Photons In, iPhone Out

October 11, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I observed, once, that "the ideal helicopter air-to-air photo platform includes a large flat space in the cabin with the doors removed from both sides." I mentioned, too, that air-to-air work with the Arizona Department of Public Safety was in the offing, and I subsequently completed two flights with the doors off. We went for varied locations and approaches and came back with good photos and a good story with a, thankfully, happy ending.

Up first, DPS' Bell 407 N58AZ leaves behind Red Mountain, east of Phoenix, heading back to base. This open, horizontal composition places the aircraft in a recognizably Arizona setting and would work well as an opening spread in a magazine article or interior of a brochure. The low-contrast background, especially the broad swath of sky, leaves plenty of room and readability for large titles and/or body copy.

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This next image puts another Bell 407, N42AZ, over lava beds north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The shutter speed is slow, so the rotor blades describe attractive arcs, the background is out of focus (not so noticeable at this size, but trust me) which separates the aircraft, visually, from the background, and the composition is relatively tight and framed vertically. These last two elements make it a great image for a magazine cover or a product card.

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Finally, another result of having two huge holes where the doors normally are. Here's the story:


I had been shooting out the right side of my ride, another DPS Bell 407, and I asked N42AZ to trail us on the left side instead. That way, I come back with images showing both sides of the aircraft, pointing both left and right on a page, different lighting, higher or lower in the frame — lots of good reasons. The pilot of N42AZ, Officer Chuck Rush, was sliding to the other side and I began shifting myself in the cabin of my ride. Then, over the radio I hear, "Hey. Something orange just flew out of your helicopter." Uh-oh. I start checking my gear. My pilot, Office Cliff Brunsting, checks in with me. "Did something fall out back there?" I keep looking around — cameras are secure, rigs are secure, I'm secure. "I don't know what it would be. Everything looks good." "Well, they saw where it fell so they are going to land and check it out."

We continue on our way toward the next location (they can catch up with us, since having the doors off limits our top speed). The radio crackles, "It's a cell phone."

Ah, crap! I had failed to secure my phone under my safety vest and, when I began shifting to shoot from the left side of my helo, my phone slipped out of position and departed the aircraft. That is a serious issue which, fortunately, was serious only to my phone. If it had flown into the tail rotor on its way to the ground, we might have been chasing the thing ourselves, and might have gotten there first! Ugh!

That's what it looked like after the 500-foot drop from our 100-knot cruising speed. Not pretty but, surprisingly, it still worked. Sort-of. The screen would light up with the appropriate images (well, what you could make out of the images), and my Watch worked with it to send and receive text messages, so…Five hours later, I had a new phone, courtesy of Apple. (And they had a new story to tell.)

_MBP7370 If it had fallen out in this area, only an intrepid bighorn sheep would have had a chance to use it, and I don't think there's service at the bottom of the Little Colorado Canyon.

Good photos. Bad personal-item security. Lesson learned.


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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