Maja Kuczynska – Bigger than the Sky
Stunning routine by Maja Kuczyńska
We all like to see ourselves on screen, or in a magazine, doing what we enjoy. Video and photographic images fascinate those not involved in our sport, making it accessible. Without them, skydiving becomes a mystery to those choosing not to participate. It's easy to take for granted that behind these images there's a skydiver choosing to record it.
Depending on the country, there will most likely be some regulations regarding the experience level of a potential cameraflyer, and any new camera system would need to be approved by the Chief Instructor or equivalent. Communication with the DZ is important. But putting together a camera system, and learning the trade often means finding an experienced cameraflyer and picking things up as you go along. What skills, equipment and techniques are required? And what safety aspects should you bear in mind?
A good level of knowledge and flying skills are necessary. The basics of slow and fast fall, side-slides, turns, tracking and diving to a formation from exit are all required. You should be able to fly your body in a position relative to a formation and hold it. However, you have to do this whilst keeping your target in frame and not moving your head, therefore the camera. If you aren't able to control your body whilst doing this then you may present a danger.
No matter what level of experience you have, flying a camera is a distraction. You must be able to operate the equipment and record the jump, in addition to your regular skydive. You must remain aware of your surroundings, altitude and other jumpers in order to remain safe. It's easy to get target fixation and lose track of the altitude and other people. Wearing an audible is a must for cameraflying but it's no substitute for awareness. Awareness under canopy is just as important. Camera helmets can prevent easy checking of the canopy, ring sights block vision, and the equipment provides a distraction when you need to be concentrating on safe canopy piloting. You are now responsible for the safety of others as well as your own. Briefing people as to your intentions and expectations of them is vital. On a formation skydive tell the group you'll be deploying above, in the centre of the formation and that you expect them to track and open at the agreed heights. Be aware of anyone who doesn't make it into a formation and where they are at deployment time.
For FS or tandem video, winged camera suits help on exit, when above a formation and getting a steep angle. A suit needs to be set up correctly before it is jumped. Wear it on the ground with your harness, as you would for jumping. Swoop cords determine how tight the wings are and should be sewn or tied in place once set. The wings should be taut at almost full arm extension to be of maximum use. Be aware that this may affect your reach for your toggles before unclipping. Swoop cord loops can be worn over the thumb or hand, either inside or outside your gloves. Decide how you are going to wear the cords, and how that affects your ability to remove them if required, or how much of a risk they pose to snagging if worn on the outside.
Before you jump your suit, practise deployments on the ground. Make a conscious effort to reach around rather than straight back for the pull to avoid grabbing the camera wing. Jump your suit without your camera for the first couple of skydives. Ensure the wings are routed correctly and get a gear check from someone who knows what they are looking at. The wings can cause a large burble, so give a good throw to get the pilot chute clear and avoid hesitation. Be aware of this and close the wings a little or look over your shoulder should it occur. Large wings have been known to cover cutaway and reserve handles in certain situations; ensure you are happy with your malfunction drills in your new suit.
Know your equipment and that of others. Firstly, ensure your equipment is safe and suitable for cameraflying. Stow your brake line excess to reduce snagging, check your pins, closing loops and pilot chutes. The last thing anyone needs is a premature deployment whilst you are on the camera step! Reduce snag points on your camera helmet. Smooth housings and low profile bolts and screws help. Consider plastic screws, particularly on ring sights. These should break off if a line snags. Above all ensure you have a suitable cutaway system. You may need to remove your helmet in an entanglement and you'll struggle without one. Think how this affects your emergency procedures and practise them as part of your regular drills.
Check the equipment of the people you are filming. Look for open covers, exposed bridles and visible pilot chutes. Point out any issues and ask them to do pin checks in the plane. Should you spot a minor issue in freefall don't film from directly above. Should you spot a major problem such as a floating handle come down on level and if possible indicate the issue, they may not have noticed. Be careful not to inflame the situation and, if in doubt, stay out of the way.
Consider also your canopy choice. Does your canopy have a tendency for hard, uneven or off-heading openings? Are you confident that you can pack for a smooth opening? The weight you put on your head will exacerbate a hard opening so try and avoid having one. On deployment, don't look up and watch your opening, as doing so will increase the chances of a line snagging on your helmet. Make sure you are able to land your canopy in all conditions. Added weight from equipment and weight belts will add to wing loading. A rough landing wearing camera gear will probably hurt you and damage your equipment.
Second part of article: Flying with a Camera Part 2 is HERE