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Old January 29th, 2009, 01:49 AM   #1
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Aerial Footage Shot From Helicopter-Techniques?

Colleagues,

We will be shooting some aerial coastline and island footage shortly, possibly from a Robinson R-22 2 place or R44 4 place helicopter.

I know most aerial shots in big budget products have gyro stablized (no, that does not mean a video camera stabilized with mediterranean pita sandwiches), but this is a no budget film reel type thing.

I plan on using a Canon .8 wide angle lens on a Sony HDR-FX1 HDV videocam, and of course with Sony's crappy digital image stablization turned off. I will try to do what I can in post using FCP''s Smoothcam, but stepping on that much results in a loss of resolution as it zooms in to remove the jumping black perimeter box of death.

I wonder if the front cockpit floor is stable enough to use a tripod, or if I should try hand-held to absorb any bumps.....

I have never shot aerial before, so aside from telling them they need to remove the passenger door, any other technique thoughts other than basic common sense?
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Old January 29th, 2009, 05:03 AM   #2
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It can be done. Choose a day with no turbulens (blue sky) and no wind (early in the morning). Take off the passenger door and absolutely handheld. There is so many shakes in the helicopter that you have to compensate for that, in your hand. If you did use the sony ex1 or 3 - I would recommend to overcrank. And dont forget the seatbelt and maybe a line in the camera and absolutely no things that can fall of. Sound can only be made by a dynamic mic inside the cockpit - if needed..
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Old January 29th, 2009, 08:29 AM   #3
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If you can get the R44 this might be my preference to the R22 but the R44 pilot may not want to do door-off ops.

Handhold the camera. Don't brace against the airframe. Tie the camera off to a permittted hard point on the airframe with a lanyard long enough only to allow your necessary movements. Too long and the camera could go outside and do harm to the airframe. The lanyard might also blow inside and foul the pilot's controls.

The sky might not be falling but a camera can really spoil somebody's day on the ground if it gets the opportunity to skydive.

Stay wide on the zoom, no more than 30% zoomed-in if you really have to.

You may find a slightly uncomfortable grip which I will describe below will get you a slightly steadier result.

This grip is to use the heel of your right hand under the battery with fingers up the back of the camera. Finger number 3 or 4 (pinky in American) is for the run button. The heel of your left hand goes under the rear of the lens at lens/camera body junction with your fingers facing forward to work the zoom and focus rings manually.

Use the LCD not the eyepiece. Your eyesocket will anchor the rear of the camera. The front will float and aggravate the unwanted motion.

Use the default daylight white balance. You could do a manual white-balance on the ground but the colour of the light will change with altitude.

Overcranking is a valid trick with a film camera for reducing the effect of unwanted movements. It is better to eliminate the movements as much as you can. To overcrank the EX1 and EX3, you may have to give up some resolution in order to have a faster frame rate.

Why put yourself through the ordeal of contortion? It forces your arms into a sort-of steadycam iso-elastic arm configuration but you need to practice this on the ground to be sure it suits you.

You also may find it helpful to fasten a dive weight onto the bottom of the camera to add a bit of mass. Make sure this cannot come off and brain some poor unfortunate on the ground.

You may get a steadier air-to-ground shot in a turn which maintains the subject on the ground in or directly below the centre of the radius of the turn.

Be mindful that the pilot of any aircraft has a high workload. Helicopters are harder. Limit your distractions to the bare essentials. A pilot who does not ignore you when he needs to, runs the risk of trying to hard to please. This is where the initiating stage of a developing sequence of events occurs.

It is in your interest to govern yourself, let the pilot do his job and invite your inputs when he has the opportunities to do so.

Last edited by Bob Hart; January 29th, 2009 at 08:43 AM. Reason: error
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Old January 29th, 2009, 12:10 PM   #4
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Yes, I fly sailplanes myself, but task loading on those is lower....I will be shooting with a Sony FX1 till that Scarlet is out. I think I will need to try to shoot forward as much as possible to reduce the scenery moving sideways across the screen as HDV hates pans.

I guess for some shots done that way we will find out how comfortable the pilot is crabbing sideways! Audio will not be needed.
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Old January 29th, 2009, 12:51 PM   #5
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My personal preference might also be to select shutter at 1/100th sec to 1/150th sec to create an illusion of sharper image but not so fast as to cause a sort of stutter effect.

Are helicopters over your way pilot in the right seat?

If you end up in the right seat, you will find with the confined workspace that it is almost impossible getting a good look at the LCD when the camera is shooting directly to the right into the centre of a starboard turn.

A small monitor on your knees might be a bonus if you can conveniently and safely have it.

I have also tended to use the camera with the lens hood off to keep things smaller but the rotor shadow can be a pest if it falls upon the inevitable dust which gets onto the lens. To protect the transparencies in the aircraft I gaffer over the front rim of the lens. This wll not be a consideration for you if the doors are taken off.

If you end up with shaky footage regardless, you might examine putting a really heavy ballast on the base of your camera and supporting this ballast directly from a bungee or a few, ENG news cam style from an approved hard point overhead the doorway if one can be found.

Finally, don't forget to fasten your own seatbelt or harness. Checklist yourself and your equipment. There was apparently a guy who shot a sail event from a helicopter in Victoria. At the end of it all he discovered to his horror that he he been on the step with feet on the skid happily shooting away with no harness attached.
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Old January 29th, 2009, 04:02 PM   #6
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Oh - one more thing. You will loose your sense of time. When you sit in the helicopter witout the door and with a lot of fresh air. You will sit and wait for a steady shot to begin. When you finally think you have it steady remember to be absolutely shure you have a clip long enough - what you think is 10 sec up there is maybe only 3 sec when played back...
You have to be very critical about the shaky movements - in the small lcd it maybe not seem that much - but when it is blown up on a 50" you absolutely will see the movements - and the horizon !!!!!!!!!!!
And yes - its easiest with a big helicopter - it's more steady and in the small robinson there is not much room for you to work with. Are you flying close to ground I also think that the bigger helicopter has more power to do the things, you would like it to do.
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Old January 30th, 2009, 08:50 AM   #7
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I agree the R44 is much smoother then the R22.

Yes door off. If possible have a monitor hooked up so the pilot can see what you are shooting and help frame. Only use a pilot who has flow at least 3000 hrs and for video prior. With out a gyro and still using software in post my experience is you will have about 5% per hour of what you shoot that will be worth saving. With hand held gyro it goes up to about 15-20%, and with gyro mount it is about 85-90% of what you shoot. Of course these numbers are if you have done this prior and know what to expect. And they are based on you not zooming. Do not expect to zoom and have it work hand held with out stabilization. There is a reason pilots pay $300,000 to $600,000 for gyro ball mounts.

No tripod besides FAA will want it tied in and the machine is moving too much for this to work. Try the IS on and off it should make a difference. Also have a safety line on the camera to you FAA reg incase you drop it. Nothing loose and not tied in if the door is off. Practice walking and running with the camera this time will be worth every minute in practice.

Let me know how else I can help. This is a major part of my business I shoot out of machines for years now so don't hesitate to ask.

Check this out on my site Dave it discussed shooting hand held, hand held with gyro, and gyro mount. WhiteCapVideo: HD Video for your industry There is a clip at the end that shows the difference. Buy the way all three of those clips are shot at 1080p 30p with no post. All three clients did not want over cranking they wanted normal speed.

Remember have fun it is well worth the experience.
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Last edited by Paul Cronin; January 30th, 2009 at 03:58 PM.
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Old January 30th, 2009, 08:56 AM   #8
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Bob makes a great point about over cranking it really helps if that will work for the shoot.
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Old February 1st, 2009, 06:39 AM   #9
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Ive just done this for a short film with no experience or research and it turned out a disaster.

If you cant have the door of then don't try and get the camera out of the window. The speed is immense and its very hard to keep steady handheld. My hands were frozen numb in seconds and I accidently knocked record off!

I went back and did it again (just handheld). This time I wore gloves and kept the camera just inside with just the lens poking out. It worked great and looks surprisingly proffessional.

Im not saying this is the way to go, just that its possible to get good results even if you go in a blind fool like me!

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Old February 4th, 2009, 10:32 AM   #10
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Oh, the outside air temp will be about 80 and humid so at least it won't be cold!
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Old February 4th, 2009, 10:37 AM   #11
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Ah that sounds nice. We fly today 22F today with no door and travel to job at 120 knots. I miss summer.

Dave let us know how you make out?
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Old February 6th, 2009, 03:13 AM   #12
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Will do. Where I am going the bonehead businesses don't even bother answering e-mails. I hate that!
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Old February 24th, 2009, 02:15 AM   #13
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Well, after returning from an assignment, I can tell you that helicopter aerial shooting is impossibly difficult when they want 50% more for helicopter airtime in the Philippines than they do in the U.S. ! $450 an hour for a Robinson R22 is ridiculous! It is $280 an hour in Los Angeles, which is more doable
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Old February 24th, 2009, 09:16 AM   #14
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Always seem to happen outside the US you will pay more. $450 is a base R44 price without any extras.
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Old November 26th, 2010, 11:53 PM   #15
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I will be doing some arial video shooting soon....

Sounds like the way to go is to go handheld, and do it in low turbulence conditions.
A friend of mine has his own small airplace and thats what I am hoping to shoot from. Not sure what the model is, but I do know its an older one.

Any other suggestions for getting pro shots of city scape?
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