Back in October 2013 I had the opportunity to do a very exciting assignment for UK based river transport company JP Knight. They wanted images of their operations here in Suriname, and from the beginning it was clear that we’d have to split the work in two assignments; one involving aerial photography and another for industrial type of images taken on the ground. With regard to the aerial photography, their objective was to show the beautiful environment they operated in (the Suriname rainforest), and specifically the narrow (but very deep) rivers with the often very tight bends, which require a lot of skill and experience to navigate through. The images would not only have to show these difficult situations but also communicate that the crew at JP Knight is more than capable of handling them.
We started planning for the shoot a month in advance. Transport schedules were decided based on the needs of JP Knight’s client, so we wouldn’t have a lot of flexibility with the timings. Ideally I would have loved to do the whole assignment in the late afternoon when the light is usually much better, but unfortunately the way things worked out because of their schedules, I had very harsh sunlight to work with initially. This meant a lot of contrast, and I had to do the whole assignment shooting in HDR mode with fast bursts of 3 pictures for every shot which I could combine later in post.
Even though this is a final processed shot, you can see in the above image how much contrast there was in the scene. Compare that with the image below, which has a much more pleasant feel to it due to the softer light later in the day.
At least the weather wasn’t an issue on that day. I had worried about the rain being a problem (the weather can give me sleepless nights when I’m preparing for an assignment), and although it did rain in a few areas we were lucky to have good weather in the area we had to work in.
From the very beginning I had advised the client to rent a helicopter for this assignment instead of an airplane, which would allow for more flexibility and better results. In addition, with the helicopter I wouldn’t have to shoot through the windows and this would result in very crisp and clear images. Renting the helicopter was much more expensive compared to renting a small airplane, but in the end when the results were in, the client was very satisfied and glad they went with the more expensive option. We also were fortunate to work with Pegasus Air Services, who were more than willing to help us get great results. They offered to remove the doors on one side of the helicopter so that I could have a completely open view to work. It was a pretty incredible experience hanging half way out of the helicopter while taking pictures.
We also had a very good pilot — Reggie Courtar, chief pilot at Pegasus — whom I had already worked with on different assignments in the past. Reggie easily understood what I needed and had great control of the helicopter, managing to get me in the precise angles I wanted most of the time. Even when I asked him to dive very low above the river between the trees so I could get a shot from behind the barges, he appeared more than willing to oblige. Admittedly it was a bit of a frightening experience to hover that low above the water while we got very close to the trees. At one point I remember hearing Reggie saying that he already had the helicopter at max power and couldn’t do what I requested (ah jest can’t due it cap’tin), and to me it seemed like it didn’t want to move, and I thought that was it — the moment we’d splash down into the river. Thankfully it didn’t come to that. 😛
There were one or two occasions where I would request something that would be too risky to do, but I’m very happy with the results we got, as was JP Knight’s Operations Manager who sent an email to Pegasus specifically to thank them for Reggie’s excellent work on the assignment.
This was easily the most exciting assignment I had to do in 2013 and am glad JP Knight believed in my abilities. And the cool thing about it was that it was also done on my 35th birthday. It wasn’t planned like that on purpose; the date of the assignment was decided by the client based on their transport schedules. It was just a very interesting coincidence that it had to be executed on my birthday. I consider it a very special birthday gift from the universe. Such “coincidences” often occur in my life.
For the photographers reading this, I know you’ll want to know what equipment I used, so here’s the list: two Canon 5D Mark III bodies, the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye lens, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens, and I also had the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens with me as a backup, but didn’t use it. I shot with both 5D Mark III bodies with the other two lenses attached, so that I wouldn’t have to change lenses in the air (not a good idea with all the wind and dust flying around). I also brought two camera bodies with me just to have a backup in case one of them would malfunction during the assignment. You can’t have your client spend over $2000 on a helicopter only to have your camera malfunction later in the air during the assignment while you have no backup. In fact JP Knight’s Operations Manager saw me sitting with all that gear in the back of the helicopter and asked why I was carrying two cameras, so I had to explain it to him.
The second part of this assignment, which involved industrial photography on the ground, was a completely different experience. The weather was terrible and I had one camera malfunction on me during the assignment (the horror). But I’ll publish a separate post on that in the near future. Stay tuned. 🙂
Update 20/5/2014: I received a client testimonial from JP Knight regarding this assignment; click here to read it.