Photographing a 125-MPH Plane That’s Feet Off the Ground
If photographing an airplane flying upside down just over your head at 125 mph sounds like it might be difficult, well, it is.
When Red Bull offered Dan Vojtech had a chance to shoot its star racing pilot Martin Šonka, Vojtech knew he must do something special. He wanted to make it look like he’d shot Šonka and his plane in a studio. Such a thing is easy when working with, say, kayaking or motocross, but it’s something altogether different when working with a stunt pilot. “It was not as easy as it looks,” Vojtech says.
Making it happen required building something akin to a Hollywood movie set and employing a small army of lighting assistants, camera assistants, a crane operator and, of course, a backstage video crew to record it all. Setting everything up took nearly three hours, and the shoot lasted just 20 minutes. “It is always very exciting when you do something like this, but there is a lot of responsibility as well because it’s not a usual photo shoot and everything has to be 100 percent ready,” he says.
The team completed three shoots in three days at an airport in Prague. Vojtech works with Fomei and Nikon, which provided his complicated kit. The photographer used 34 strobes, each between 400 and 600 watts, to saturate the sky with light. The lighting crew positioned half of the strobes above the plane on a lift; the others stood on the ground. Vojtech used a Nikon D810 camera with Nikkor 24-70/2.8 and Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRII lenses. Filmmaker Martin Privratsky documented the shoot with Nikon D800, Nikon J5 and Nikon V3 cameras.
The pilots job was no less difficult. Šonka had to fly his Extra 300SR through a 50-foot gap between the strobes, which is not nearly so easy as it might sound. The setting sun made it difficult to see the strobes, so the crew stretched a long line of LEDs along the flight path and used big sheets of paper to point the way.
Vojtech shot just before sunset to get those dreamy golden tones. With Šonka flying past at 125 mph, Vojtech had just five seconds to catch the shot before the pilot would loop around to do it again. All the hard work paid off, though. “It’s a great feeling to photograph something like this, especially if the plane flies just a few feet from you. You can feel wind from the plane, smell smoke, and almost touch it,” Vojtech says. Looking at his amazing photos, it feels like your right there alongside him.
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