Getting Started in Freefall Photography
By David R. Kreiser
Are you a jumper who would like to photograph your enjoyable moments in the air? If you can answer this question with an enthusiastic "yes", maybe you would like to hear how one very ordinary jumper (me) has accomplished this.
Before we proceed any further, allow me to explain that photo-jumping demands sacrifices and is not necessarily enjoyable BUT -- if you can tolerate a five-pound helmet, have patience, determination, and some knowledge of photography, you can reap dividends in satisfaction by being able to contributeto the various parachuting publications and by being able lo show your handiwork to other people, not to mention your own self-satisfaction.
Selecting the Camera
To be able to take good photographs in the air it is necessary to purchase a fairly good camera at an acceptable price, lightweight, so as not to be objectionable during canopy inflation, and finally (and most important) with a mechanism for sequence photos. I'm sure most of you would consider such a camera a very expensive item but this is not necessarily true. A Nikon "F" 35 mm motorized film drive camera such as the "pros" use has a price tag of approximately $700, which should place this outfit out of the reach of most jumpers, but it isn't necessary for most "Sunday" jumpers. A camera having most of the features needed for this type or work may be bought for $75-$100. I'm referring to the Kodak Motormatic 35 mm camera which seems to have been created with the average photo-jumper in mind. It seems to be quite adequate for most needs. If you take a trip to the local photo store all your questions will be answered by a willing and eager salesman.
l will assume you have bought the camera. How are you going to operate it if it is helmet-mounted? (which it should be). A pneumatic shutter release device at least 40 inches long is also available at your photo store and will do a swell job of tripping the shutter when you want to snap a shot. The cable release screws directly into the shutter release of mostcameras.
As I've said earlier, a helmet mount is the best method of using a camera in free fall so take a trip to a cycle shop or send a check for your favorite model helmet. Before you buy, a few words of caution - If you wear a snug-fitting helmet now, buy one that will fit you quite tightly. This is necessary to prevent the helmet from shifting when the camera is mounted and jumped. And don't compromise on safety! Buy a full coverage approved helmet (Snell) and pay the price. It's worth every penny.
Now you have the helmet, the camera, and the cable release.We still need a ringsight and the difficult to make helmet-camera mount so let's jump right into it. The Newton (polarizing) ringsight may be purchased from C and H Sales Company, 2176 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, California 91107 for $3.50. The ringsight will need altering before it can be used. (More on this later.)
Building the Mount
Let's make a camera mount. I advise using 1/16" sheetmetal as it is quite strong and not objectionable in weight. The size metal you will need is determined by the design of your mount. Since this step can result in a bit of confusion regarding mount design, and knowing a photo is worth a thousand words, I'll direct your attention to the photographs of my helmet-camera outfit. Study the photographs carefully, especially the mount design. I used this design since I had no problem in forming the metal to the helmet shape. I would advise you to follow closely along the same design. A mount such as mine is not difficult to make.
Draw your design NEATLY on a piece of art board (white cardboard) exactly the size you want it to be in metal. This is quite important so take everything into consideration - bends, drill holes, camera centering on the mount, mount-to-camera attachments, etc. Take your time and do it right, referring to the photo of my outfit. After this is done, bend the cardboard to the exact shape the finished mount will have. When you have this "mock-up", tape it to the helmet to determine proper design, bends, drill holes, etc. After this is done to your satisfaction ONLY THEN should you remove the cardboard from the helmet and tape and scribe the pattern onto and into the metal. Once this is done, punch in the proper drill locations and make preparations to cut out your mount and drill the holes.
Cut out the mount to the proper pattern on a band saw. If you don't have access to one, have a machinist do it for you and have him drill the holes in the mount. This won't cost a great sum of money. Smooth all rough edges from the mount with grinding (emery) paper.
Using the cardboard pattern as a guide, slowly bend the mount at proper places, checking the conformity of the mount to the helmet. Be sure to allow at least 1/16" in your measurements for making bends or you will have an unpleasant surprise. After you have bent the mount to your satisfaction and drilled all holes, enlist the aid of another person to hold the mount in proper place on the helmet while you mark drill locations for helmet-drilling. Utmost caution must be observed here as off-center drill holes will cause the mount to be offcenter and this will create complications when "sighting-in" the ringsight with the camera, not to mention the appearance of poor workmanship, so take time and do it right.
To give the appearance of a neat job you will want to paint the mount. Flat black or black "crackle" finish spray paint may be used. If you wish to paint it, do so before bolting it to the helmet.
After determining and marking the drill locations on the helmet use a metal punch and punch drill starter holes in it. This prevents slippage of the drill which would mar the helmet quite a bit. The drill holes should be made with a 9/32 drill to accommodate 1/4" bolts. Complete drilling all holes in the helmet.
Now that the drilling is completed, take 1/4" dia. bolts approximately 1½" in length with proper size washers and insert these three bolts into the helmet drill holes from inside to outside, threading nuts over each one. We must do this as we are going to tighten the bolts and nuts until the washer and head of the bolts pull through the inner fiberglass protective liner and the 1" fiberglass protective cushioning until they draw tight against the main outer protective shell of the helmet. Now remove these three long bolts as we have now established a route for the shorter bolts to follow when we attach the mount.
It's now time to fasten the mount to the helmet, so take three 1/4" dia. bolts, 3/4" length with washers and insert them in the same manner as described in the previous paragraph. Slipping the mount in place over the drill holes, force the bolts through the helmet and into the holes in the mount and thread 1/4 dia. caps over the bolts until the mount is secure on the helmet. You don't want any looseness here so be sure the caps are threaded tightly.
Since the inner helmet lining and cushioning will need repairing we'll take care of that problem now. Take some foam rubber and fill the holes in the protective cushioning. Now take 1 ½" Scotch plastic tape (black) and tape it over the holes in the inner fiberglass lining. These steps prevent the fiberglass cushioning from shifting into the large holes in the liner shell and will also protect your head from contact with the bolts. The camera mount and the helmet are now completed.
Mounting the Sight
Now we come to the last major step - The altering and mounting of the polarizing ringsight. Before proceeding further, allow me to explain that the ringsight was used in combat for photo purposes and in certain instances, as a gunnery sight. It will be shipped to you in the condition it was used, so you will have to remove its mount and make one of your own.
Examine the sight and its mount carefully. Saw off the mount close to the ringsight. After you do this you will have to utilize a grinding wheel to remove the remainder of the old mount. A word of caution at this point - There are rod-like protrusions on each side of the ringsight frame and care must be taken not to damage these while grinding away the old mount as these "rods" will have to be threaded for use. After the old mount has been removed completely, thread these brass protrusions. It's advisable to have an experienced person do this for you for if a mistake is made, the ringsight will need replacing. When the above step has been completed successfully, we will proceed to make a new mount for the Sight. Please refer to the photographs in this article as you will be able to determine the construction of the mount from them.
Assuming you have studied the photos included here and have successfully completed all phases of construction as outlined and shown, I'll take time to explain that you will, yourself, have to "sight-in" the camera with the sight. This DOES take time but it can be done, so just be patient. I don't have any special talents and you can see what I was able to do so there isn't any reason for you not to be able to do the same. The steps I've outlined in this article are exactly what I had done in making my photo outfit and it works just fine and is attractive, so just follow directions and use your own good common sense and you, too, will soon be in the air, snapping away.