I was scared of heights... well I still am yet I am quite happy to hang out of a helicopter at 1000 feet and take photographs. It is a strange and complex arrangement I have with myself that allows me to place a camera in front of my face and thus separate myself from the reality of my relative distance from the earth!
It was never my intention to add 'aerial photographer' to my list of photographic job descriptions. A meeting with the communications team of a major road project led to the question of "Do you do aerial photography?" Using my early career mantra of 'fake it till ya make it' the only answer was "Of course no problems!". That was 8 years ago and since then I have passed the half-century in regards to assignments requiring the use of a helicopter.
Shooting from a helicopter has its own set of rules. It is a relatively stable platform to work from yet there is always some sort of movement no matter how skilled the hover. I always ensure I shoot above 1/750th to minimize camera shake. A long lens can at times poke itself out of the cabin and cop a ferocious blast of air that no stabilizer could help with so my relative position in the chopper is crucial.
My safety harness is attached to the floor of the helicopter by a carabiner as the door is either open or off all together. This allows for a great angle of view including straight down. My camera is attached to a lanyard because of course a camera falling out of a chopper is going to be no good for anyone. My clothing is an important consideration as living in Melbourne it can be cold even on a mildly warm day at one thousand feet! I dress using the Sara-lee method of 'layer upon layer' including long johns, thermals, beanie, scarf wrapped around my face and two layers of gloves; fingerless thermals and full silk liners provide the best warmth to dexterity ratio. It is a given that on very cold days my eyes will water like crazy which apart from wearing goggles I don't think anything can be done about.
Much of my aerial commissions come from my industrial clients. In most cases my brief is to document the progress of a rail, civil or infrastructure project. On a recent four hour commercial shoot for Microflite helicopters I was commissioned to shoot its fleet of helicopters in operation. It was a complex shoot that required me to direct the position of not only my helicopter but also the two water-bombing helicopters I was shooting and a further helicopter doing some filming.
Photography from a helicopter is a thrill and a challenge and offers a unique view of the world in which i inhabit. A world that presents itself from above as quiet, peaceful and stress free...