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Filming Tandems

Tips and tricks for cameraflyers jumping with tandems for the first time

by James Stevenson
by James Stevenson

Filming tandems for some is to build up their jump numbers to become tandem instructors and for others it’s the start of a life-long career in the creative art of freefall photography. Whatever our reason for taking up tandem videography, we all face the first time dilemmas!

Exit timing is 80 % of the work in filming Tandem Camera”

Camera Tip (above) from Mike Burdon

Briefing

An in depth briefing from the Tandem Instructor should be conducted before making the first jump. This should include:-

  • Exit
  • Freefall
  • Deployment
  • Landing
  • Emergency procedures
Exit timing is critical  — by Timothy Parrant
Exit timing is critical  — by Timothy Parrant

Local procedures

When filming tandems each dropzone will have its own procedures and that will include what equipment they expect you to use. Some dropzones may only require a simple sports camera such as a Gopro and others will require Gopro and a dedicated stills camera. Before investing in gear, ask your local camera guys what is expected.

Cameras can be unpredictable, which is why I recommend always having a back-up camera on your set-up. It is not fair for customers to miss their priceless first jump expressions because your camera froze.

Tip from Mike Burdon

Always have a back-up camera on your set-up
Always have a back-up camera on your set-up
Once you have made your camera set-up, wear it on your head around the hangar and practise keeping your video in frame by using obstacles on the ground

Tip from Bruno Brokken

Equipment

Wings

Other equipment decisions include whether to jump with camera wings or not. No matter how light you are camera wings can still be advantageous to you, because with wings your range of camera angles can be limitless. However, when jumping with wings you must tailor them to your body shape and equipment to avoid any added hazards.

It is advisable that your first jump with wings is a solo jump without a camera, focusing solely on practise pulls.

Canopies

Canopy choice is important when flying with cameras. When flying with larger, heavier camera set-ups it is advised to jump a large, docile canopy with Dacron lines. With smaller camera set-ups it is possible to jump with small sporty parachutes but the key is to have consistent reliable openings. This is why I choose the JFX from NZ Aerosports.

Choose a canopy with consistent, reliable openings — by Filip Horvorka
Choose a canopy with consistent, reliable openings — by Filip Horvorka

Quick Hot Tips

Advice for the upcoming Tandem Camera flyer…

Expect the unexpected. When exiting with tandem pairs, watch the hips. Once the hips pass the line of the door they are on their way out the door. Don’t always rely on the tandem exit count to be accurate.

Anticipate rapid change of fall rate. When the tandem pair exit they will start to exceed a comfortable fall rate until the drogue is deployed. It is vital to anticipate the fast fall on exit by not opening up, and then timing it correctly to get ready to slow-fall when the drogue comes out. Keep the arms closed in on exit and drive with the legs to move forward when the drogue still hasn't been deployed.

Learn to freefly so in the event you find yourself late on exit you are comfortable flying out of the way of the drogue in any position.

• It's their skydive. You're there to capture that person's experience. Flying radically and doing barrel rolls after layouts will look cool to you but not to them. Capture the whole story. Film the smiles in freefall and the bigger picture, without the customer having to rotate their heads every second when watching back the video. Be creative with your skills so you can still fly for fun without compensating the customer's product.

Get the money shots! Filming a skydive is about telling a story. Everyone has a unique way of doing this and you should be encouraged to keep your artistic point of view but some of the minimal key shots that should make up a standard tandem video should include:-

  1. Interview with friends and family (take a family photo)
  2. Getting into the plane (avoid filming their arses though!)
  3. Take off and scenery to altitude
  4. Photo and video with instructor inside the plane showing the scene
  5. Tandem pair being attached
  6. Exit (ideally with the whole plane in the shot and drogue coming out) The best way is to leave slightly before the tandem pair on exit and have middle of the frame between the tandem and the plane.
  7. Up and close with tandem pair (close enough to see their expressions). This can be achieved by flying slightly below and to the front of the tandem pair looking up to them on an angle.
  8. The larger picture (up and around the top of the drogue and a view of the background)
  9. Tandem canopy opening
  10. Tandem pair landing with a final interview about their experience.

Be over-cautious of the trapdoor effect when the tandem is pulling the drogue release. Keep a safe distance to avoid being crashed into by the tandem pair.

Invest in good equipment. “Buy cheap, buy twice.” “You get what you pay for.” Good, safe gear isn’t cheap – this is fact – but a serious injury or worse costs a lot more than equipment.

Take your time. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” Do not rush to be the best cameraflyer on the dz. Take it step by step and you will see a good steady progression. Every day set yourself a goal of one thing to improve and focus on that.

Attend canopy courses! When you start flying camera you will at some point find yourself in some tricky canopy situations such as landing off or landing with heavy traffic.

Review every video you do. Self-critiquing your work will push you to do better and better each jump.

Tandem camera flow chart
Tandem camera flow chart

Emergency!

Emergency procedures… imagine you are on your first tandem relative work jump and you exit later than expected… The tandem instructor has thrown the drogue and it has entangled with you. Do you know what is most likely going to happen next???

if you become entangled with the drogue, be prepared that you might also get wrapped in a main parachute

The answer is:-

Drogue entanglement with yourself: If the drogue becomes entangled with you, attempt to clear the entanglement. Be aware that the tandem pair will most likely disconnect their RSL/Skyhook, cut away, pull drogue release and then track to clear to a safe distance and deploy the reserve. So, if you become entangled with the drogue - be prepared that you might also get wrapped in a main parachute. Attempt to clear any entanglements and consider deploying either main or reserve parachute at an adequate altitude to resolve any issues with deployment.

(Reference: BPA Camera Flying Coaching Manual, Section 8, 8.5 Emergency Procedures)

Training Aid

Tandem instructors can use the following downloadable Camera Flying Manuals as a training aid.

Tandem safety cone and danger zone
Tandem safety cone and danger zone

And finally

A tandem camera jump is not your ordinary skydive, so extra caution must be taken and adequate preparation must be done by consulting with the tandem instructor and the drop zone. Enjoy improving your new skills but always remember how important and unique a tandem skydive is for the customer, usually their first jump. Your first priority is their safety and the second to capture their skydive and feelings on film.

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