I am going to try to give some general views on aerial filming techniques, focusing on some of my own preferred methods, recognising that these are by no means necessarily the best.
As well as the use of aircraft as camera platforms, I am going to include in this discussion techniques we have employed for moving the camera horizontally through the canopy of the rain forest since I feel that this also constitutes a kind of aerial filming.
Most experienced film camera operators have their own preferred methods in aerial filming techniques, finely tuned over the years; for each person, it has probably been a slow process of evolution to find the best method to overcome the principal problems in aerial cinematography: vibration, bumpy air and how to mount the camera. In the end, however it is achieved, there is nothing more pleasing than a well-executed, smooth and steady aerial shot.
My own preference for camera angle is a forward facing one – I feel it is dynamic and more interesting than the conventional sideways tracking shot, although sometimes it can be useful to have a combination of both for editing purposes.
The major factors affecting aerial filming fall into two categories: those which are under control and those which are definitely beyond anyone’s control. Controllable factors include a good camera mount (which may just mean the person who is holding the camera); a reliable camera; good choreography; and safety conscious working rules. Uncontrollable factors include the weather; turbulent or bumpy air; vibration; and squashed insects or dirt on the lens.
I cannot stress enough the importance for safety – many people, even the most experienced camera operators and pilots have lost their lives through trying to push the limits just a bit too far to get that difficult shot, or simply by letting their concentration slip for a vital moment. Inevitably, aerial filming can lead us into flying low level, or close to cliffs, trees or other obstacles, where it only takes a bird to take off, wind shear, or an aircraft problem to put us into a potentially fatal situation. It can all be over in seconds.