Between the devil and the deep blue sky

Bazaruto Aerial

by  Robert Waldron

Probably my favourite location on Earth is sitting with my feet on the skids of a helicopter, (securely strapped to the craft with a safety harness of course) shooting the world as it goes by below.

Aerial shots give a necessary perspective to most of the world’s natural places, from seas to mountains to savannas. So the good news is you’re going to be up in helicopters a lot of the time. I lost count of the hours I’ve been in the air in a chopper, but it’s not enough.

Shooting from the air, helicopters are your main platform. Why? Becuase they can stand still up there, and turn around on themselves, often just exactly what you need to follow the action below.

Fixed wing aircraft, hang-gliders, paragliders, motorised paragliders, and even small remote controlled camera drones all have their purpose, too. There are as many ways of shooting fom the air as there are ways to get up there. But mostly, it’ll be helicopters. If you get airsick, this part of you work will be a challenge.

Occasionally when I’m in the air for a long time, and the pilot is doing an invisible roller coaster ride on account of he’s in the middle of a demanding game capture operation, and trying to best position the man with the dart gun nearest the next animal he has to dart, I get a little queasy. Always, always, take your eye off the viewfinder regularly while you’re shooting aerials. Otherwise you body thinks its somewhere else and your stomach doesn’t agree. Look at the horizon regularly, tell yourself that the whole big earth is stable and solid below you, and you should be alright. I’ve never upchucked yet, touch wood. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

If you have the budget, you’ll be up there alongside the pilot, controlling a nose or fuselage mounted, stabilised camera rig remotely, looking at the monitor. These rigs are amazing. You can zoom right in and practically get the eyelashes of the impala or elk below you, and its all rock steady, like you’re on rails.

These rigs, and there are several brands and systems, are very pricey to use, but worth it.If you can afford the chopper, the pilot, the rig, the engineer that comes with the rig, and then take them all to darkest Africa, or Asia for your shots. Mostly, as an independent, I haven’t been able to afford this luxury.

If not, and you need to work with a hand-held camera, or manual gyro-stabilizer(more about that in a minute) here’s how to get better shots. Ideally you should have checked the weather for your location before you confirm the chopper hire. You want to fly in the early morning, when there is little to no wind, and if there is a bit, you want to  try to fly with the wind, not against it.

The above clip was filmed by my partner, Thelma Roos, on her first aerial – not bad huh?

The location was the mighty Save river mouth, northern Mozambique, and circling the islands of Bazaruto, Benguela and Sao Miguel while we were filming dugongs ( underwater footage of this in another post) Thelma was actually in a fixed wing Jaboreau, with the pilot, a friend of ours, Jan Roode.

Your pilot should have flown camera crews before, but if not, yiou need to brief him carefully beforehand about what you’re looking for. Best flying attitude for me is usually with the chopper crabbing sideways, point me and the open door cargo area forward. From this position, I can move through 180 degrees and cover a lot of ground, literally. If the pilot flies straight ahead, you’ve got chopper blocking your front and away shots.

  • View the clip below: 


Rob Waldron portrait

© Copyright 2012 Robert Charles Waldron. All rights reserved.


  1. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something informative to read?|

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