SHOOTING AIRPLANES FROM THE GROUND
Care in selecting the background and lighting for a shot is dependent upon where
the pilots can and want to touch down the main gear, drop the nose gear, lift
the nose gears and lift the main gear off. For example at Sacramento, California
the UAL 747 pilots for touch and goes, preferred to put the main gear down 2000
ft. in from the beginning of the runway, nose gear up at 3000 ft. remaining
and main gear up at 2000 remaining. They can vary it to some extent. For a smaller
plane they have much more flexibility. Good pilots can put it down almost where
you want it. If you just tell them the adjustments that you wish from their
last attempt, they can tell you if they were on the marks that you had requested.
They can't hit it every time, but they do know if they are on or off.
Most airports have objectionable back ground stuff. You can only minimize what
you see and stay within the distances that the pilots can put the plane down
and get back up. When shooting landings with regular flights they all set down
near the same place, but the smaller planes roll a lot less on take off. There
is the problem of tires over-heating on any extra rolling for you.
Getting onto a runway and around on it can be frustrating. Just because you
are shooting a movie or TV commercial it doesn't mean that you have any clout
with the airport management. They may have a beef going with the air line that
you are shooting for. Follow the rules and show that you will follow them and
you will get more cooperation. Most airports have dealt with some jerks in the
past that give us all bad reputation. Your escort will have to get clearances
as you scout and go to shoot. Go out with a map (not easy to get) and a range
finder and find out where you can and can't be. The maps that pilots use are
not very useful on the ground, but have them to communicate with the pilots.
Good maps of the airport exist, but usually need time to get. The runways are
labeled in magnetic, not true, compass directions. You can calculate with a
range finder and plane length information where camera should be. Watch any
planes taking off and landing to get an idea of frame rates. I have found 30
to 40 FPS good for profile shots. Shoot faster as you get closer.
Airport people don't want you to get hit or interrupt their job of getting planes
off and back on the ground. Remember that they are people with their own problems
and that you may just be adding more. The airline that you are working for can
help you, but only help, not dictate. They can't use up all their favors just
for you. There is also the relationship between the airline and the local airline
staff. They may or may not be in sync. In short, be diplomatic. Let people do
their job and ask, don't demand.
It is wise to practice on every existing flights while waiting for your ship
to come in. If you have a chart of plane sizes you can assure yourself that
you are at the right distance by comparing the existing planes with the one
you are going to shoot. You can often move a little closer or back from the
runway, but a big move usually has to be cleared. Getting closer means a wider
angle shot, faster pan and more dramatic shot. Also tougher to operate. I prefer
a feeling that the plane is getting larger in the frame when approaching and
flowing though the frame. To back pan or reverse zoom feels weird. For planes
going away the opposite applies. On shots that are difficult to operate an assistant
can do the zoom watching the video assist. For commercials consider shots where
the plane enters frame and exits in fairly short pieces. If you feel that you
are loosing a plane, don't back pan, just let it out of frame.
Before you go out to shoot the real thing you might practice shooting cars on
the street. A 15' car at 40' away at 20 mph is the same as a 150' plane 400
ft away at 200 mph. Planes speeds are quite constant and cars not as constant.
Lighting. Back-light doesn't often look that good. The sky is often too bright
to let detail on the camera side read well. Front light at dawn and sunset can
be really great. Top light gives modeling to the shape of the plane. Flat light
before and after sunrise and sunset can be OK or not. Landing into the sun late
afternoon can be good. Most airlines like their logo to be well lit.
Communications. You need at least a monitor to hear what's going on in the air.
I used two ground to air radios to be able to talk to the pilot of a touch and
go plane. You have to be on a company or non-used frequency. Also establish
a back up frequency. Usually the noise is high and good headsets on the radio
are helpful. Most portable ground to air units are also hard on batteries. If
they are dry batteries carry spares. If the unit has a rechargeable battery,
make a battery pack that plugs into the recharge plug. A monitor is handy to
listen to the approach control. Binoculars can help identify your plane. I have
also made a split head phone so that I can listen to two radios at the same
time. We have found that the 2 watt Motorola Expo radios do not reach into the
Lobby of the airports when we are out on the field. Maybe a 5 or 10 watt would
be in order if you need communication.
Of course the right clothes, shade, back up equipment, food and drink is in
order. When 2 or more units are working it is easy to have needed things with
the other unit or in the vehicle that took you out. You will probably always
need a escort to make a move.
When shooting the logo on a plane it will strobe if it moves faster than across
the frame in about 7 seconds with an 180 degree shutter. That is really slow.
If you shoot at a higher frame rate and transfer to video it will help. Shooting
video will have no strobe problem,
If you are really close to the runway you might want to shoot at a higher frame
rate. For TV they can transfer at a higher rate to speed up the shot.
Do know the exact times of sunrise and sunset. A few shots can be done after
sundown if you carry speed lenses. The light seems to hold at F4 at ASA 250
for some while, then drops fast. Focus pulling will be necessary at the longer
focal lengths. If you can watch the light a day ahead it is useful near the
airport if you can't get on. Take readings and record the times. I like the
look when the blue band of the earth's shadow starts to rise above the horizon
looking the East at sunset. There is usually F2 fast film exposure for this
effect. The position that you select for the full light shooting may be determined
by the ideal speed lens focal length. You probably will have no time to make
a camera position move at magic hour.
Have a Polascreen to darken the sky or build a little contrast on the plane,
but watch for wierd patterns on bare aluminum. I prefer to use no ND to keep
all the depth that I can get.
For calculations 1 MPH = 1.5 FPS (feet per sec. approx).
Have your ASC manual along to calculate frame sizes and distances that you should
be for the shots that you want.
Once you have a shot, vary it to give some variety.
Make notes about what shots that you need, who gets what equipment etc. Under
the pressure or boredom of being out there you can forget things.
A list of flight times is useful to know when to expect what planes to shoot
or practice on.
You can make focus marks on the pan head to tell assistant where camera is pointed.
A remote focus control is helpful.
Use a still picture of the subject plane to get a size relationship of the logo
and the plane length.
Take a grass cutter.
Consider a locked off camera near the runway with a long on-off cable. One can
be wired into the Arri III. Lemo plug. The line loss would be great for a long
power cable on most cameras. You might increase the battery voltage to make
up for the line loss, but be carefull to not cook the camera motor when the
long cable is not attached. To find the needed battery voltage, measure voltage
drop and resistance of a shorter cable. Short one end of the cable to measure
the resistance of the whole loop. DON'T HAVE A BATTERY CONNECTED WHILE MAKING
A RESISTANCE READING. The camera current is I = E/R= voltage drop divided by
resistance of cable. Measure the resistance of the longest cable needed. You
will loose the same proportional amount of voltage as you did with the shorter
cable. Add voltage until you get enough voltage to camera. You can test this
method with a headlight globe and not hurt a camera.
Also see Inertial Turret and Ground to Air Check List
© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.