How do you take a selfie in the sky?

Published on 24th August 2018 at 14:14

Hey, can you take a picture of us: The cameras are mounted under each wing of the Lear Jet. Its size makes it nimble, perfect for aerial photography

Ever wondered what it takes to get the perfect shot of a plane above the clouds? It isn’t easy and involves careful choreography – but the result is so worth it.

Commercial air-to-air photography is an art carried out by a specialised team of aerial cameramen, technicians and formation-trained pilots who fly in tandem with a commercial aircraft.

The delivery of our new fleet of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners gave us the opportunity to work with the team at Wolfe Air, a California-based cinema aviation company whose credentials include movies such as Air Force One, Superman – Man of Steel and Transformers.

Shortly before taking delivery of our third Dreamliner, affectionately called Quokka, Boeing pilots took it high above the Pacific Northwest, where the cloud definition and mountainous terrain provide the ultimate backdrop, with Wolfe Air’s Lear 25B flying right beside.

Beep beep, coming by: A safe distance is always maintained between the aircraft but can you see the pilots in the 787?


Planning the perfect flight

Preparing for the shoot is all about the detail. Wolfe Air’s fleet is fitted with state-of-the-art production equipment, and the expertise of their pilots mean they can fly very near to the subject plane for those close-up shots.

On shooting day, Wolfe Air’s pilots and production crew meet with Air Traffic Control and the Boeing team at Boeing’s Delivery Centre. On a large table they mock out the two-hour flight with model planes, focusing on the safety considerations of each stage.

And of course, the terrain, sunlight and exposure all need to be factored in to make sure the shots are perfect.

Ballet in the sky

Once at cruising altitude, Wolfe Air’s Lear Jet maintains constant visual contact with the Dreamliner. While the planes dance in tandem, the photographer and technician are in the rear of Wolfe’s Lear Jet busily operating the three camera systems (which film stills and motion simultaneously). For the technically minded, they are:

  • Vectorvision Bottom Port with a 4K High Definition Camera
  • Vectorvision Top Port with a 4K High Definition Camera
  • Wolfe Air Stills Pod with a Canon 5DS Mark III Camera on one wing

Both Bottom and Top systems have pan, tilt and roll capabilities to make certain no angle is left uncaptured. The Stills Pod is also capable of remarkable pan and tilt, producing stunning digital photos from angles that were near impossible before its introduction.

Fundamentally, the process hasn’t changed over the 30 years of Wolfe Air’s operation but the technology and the subject aircraft have become a lot more advanced.

Check out the behind the scenes action below.