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Shooting from an airplane


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Hello. A few questions. In a few days I am renting a small plane so I can get a few shots from the air. I am shooting 16mm, kodak 7222 b/w film. I have never shot from a plane, so I am looking for advice? Should I do anything different then when I normally shoot. This is a small plane in a coastal setting so I can get quite low because of a lack of buildings and people.


Jason Arsenault

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First thing - Ask the pilot to show you his license. Check to see that it's current and that he's qualified. Not a student, but a qualified pilot. He's going to have to be able to give you a slow banking turn into or against the wind in a wide spiral to get the tilt angle for the shot. Recent tragedy places us all on alarm about the safety of aerial shots. Understand how the door locks work before you go up and check them at take-off. I could tell you horror stories.


When selecting the aircraft, what's going to be important is whether or not the wing is above the cockpit or below it if you're going to get a good sightline to the ground or horizon. You want the overhead fixed wing.


Take some Windex with you and work on the windows before you go up. Once you're up there, too late. You can do this as the pilot does his checklist. The front windows only open halfway and the back windows don't open at all for a 4 seater.


The day before, go sit inside and pick the best seat for your angles. I find that sitting up front puts the wing support braces in the shot and limits your pan. I have better luck sitting in the back seat and asking to remove the co-pilot seat.



The window will almost certainly have glare so take a polo with you. If you can gel the window with polo you can free up the angle coincidence of the glare reduction. I'd also take .6 ND grad to bring the sky down while saturating the ground exposure and a .3 solid ND for backup.


If you have a body pod it will help with the support issue. These little aircrafts vibrate. You'll have to shoot at least 30 f/s but 48 f/s would be better to slow the vibrations down and smooth out the jitter.


Go to Home Depot and get a pair of carpet layers kneepads. With the co-pilot seat removed you should be able to maneuver a bit but there's all this metal from the where the seat fastens to the chassis.


Have your mags preloaded. 7222 is a good choice if your going for B&W. If you have a spare mag, you might want to load up some 7231 Eastman Plus-X in case it's really bright up there. It's B&W so don't forget to rate it at the daylight ASA.


Hope this helps. Have fun

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In addition to the pola, a haze filter can increase image contrast by filtering out the ultraviolet light found at higher altitudes. If you are trying to accentuate the clouds against a cyan sky, a yellow or red filter can be used with panchromatic B&W film.


AFAIK, a student pilot can NOT legally carry any passengers. Only a certified flight instructor or check pilot can fly with a student in the left seat at the controls. No passengers allowed, even family.


Mounting a camera outside, or anything that may affect the airworthiness of the craft must be inspected and certified.


Kodak has lost several wonderful motion-picture people in air crashes. :( Ernie Crisp was a cinematography instructor at our Marketing and Education Center. He owned and flew his own Waco biplane. He died in a crash when his plane's hardwood propeller disintegrated. The annual NPPA Television News Photographer Award is named in memory of him. John Lakotas worked in our Hollywood office. He died in the American Airlines DC-10 crash at O'Hare Airport in May 1979, returning to LA from a meeting in Rochester.

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Be sure that you can get away from your equipment if there is a problem. Atleast take a pocket knife.


Neal Fredericks (best known for his work on The Blair Witch Project) died reciently during an ariel shoot.


"Dear Friends,


It is with great regret and remorse that I must inform you of the loss of a talented cinematographer, a caring friend, and a compassionate man ­ Mr. Neal L. Fredericks.


Neal was onboard a small plane with his film crew on Saturday for an aerial shoot for his current project. The plane crashed into the ocean near Key West, Florida and sank. All members of his film crew managed to escape, except Neal, who was tightly strapped to his camera and to the plane during the shoot and sunk with the remains of the plane.


Those of us who had the opportunity to know and work with Neal all know that he was an exceptional human being........"

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as a pilot, I think the best planes to film out of is a cessna skymaster the skymaster is a high wing aircraft with 2 engine located one in front and one in the rear and you can remove the passenger window for a great filming area plus its safe with 2 engines. Go to your local flying feild and talk with some of the pilot of these aircraft its a really good filming platform.

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learjet76 wrote:


I don't mean to sound like the FAA but if you remove a seat out of an airplane you have to have an A&P do it.




Airframe and Power Plant (A&P) Mechanics work on various parts of the aircraft. The airframe includes the wings, fuselage, brakes, tail assembly, and the oil and fuel tanks. The power plant is the engine and propellers (if used) of the aircraft. Some of the important tasks they may perform include the following:


Adjust, align, and calibrate aircraft systems using hand tools, gauges, and test equipment.

Examine and inspect engines or other components for cracks, breaks, or leaks.

Test engine and system operations using test equipment.

Listen to engines to detect and diagnose malfunctions.

Use tools such as ignition analyzers, compression checkers, distributor timers, and ammeters.

Take apart and inspect parts for wear, warping, or other defects.

Maintain aircraft systems by flushing crankcases, cleaning screens, greasing moving parts, and checking brakes.

Assemble and install electrical, plumbing, mechanical, hydraulic, structural, parts, and accessories.

Use hand tools and power tools.

Remove or install engine using hoist or forklift truck.

Read, understand, and work from aircraft maintenance manuals and specifications.

Modify air or spacecraft systems, or components.

Ride aircraft and make necessary in-flight adjustments and corrections.

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Whenever I shoot aerials I try to compensate for atmospheric haze. With video that means crushing the black levels a little, and with negative that means overexposing a little for extra density and contrast. In both cases use a UV filter.


Polas can help, but you have to keep turning it with the angle you're shooting.


Also consider the time of day for your subject. Sometimes the best angle for the subject also puts the sun directly behind you, giving you absolutely no shape or contrast on your subject. Side or 3/4 backlight usually makes the most of subjects that can otherwise appear flattened from the air, especially when high up and on longer lenses.


My biggest beef with aerials though is when a producer asks for an aerial shot without knowing what the subject really looks like from the air. While it's fun to look down on things from the air, often times your subject ends up looking cluttered, ugly, and hard to read. There are always obstructions like trees and power lines in the way, unwanted objects like nearby buildings and parking lots contaminating your frame, and unsightly things like badly tarred roofs with air conditioning units distracting from the "beauty" of your aerial. I don't mean to sound too negative, but be aware that sometimes you have to work pretty hard to find a decent frame without distracting elements, and to get the aircraft in the right position. Don't get me wrong, I love flying -- but I hate shooting an ugly shot!

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I've only done one plane shot, a few years back, in a 4-seater Mooney, and I was never able to get footage that didn't shake from that blasted vibration, I shot from a helicopter a few months ago however, and it turned out nice.

The Mooney is a low winged aircraft, so it was a pain to get the shots I needed.

I've never been up in a Cessna. Do they shake like mad also?


I just have to wonder about the optical properties of windows in these things.


Matt Pacini

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Thanks for all the advice. I just finished shooting the from the air last night. It was a litle bumpy, but surprisinglu not too bad. I had a great time, now I just have to wait to see the footage! My advice, now that I have a little experience in this: Complete organization is the key. There is so little room, you cannot really look for things as you need them! Anyway, It is fantastic fun!


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