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Aerial Director of Photography (DoP)

Film | High End TV | TV
Personality type:

The lowdown

  • Taking responsibility for all aerial elements of filming, from a bird's-eye view of where the story is set to looking down on a car chase
  • Working closely with the Director, Safety Engineer, and managing the Aerial Camera Crew
  • Organising all of the technical aspects of filming in compliance with safety regulations

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to: 

  • have full working knowledge of all camera equipment and lenses
  • know about all photochemical processing
  • understand digital non-linear techniques
  • be familiar with Aerial camera systems (such as the Wescam) 
  • have thorough knowledge and understanding of aerodynamics and flight
  • know Civil Aviation Authority rules and regulations
  • work creatively without compromising on safety
  • lead a team whilst also taking direction
  • have strong concentration skills
  • be courageous
  • have methodical working practices
  • stay calm under pressure
  • have good imagery skills
  • know about Health and Safety legislation and procedures (including the handling and placing of camera equipment in aircraft, First Aid, Fire Fighting and other emergency procedures)

What does an Aerial Director of Photography do?

Aerial DoPs work closely with the Film Pilot, Aerial Camera Assistant and Safety Engineer. After reading the script, the Aerial DoP meets with the Director, the main unit Director of Photography, and if relevant, the Visual Effects Supervisor, to discuss storyboards of all aerial sequences. 

Aerial DoPs recommend specific aircraft and equipment, taking care to stay within budget. During technical recces, Aerial DoPs assess specific locations for aerial camera angles, calculate the logistics of refuelling the aircraft, and establish suitable landing sites for reloading the camera (which cannot be carried out in flight). This is all co-ordinated by the Aerial Unit Support Team, who also organise the hiring of all aircraft, and provide back-up and support for the Aerial Crew throughout filming. 

During the shoot, the work can vary from one day of pick-up shots to five months of intensive filming, sometimes in hazardous conditions. The Aerial Crew normally arrives on location before the main crew, to prepare the aircraft (usually a helicopter) for the day's flying. This involves vital daily inspections to comply with Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules and regulations. When the Safety Engineer and Aerial Pilot are happy that all safety checks have been carried out, they begin their day's work, possibly rehearsing any particularly difficult shots. 

They work as an independent team but stay in close communication with the First Assistant Director about their progress and location. At the end of each working day, Aerial DoPs oversee the tidying up of all camera equipment and the covering up and securing of the aircraft if shooting is to continue the following day.

Aerial DoPs are freelance and gain work through personal contacts and recommendations. Because aerial filming on (mostly) action feature films requires significant budgets, and the work is therefore irregular, Aerial DoPs also work on commercials, television, promos and corporate films.

Will I need a qualification?

You can take a short course providing the basic skills for 16mm and 35mm camera operation. You will also find that training in stills photography provides a good, all- round understanding of composition and light. 

As an Aerial DoP, you don’t need to hold a pilot's licence, but you should have an interest in aerodynamics and aviation. 

Training in emergency first aid procedures is recommended. 

What’s the best route in?

You can expect to follow the conventional route to becoming a DoP, which usually involves starting out as a Camera Trainee and progressing through the ranks of the Camera Department to 2nd Assistant, then 1st Assistant Camera. 

In order to specialise in aerial cinematography, you must develop a keen interest in flying, aviation and aerial camera systems and equipment.

You could apply to be a Camera trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives you hands-on experience in the industry and helps you build those all important contacts that are essential when competing for a job:

More information about Trainee Finder


Interested? Find out more...




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