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Old July 5th, 2005, 10:36 AM   #1
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How best to shoot from the inside of a Helicopter?

I have an opprotunity to fly via helicopter into the high Sierra of California, which is fortuitous because I'm attempting my first documentary in the same area, but on the ground and along a river (it's a doc about a first river descent by a female kayaker). I'm hoping that I might be able to get some establishing shots, but I have no idea what type of view I'll have (this is a US Forest Service Huey used for fire fighting).

My equipment:

-Sony HVR-Z1U Hi-Def camera
-basic shoulder stabalizer (MightyWonderCam)
-Century FishEye adapter
-Tiffen polarizer and warming filters

Any ideas on how best to take advantage of this? For example, if the passenger windows are bug-smeared and foggy, what type of interior shots might be interesting? Or, what type of shots from the ground might work? Any artistic/creative, or technical advice would be most welcome.

Thanks,

Andrew
Last Minute Productions
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Old July 5th, 2005, 09:36 PM   #2
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Helicopters

My experience has always shown meticulious care and cleaning is evident on all windows of such aircraft. I would not worry too much about bugs, fog or UV burns. Each flight/trip in California though may produce bug smears.

Shooting through any of the windows is probelmatic with reflections. I have used dark paper opposite the lens for that. I have had problems with polarizers with some windows.

Some have small windows in the floor to shoot through.

Attach camera to landing struts securely with a remote lanc and monitor. High quality lipstick cams can be used for this, cords snake into your cockpit and camcorder. Pilot and you can direct aircraft movement easily from there.

Shoot into outside mounted angled mirrors (kind of like a periscope).

If the camera has stabilzation, use it. If your camera is HiDef, worry about exposure lattitude (7 for film, 5 for video, 3 for Hi Def). Contrast will be your enemy up there. Have split-field NDs or graduated filters ready.

Have a small collapsable reflector handy. Avoid backlighting subjects inside the craft. Get detail shots of instruments, pilots face with outside backgrounds, peoples hand movements on controls or restraints.

There is probably a hundred more things that could be done with the oportunity. Don't just think of the footage for this project, but for future projects. Stuff already in the can is helpful.
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Old July 5th, 2005, 10:12 PM   #3
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After over 5000 hours piloting helicopters and much less time shooting video I can offer only a couple tips:

Route a wired lav mic under your headset earpad. That will catch all intercom conversations as well as the radio transmissions. Ask the pilot to pull the pins for the ATC radio so you don't get needless, frequent and annoying traffic advisories communicated to every aircraft within 40 miles.

Use a UV filter in front of the lens if you're shooting out a door. You'd be shocked at how high bugs can fly in order to impale themselves on a helicopter. A polarizing filter might be helpful also.

Look for a bare metal seat brace or other non-aluminum bare metal object in the crewstation. After the aircraft is in flight, touch it before you power up. Depending on the ambient weather conditions, helicopters generate an amazing amount of static electricity. The aircrafts electronics are all built to dissapate static in this environment, your cam isn't.

Plan on going aperture priority and searching for a shutter speed that doesn't produce strobing from light coming down through the rotor system. This is pronounced enough that it has caused more than a few helo passengers to blow grits. This strobing will be the only thing you notice in your footage if you get the setting wrong.

Cradle the camera away from your body at all times; act as if you are trying to emulate steadycam footage with your arms. Many helicopters have a pronounced vertical and/or lateral vibration that your body will ignore after just a few minutes. Your eyes/brain will compensate out the vibration; the camcorder will not and your footage will make your viewers blow grits.

Keep track of your gear and keep it away from the flight controls. Murphy's Law comes true in helicopters in that any item dropped in the cockpit is magically attracted to the crevise between a flight control and a bulkhead. The likelyhood of this jam being catastrophic is directly proportional to the cost of this loose accesory which must be destroyed to release the flight controls to prevent you from providing the safety weenies first-hand footage to assist in the accident investigation. Corallary: your helicopter pilot will be a pessimist, he/she may smile, but the helicopter pilot's glass is definately half-empty.

If the tracers appear stationary...they're coming at you; you should probably ask the pilot to make a three-axis breakturn real soon. Corallary: bad guys will NOT sign your Talent Release form, just take your chances with them in court if they decide to sue. Additional corollary: Dopers aren't even as courteous as third world terrorists, they don't use tracers to alert you that you're being fired upon. If you see a really bright green field and see any glint of metal in it, climb or turn.

At least once during the flight, zoom all the way out, steady the cam, and get your head out of the viewfinder long enough to notice the truly amazing vistas you can see only from a helicopter. No matter how good your footage is, it will pale in comparison with what you'll feel as you watch the world go by. It'll make you want to do it again...unless you're that guy that's blows grits from the rotor induced flicker vertigo.

Enjoy.
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Last edited by Patrick King; July 7th, 2005 at 08:13 PM.
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Old July 6th, 2005, 09:10 AM   #4
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Wow, Jackpot! I love this forum! There are so many folks with such diverse experience… Patrick and Richard, thank you for the tips! Static electricity was that last thing on my mind, and I love the lav mic idea! The strobing effect sounds problematic…will this be evident in the view-finder? If not, what shutter speed is recommended?

Once again, many thanks!!

Andrew
Last Minute Productions

PS…I really hope nobody starts shooting at us, but we are flying into a known “agricultural” area of the high country…yikes!
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Old July 6th, 2005, 08:38 PM   #5
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Most importantly, please be careful...there are quite a few accidents every year that involve helicopter shooting. I myself don't do it any more, after two incidents within a few years of each other: an associate of mine survived a crash, but his production partner didn't. And a privately owned helicopter that I was imminently due to fly in (had gone for a short test flight the week before to make sure my Steadicam would rig up properly) crashed after hitting some power lines--the pilot and his two passengers didn't make it.

Sorry to be a downer, but this does happen. Garrett Brown (inventor of the Steadicam) has said that he has lost 7 friends due to helicopter accidents.
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Old July 6th, 2005, 10:16 PM   #6
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Yikes!

Thanks for the information. I doubt if I'll ever have the production funds to fly in these things on a regular basis, but thanks anyway for the warning. This opportunity is a bit of a fluke, so I decided it was worth going. The flight is short and routine, so I hope nothing adverse happens. Wish me luck!

Cheers!

Andrew
Last Minute Productions

P.S. your demo reel is phenomenal! Something aspire to!
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Old July 7th, 2005, 08:56 AM   #7
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I have some significant copter video time, also. Many good points here - heed them well. I want to toss in a tip on vibration isolation...

Don't brace against a window/hatch frame or seat in hopes of minimizing the shakes that helecopters induce. I also would not use image stabilization -there is too much movement and the camera will fight it all the way.

For a light weight camera like yours, try holding it away from your body, with your arms extended at about 45 degrees. For a cheap vibration stabilizer - screw an eyebolt into a chunk of wood, then run a bungie cord from the eyebolt to another 1/4-20 eyebolt screwed into the tripod mount on your camera. When shooting, stand or sit on the wood and use the tension from the bungie to add "weight" to your camera and damper the vibration.
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Old July 7th, 2005, 06:28 PM   #8
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great suggestions....thanks!
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Old July 7th, 2005, 08:17 PM   #9
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Andrew,

Thanks for asking about this topic. I was beginning to wonder if I could ever contribute on this forum, it seems I'm always asking for info instead of providing it. You managed to hit the one confluence of information in which I have some experience.

Make sure you tell us how it went when you get back. And ask the pilot who he flew for before the Forest Service, I might know the guy.
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Old July 8th, 2005, 12:42 AM   #10
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I shot out of a helicopter before, we just took the door right off, and I sat out the side. We duct taped the buckle on the seatbelt/harness closed so I couldn't accidently release it because they couldn't find the safety harness. Got pretty windy at speed. And cold. It was in the arctic. -85 degrees. You shouldn't have that problem. :)
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Old July 8th, 2005, 06:22 AM   #11
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Dylan,

The coldest weather I ever had to fly in was -55 and we had to have a waiver from the helicopter manufacturer to fly because it was colder than allowed in the Opertor's Manual.

It was painful and the video we shot wasn't near as beautiful as that you shot. There wasn't as much snow so it wasn't as blinding either.
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Old July 12th, 2005, 03:06 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick King
Andrew,

Thanks for asking about this topic. I was beginning to wonder if I could ever contribute on this forum, it seems I'm always asking for info instead of providing it. You managed to hit the one confluence of information in which I have some experience.

Make sure you tell us how it went when you get back. And ask the pilot who he flew for before the Forest Service, I might know the guy.
Patrick:

All went well and I'm still here! Didn't have much luck shooting inside the helicopter (too much contrast without the proper filters), but the shots out the windows came out fairly good. I used a polarizer, which seemed to help, and the tip on emulating a steady-cam with my arms really worked (although my arms got tired in a hurry). I put a lav mic under the earpiece in the helmet, which worked OK...The sound between the pilot and crew seemed rather patchy and hard to hear, even with the volume turned up.

The helicopter landed in the middle of some very rugged terrain, high in the Sequoia National Forest. It had to land in a very small meadow, so shots of the take-offs and landings, loading and unloading came out more interesting than I thought they would. All-in-all, good fun and some usable stock. Thanks again for the tips!!

Andrew

P.S. never did get to meet the pilot...
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Old July 12th, 2005, 04:19 PM   #13
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Andrew,

Glad it went well, how did the footage turn out? Post a screen grab or two? I'm surprised the audio didn't turn out better; if you could here it, it should have been pretty good. Did your camera have AGC turned on? If so, that may have made the crew banter a little "spotty".
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Old August 10th, 2005, 10:24 AM   #14
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Helicopter videos here, including lipstick and multi-camera shoots.
Primary camera is XL-1 with 16X lens.

http://www.henry1.com

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Old August 10th, 2005, 04:06 PM   #15
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Audio: Too late, but for "next time" and for others, it's pretty easy to make an adapter that you can plug-into the a/c's intercom, then plug your headset into the adapter. This allows you to tap headset audio directly into the camera's mic input and will give you much better audio quality. And yes, it's legal because it is not permanently installed.
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