I have taken a lot of aerial photographs from helicopters. My photographs, which would number in the thousands, have produced maybe a dozen or so decent photographs. I am not discouraged. I have flown dozens of photographers and cameramen, doing everything from stills, to videos and movies in any number of scenarios and I have seen how difficult it is to get a shot or footage that compares to what my minds eye has seen.
If the experts take thousands of shots and hours of footage to get that one shot, or that 30 seconds of usable footage, I can be happy with the few photos that I have gleaned. As a pilot, my best skill in flying for film and photography is my ability to listen. If you clearly understand the objective and what the person behind the camera wants, you will be well on your way to success. Its a given that you can fly the helicopter and that you won’t compromise safety for the sake of the shot, but your biggest skill is more social than tactile.
For everything to go smoothly the photographer and you have to share a connection.You need to be supportive and helpful but remain in control of your side of the house. When the flying is finished and the shot is better than anyone had hoped its bliss. More times than enough the opposite occurs and that’s when you need to quietly pull back and analyze the situation. If you are doing all that is asked but you know the conditions are not optimum speak up. If the problems are beyond your control and the inference is that you are not flying the way they want, relax. Let that situation sort its self out. A true professional will see things for what they are. Tuck your ego away and wait.
It may be the company I have kept, but I am truly surprised when a film crew shows up with people unsuitable for the job and equipped with cameras that will NEVER get the shots they are looking for. When that unhappy situation transpires I just sit back knowing that I am in for a very long day. If the money is good I’ll do my best to provide the service.
When you work with professionals and a bond of mutual respect has formed you can feel free to speak your mind. When you work with amateurs you need to be careful. Careful not to let them first do something stupid, and secondly, as long as the flying is safe and the checks are good, let them learn. It is their nickel and unless your council is called for, be quiet.
I may get some argument on this previous point and that is fine. If you have the ability to suggest something without losing the flying then go for it. Its still amazes me how many thousands of dollars I have seen wasted by people who were afraid to; fly with the door off, sit out in a harness, maneuver around for a shot, call it when conditions were clearly unsuitable, use or rent the correct equipment and hire anyone who was not related to, or had skills that may have made for an interesting evening, but that were worse than useless on the job.
The bottom line for all photographic flights for me is this. If I can do the work safely and the customer’s money is good as far as I or my employer is concerned then I’ll just do my job to the best of my ability. When your flying results in something special, you can feel good and when it doesn’t you can laugh to yourself and look at your own shots and think , “my photos turned out better”. Keep smiling, it is hopefully a long career.