Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Filming From A Biplane


I was curious if anyone had experience shooting from a biplane? I am shooting on Sunday at an air show and have the opportunity to shoot from plane to plane in the open cockpit. I will be hand holding an Aaton and lensing fairly wide (8-16mm?). I'm concerned about the vibration but we can't afford a mount. Is this even possible or will the image be too shakey? Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to scout flying in the plane.

Any thoughts on this?

Thanks.Jim Sofranko

All I can think of is to streamline the camera: no mattebox, and no rubber lens shades. Put on an 80 SSLR to series-9 and about 4-5 retainer rings as a mini-lens-shade, and tape on the SSLR to further secure it to the lens.

That'll take care of the front end of your camera not being knocked around by what's keeping you aloft: prop wash.

Mark "flare, long as I'm rich" Doering-Powell

I think you'll be real good in a bi plane, Ive shot out of 172's and 152's (single wingers) several times - they're very loud but vibration isnt a prob.

you can even tighten up to say 50-75mm and keep it pretty solid. I'm asuming that you'll have a windshield to break some of the wind.but if not - no worries. I used to lean out the window (head shoulder and cam) and get very nice shots as well. you need a good solid grip on the cam ; ] but the speeds involved are very low. (50 - 75, less in a by plane?) the wind will grab the cam when you lean out, also when you pan as the wind hits the full profile of the side of the cam it will yank it for a moment - so be ready for that. it's manageable and might even be a cool look. once your in the airstream (leaning out) the wind provides really a nice resistance flow which when you brace against - makes a tension that holds the cam quite solid. you prob can tighten much more than a 16mm if you need too. if its a gusty day, ignore all of the above ; ]the prob with a wide lens will be showing the wing. you have to really lean out and forward - or tighten the lens to get around this. if the wing is cool in the shot - you should have a blast. have a good shootwingS -


Caleb Crosby

About 6-7 years ago I did some shooting just with my home video camera from a biplane. The plane itself (I don't recall what type) was just as stable as any other except that the force of the prop wash and wind rushing by, although at a relatively slow plane-wise 70-80 mph, was rather strong to say the least.. There was a small wind screen wich offered limited protection and as soon as the camera was in the slipstream you can guess it shook way too much for anything to be usable. I can only imagine with a larger camera. Not to mention the risk of the camera flying out on it's own. The concern is not so much loosing the camera as having it fall on someone. ouch!!! Perhaps think of riging some kind of larger wind screen, but pilots and mechanics probably won't be to keen about adding pieces (most likely not FAA approved) on an antique airplane.A friend of mine (Werner Volkmer) did a remarkable film about antique plane collector and airshow pilot Cole Palen about ten twelve years

Daniel Villeneuve, csc

I should clarify my earlier post. i dont know the end use of your footage. So its really hard to say.

it's do-able, but its not motion free, if some motion is ok it's very workable. I was getting shoreline footage for a maritime museum in Maine last time I was up. lots of the footage was a total throw away. (it was on beta and i just hardly ever shut it off) but some of the shots were steady and made the cut.another time i had to get specific buildings on the ground and had to have the pilot in a holding patten and also banked up pretty high with my side heeled down and sometimes up to get the shots.but the best of all was asking the pilot to fly as low as he dared over a 5k mountain top (with some wind sheer) so as to crest a ski slope and tear down the slopes on the other side- it really was a great shot by about the 3rd take. I think I had half my body out the window and was medium wide.I usually needed several passes to get the shot i was after because there were so many variables. it was several years ago i shot from planes and the way my mind works, time filters out the bad somewhat & i rememebr the good parts.

I brought back a load of crap from each flight- but the shots I needed were there. its not easy, but you can make it work - and it's FUN.

caleb "now trapezes on the other hand..." crosby

I just remembered what the trick was for me- talking the pilot thru it. you have a very small pocket for a clean shot with all the struts and wing in the shot, so you sorta find a sweet spot or a couple of them, which the wind will effect as well and you'll have to have a zoom to get in just past the wing obstructions- once you find those sweet spots the whole trick is the pilot.I basically held a lock down by muscling it. Id explain the shot to the pilot and he would basically do it all, i would just creep the zoom a bit sometimes and do a very small move here and there. and then when it wasnt right I wasnt shy about telling him why it didnt work and lets "try it again"pilots tend to enjoy the whole thing, gives them a chance to show their stuff


When shooting without a mount.... consider overcranking.

Steve McWilliams

I shot a cinema short on a flying circus and did quite a bit of hand held with a 2c from a tiger moth.

Idea already mentioned of overcranking to say 28fps certainly takes out ugly hi freq type vibration and human body does wonders for the rest especially if you use a simple shoulder brace.

Good thing about a biplane is the wings make for great FG
Have fun

Les Parrott

Forget all the bullshit advice, just go out and do it hand held as you suggest and concentrate on what you are doing. Just treat it as a normal every day job. We did it like that long before Helivision and other helicopter mounts were invented.My serious advice is to make sure you are tightly strapped in and dont undo your straps at any time for anything (I lost a friend on a film called Catch 22 who just floated out of the mid-upper gunners position when the pilot went into a sudden and unexpected dive). And dont walk into the propeller.Wear a parachute if it is available.If flying over water make sure you have an inflatable life vest and it is accessable to you. Refuse to fly over water unless this is so.Make sure no items of equipment can fall down and jam up any of the flying controls and that you can get free of it all if you have to make a hurried exit. (I lost another friend whose spare magazine jammed a helicopter control). Wear your exposure meter on a cord around you neck (its fun when it falls out of your pocket upwards).If you are doing aerobatics and pulling a few G put a long iris support rod on the camera so that you can support the camera against the side of the aircraft. (Formation jet aerobatics are especial fun).Take an airline sick bag with you. If you do lose control take some money with you to recompence the guy who has to clear up after you)Enjoy


David (wish I was young again) Samuelson

PS I forgot to add ...Make sure that the production company has insured you for flight in a non-scheduled aircraft and that the insurance company fully knows what you are doing ... and if you do not know and trust the company ask to see the insurance certificate. (I once knew four film makers who were killed in a helicopter crash and the production company had not taken out proper insurance for what they were doing. The producer was one of those killed.)


David Samuelson.

Well, this is the only thing I'd argue about David (but otherwise what absolutely perfect advice! I was told that if I was sick, _I_ cleaned up afterwards. Fortunately, it never happened. One or two little additions. Make sure the camera is tied off to a strong point. Also, bear in mind that things can get very, very cramped. I remember this especially in a tandem Hunter. Not only is there very little room, but you are also highly strapped into an ejector seat. There was only just enough room for a hand held Arri IIc with 200' mag and and 18mm.

David's advice about keeping everything safe and well away from the controls isn't just good advice - it's VITAL! It' only too easy to overlook these things in the rush of adrenaline excitement and that's how people are killed. I certainly don't want to be a killjoy but like David, I've lost several friends to aviation accidents - it's one reason why I got out of it.

Plan, plan, plan. OK, this may be more important in air to air shooting, but about 80% of the work is done in the pre-flight briefing. And once you've briefed, stay EXACTLY to the brief.

Finally, relax and enjoy!


Well I thought my advice was ok but if David says its bullshit- its bullshit. I was watching a real good sea rescue story on TV a couple months back about the sinking of liner in the atlantic back a breaking story because it was taking water while it was being towed to port in heavy weather. as it neared England it started going down- and there was no doubt about it - someone got in a plane and got there before it went under- really good gutsy b&w newsreel ariel that just caught the ship as it rolled over on its beam ends, foundered and sank.Well i'll give you one guess who the camerman was.they even interviewed him as to how he got the shots. (Back in the good old days when news was news and cameramen got the kudus.)pretty bullshit interview tho.

Caleb Crosby

Actually the advice I got from all the list was helpful and confirmed some of the ideas I had wanted to try.

Maybe it was just the pep talk I needed! David and everyone,Thanks for all the great advice and encouragement. It's a fun show I'm shooting. Tuesday, I hang off the side of a cliff in a harness to shoot some rock climbers. I've got a great guide and climbers. Did a lesson a few days ago.

Any idea's or helpful hints on hand-holding on the side of a cliff?Thanks again,

Jim Sofranko

The first time some of us met, the subject of pre-aerial food came up, if you'll pardon the expression, and I passed on the results of 3 weeks research filming the north sea oil rigs in every type of helicopter and every kind of weather from force 10 down.The only thing that really worked for breakfast was beans, hash browns and toast, they come back in a lump and aren't hard to clean up.


Geoff Boyle

Dear Aerial Upchuckers,I always found that the small plastic sealable bags from M&S or any similar store were a great help.

Fortunately those days are long gone and flying my desk at 4ft. is about as bad as it gets these days.


TCPS: Eat the food and drink sparingly; that helps lots.

Careful to watch your horizon. 'Tis easier than you think to hold a camera skewed when your feet are not on the ground.Been there, done that.

Cliff "climbing for over 20 years" Hancuff

David wrote "PS I forgot to add ...Make sure that the production company has insured you for flight in a non-scheduled aircraft and that the insurance company fully knows what you are doing ... and if you do not know and trust the company ask to see the insurance certificate. "

The same applies to water craft and those that drive them: "Yes I know you've got a limited budget and the chase boat operator wanted more money than you budgeted for but so does my camera and the future support of my children."

"I did mention at that production meeting last month that for me a worse not best case scenario is a 12ft aluminum dingy borrowed from the sailing club and somebody's mate (a weekend sailor) driving it. It would be bad enough that he dosn't have a comercial licence but this character has no licence at all."

"Not only would we be breaking the (local) law but also voiding our insurance coverage for loss or damage to ourselves and our equipment as well as anything else we might hit!!!!" And then some people call me difficult.



Copyright © CML. All rights reserved.