Air to Ground to Air Again

Monday, February 20, 2006 Concept/Objective:

Assignment ConstructThe objective of this assignment was to highlight the capabilities and beauty of the helicopter for use on a prominent magazine cover.  Air-to-air, and on ground views would be needed. . For this aircraft, we were focusing, in part, on it’s use over mixed terrain, for construction surveys, and so forth.


Assignment ConstructFlights that involve aircraft always require a great deal of pre-planning. The first is to determine the flight path, as the terrain you will be flying over will be your background. If it’s to be of an aircraft in use around big cities, because it’s quieter, then flying over the mountains won’t be as effective.  As this was to be an air-to-air shoot, pilot coordination was critical. There were times when, had there not been careful collaboration between highly skilled clients, we would have crashed. Further, the use of a gyroscope to diminish the vibrations that the helicopter would cause was an absolute must.


Once on site, we had our final briefing before going up. In addition to the pilots being in communication, so too did I have total communication with both. Usually, it’s best to have the helo with the camera on board stay stationary – flying steady and straight, and give the other helo directions to maneuver. Further, we’re operating without the door, hanging out from the side, so my legs are constantly subjected to 100+ mph winds at temperatures that approach zero, so planning accordingly is critical. More so, I wear a double harness strapped to two hard points in the aircraft, with about 1-2 feet’s worth of play outwards, so not only can’t I fall out of the aircraft, if one harness failed were this to occur, the second would not. 

In the vertical image here, the helicopter has a nice juxtapostion with nature and the river, as well as remote construction. Further, issues such as negative space at the top and bottiom/sides for standard magazine elements like the magazine’s name, as well as story teasers was necessary. In addition, choosing the right shutter speed of about 100th of a second ensures that the blades are slightly blurred, but still visible, is critical. A shutter speed of 500th of a second would freeze the blades mid-air, making the helicopter look unnatural, and seemingly about to fall from the sky.

In the second image, as the sun was setting on the tarmac, I was making heroic images of the bird as the last rays of the sun was hitting it. As luck would have it, the flight mechanic was walking towards the bird to check on something. This single image, with perfect foot position, enhanced by the wide angle lens, just makes the photo.


Processing the images at a resolution that met the magazine’s specs was the goal. Secondarily, was the image needs for the client, however, shooting raw files, it was no problem to process, and then re-process to a different specification.

Final Analysis:

Assignment ConstructI love being in, and around, helicopters almost as much as I love photography in general. I take the opportunity whenever I can to do so, and when it leads to a magazine cover, and the hours are on the client’s dime, it’s all the better.

Posted by John Harrington on 02/20

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