Continuing from my first post of 2012 I’m taking this opportunity to share with you the hard lessons I learnt from my aerial photography missions. My first experience shooting out of a helicopter had been out of a Bell 212 where both doors were fully open to allow unobstructed photography and video shoot over the Temburong rainforest. With the doors open, the only element getting in the way of best possible image quality is weather condition. Photographing through the hardened plastic window of a chopper is similar to shooting on a hazy day; imagine shooting through the window on a hazy day — you end up with twice the image degradation.
This photo was taken at 1/4000th of a second just as we were approaching to board the chopper so the blades appear static when in fact it's not (you can tell just by looking at the guy's wind swept coveralls).
I've mentioned "Jettison window" here and there without showing you a photo of what it looks like. The two windows you see here both (along with others) feature emergency jettison window system.
The window panes are large enough for a passengers to swim out of in the event of an emergency especially when the helicopter has capsized and submerged underwater. All passengers are required to have passed and hold a valid Tropical BOSIET certificate (along with other necessary permits from Brunei Shell Petroleum) before they’re allowed to board. Here’s the problem: the bigger the window panes, the more light gets into the cabin and more light is useful if you’re shooting the inside of of the chopper. Our mission was to shoot facilities out in the ocean and no amount of open door helicopter experience prepares you for this operation. This Sikorsky model as is most of the current fleet isn’t equipped with the necessary safety harness like the Air Force Bell I flew in so compromises in image quality had to be made — huge compromises.
On the day we flew to photograph the BSP offshore facilities, the weather was hazy at best and resulted in less than desirable image quality. What you see in this example is a processed image but for the purpose of this post, I've left the distracting and unacceptable reflection to illustrate the problem you'll likely encounter when shooting through a Sikorsky window.
“The most prolific offshore field is Champion, which is in 30 metres of water, about 70 kilometres northeast of Seria. It holds 40 percent of the country’s known reserves and produces around 100,000 barrels a day. The field already has more than 260 wells drilled from 40 platforms. A central field complex, Champion-7, has living quarters for about 160 personnel, gaslift and compression facilities and water injection facilities.” — BSP
This is an aerial photo of Champion 7 and once again image is marred by unsightly reflections that are time consuming to edit out. It isn't one of those problems you can batch correct because the reflections shift in relation to aircraft position.
Although the choice of aircraft, its limitations and the client’s stringent safety requirement technically attributed to the issues in the examples above, I do not consider them as acceptable deliverables. As a professional photographer it is our responsibility to rise above challenges, overcome problems and produce results that reflect our reputation — customers want to see results not excuses! After spending hours and days fixing problems on a hundred or so images, I grew increasingly pissed that such inconvenience could have been prevented with a really, really simple hood — if only I had known. So, on the eve of my second aerial assignment, I moulded a fairly large hood entirely out of foam and came up with a usable prototype I first revealed on Facebook.
This is the actual lens and Jett Hood combo used to produce the aerial images you see below. Although the second assignment did not involve any offshore facilities, photographing onshore installations is no different as far as available light and its curses go.
Evident below is how incredibly clean these aerial images are. A simple idea to keep stray light out worked incredibly well. Being made out of foam means it’s light, collapsible and more importantly easily cups to the window with plenty of room to work the lens. Having successfully tested the design, I think there’s room for some slight adjustments to the material if I were to manufacture this for commercial deployment. Instead of foam, I would mould it entirely out of soft rubber and to include support for increased hand-holding convenience.
You should note that these images are post-processed to achieve such clarity. Shooting through the polycarbonate window of the Sikorsky produces less than desirable results. However, this kind of problems are consistent and can easily be overcome through batch processing as long as you don’t let those ghastly reflections sneak into the frame.
Brunei Methanol Company (BMC)
Another challenging matter when shooting on-board the Sikorsky is you’re not permitted at any time during flight to unbuckle the four point harness. You are essentially strapped into your seat so it’s important you quickly assess the window you want to shoot out of … check for the cleanest one and hopefully one that has the least obstruction such as the visible fuel tank, etc.
Brunei LNG Sdn Bhd