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Old April 20th, 2011, 11:03 PM   #1
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Shooting from an airplane

I'm shooting a new documentary, and I will be heading out in a Cessna 172 to shoot a cattle ranch operation, and I am curios as to any pitfalls I might run into?

Thoughts?
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Old April 21st, 2011, 12:29 AM   #2
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Vibration, for one. Windows made of (probably) scratched plexiglass for another.

In a 172 it's easy to put the side window up (in flight the airflow will keep it up against the wing, you just remove one pin from the strut that holds the window, iirc) which eliminates the problem of shooting through decades-old plexiglass, but then you get wind buffeting.

And secure the camera so you don't drop it out the window!

The aerials we have done at my paper encouraged us to rent, then buy, a gyro stabilizer because the camera is almost impossible to keep smooth otherwise. We ended up using a Canon HV20 (consumer size) camera because it was hard to handle our XHA1's in an airplane or helicopter, and the gyro was more effective with the smaller camera. HTH//
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Old April 21st, 2011, 04:09 AM   #3
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

You might examine the availability of a Maule M5 and suitably qualified pilot. The rear cargo door of the aircraft can be removed and I think maybe also the rear passenger door on the right. Be warned, it will get a bit breezy. You still have the problem of wing struts getting in the shot as the Maule has two for each wing.

If you use a 172 and your pilot is endorsed for flying from the right seat and well practiced at it, you may find shooting with the handycam easier as you can view the LCD screen because you are pointing out the left window. For handheld steadiness, you are better off using the LCD versus using the eyepiece.

If you are stuck with shooting through a closed window, then ask if you can use the rear passenger space. This will give you a lot more workroom and views to either side.

FOX FEATHERWEIGHT TWENTYEIGHT PRE-PRODUCTION TRAILER SCENE 5 ASSEMBLY By Bob Hart On ExposureRoom

FOX FEATHERWEIGHT TWENTYEIGHT SCN6 SHORTFIELD LANDING By Bob Hart On ExposureRoom

A gyro is a good move if you can rent one but they do take up workspace which in a 172 and most light aircraft is very confined. Look up "Kenlabs" and "KS4" on the web.

Last edited by Bob Hart; April 21st, 2011 at 04:11 AM. Reason: error
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Old April 21st, 2011, 05:54 AM   #4
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Plan your flight for early in the day before the ground heats up and generates thermals (cause of many of the little bumps in flight). Plan the flight with the pilot in order to make the best use of the light - he'll have a map (sectional) you can look at and you can use Google Maps to generate a sat view where you'll be filming - draw arrows to show which way the light's shining. The pilot can "slow flight" the plane and fly fairly low but it's a good idea to avoid low, slow, turning maneuvers as these are a common accident scenario (google moose stall). Pop the side window up as suggested and keep the camera out of the windstream. Your shots are typically going to be to the right rear due to a wing strut in your field of view to the right. The engine sound is about 100dB so there's not much point in recording any audio unless you want to tap into the communication coming over the headset, in which case you can place a lav inside the earcup of the headset you'll be wearing.
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Old April 21st, 2011, 01:27 PM   #5
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Jim's comments are very valid.

You need to be mindful of not adding to the pilot's workload. That is another reason why my personal preference is to go in the back if the CofG envelope is not adversely affected. It keeps my camera and myself well away from the controls as I stretch and gawk around trying to get shots.

Even experienced pilots can come undone. A pilot who is anxious to please and not confident to stand his or her ground may be a danger to all.

Bob Grimstead, who flew me and my actors in the Maule M5 is a retired British Airways pilot. His anticipation and prior preparation for any eventuality was very reassuring.

For voice on the Fox Featherweight clips, I was actually tapped into the aircraft comms system via one of the rear audio sockets. The headsets were noise cancelling and were very effective, such that there was no engine noise at all. I had to source and dub it back in.

Last edited by Bob Hart; April 21st, 2011 at 01:35 PM. Reason: error
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Old April 21st, 2011, 02:28 PM   #6
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Another option for shooting from a C172...
- remove the baggage door
- remove the rear seat
- lying on your stomach, practice holding and aiming the camera; find the position where you can do everything without too much movement
- use an intercom (either portable or built in) and headsets (noise canceling if available)

The advantage of using the baggage door is that you and the pilot see the same thing, making it easier to give directions.
THOROUGHLY pre-brief the flight before boarding.
Have your camera angles and targets arranged in the order they are easiest to shoot as the flight progresses. Start at high altitude and work lower (this saves time). Turns around a point are a basic piloting skill. If your pilot cannot maintain a given distance and drifts with the wind, you need a new pilot.
Pre-fly the route with the pilot, make notes and discuss the targets you want to shoot. Not all pilots have the skills to fly a photo flight as it needs to be flown.
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Old April 23rd, 2011, 06:07 AM   #7
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Shooting from an airplane looking through a viewfinder tends to make me motion sick, be prepared.

FWIW, I once got seasick when i was shooting water skiers during a water ski show while running the camera... The boat was going forward, i was looking through the lens at the skiers behind the boat, I didnt realize it, but when i got off the boat my equuilibriam (balance) was all messed up. Thank goodness there was a trash can near by.
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Old April 25th, 2011, 01:22 AM   #8
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Quote:
Originally Posted by Battle Vaughan View Post
The aerials we have done at my paper encouraged us to rent, then buy, a gyro stabilizer because the camera is almost impossible to keep smooth otherwise. We ended up using a Canon HV20 (consumer size) camera because it was hard to handle our XHA1's in an airplane or helicopter, and the gyro was more effective with the smaller camera. HTH//
Hi BV .. I'm using a HV20 in lieu of my XHA1s for the same reasons .. and investigating the Kenyon KS8
to also use as a ground based steadicam with the XHA1s. Which rig do you use and how does it perform? Thx.

Cheers.
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Old April 25th, 2011, 10:41 AM   #9
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

@Allan, iirc we bought a KS4, which is somewhat too small for an XHa1, but worked fine with the HV20. (I've since retired from there, so I don't have a way to check exactly) It worked fine with the smaller camera. IMHO the XHA1 is just too big and clumsy to manipulate in an aircraft even if you had a stabilizer big enough for it.

One thing we found it to turn off the image stabilization, as with it on the image tends to move in little jerks as the IS is overcome by the motion....
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Old April 25th, 2011, 04:53 PM   #10
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Ed mentions an interesting option. I'm not sure if that baggage door could be legally removed without a waiver from the FAA. I know they allow some non-structural passenger doors to be removed such as for skydiving ops, but that option should be listed in the certification info for the airframe. I know it's an option on my Stinson but I've never had occasion to remove the door and would have to consult an A&P to see what would be needed to do it correctly/legally. These aerial shooting questions come up often and I try to suggest practical approaches that don't require going through a lot of red tape to accomplish. Most insurance policies have specific non-coverage clauses for aerial photography, so the aircraft owner needs to have his ducks in a row there, as well as investigate any implications insurance-wise pertaining to alterations to the airframe (removing the baggage door is an alteration to the airframe). Taping or otherwise fastening cameras to the exterior is another example where any incident investigated by the FAA is not going to come to a pleasant conclusion for the pilot and aircraft owner in the event they didn't have approval via waiver or a Supplemental Type Certificate. You can't just "mod" an airplane like you can a car.
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Old April 25th, 2011, 08:47 PM   #11
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Jim, don't over think things too much.
Doors come open in flight and accidents happen because pilots start worrying about the door being open and try to close it (which you cannot do in flight) instead of flying the airplane.
In my 25 years of flying, the only adverse warning I have seen in a flight manual relates to the Beech Bonanza and Baron series of aircraft.
The baggage door on the 172 is small and will not affect the flight characteristics of the aircraft.
If in doubt, call the manufacturer (Cessna).
DO NOT call the FAA! You will get as different as the number of people you talk to.
Air to air photography through the baggage door has been a routine operation over 50 years that I am aware of.
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Old April 26th, 2011, 01:44 AM   #12
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Quote:
Originally Posted by Battle Vaughan View Post
@Allan, iirc we bought a KS4, which is somewhat too small for an XHa1, but worked fine with the HV20. (I've since retired from there, so I don't have a way to check exactly) It worked fine with the smaller camera. IMHO the XHA1 is just too big and clumsy to manipulate in an aircraft even if you had a stabilizer big enough for it.

One thing we found it to turn off the image stabilization, as with it on the image tends to move in little jerks as the IS is overcome by the motion....
Thanks mate .. welcome info, roger with the A1 in the air.

I thought of using the KS8 with the A1s as a ground based steadicam as well as with the HV20 in the air.

Did the HV20/ KS4 combo work like that earthbound for you, was its inherant noise useable?

Cheers.
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Old April 26th, 2011, 11:39 PM   #13
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Hi, Allan, we never used the stabilizer on the ground, and I'm not sure it would do what a steadicam does, if that's your idea.

The gyro resists motion but it doesn't want to move from the position you put it in. If you move too much there are clutches inside that let the gyro slip so it doesn't self-destruct, but it wants to hold where you point it. Also it takes a few minutes for the gyro to wind up to full speed. If you plan is to use it as a steadicam, which uses inertia and balance to smooth out motion, I think you will see that the gyro basically fights you when you move, which is what it's designed to do and might be counter-productive in that way.

Also it is somewhat awkward, with a battery pack wired to the gyro unit (which isn't that big, but still...)

As far as noise in the HV20's, I worked for a newspaper web site, so if there was subtle noise it was not an issue. We ran about 400 pixels wide... That said, I found the little HV20's to be actually a very good quality image even in fairly low light. Having to make adjustments via touch menus is a pain, but otherwise they are very satisfactory. Hope this works out for you, the gyro is not a trivial investment!

Last edited by Battle Vaughan; April 27th, 2011 at 11:37 AM. Reason: correct spelling. Sorry, Allan...
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Old April 26th, 2011, 11:42 PM   #14
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Perhaps one of these gyro stabilized GPS helicopters that carry cameras?
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Old April 27th, 2011, 01:33 AM   #15
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Re: Shooting from an airplane

Thanks again Battle, wise words .. yep they're not cheap, I'll try and rent the thing to try it out first.

Hi Graeme, at a rough guess, I'd say that 3 or 4 trips would pay for a KS8. I've hung out the open door of a Navy Iroquois a few times now with a HV20, not bad, useable, but needs a stabiliser.

In flight chopper audio is useless so I captured 10 secs of flying revs on the ground and looped it. In the post mix, at each video cut I mix in some inflight wind blast at various low levels to foil the naysayers .. works well.

Cheers.
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