An Offshore Aerial Photography and Video Shoot in West Africa

aerial of tanker FPSO

aerial of tanker FPSO and vessel

“The chopper is scheduled at 11.00 today” Mick tells me. I’m on an offshore oilrig in the Gulf of Guinea and I need to take some aerial photography and video of the rig and surrounding supply vessels for a prominent oil company. I groan inwardly as 11.00 will probably mean 12.00 which is the middle of the day and the sun will be directly overhead. At least today there is some, as the last few days have been so hazy that any aerial photography would have been dull and colorless.

landing helicopter offshore

Helicopter about to land offshore

Scheduling a flight for a photography or video flyover is always a little complicated. If the rigs are far out from the shore, most oil companies will try to fit it in between the crew changes, those arriving and leaving. This is the case today.  I am informed that the door will be open, that I will have just under an hour and that one of the helicopter personnel will be up there with me and yes, I will have two way radio with the pilot which is essential

Last winter I had to do an aerial shoot with the door closed and 6 passengers in the cabin, which was a challenge. Did I get any decent pictures? Well I did, but they were boring compared to ones with the door open and no passengers. Firstly, shooting through glass is really not ideal but much harder was trying to get a funkier angle, as the corners of the window would appear. I had two way radio contact with the pilots who were great but I understand that with 6 passengers they couldn’t duck and dive like I sometimes ask them.

aerial of oil rig

aerial oil rig

I take the stills first then switch to video. The light is right overhead and very bright. As for various reasons I do not have a 3 axis gimbal stabilizer to shoot video I use my Sony 4K camcorder that has a built in stabilizer which although inadequate for such a shoot, will be way smoother than any footage shot with a DSLR. I set it up on a pillow to help cushion the jolts. I’m not madly happy with it but it can be rectified in post-production.

aerial of tanker loading oil

aerial of tanker loading oil

Here are some tips for aerial photography and video from a helicopter:

The priority for stills is the shutter speed. Make sure that the camera is set at least at 1/1000th second. I like the aperture to be at least F8 making the ISO the last priority. You do not want blurred pictures.

For really smooth video you need a 3 axis gimbal stabilizer and a decent one. Shoot at either 24fps –1/50th or 30fps at 1/60th. Use a neutral density filter especially in bright light. I do not recommend using a DSLR, it’s really hard to balance the camera and focus.

Drones will probably take over completely for aerial video and photography for offshore oil rigs. They are already being used for various offshore operations. http://oilandgasuk.co.uk/new-guidelines-for-the-use-of-drones-offshore/

I find the video footage from drones hard to beat. For stills it remains debatable, as does the cost compared to using a helicopter.

offshore oil rig in Gulf of Guinea

aerial offshore oil rig in Gulf of Guinea