To skydive with a camera you need to have completed at least 200 jumps and attained an international skydiving ‘B’ licence so, when you pick up a camera helmet for the first time, it’s a given you have some knowledge of the sport. Jumping with a camera however isn’t just as straightforward as that and it takes continual practice and skill to be safe in the air.
With around 60 seconds of freefall time you could be forgiven for thinking that this means it’s all a bit hit and miss with everything happening so fast but it isn’t. I plan each jump from start to finish with my co-jumpers, work out where I will be and where they will be. We plan how each jumper will leave the aircraft and at what height people will be leaving the group to find a clear patch of sky to safely open their parachute.
Prior to the jump I will begin to plan the shot I want to get and then we will ‘dirtdive’. This is like a practice run-through, choreography or rehearsal. We do this several times before the jump and then visualise, rehearse in our minds, once on board the aircraft. The visualisation stage is important and allows each jumper to picture where they will be in the formation, for me in particular it helps me to ‘see’ the images I want.
As the aeroplane cruises through 9,000 feet just a few minutes after take-off, I check my camera; today it’s fitted with the Sigma 4.5mm, giving me a spectacular circular fisheye image. Then checking my settings are correct and the camera release mouth switch is working I put the helmet on, securely fasten it and check my parachute for the last time. Moments later and we are on ‘jump-run’, the aircraft slows and we see the signal to open the door.
It’s an exciting moment as I take my position ready for the green light that signals it’s time to jump and then as it lights up I climb onto the small five inch camera step on the outside of the aeroplane. For a second or two I am in the full icy blast of the slipstream and then as other jumpers climb out ready for the launch the cold is replaced by a sense of anticipation and excitement.
Standing on a small step 15,000 feet above the earth clinging to the side of an aeroplane is a peculiar place to be, but it’s one that has the most spectacular view. When flying in formation with other aircraft, they seem almost to be just touching distance away. When the ‘key’ (signal to jump) comes I have to time leaving the step just a fraction of a second before everybody else and, as I do, I fire a quick burst of shots but not so many as to over-run the buffer. On the D300, shooting Raw and Jpeg at a maximum frame rate this can happen quite quickly.
Just 10 seconds after leaving the aircraft the jumpers are travelling at around 120mph and the formation starts to build. I have now become the camera, keeping my head in a fixed position and with the helmets attached sight and using a combination of subtle leg, arm and body movements I am able to position myself for the best shots. It’s like being a hawk tracking its prey.
Approaching 6,000 feet the formation is complete and I take a few last pictures as the audio altimeter inside my helmet warns me that jumpers will shortly start to turn away from the centre of the formation and track away. Tracking allows jumpers to separate themselves horizontally from each other and give themselves clear airspace to safely open their parachutes.
The camera-flyer normally continues straight down for just a few seconds more and then, as I open my parachute, the world becomes a little quieter and I’m under my beautiful red Aerodyne Pilot canopy. Scanning around I quickly check for other canopies to ensure there is no conflict and then set myself up for landing.
Walking back across the landing area with the others it’s clear from the bubbling laughter and big smiles that everyone had a great skydive. It’s time to download the images, repack and plan the next jump.