I’ve been filming events for other people for almost 15 years now, and the one thing that I’ve discovered is that virtually no-one has any respect or sympathy for the poor old cameraman (yes, or woman), hard at work trying to shoot footage so that someone else can enjoy the event (on video) at some point in the future.
In many ways that’s not too surprising as few people actually use their video cameras for anything more than short family shots at birthdays and Christmas—as such there’s no general awareness of what an event camera-person actually does, and what issues they have to face. This means that more often than not the job is more difficult than it needs to be, simply because few people have the ability to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’.
At aviation events I’m there to film the aircraft. Others like many of my esteemed colleagues are there to take still photographs, while lots of enthusiasts are there just to enjoy the sights and sounds of the aircraft flying past. And therein lies the crux of the matter — for me it’s all about movement and sound — movies and talkies if you will. But the issue is that it’s not just for me, if it were I’d simply put the camera down and enjoy the show like everyone else.
The thing is, I’m there to try and record the action as it unfolds, and as far as aviation (and motorsport) is concerned, the sound is hugely important — you can shoot brilliant video footage, but if it’s silent, or if the audio is really bad, no-one likes it or wants to watch it. On the other-hand average footage, with great sound is usually reasonably pleasant to watch and hear.
Sometimes I just can’t avoid getting rubbishy sound. A great example of this was when I shot Jerry Yagen’s de Havilland Mosquito (KA114) landing at Ardmore Airport in New Zealand after its maiden flight. Just as the aircraft touched down and rolled out past me along the runway, a small twin-engine commuter airliner was taxying in the opposite direction, so rather than capturing the magic of twin Rolls-Royce Merlins, all I got to hear was the high pitched whine of two modern engines. Not the best, but thankfully I managed to shoot another landing, and we did capture the Merlin magic. But sometimes, it’s just not feasible or even possible to get a second bite at the cherry.
But more often than not, the problem is that I can’t get sufficiently far away from either the stills photographers whose cameras are continually going click-click-click-click-click as they’re shooting images, or from members of the general public who are just having a good time and chatting as the aircraft are flying by. All very well and good, shoot your photos and have a great time, but please, Please, PLEASE — if I (or any other event cameraman) politely asks you if you can either move away a bit, stop following me when I move, or just stop laughing and talking quite so loudly as the aircraft flies past, I would really really appreciate it. And I’m pretty sure that anyone else with a video camera nearby will as well.
In the main, most people are reasonably OK with it when I explain that it’s really important that I get good sound, and could they perhaps just quieten down a little, thanks very much. But you’d be surprised at the number of arrogant sods that I’ve come across, who despite my major efforts to be very polite about it, take it as a huge affront, and think that they’re fully entitled to jabber away wherever and whenever they want. I guess in general they are. But I bet that these will also be some of the first to complain when they spend their hard earned cash on a DVD to watch some airshow event, and instead of great audio all they hear is someone in the crowd commenting on how much better they could fly the aircraft.
A couple of years back I was filming at a New Zealand airshow, as part of the official photo/video team. Just as I was trying to film a very rare aircraft make a final approach and landing, one of the show’s security volunteers rode up to me on a quad bike. He sat their idling, not more than three meters from me to watch the aircraft come in. When I asked him if he could switch the bike off he actually got quite abusive, despite the fact that I tried to point out that I was there, like him, to do a job for the show organisers, and his presence with his motorbike was making it impossible for me to do the job to the best of my ability. Really? Are you serious? Could you be any more arrogant? In this case he could, because he did an almost identical thing the day after the airshow finished when I was trying to get some final shots of another rare aircraft starting up! As Jim Morrison and the Doors said back in the 60’s, ‘People Are Strange’.
So what about it? The next time you’re at an airshow or similar, taking photos, or just having a good time, and you see someone with a video camera not far away, trying to shoot the action, just put yourself in their shoes. If you’re clicking a camera and you have the opportunity and ability to move to a slightly different position further away and yet still get the types of shots you’re after, then why not do that? Or if you’re talking to your mates, have a bit of consideration and try and do it quietly, or better yet move away 20 or 30 meters — it’s not going to make a big difference to your enjoyment of the display you’re watching in most cases, but it’ll likely make a huge difference to the poor sod that’s trying to film it.
And do bear in mind that for a cameraman, it’s the sound of the aircraft (or vehicle) coming towards you, or heading away from you at a distance which is probably more important than when it’s whizzing past your face. By the time it’s coming right past you the chances are the volume of the noise is sufficently loud to drown out other nearby sounds. But it’s the quieter sound of the aircraft approaching, and moving away, that’s really important to a video editor.
It’s all about common courtesy really. If you don’t click your camera or talk inanely near me, then I won’t shoot some video of you doing something really stupid and then post it on the internet! 🙂
Keep an eye on this blog — in a few weeks we’ll be covering our 2014 HAFU UK tour in great detail as it happens — we’d love you to join us on our journey to some of England’s great airshow events and museums.
All the best,