the ultralight or experimental category, which have similar doors or are designed from the outset to be flown without them. Some of these designed are also produced as certified aircraft.
One type fairly common is the Skyfox or Gazelle. Cabin space in these is fairly confined for camera operating except for small handycams.
Another option is to go the helicopter route. A Robinson R22 or a small Hughes should be about the cheapest of these.
I suggest you look away when the pilot does his preflight on the R22 as a multiple fan-belt relay drive for the rotor transmission does not exactly inspire confidence according to another source.
These are my comments, not necessarily the most valid ones but hopefully point you in directions of enquiry where better advice may come from.
Regards from Western Australia.
April 24th, 2009, 09:02 PM
IIRC, on the Cessna 152 and 172, there is a retaining bar that lets the window open just a crack, if you take out one screw, then open the window after you are airborne, the windflow holds the window open all the way (90 degrees) flush against the bottom of the wing. I have shot many (still photo) aerials with this arrangement over the years.
While it is expensive and hard to come by, my company bought a gyro stabilizer which supports cameras in the HV30 range quite nicely --you hold it loosely so that the camera is free to "float", being sure it is securely strapped to something so you don't lose it overboard! Works a charm.../Battle Vaughan/miamiherald.com video team
April 28th, 2009, 08:58 PM
I have quick release pins on both doors on my Cessna 170A (older taildragger version of the 172) and I can remove the doors in about 30 seconds total. Removing just one causes an annoying "whoomp whoomp" noise while flying around 85mph, so I prefer to have both doors off, which also allows us to shoot out either side of the aircraft.