CRW photography or videography can produce memorable
imagery. The colours of the parachutes and jumpsuits, the shapes and size of
formations, the brute force visible in competition jumps, and the expression
& emotions of the people involved evoke stunning pictures.
CRW camera is beneficial for judging competition jumps,
judging formation records, and is a very beneficial tool for training &
debriefing purposes. And what better way to remember those special moments than
a photo or video. It is also a vital tool in promoting the sport to the
parachuting and general public.
But, there are a number of things that you need to
consider, in order to become a competent & safe CRW cameraperson.
I wont go into specific set-ups. There are a host of other
websites, equipment manufacturers & retailers, and other sources of
information that can help you with camera set-ups. I will be discussing some
criteria or characteristics that your set-up should have to maximise your
potential in CRW camera.
The design of your set-up must factor in safety and the
peculiarities of CRW.
- Camera Safety
- minimise extrusions and anything that can catch onto other bits of
equipment. The equipment includes your own and that of other jumpers.
Risers, suspension lines, bridles, pilot chutes, and even your body.
- if you want to use a side mounted camera, you have to ensure that it
is clear of risers during deployment. Don't look to the side until the
swing through. A few of these have been "riser slapped" on
- if you are using top mounted cameras, be careful about snagging them
in the slider or suspension lines whilst in flight & moving your
- include a cutaway mechanism in your camera set-up. A large pilot chute
should be included to reduce the descent rate and impact force of the
equipment if cutaway. This is required for situations where your camera
gear is entangled with parachuting equipment.
- Camera CRW Specifics
- most stills cameras are mounted in the horizontal format. Many CRW
formations are longer than they are wider. Hence it is beneficial to
shoot photo's in the vertical format. The best option is to have a
stills camera that can be rotated 90 degrees whilst in the air. Failing
that, mount it vertically. Horizontal is fine too if you have no other
option. But you may have to use a wider lens to fit the
- depending on your flying & filming style, you may find yourself
close to the formation with a very large subject matter. Hence a wider
angle lens is useful to get everything into frame.
- set up the sighting system to the "narrower" angle camera as
the wide will capture everything that the narrower one captures and
more. Ensure that the cameras are aligned in both the horizontal and
Compatibility of Video & Stills
It is usually preferable to match the "width" of
both the video and still cameras. This means you don't have to compromise on
your flying and camera technique between the two cameras.
It you are constrained by your equipment, it is better to
have a wider stills than video. The reason is that video is more beneficial on
each parachute jump, so you should set up your flying and framing to the video.
If your stills is wider, it will capture everything that your video does anyway
and because the resolution is better you can crop and blow up the image anyway.
If you have the reverse (wider video and narrow stills), you are more likely to
end up with a photo of only a part of the formation, or a very distant video
where it is hard to see what is going on. I.e. you have a bigger margin of error
with a wider stills and narrower video than a narrower still and wider video.
Wide or Zoom?
There are two extremes of operation in aerial camera work.
One is to fly as close as possible with a very wide angle lens. The other is to
fly a long way away and to use a telephoto lens. Most people fit somewhere in
between. My preference is for a wide angle lens whilst flying very close.
Assuming the camera has been manually set-up for the right exposure. Here are
some advantages and disadvantages of both styles.
Range - Wide Angle
you get too far away from the formation, a wide angle lens will
exaggerate this affect. Anything closer and you will get everything into
you get too close to a formation, you will not be able to get the whole
formation in the frame. If you are further away, you will still be able
to see the major features of a formation.
little effort as the wide captures everything. Couple this with photo
editing software and you wont miss a thing. It diminishes the affect of
poor flying/framing skills.
be very precise when pointing at the subject matter. Distance will
penalise poor flying/framing skills.
cheaper lens will give edge distortion.
give crisp, clear images.
movements are dampened.
can lead to blurring.
only will you see the whole formation, you will see detail within the
opportunity for detail.
will often be flying in turbulence which may increase risk of dropping
away from the formation if your canopy distorts and will also induce
some shaking (offset by wide angle).
will be flying in clean air.
chance of involvement as you have less time to react if it comes your
as you are further away.
input required if riding in the turbulence and this "draws"
you in. Need to be more alert & responsive as the flying
characteristics of the formation changes or an emergency occurs.
will be required to fully control your canopy as you are flying clean
as you are so close.
of losing formation (getting hosed) if it suddenly accelerates or surges
away from you.
to respond quickly but you are less likely to lose the formation.
more time to respond but are more likely to lose the formation.
Canopy, Harness & Container, Accessories
Maintaining proximity to the formation whilst using
minimal energy (conserving), is important for CRW camerapersons. CRW camera can
be just as physically demanding, if not more, than the activity you are filming.
Following are some equipment tips.
- use compatible equipment as described in the tips section below.
- install and use front riser grips, leg stirrups, pulley systems, or any
other device that gives mechanical advantage for controlling the canopy.
Although it is possible, it is not recommended to attempt
CRW camera without developing a set of important skills. It is extremely helpful
if you know how to fly a parachute. This includes the affect of every control
input, whether operated independently, or in conjunction with other control
inputs. Here are some of the skills you should learn prior to doing CRW camera:
- learn affect of each control input and flying technique:
- front riser.
- rear riser.
- riding the turbulence of the formation.
- learn how to land a CRW canopy safely.
- know what the judges, coach, organisers, parachutists are looking for.
- accuracy skills.
- basic rigging and advanced packing skills so that you can safely set up
- communicating all scenarios with all parties involved.
- photography and videography skills
- set-up & operation
- know CRW safety - learn everything in this section of OzCRW.
Tips for Successful CRW Camera
There are a number of factors that will assist you to do
an excellent job with your CRW camerawork. The main one is compatibility
- both in terms of equipment and personalities.
The flight characteristics of your canopy, relative to the
formation you are filming, will determine whether you will be able to fly with
the formation and how much energy you will expend doing it. The greater the
difference in flight characteristics, the more physically demanding your job
will be and/or the more likely it is that you will not even remain close to the
formation. Basically, as a first simple step, the descent rate and forward speed
of your canopy should exactly match that of the people you are filming. The best
way to achieve this is by using the same type and size canopies and having the same wing
loading. Wing loading is your exit weight divided by planform area of
your canopy. The better matched you are, the more likely that you can stay at
exactly the same distance and position from the formation - this is extremely
important for teams.
Even better than exactly matching canopy flight
characteristics of the formation is using a parachute that
has a wider range of flight characteristics.
That way you can sink, lift, slow down, and speed up relative to the formation.
Given that these factors quickly change within a formation it is useful the
cameraperson to have extra range in movement. This takes a little bit of testing
to find what the ideal canopy is.
Each formation has its own flying characteristics. A 4 Way
Sequential Diamond formation will have a flatter glide and greater forward speed
than a single parachutist. A Rotations team will have a very fast descent rate
due to the inefficiency of the combined wing, frequency & extent of front
riser inputs, and the aerodynamics of the canopy. A cameraman needs to anticipate
changes in flying characteristics in order to keep a constant distance
from the formation. Go to the aerodynamics section
to learn more about the flying characteristics of different formations.
Use the correct width lenses with the correct
settings (manual focus, etc). I have a strong preference for very wide
lenses and flying very close to the formation with manual camera settings. That
way side to side movements are not noticed as much and everything is in frame.
You also get to see the detail of the inner workings of the formation. This is
very important for training purposes. Just be aware of the safety issues when
flying very close.
Use mechanical advantage for your control
inputs, especially for your front risers. This may
be in the form of front riser trim tabs, pulley systems, leg stirrups, front
riser cross connectors, etc.
Know your canopy and its full range of flying
characteristics. That way you will find and use them when the formation starts
to play up.
And best of all, if you can actually do CRW, you will be
much better equipped to film it. Lets face it, you will have to fly relative to
other canopies in order to get your shot.
Typical Jump Sequence for Cameraperson
Each stage of a CRW camera jump requires special skills
& safety considerations. Following the fundamental safety
requirements is your first priority. Here is an outline of each step of a
CRW camera jump and the camera skills involved.
- Pre-jump preparation.
- ensure all prerequisite skills are attained in terms of canopy
control, camera operation, and safety.
- ensure sufficient consumables (tape, film, battery charged ,etc).
- parachuting equipment checks.
- plan each stage of the Dive, & then Dive the Plan.
- can leave first (float), in the middle, or last.
- set-up your equipment (un-stow brakes, slider, etc).
- Flying into position.
- continue to target the formation (keep filming it).
- get into the right position (closer) as quickly as possible, otherwise
you will find yourself struggling to keep up.
- DO NOT get low and behind, you may never catch up. It is better to be
a little higher, slightly behind and just to the side. You have a
greater range in speed and relative height from this position. This
technique will change depending on what you are filming.
- Filming the formation.
- this is where some knowledge on how formations fly will be invaluable.
Ask the CRW guys if you don't know. As a general rule, larger formations
tend to descend faster.
- keep the formation in frame the whole time.
- choose a point in the horizon and centre the formation there. Use this
as a reference point throughout the dive. Obviously this depends on your
goals for the jump.
- minimise side to side movement on training dives as it will be
difficult to determine heading changes.
- turbulence or burble exists on the same plane as a formations glide
path. This generally means that it is just behind and above the
formation. It is harder to control your canopy and you are buffeted
around more when flying in turbulence, even if it is fun. Some CRW
camerapersons use this turbulence to keep them close to the formation
without having to give much of their own control input. It is much like
racing drivers slipstreaming competitors in front of them. The vacuum or
burble behind the moving object draws you towards the object.
- Break off.
- assume everyone is out to get you. Stay high, off to the side, and
relatively behind the formation. Obviously this will change depending on
how well you know the parachutists (trust), and what type of formation
- Flight & landing Patterns. It is important to follow the dive plan
throughout the descent. This includes post break off circuit patterns,
traffic awareness, and landings.
Aims of CRW Camerawork
Following are a number of requirements for particular
types of Canopy Formation jumping. The objective of each jump will determine
what you need to film. For example, if you need to determine what the stack
discipline is like in a rotations team, it is better if the cameraman gets as
close as possible to the formation to record what the individual body movements
are. Before you film a jump, sit down with the parachutists and find out what
the real objective is. Then plan out together how you will achieve that safely.
Then do it.
- Competition teams
- must show the instant the first person exits the plane.
- must show each member of the team exiting.
- must show footage from just before the first point being completed and
each point thereafter.
- the team must present the grips to the judges. This is literally a
team effort in that the parachutists must dock cleanly and in the right
position (present the grip) and the cameraman must be at the correct
angle and distance to record the grips (see grip definitions in the regulations).
- must get the whole team in frame during transitions in 4 Way
- must record the leave and dock on rotations as well as keeping the
base in frame the whole time.
- training (this varies depending on what the focus is on each jump)
- usually must show as per competition CRW requirements above.
- may have to video from the side to get a front to back 3D perspective
on what the parachutists are doing.
- may have to move further back to film set-ups and positioning on
builds, rotations, and sequential transitions.
- maintain a fixed line of flight to determine whether the formation is
changing heading (not side to side).
- film exits & headings of the team, especially base-pin.
- film equipment configuration (i.e. p/c retraction or p/c) or flying
characteristics after break-off.
- large formations
- film each stage of the jump from the base-pin to landing.
- record deployment headings of the base-pin and remainder of the base.
- film ALL approaches to the formation (docking times, positioning,
- film break off to evaluate execution and safety.
- communicate heights, and other data whilst in the air.
- training / students
- exit stability and initiation of deployment.
- set-up for initial build.
- as per training requirements above.
PLAN THE DIVE & DIVE THE PLAN!
CRW is considered by some to be a dangerous
activity. This reputation has been wrongly earned due to people having incidents
because they had no idea what they were doing. If you follow the safety
fundamentals listed below, you will eliminate most of the risks involved in CRW.
There are more details in the safety section. The
learn some basic aerodynamics and how to fly a parachute
under the guidance of an experienced CRW tutor.
practice using ALL control inputs and learn how to fly the
parachute you will be using for CRW.
check your equipment before each jump & keep it
ensure you carry a hook knife, appropriate gloves, helmet,
use compatible equipment.
learn the appropriate response to all emergency situations.
PLAN the DIVE & DIVE the PLAN! This is key.
be 3D aware. Keep an eye on canopy traffic all around you
throughout the jump. Use peripheral vision.
dock in the same direction that the formation is flying and
with similar speed.
do not perform CRW manoeuvres below break off altitude.
use the correct technique for landing
a CRW canopy.
When people are participating in CRW they are focused on
what they are doing. Hence, one of the main responsibilities of the cameraperson
is to keep clear of the formation and its equipment. This should be reciprocated
by members of the formation but you have the advantage of watching, they may
not. This means understanding
how parachutes and formations fly (regardless of whether they are stable or
collapsed), and knowing the flying characteristics of all people in the
CRW camera safety can be broken down into four main
categories. Following are a series of tips to assist with CRW camera safety:
- jumping techniques
- ensure a stable body position during deployment and be ready to
correct heading whilst the canopy is opening. Heading is important to
maintain visuals on the formation and to avoid collisions.
- focus on what is happening to the formation you are filming as opposed
to just filming the formation. That way you can predict problems a lot
- even whilst focused on the formation, you must beware of other traffic
by using your peripheral vision.
- during deployment, keep your head & camera gear centred (look
straight ahead) to minimise the likelihood of equipment and camera gear
- correcting heading & malfunctions, setting up your equipment (i.e.
slider), and positioning yourself relative to the other parachutists is
a higher priority than camerawork.
- always keep an eye out for the planned (DZ) and alternate landing
areas for your entire flight. Don't get DZ target fixation.
- inform the parachutists of your intentions prior to the jump. PLAN the
DIVE & DIVE the PLAN.
- personal equipment
- minimise equipment that may catch on lines and other equipment.
- equip your camera gear with a cutaway system (with descent rate
reducing pilot chute).
- use a slider that allows ample room for movement of your head &
camera gear. A split or spider slider may help.
- control your opening speed & force to minimise whiplash related
- carry your own hook knife. You never know when you may need it.
- traffic management
- do not fly immediately in front of a formation. The turbulence induced
by your parachute may cause the formation to destabilise or collapse.
The more people in the formation, the more dangerous this can be.
- give way to all people flying towards or setting up on a formation.
- do not interfere or get involved with emergencies due to a "must
get the money shot" focus.
- be aware of other canopies chasing wraps with you. You may be heading
for the same place without realising.
- if there are other people filming, discuss what areas or zones each
person can occupy. Plan for scenarios such as filming wraps. Keep an eye
on each other.
- do not cause a pilot of any formation to have to make avoidance
manoeuvres on you. If it is a wrap, the avoidance manoeuvre may
destabilise the formation even more. Beware.
- do not fight for landing areas. Give yourself and other parachutists
room. This is especially relevant during long spots or major heading
changes. You have the advantage that you can keep an eye on the spot and
outs whilst the jump is occurring. The parachutists on the formation may
be too focused on their task to watch the spot and will have to make
rapid decisions after break off.
- do not make radical movements of you enter clouds (another thing to
discuss in the planning stage). Be predictable and make noises if you
cannot see other parachutists. Your first step is to avoid them.
- flying positions relative to formations
- for a floating exit, ensure that you can see the exit count and that
you leave just before the other parachutists. A face full of pilot chute
because you exited on top of the base-pin can turn nasty, especially if
your camera gear gets caught on their parachute equipment.
- deploy your pilot chute AFTER you have left the plane. You don't want
your gear hanging over the elevator of the plane.
- don't deploy at a similar level to the other parachutists as a 180
from the person in front of you can turn ugly very quickly.
- learn what problems initially look like. For example, if you see the
wings starting to rise relative to the rest of the formation, or a side
on dock, an oscillation, change in the formations shape, or a list grip, it may be
the onset of a wrap or entanglement. Keep the area behind clear as
canopies may suddenly spit out in your direction.
- chasing wraps & entanglements. These can change headings, speed of
movement, or descent rates instantly. If you are immediately behind a
funnelled formation, it may suddenly do a 180 degree turn and you will
become a part of the problem.
- flying beneath a formation. A collapsed canopy will tend to fall down
quickly from a formation and may move laterally too. Keep clear of the
area below and behind the formation (in the shape of a 45 degree upside
cone). Especially when people are docking.
- spiralling directly above a funnelled formation. ALWAYS expect a
cutaway on ANY funnelled formation. The closing speed of a disconnected
canopy and a canopy spiralling above it is very fast.
- be extremely careful when sneaking up on unaware jumpers. A sudden
spiral on there part may lead to serious problems.
- if filming a wrap, keep clear of the area just behind and above the
formation as that is where any ejected equipment will end up. Stay just
off to the side and a little higher.
- do not approach a wrap head on. The closing speed may surprise
- beware of the absent minded parachutist, especially on break off. It
may be a good idea to apply brakes as the formation brakes so that you
are high and behind.
- brief all jumpers to break off to the side. Often a cameraperson is
crowded by jumpers moving back into their space.
RETRIEVING CUTAWAY GEAR
It is the polite thing to do to assist other parachutists
locating their gear in the event of a cutaway. You never know when you will need
There are different philosophies on what is acceptable
about aerial retrieval. As a general rule, do NOT catch any floating equipment
as you may be involved in an entanglement or wrap yourself. The best thing to do
is to choose safe main and alternate landing areas, and then to follow the gear.
Do not risk yourself for some nylon and string.
Use ground features to determine where the gear has gone
if you can't land next to it. As you are descending check the topography of the
area for access, exit points, hazards, wind strength and direction, and safe
landing locations. Also keep an eye on other parachutists. You should agree
prior to jumping to keeping together for off DZ landings.
Following are notes & other ideas relevant to
this section that require further development. Please ignore.