Are you just getting back into the sport and looking forward to filming the super cool idea you had over the winter? Is this the season where you are finally going to jump a camera for the first time? In either case, I hope to be able to share some insight on this fun activity to get your season started off right; and so that you can avoid having to wear the cone of shame.
If you’re just landing here, read part 1: The Camera Flyer first!
You need to think about how your camera setup will interact with your parachute system. Do you have the experience and awareness to deal with a problem that is complicated by a camera setup? Remember that your No. 1 priority on every skydive is to save your own life. First worry about your life-saving equipment such as your rig; the cameras are icing on the cake. Getting distracted by a camera is not a good excuse for mistakes like a misrouted chest strap or forgetting to turn on your AAD.
Always wear or secure your helmet in the aircraft during taxi, take-off, and landing. If left unattended you run the risk of damaging your equipment, or worse—injuring a fellow jumper. If the pilot needs to abort a takeoff, that fancy camera helmet has just turned into a projectile in the fuselage.
There are three major things jumpers can lose track of, even without a camera:
Losing track of traffic because you have tunnel vision trying to get the shot could lead to a freefall or canopy collision. Being able to account for all participants on your jump is crucial. Start out flying camera with only one other person, then work your way up to small groups, and then ultimately larger ones.
Altitude awareness, specifically your internal clock, is key because you will probably spend less time looking at your altimeter while you are trying to get the shot. Because of this I recommend every camera flyer have at least one audible altimeter in their helmet and an AAD in their rig.
Not checking the spot before climb-out can put you at a disadvantage when trying to make it back to the DZ. Likewise filming someone under canopy or wingsuit can cause you to lose focus and land out. If you feel like you need more time to take in your surroundings, perhaps be jump-ready a bit sooner than usual and open the door a bit earlier to spot. With regards to canopy or wingsuit flying, take a moment to locate your DZ during flight. However make sure that you will not run into your subject(s) while taking a glance.
Like I mentioned in my last post, I have ended up in the ICU with a spinal cord injury brought on by a less than stellar opening. There is nothing like coming back to the sport from a neck injury. Needless to say my anxiety meter still spikes at pull time. I had to regain trust in my equipment again. I’m now pickier with whom I let pack and handle my parachute system, to minimize the chance of future emergencies. On the equipment side, I minimize the weight on my head and neck by only using large cameras or vertically mounting my DSLR when absolutely necessary.
During the main parachute deployment you will also want to consider your head-to-torso alignment. If your vertebrae are not properly aligned, your camera helmet can create some serious torque on your neck that can injure or kill you. The consensus among most camera flyers is that you should keep your head in a neutral position, meaning your spine should stay perfectly straight. I have found most success when I look at the horizon through my eyebrows as I release my pilot chute. If you can do a headstand, you have probably noticed that your neck can support the weight of your body much easier if you are on the crown of your head. The idea here is very much the same: Balance the weight of your helmet on the crown of your head during the opening. Another trick of the trade you can use, but only if your body flight abilities allow, is to use your hands to support your jaw after you have pitched the pilot chute.
As your body sits upright in the harness you will want to move your hands to your risers, not allowing them to go past your ears. This will help mitigate the potential for your risers or excess brake lines to snag on your ring sight or other helmet components. In addition you now have the ability to create a heading change quickly by pulling on a rear riser, in the event you have to avoid another jumper on deployment.
Consider pulling at a slightly higher altitude to give yourself more time to deal with any potential problems. Even after the deployment is over and you have stowed away and checked all of your gear, your camera helmet remains a hazard. Many camera flyers including myself have snagged a camera or unsecured helmet mount on a perfectly functioning canopy’s lines. Keep your head in the game; you still have to land safely.
You may be jumping a GoPro for now, which may mitigate some of the risk of larger heavier cameras. But if you are truly passionate about capturing images in this sport, you will probably evolve and start upgrading your equipment. It is a good idea to start practicing good habits with the smaller equipment before moving onto something larger and more expensive.