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The Use of Handcam

Published by PLI on

As both a manufacturer of Tandem Equipment and a rating authority for its use, The Jump Shack has received several inquiries regarding requirements and recommendations for the use of handcam video. As we don’t specifically train people to use this equipment we cannot, realistically, dictate requirements but we can offer recommendations based on the experience of some of our tandem instructors and examiners.

Handcam, the use of a small video camera encased in a glove and worn on the left hand of the tandem instructor, has been increasing in popularity over recent years. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to this method of filming tandems, and it is the purpose of this article to outline;

  1. The Advantages and Disadvantages of handcam video
  2. The minimum recommendations to shoot handcam video
  3. The necessary mindset of the tandem instructor while shooting handcam video
  4. Examples of useful procedures while shooting handcam video

Advantages of Handcam

Handcam video has become popular with both instructors and DZOs primarily because it can increase the revenue of both parties.

The Drop Zone Operator can generate more income per plane load by not needing a slot for the camera flyer. For example, you can put two tandem pairs in a Cessna 182 and both can get video. This also applies to any jump aircraft because instead of dividing the revenue generated by a Tandem with video by three slots, it only requires two.

Tandem instructors can also increase their income by getting paid for shooting (and possibly editing) the video as well as for actually taking the tandem student. It also helps the instructor build rapport with the student. The development of a few easy routines to introduce the student to the equipment and to the concept of the skydive helps in building a bond between the instructor and the student, and where appropriate the use of humor can ease any tension that the student may be feeling. 
The actual video footage shot both on the ground and in the air can also be used as a part of the waiver. Footage of the student being told to pick their feet up for landing and how to arch can be invaluable against the claim “nobody ever told me to do that.” This is especially true when under canopy, it is advisable to have the student practice lifting their legs and feet and actually film that.

From the student’s perspective, the handcam video contains a lot of content not available with external video, including their immediate reaction on canopy opening, footage of them steering the parachute and the ability to record personal messages while under canopy to people who will eventually see the video.

Disadvantages of Handcam

Obviously having the handcam and glove on the left hand severely restricts movement in a smaller plane (such as a C182) and a lot of preparation should be taken before using the system with an actual student. Work out a way to tighten up the side straps by practicing with a fellow skydiver on the ground, in the plane, before coming to the realization that it is trickier than you thought it would be at exit time. This is especially important if you do most of your tandems from a Cessna 182. Practice in both rear and front positions as both present different challenges with a handcam.

Taking tandem students is a process that benefits from an established set of routines, and yet should never allow the instructor to become complacent. The instructor’s job has enough potential pitfalls and inherent dangers that adding another component to the diveflow (handcam) should never be undertaken lightly. The presence of a handcam can be a distraction to both the instructor and the student. This distraction can be beneficial in some instances (having the student look at the camera while in the door can alleviate some of the fear at exit time) and detrimental in others (having the student forget to arch because they’re too busy geeking the camera or assuming bad body position because they spend the whole jump staring off to the left trying to find the camera).

From the student’s point of view the shots missing are the “fly in” shot and any 360’s presenting a complete view of the tandem from all aspects. However, with the development of some routine camera angles during every freefall, this can be compensated for, and more than made up for with the addition of footage shot under canopy and some varying camera angles. Also, any stills pulled from the video will not be of the same quality as those shot with a good Digital Single Lens Reflex or 35mm camera.

The Minimum Recommendations for performing Handcam tandems

Because of the potential for distraction and the added complexity during hookup and exit the following are the minimum recommendations for instructors who wish to use a handcam setup.

  1. An absolute minimum of 100 post-probation tandem skydives.
  2. Currency (the first jump back after a seasonal layoff should NOT be a handcam jump.
  3. Before taking a student the instructor should make 2 solo jumps on sport gear with the camera to feel how it affects flying and 1 jump on tandem gear with an experienced (C licensed) skydiver.

These recommendations are the absolute minimum, the instructor should make as many practice jumps as needed to build a comfort factor.

The necessary mindset for performing Handcam tandems

Any instructor performing handcam video on a tandem should realize that they are a tandem instructor first and a videographer second. The video should be the very last priority on the skydive.

“A bad video of a good skydive is preferable to a good video of a bad skydive”

From hookup procedures, through the exit, the freefall and the parachute ride full attention should be given to the skydive and the video should only be interwoven into established procedures. 

The instructor should also remember that it is the student’s video, they want to see themselves in it, not the instructor goofing around and grandstanding for the whole freefall.

Handcam Procedures

It is important to establish a good set of routines that will minimize the risk of distraction during a tandem skydive performed with handcam. This should start at the very beginning and will assist the instructor in turning out a quality product safely. Below are some examples of handcam procedures that will help in formulating a good, safe routine of your own.

Either before meeting your student with camera in hand take a shot of the student’s name on the manifest board or the waiver or at the very least either say their name in the introduction or get them to say it. When the videos are being edited it really helps to know exactly whose video you are working on.

Gauge the student’s temperament, some humor in the introduction can reduce the fear component, but it should be carefully used, as typical skydiver “gallows humor” may do more harm than good. Generate a routine that you are comfortable with and that can be adapted for every type of student that you will encounter. This part of the video can be used to build a rapport with the student that will help you gain their trust and encourage them to follow your instructions during every part of the skydive. You can even get them to show you a “practice arch” which will encourage them to do the same in the air. If you routinely perform a practice climbout, film that too.

During the climb to altitude film some shots out of the window, inside the plane and, if possible, even conduct a mini-interview. If the student is with some friends and family get them in the shots too.

In the door, pause a second and have the student look at the camera. Ask them to do this while on the ground and remind them once you are hooked up. Having them look at the camera can take their mind, momentarily, off of the concept that they are about to jump from an airplane, then gently guide their head back into position and proceed with the exit.

A good exit is better than a good video of the exit. Concentrate on stability and getting the drogue out.

Once you are flying nice and stable bring your left hand around, either over or under the student’s arm, and get them in frame. Let the camera rest there for a few seconds to get their reactions, this is a great time to do a practice touch on the right drogue release. If all is going smoothly you can obtain some good shots by bring both of your arms out wide and high, by tilting the camera at the ground and then gently bring the hand back to the neutral position. Make all movements as smooth as possible and let any shot linger for a few seconds. Rapid movement shots will make the tandem look jerky and panicky.

Always make your primary pull with the right drogue release while filming handcam. When jumping without a camera switch to the left drogue release to maintain familiarity with its location.

You can get great opening shots of the canopy with a little practice, then bring the camera up to the student’s face to get their initial reaction; it can be priceless! When you have checked the canopy and done a control check you can interview the student. When they have the steering toggles you can tell the camera that they are flying the parachute then pan around the landscape slowly to get the full scenic effect. Turns of 360 and 720 degrees under canopy can look startling if the camera is pointed at the ground, and always get the student to practice their leg positions for landing on the video.

During the landing try and keep the student in frame, but if not possible, once safely on the ground and with a collapsed canopy get the student’s face in full frame and let them tell the world what they thought of their experience.

Finish the video with a short interview, get their name and the dropzone name in there and have a definite finish move such as “Welcome to the sky” and point the camera up as you shut it off. This will give you a definite “end point” for the edit.

As I stated at the beginning of this article, there is no training or testing for incorporating handcam into tandem skydiving, yet its potential for disrupting the dive should not be underestimated. The content of this article is based on the observations and experience of tandem instructors that have already dealt with some of the potential pitfalls, and can be used as a platform for building your own procedures, 

Freefall Photos by Jeff Colley

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