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Old September 16th, 2009, 09:28 AM   #1
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Helicopter ride advice

Hey gang,

In a month I will be going up on a helicopter. I did a search and saw a thread with advice for PAL format shooting from a couple years ago but nothing specific . I will be using NTSC 24fps 1/48 shutter. I also have a steadicam merlin. My question is, perhaps for anyone who has done this, is the steadicam worth taking? How should I use it? Any recommendation on a preset to use?Oh I also have the canon wide angle lens.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 09:34 AM   #2
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Don't worry about the steadicam

I think on most stabilizers it says specifically not to use in a helicopter. What I have done is to strip my camera down to bare bones. Take everything off that could fly off. As soon as you put the camera out the door, it will catch the wind and start to push on you. I used a Sony Z5 at 60iSD and it worked great. We were shooting bass boats at full speed and got great looking stuff. Just keep the OIS on and brace the camera against your legs. Hold on tight. And bring a plastic bag, because shooting in a helicopter can get you sick really quick. Don't look through the blades.

Here's a link to some of the stuff we shot:

Mark's Outdoors LLO Web Preview Video on Vimeo

Let me know if you have any more questions!
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Old September 16th, 2009, 09:39 AM   #3
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Hi Jack,

I am a helicopter pilot and have many times just strapped a video camera on a tripod in the passenger seat and the video was quite smooth. Helicopter rides are generally very smooth unless it happens to be a particularly windy day.

If you need an absolutely still shot, then the steady cam will likely be your best bet provided you have the room in the helicopter to use it. That will be dependent upon which model of helicopter you will be riding in and where you will be seated.

If your shot doesn't have to be absolutly still, you will probably be fine with just using some type of shoulder mount set up.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 09:50 AM   #4
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Thank you for the advice. In this case I don't believe I will be able to tape with the camera outside the helicopter. So it mostly be inside shots with POV shots outside. Btw Mark, great video. Amazing without a tripod. Nice pans!
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Old September 16th, 2009, 10:40 AM   #5
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Thanks for the compliments

Jack,

Thanks for the compliments! I can't take all the credit. I had a second shooter for the early morning stuff, but I told him the same thing I told you. Also, the pilot has been doing this tournament for close to ten years and flies for a local tv station. He really knows how to put you on the shot. I think we were so close to some of those boats I could have grabbed a pole off the deck.

Good luck with your shoot!
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Old September 16th, 2009, 12:18 PM   #6
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When I've shot out of a helicopter, I've gone slo-mo with good success. It smoothes everything out.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 04:54 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Hendren View Post

Mark's Outdoors LLO Web Preview Video on Vimeo

Let me know if you have any more questions!
Off topic but what is that blue stuff they put with the fish?
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Old September 16th, 2009, 05:22 PM   #8
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If you are going to leave the door on, be sure to bring something to clean the windows.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 05:30 PM   #9
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Jack, I notice you're a hometown person ... we rented a gyro stabilizer once, long ago, for night helicopter shots...it was with stills, but I think a camera the size and weight of, say, and HV30 would work. I don't remember the vendor but I suspect Midtown Video might have or know where to get one... Battle Vaughan / Miami Herald retired
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Old September 17th, 2009, 09:24 AM   #10
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Off topic but what is that blue stuff they put with the fish?
It's stuff to help make sure the fish stay healthy. Chemicals and super-oxygenated water.
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Old September 17th, 2009, 12:52 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Battle Vaughan View Post
Jack, I notice you're a hometown person ... we rented a gyro stabilizer once, long ago, for night helicopter shots...it was with stills, but I think a camera the size and weight of, say, and HV30 would work. I don't remember the vendor but I suspect Midtown Video might have or know where to get one... Battle Vaughan / Miami Herald retired
Vaughan,

I would consider that but i'm going to be out of the country doing this so I don't want to risk losing any rented equipment hehe
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Old September 21st, 2009, 03:01 PM   #12
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The times I've done helicopter shooting I just did it at fairly wide angle, hand held. You don't want to lean too far out the door because the wind will buffet you around, but usually you can get far enough out to get what you want without showing the struts. A Merlin might be good if you can adjust it to tilt down the way you want and still keep the balance.

In my experience the pilot is more important than anything else, especially if he has experience with photgraphers. If he can go upwind and drift downwind, you'll have a nice smooth ride. And if he can (legally) go low enough, you can shoot wider and therefore smoother. Usually early morning and late evenings are best for wind. Going against the wind can get a bit rough. And the more you zoom in the worse your shot will be.

My helicopter shooting has always been with shoulder mount 2/3" chip cameras. If I were doing it today with the XH A1, I would take along a couple of bungee cords and see if I could hook one on the overhead someplace and then to the camera handle. That might help some,but I've never tried it--just seems like a good idea.

You do want to clip on the strap that came with your camera and wear it, in case you hit a bump or something and the camera bounces out of your hand. Although...if that should happen, try to find the pieces and hope the tape is OK...might make a cool shot on the way down.
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Old September 22nd, 2009, 02:06 PM   #13
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You do want to clip on the strap that came with your camera and wear it, in case you hit a bump or something and the camera bounces out of your hand. Although...if that should happen, try to find the pieces and hope the tape is OK...might make a cool shot on the way down.
I did my first helicopter shots a few months ago, and I remember having a death grip on the camera for the first half hour or so, even though I had a strap around my neck. We were over populated areas, so I had this nightmare of dropping the camera through someone's windshield, or worse!

My solution to the bumpiness was to buy the Mercalli plugin by ProDAD. Here's a side-by-side I made showing the stabilizer. It's not perfect, but it's an improvement.

UGRA After Stabilization on Vimeo

I was in a small two-seater chopper, and it was a bit windy, so the raw stuff was pretty rough!
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Old September 25th, 2009, 10:51 PM   #14
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A few more thoughts:
1. I've had great success with Marine pilots who has flown combat and photographers before. (Don't flame me for a bias against anyone else...just my opinion) They will make things happen so you can get your shot! They may put you lower than permitted-- only for one shot ;) ./. you get the idea.

2. I like shooting through an open window or remove the door so you do not have any reflections. As mentioned, if you lean out it will be very windy. Stay inside, hand hold close to your body and don't lean against the airframe as it vibrates a lot.

3. Multi bladed ( more than 2 ) helicopters tend to be a smoother ride.

4. Watch you horizon. Helicopters tend to fly nose down. So if you don't compenstate your horizon will be a crooked.

5. Hovering tends to have more vibration. Just a few mph of forward flight smooths things out.

6. Watch the wide shots as you will pickup the rotor blades and/or the skids. Small telephoto is good and have the pilot move in or out for your shot.

7. Depending on the location and time of year, it can get quite cold while flying. Gloves with the fingers cut out and a tight fitting wool cap and a non restrictive jacket will keep you happy. Don't bring a bunch of loose things like lens caps, filters, camera bags. If you must get one of those cheezy photographers vest with all the velcro pockets and store your stuff in it. It will be windy and the pilot doesn't want a bunch a junk to get in the way of the pedals or controls. Secure the camera with a neck strap..just in case.

7. The best suggestion is to sit down with the pilot before the flight and plan exactly what you are looking for. Tell him how tight the shot is and the best angle you wish. He will put the helicopter exactly where you want and hold it until you tell him to move on.

If you are not happy with the shot simply tell him to make another pass. He wants you to get a good shot.

Helicopters are noisy and pilots will want to, "Fly Neighborly" which means to not to bother the people on the ground. So depending on where you are shooting you may only get one pass to get your shot. He will advise prior to the flight.

Also wear a pair of the cheap yellow earplugs under the headset. You will still be able to talk to the pilot just fine and they help quite the roar of the turbine.

Keep your instructions while in flight short and precise. ..wider orbit, little higher, good angle, too fast, etc. While flying, the pilot is listening and talking to other aircraft and tower that you will not hear on your headset.. so keep it brief.

8. I feel the best thank you can give a pilot is a nice picture of him flying or next to his ship on the ground.

9. Good luck and above all have fun. Helicopters are the best 'E' ticket ride ( dating myself) you can get!
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Old September 26th, 2009, 08:01 PM   #15
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When you're flying, there's no way you can record the sound of the engine and rotor blades and get unmuffled sound or not having the wind noise muck it all up.

Before you leave the ground, lean out and point the cam up at the blades and audio record as much as you can, WHILE the engine is warming up at flying revs. Using just the cam mic aim it so the rotor is on axis and you cleanly get all the blades whump whumps and whistles. It'll be loud enough to block out all the other ambient sounds and it'll sound great!

10secs is enough .. then in post carefully loop it to repeat for the duration of the flight. You can keep it going right until you're on the ground again, then xfade to the engine winding down.

The clue is choppers don't change engine revs, they change the angle of the rotor blades to achieve lift and directional flight.

But record the sound while you're flying, then lay some in and mix it at LOW level in certain scenes to add variety and vary the audio track .. confounds those wondering how you did it.

I recently did some work with the RAN Historic Flight in their Iroquois chopper which has a very distinctive sound. I knew I couldn't swing anything but an Iroquois for the track. The reaction was, non flyers accepted it but some Navy guys asked how it was done.

HARS

Also scored a SonicFire pro music tracks rhythm track and matched its tempo to the revs so the rotor blades became the lead instrument. SOund is 70% of what you see.

Cheers.
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Last edited by Allan Black; September 26th, 2009 at 09:56 PM. Reason: typos
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