Gear Theory Photos & Projects

Extreme GAS! I don’t need a new camera, I need a new Helicopter!

September 16, 2019

For Christmas last year, my wife bought me a flight in a helicopter – it was one of those “red-letter day” gifts. I’ve always quite liked the idea of going for a ride in such a machine, but it’s not an opportunity that arises particularly frequently. As such, I was thrilled with the gift and excited about the potential photographic opportunities!

She chose it as a gift, in part, because she knew it would give me something to take photos of. She doesn’t like feeding my camera hobby, but feeding the photography hobby was something she seems happy to get on board with. The odd thing is, when it came to choosing a camera to take on the ride, I didn’t feel particularly inspired at all.

If you follow this website, you might have read a recent post where I talked about a holiday I went on at the beginning of the summer. I was lacking inspiration too then. In the post, I talked about how my desire to take photos and my desire to play with cameras are both at a record low-ebb. As I said in that post, I’m not looking for sympathy or even encouragement – inspiration comes and goes, so be it – I’m busy at work and at home, so I have other things on my mind.

In the run-up to taking a ride in the helicopter, I did expect to have some sense of photography/camera-based inspiration though. In the end, it didn’t come. I stood in front of my camera cabinet the night before and made my choice based on pure objectivity. I wanted to enjoy the ride in the helicopter so I fancied taking something fairly automatic and I didn’t want to be stuck with autofocus. Being in a helicopter, I figured focusing to infinity would probably do the job. I also wanted good resolving power to make sure I wasn’t going to lose out on details in the landscape.

In the end, I just picked up my digital Leica and Zeiss 35mm 2.8 C-Biogon. One lens, one camera. I could put it on aperture priority, so I wouldn’t need to think about exposure too hard. I could also focus to infinity, and I was going to get good enough resolution out of the remarkably good little Zeiss lens.

I didn’t even contemplate my camera choice during the entire 2-hour journey to the airport either – this is unusual for me, as I’m normally mulling over the photography for quite a while prior to shooting it. On this occasion, I wasn’t, I was just excited about going in the helicopter.

Stood waiting for the helicopter to arrive from its previous flight was the first I really thought about the photos I wanted to take. I decided I should get a couple of shots of the helicopter from the outside, one of the controls and the pilot, and then a few landscapes. That really was the extent of my plan.

We had our briefing and then the helicopter arrived. I got my shot of it coming into land.

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

I then got one of the helicopter as I was about to get in (top). I’d paid a few extra quid to get the front seat, so took my seat, put the headset on, and moments later we were off.

I’ve not been in a helicopter before, and I didn’t know what to expect. In fact, being someone who finds rollercoasters wholly unsettling, I mostly expected to feel a little nervous. But I didn’t. Quite the opposite in fact. Once we got up to height, the atmosphere in the helicopter spoke volumes about the shared experience.

I was in the front with the pilot, two other passengers were in the back. Both of them had previously been in a helicopter and were quite calm. We chatted via the headsets a little, and the pilot pointed out a few landmarks, but largely we took our ride in silence. Not uncomfortable silence, I should add, but the sort of silence that comes from a shared sense of awe.

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

The Welsh countryside is stunning at ground level. From a helicopter it’s incredible. I was lucky enough to experience a wide range of weather conditions too. We travelled about 50 miles in total which took us from bright sunshine into areas of patchy cloud, and then into light rain and dark cloud cover. Seeing the landscape below was incredible enough, but the patchy sunlight brought a wonderful sense of drama to the vistas.

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

Just like toward the end of my holiday when I finally found a bit of pure inspiration to take a couple of photos of my kids, these stunning views inspired me again. What was interesting about the experience though was that coming from a point of having not felt particularly inspired or wrapped up in the idea of the photography prior to the flight, I was truly able to appreciate the experience without my thoughts of photography obstructing the view, so to speak.

I’m the first person to shout at the TV when I see some idiot filming their favourite band on thier iPhone from the crowd at Glastonbury festival. “Just enjoy the damned experience”, I can be heard shouting from about a half-mile away. That said, I’m self-aware enough to realise I can be a bit of a hypocrite sometimes. Again, as I mention in my earlier post, I can let photography become a little all-consuming in a way that, if pushed, I will admit, can sometimes disrupt or at least distract from my enjoyment of an experience.

By the time I took the ride in this helicopter though, I’d given up fighting the loss of inspiration and decided to just enjoy myself. Taking a camera and single lens that I barely needed to think about definitely allowed me to do that. I didn’t take many photos at all, though I still got the shots I’d loosely planned in my head prior to taking off.

I even managed to get a couple of shots I am really pleased with. This one, even if I do say so myself, I think is stunning – though I must admit, it’s a little hard to fail when taking photos of Snowdonia from a helicopter when sunlight happens to just fall into a valley and not much onto the surrounding hills…

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

Thanks to me not being there with my full-blown photographer hat on, I was even able to shoot without fretting about the reflections or the rainwater on the glass annoying me.

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

Reflection lower right

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

Rainwater centre frame

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

Helicopter Ride in Near Welshpool

Of course, the title of this post was written entirely in jest – I don’t have GAS for a helicopter at all. I would love to go up in one again to take more photos like this, but I’m not about to start an intensive helicopter pilot training course and/or sell my house to buy one. This isn’t about the specifics of taking a helicopter ride for me. Instead – whilst feeling uninspired about photography or cameras – it has offered me the chance to reflect a little on why, how, with what and when I take photos.

In short, just because I am a fairly obsessive photographer, doesn’t mean that I have to behave like one… not all the time at least. More significantly though, just because I’m not behaving like one, it doesn’t mean I can’t still get a few photos that I’m pleased with!

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Terry B
    September 16, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Some lovely shots, Hamish. I believe that the choice of the 35mm lens was spot on for the grandeur of the landscape.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 18, 2019 at 10:43 pm

      Thanks, Terry

  • Reply
    Graham Coad
    September 16, 2019 at 10:43 am

    Living in West Cornwall, I have had several passenger helicopter flights to and from the Scilly Isles, but before that was fortunate to have trips in military and police helicopters. Usually photography was not convenient or appropriate, but on one occasion I was asked to go up as a guide to the pilot to locate illegal traveller camps in west Cornwall. At that time I always carried my Olympus XA in my work briefcase, so was able to take some aerial pictures of my own house and other landmarks.
    I very much like helicopter flights!!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 18, 2019 at 10:44 pm

      Do you have any of the images now?

  • Reply
    Phil Harrison
    September 16, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Having Gas for a helicopter and lessons is perfectly natural, in my view. My 60th birthday present was a trial lesson flying a helicopter and THAT does give you Gas! Anyway you took some unique photos that nobody else has taken. Lovely lighting through the valley. ( I used to stick a film Hasselblad out of a Eurocopter Twin Squirrel doing aerial photography and loved every minute of it. Sorry, showing off.)

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 18, 2019 at 10:45 pm

      Awesome, not showing off! Do you have any of the pictures?

      • Reply
        Phil Harrison
        September 24, 2019 at 10:49 am

        Sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any negatives with me when I left the organisation that I was working as a photographer. I totally am with you about only taking one lens and one body out on shoots. You work with the lens you chose and you will probably do a much better job than worrying about whether you have the right lens on and probably missing the shot.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          September 28, 2019 at 1:46 pm

          That is a shame…

  • Reply
    Ted
    September 16, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    Wonderful story Hamish. Reminds me of my last flight in a British Army Gazelle . Im a photographer for the Canadian Dept of National Defence at CFB Suffield. We needed aerial photos of structures on base and a flight with BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) was arranged. I had the good fortune of having a pilot which was also a Combat Camera Photographer. He had taken the doors off for an unobstructed view and was silky smooth on the controls. It was one of those days hovering above the earth on a warm spring day that reminded me how lucky I am to actually have a job as a photographer. Popping up to approx 5000 ft ABL for an overview off the base and surrounding area in the early hours with doors off and wind rushing thru was an experience to say the least. No way the rest of the day would be better than that morning.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 18, 2019 at 10:45 pm

      That sounds incredible!!

  • Reply
    Wyatt Ryan
    September 16, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    That shot of the valley with the mountains is absolutely stunning man. I’d buy a print of that in a heart beat.

  • Reply
    Adam Bonn
    September 16, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    Nice!

    I saw these on flickr actually.

    Motivation is a funny bugger isn’t it? We delight in its presence but struggle to conjure it up when it’s absent. It can summon us, but we can’t summon it!!

    I’ve only once been in a helicopter, I thought of it as a sky motorbike! Maybe I’ll get to go in one again one day

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 21, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      Yes, well put!

  • Reply
    Per Wilhelmsson
    September 16, 2019 at 8:17 pm

    Great pictures. I see that your choise of camera/lens is the same as I wrote about in post #50 on my blog; a digital Leica and the Zeiss 35/2,8. A great combination.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 21, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      I thought that when I looked at your site the other day – the 35mm 2.8 C-biogon takes a lot of beating eh

  • Reply
    Marco Andrés
    September 16, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    Enjoyed your adventure. It seemed that you were at peace when you did not ruminate over your gear choice and confined it to one camera body and one lens. You had “other things on your mind”. There is a “lesson” buried in your experience – be present, restrict your equipment to one camera body and one lens, do not think about what you do not have [a different camera]; that will only detract from your experience. Consider really simplifying – restrict the camera on your “outings” to the same camera and the same lens. This frees you to concentrate on the experience and not on gear.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 21, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      Funnily enough, I almost always take one lens and one camera out… sometimes its just the initial choice that causes the problem

    • Reply
      Dave
      September 22, 2019 at 5:02 pm

      Awesome experience, never been in a helicopter before and it’s one of those bucket list things for me.

      Photos aren’t bad either 🙂

      • Reply
        Hamish Gill
        September 22, 2019 at 6:57 pm

        Ha, cheers Dave

  • Reply
    Stephen J
    September 17, 2019 at 9:58 am

    Great stuff Hamish, I like a nice dapple.

    The quest for simplicity with cameras is something that I appreciated very early. When I decided that I wanted to do more with photography than family snaps with an instamatic type of device, I headed for the webs and found places like yours that specialised in one aspect or another of the genre. My thing was Mike Johnston’s OCOLOY (One camera, one lens, one year).

    I have read and read and read, and practised endlessly, and although I now mostly use a digital Leica, I only ever carry one lens, or the Leica does, and that is a 40mm Summicron, or my 50mm Nikkor (Sonar design) maybe one day I will be able to afford a 50 Summilux.

    Practice is one of those things that you can do anywhere from the toilet to the tundra (Koudelka used to do this without any film in his camera), but making pictures really requires newness, it is the new places and new experiences that really set the stage, since one photographs to see what stuff looks like when it is framed.

    Best thing, learned through bitter experience is to avoid GAS and enjoy the guaranteed learning curve that comes from having self imposed limits, for it is that which teaches the most.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 21, 2019 at 12:28 pm

      Very true!
      (who’s Koudelka?)

  • Reply
    JONATHAN MACDONALD
    March 4, 2020 at 11:20 am

    That countryside does look amazing.

    I had a similar experience in a hot air balloon over Segovia, Spain, a few years back though I decided on two cameras – one for film, one for digital. I took my Pentax K-3 DSLR with Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 and Yashica Mat 124G loaded with a roll of 220 Portra 160NC. Unfortunately the roll of film came unclipped during processing and spent far, far too long in the developer and was completely destroyed, so in the end I only had my digital shots.

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