Skydiving Event Photography Tips

WestCoast WingSuits Group Shot, Lodi 2020 Event, Photo by Harry Parker Photography

This past weekend I was able to shoot the Lodi 2020 WingSuiting event at The Parachute Center.  I even got to share airspace with fellow shooter WingSuit Zak (Link to Zak’s photos below.) Shooting Wingsuiting is challenging and fun.  Perspectives change, challenges shift and focusing on steady shots forces one to fly their slot.

This weekend was super casual.  Flying the Bigger Tony Suit, X-Bird, also known at the dropzone as “Pinky”, I was able to focus and increase my learning curve, in a weekend.

Skydiving Event Photography Tips

This is the detail rundown of event shooting specific to the skydiving photographer.  This article goes over skydiving event photography tips and some common considerations for every shoot.  If you are out to just have fun shooting, that’s one thing.  If you are out to deliver a service or product, that’s another.  The later perspective is the one we will tackle here today.

When working with an organizer, work it out first if you are cameraman and especially lead cameraman.  Once you are on the load, make sure you bargain for your slots and a chance to pre-sell your event.  Pre-selling your event will be another article to come.  Knowing where you stand helps a lot as you will surely be asked by another photog if they can film with you.  That’s fun and you want to make sure it’s thought out and in control.  If no other photog takes control, take it.  Own it.  Many times your own safety depends on it.  Plan the dive, dive the plan.

If you have more then one photog, make sure you come up with a “Team-Oriented” Sales process or you will most likely end with nothing after your “friend” uses Facebook as a gallery posts EVERYTIHNG and gives it all away, a complete sales killer.

Pre-Sell Your Shoot:

The entire reason I am writing this article is because I failed on this one point.  I failed to work with the organizer ahead of time and had to pay for my own slots.  I failed to Pre-Sell a group package ahead of time.  I failed to soft sell during the event.  I failed to take control of the camera ‘team’ and then I failed in trying to make it up at the end with a lot of wasted time editing, uploading and posting.  No, money, a pure expense and a lot of time wasted trying to catch up.  So much for currency.  Hello summer!  If I can save one other person from sleeping at the wheel, that’s a win.  Here a few quick tips:

  • How many people at the event?  Set a price for about 10-25% of the people on the load.  If 10-25% of the people bought, how much  would you charge them.  Go for your daily rate at the very least.  An average daily rate is $250 per day of shooting for an average skydiving cameraman.
  • Boost excitement buy showing pics during event to select individuals.  Be prepared to take their money right then, during the event.
  • Set up an album and grab the link on your photo gallery ahead of time.  Post that to the event page, have the organizer send it out. Price your gallery at standard rates.
  • By the end of the event, everyone should know you are going to give them a deal on their photos, let them know the price and most importantly, give them a deadline.  Most importantly, give them incentive to buy right then and there.
  • Once your stuff is up, market your deal and leverage your Facebook and blog posts to drive traffic to your BUY button.

Shooting WingSuits:

Some of the coolest photos come from the sides and below and over the top looking back. These angles and hard to accomplish without significant practice.  I love how different it feels to be looking down and back, flying what feels like upside down, while over the top and forward of  a formation.  Problem with top shooting is the background noise.  Coming from RW shooting, the tendency is to film from behind.  I am amazed how how second nature it is to “fall back” and behind.  Not bad when way up top, but get close and you better have the suit to handle the ocean of burbles.  I enjoyed getting some flock time, cutting through the wake and weaving into the formation.  Remember, it’s about flying.  Find what you like and go for it.  As a photog, have a goal and go for it till you get the shot you want.

If you are just starting out shooting wingsuiting, I highly recommend you learn to top shoot.  You will learn to fly that suit.  Concentrate on filling the frame, steady frame and composing for the background.  You would be amazed how you can improve a shot by background composition.  And, you will become valuable to the organizer.  As you work with other photogs it’s then easier to come up with a plan so you both can take the “creative slot” where you can test your skills and photography all at the same time.

Gear Choice:

For this event, I chose my TonFly 3X helmet, shooting a GoPro for Stills and a CX-100 for video.  I chose that for several reasons.  First is weight. I go light by default now.  Second is video, which was my primary concern and all the organizer was interested in was good, solid debrief video and the CX covers that slot, no problem.  I must say, after the event, I am craving some real SLR action on these jumps, primarily to bring balance to my lenses and for higher quality photos.  Still, this weekend was super fun and part of that was the light weight helmet.

Primary Flying Objective: Debrief Video

Every time you shoot an event you will find there is a primary objective, for you, the event, the DZ or simply the organizer. Most shooters I know kinda shy away from debrief video due to creative constraints, except the hard core competition RW flyers who concentrate on just that, judge-able debrief video.  It can get pretty boring sometimes, if that’s all you do.  Being forced to top shoot anything and not move leaves ones only challenge to fill the frame, hold a steady shot and withholding, reluctantly, “going for the shot.”  Sometimes this can drive anyone crazy.  But there is another perspective here.  One is being “forced” to provide something specific.  And it’s been my experience, that whenever you are forced to use a skill set for something specific, you learn exponentially on several different levels. After shooting nothing but tandem videos for the last few months this was a great opportunity increase my wingsuit skills on this big suit, relax into a three day event, get to observe all the participants, and pic my shots.

Working with your organizer

Even in shooting strictly debrief video there are always windows of opportunity to move in for a kill, so to speak, and that pressure for the “one shot” is pretty fun.  Learn to work with your organizer.  I found that I can find my boundaries pretty quickly and make everyone happy.  If you are shooting for an organizer, remember, that you are working with them, for them and the group.  There is responsibility to produce. On this event I figured out quickly that at 7500′, I could just go for it.  Still living up to my job of filming the group I had enough time to pick my shot ahead of time, swoop in, get a couple and then fly with the formation for a few.  Once the final break-off happened at 5,000, I could then get those “Shark” shots of individual jumpers.  All of this made the bottom end exciting and broke up each jump significantly keeping it light, fun, and productive for the group and organizer.

Coverage:

No matter what I shoot I tend to default to full coverage of any event.  That means air and ground.  It also means wide shot, medium head-shots and some detail.  The more you document this way, the easier you will find to tell a story with your work. You will also find your library will contain more and more marketing and advertising shots for further sales. In the air, for me, it means watching the dirt dive, thinking about line of flight and light, and picking three to four mission oriented shots on one dive and sticking to the plan.  Again, wide from afar, medium and tight or detail.  On the ground, it means the people, place, weather, and anything specific about that.  The action, dirt dives, planning, planes, loading, staff, couples, everything.

Post event photo objective:

In short, why are you shooting, and what are you going to do with your photos?  Anyone who knows me knows I focus on showing, marketing, delivery and physical products.  Every event is different and so are your objectives.  If you don’t think about it beforehand it can make your post workflow excruciating as exporting and uploading where and when have to all be figured out as you go. For this event number one priority is to give the organizer and group consistent debrief-able video.  For myself, I usually have two components, sales and marketing.

Workflow:

No matter what you are shooting, workflow can make or break your objectives.  If your workflow is sloppy and filing system hard to navigate you can spend a lifetime going in circles.  This is why I LOVE LightRoom, the best photo program for the PRO ADD’er.  It handles heavy shooting, organizing, editing, simply, elegantly and fast.

For this event it’s pretty simply:

  • Edit as I go to keep homework to a minimum. This means downloading and editing every jump between loads and cleaning cards.
  • At the very least have some sort of Gallery to host your photos.  Putting everything and all your selects on Facebook kills just about all your chances of selling anything.  Upload to Gallery for group access and sales as fast as possible.
  • Upload a few selects to Facebook for personal branding and exposure for you, your DZ and organizer.  This helps with traffic to your gallery, website and sales pages.  Do some during the event and save some for Monday morning, the best time to post for virability.  Remember to “like”, “Share”, & “Comment”.  Ask questions in your posts and keep comments to your photos going.
  • Assuming you have a website: Create a sales page to highlight a limited time photo offer is another great way to automate your sales if you don’t have your own gallery.  Be careful leveraging Facebook.  Use to Tease and Drive Traffic.
  • Write a blog post to give your work some searchable history, one stop anchor for your work, some fan engagement and points of sale.
  • Last but not least, send something into Parachutist and Blue Sky Mag.  Doesn’t matter if they use them. It’s about building relationships and that can take time.  You would be amazed.  Do you know WHY photogs get published?  They sent photos in.  Only send a few and only send your best.

Once it’s done, it’s pretty hands off and you are ready to move through the next event, knowing everything is done.  Your photos are edited, archived, retrievable, uploaded for sales and promoted.

Clean your cards, get back in the air and shoot some more.

Thanks for tuning in!  Good luck.  Would love to hear how your next event goes. So keep in touch.

THP

PS- did you find this helpful?

PSS- Please like, comment and share!

PSS- Anyone interested in a photo contest?

Wingsuiting over lodi during the 2020 Event, Photo By Harry Parker Photography

3D WingSuit Formation over Lodi, Photo by Harry Parker Photography

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