Oil Slick Photography from a Unique Perspective

A piece of the BP oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, photographed by Anthony Jacobs using his model helicopter camera platform. If you look carefully in the lower right corner of the photo, you'll see the boat that Jacobs is in shooting this picture. (Photo by Anthony Jacobs / Copyright 2010)

A piece of the BP oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, photographed by Anthony Jacobs using his model helicopter camera platform. If you look carefully in the lower right corner of the photo, you'll see the boat that Jacobs is in shooting this picture. (Photo by Anthony Jacobs / Copyright 2010)

I  had a chance to fly over the BP oil slick last week, photographing giant sheens of oil in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay and off the shores of Grand Isle and Grand Terre, two of the barrier islands that have been hard hit by this calamity. I did this flyover courtesy of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, which took local media on the flight in their recently- purchased monster of a helicopter, an old U.S. Army Huey. It’s a big heavy bird that can seat about a dozen people altogether, meaning all four of us shooting had perfect seats, strapped in with the doors left open. The best part was that as a government vehicle, the JPSO did not have to observe the official 3000-foot ceiling over all things oil spill, and we cruised along for most of the flight at about 200 feet, much nicer for shooting.

There’s not a better way in the world to shoot aerials than from a helicopter, but it’s horribly expensive. I have no idea what our Huey costs to operate, but you can bet it’s not cheap. Regular helicopter rentals can run anywhere from $600 an hour and up for a small bird to $1200 an hour and up for larger craft. Which is why a recent article in Photo District News caught my eye.

Anthony Jacobs is a former Getty Images editor and New York City resident who has started an interesting new service called perspectiveAerials: low-altitude aerial photography using a model helicopter, digital camera (Canon 5D Mark II) and remote trigger. Here’s a video that shows him in action last year, flying the setup in a small park in New York.

But now he’s gone a step further. Anthony brought his device to the Gulf of Mexico recently, got on a boat and headed out to a piece of the giant, slimy floating oil spill. He then showed a lot of cool and calm and launched his pricey package out over the water, creating some high resolution images of the still like none you’ve seen so far.

Here’s the video of the launch.

Here’s an example of a 360-degree image of the spill created with the camera.

I was able to get a few questions to Anthony after seeing these videos. Here’s what he had to say:

How tough did you find it working out in the Gulf?

I have to say this was one of my toughest shoots! The conditions out there were almost unbearable for me…I was out in the Gulf that morning for about 10 hours and it rained 90% of the trip, that along with winds and chill almost made me throw in the towel! This all changed once the smell of oil started penetrated my nostrils and the 1st sign of sheen became visible. Once we came upon the actual oil and I started preparing for the shoot, I was overcome with excitement to the point where I started sweating and had to remove my rain gear!

Did the salt water/ air do any damage to your gear?

I have to admit I was a bit inadequately prepared for this shoot. My craft is not waterproof but can fly in moderate rain without issue. In preparation for the extreme wet saltwater conditions out in the gulf, I wrapped the aerial platform in large plastic sandwich bags and gaffer tape…this was very effective and kept the electronics dry.

The 360-image is very nice. Which software package did you put it together with?

I used Pano2VR and AutoPano Pro.

Finally, did you also shoot any video of the slick with it?

Sorry no video, not on this trip.

Besides shooting commissioned work, Anthony is now selling this apparatus. The basic kit (minus camera) runs about $4500. For full details, you can contact him at info@perspectiveaerials.com.

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Related articles on the web:

First Time Aerials at Sportsshooter.com

How to Take a Photograph Out of a Plane Window at Digital Photography School

How to Shoot Aerial Photographs at Photohowto


Posted in: Equipment

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.