17 March 2016

On Location: Gazelle Display Squadron Night Shoot

I don't very often photograph helicopters but I've always been fascinated by them with their incredible manoeuvrability and versatility, so I was excited to have the opportunity to take part in a night shoot on 5 March at Bourne Park in Hampshire, the home of the Gazelle Squadron Display Team.  The shoot ran from early evening, through the nice half light of dusk, with the actual aircraft running happening in the dark.  A lighting tower was used, which worked well in terms of providing enough light without overpowering the subjects.

There were three Gazelles positioned for us to photograph.  The one shown below did not run, but was positioned nicely and lit well to look effective with the light catching it, and the darkness falling away behind...

...and to take advantage of the sunset which we were very fortunate to enjoy. 

There was plenty of time for a little twiddling with exposure times.  For example the photos shown below were taken within a couple of minutes, but one was exposed in order to see the helicopter, and the other was set to give more of a silhouette against the attractive sky behind.  I like 'arty' shots, so the second one is the one I prefer!

After a much appreciated pause for tea and cake (very civilised!), things progressed to shooting the helicopters while they were running.  The first to turn her rotor blades was XZ934, standing out nicely against the dark with her light coloured Royal Air Force 32 Squadron markings.  I love photography, but I also love aircraft, and I enjoyed being close as XZ934 hummed into life, the blades began to turn and then reach a fast enough speed to hear that familiar helicopter 'whop whop'.  It was my first time photographing helicopters as night, and it quickly became clear to me that capturing the rotors turning without them becoming completely invisible required a bit of thought and some careful positioning of backgrounds.

We then moved on to ZB627.  Known as 'Ginger', ZB627 originally served as an RAF training aircraft, and was also used for night vision reconnaissance.

A nicely different look, and a little fun with flare when the pilot 'lit her up'!  Sometimes you just HAVE to break the photographic rules!

Each aircraft was run for 4 minutes, allowing time for long exposures and some changes of position.  Afterwards it was interesting to watch them being 'put to bed', with the chance for some slightly different shots for those who, like me, enjoy shooting some of the 'behind the scenes' stuff.

As well as the Gazelles, the event team had also arranged for us to photograph while night running a rather reluctant Cessna, the elegant SIAI-Marchetti SF260, and - unexpectedly but very enjoyably - a Bulldog.  Additionally, the pretty-looking training and support helicopter G-SDTL, a Guimbal Cabri G2 was positioned outside the hangar for some more photographic variety.

All in all a highly enjoyable evening, and I look forward to their next night shoot.

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