Horses on a Plane
I dreamt about horses and Jumbo jets. It was a strange night. I had a nightmare that my Syrp Genie wasn’t charged, I’d checked it before bed, but still, the fear was there. My Alarm woke me at 4:30. I looked across my room to the 4 bags of photographic gear sat there, and with the sort of discipline shown only by Olympic athletes, I got myself out of a cosy bed, making my way through sleep fuzzled eyes downstairs to the coffee machine. It was frosty at 5:20am, my car slowly defrosting itself, I stopped for a coffee and fuel. The blast up the M11 to Stansted made longer by Vanessa Feltz and her dawn patrol….
Stansted was baltic. An icy blast of wind whipping round my ankles, through a gap in my long johns as I contemplated emptying the car and setting up the gear.
I met with the crew for the day; Danielle, from the charter company and my colleague Tom. Tom and I decided to go for a bacon roll. This gave us a chance to finalise our roles for the shoot and form a strategy to capture today’s events.
The 96 race horses would be processed through Border Inspection Control, into the boxes, and loaded onto the Boeing 747C. The entire event to be captured in an epic motion timelapse, as well as stills, to document the gargantuan task that would unfold before us over the next 18 hours.
With time lapse, you have to be committed to leaving your gear alone. Set it up, and just leave it the hell alone. The only trouble with this job was there was so much happening, at varying speeds, in multiple locations, all fundamental in telling the story.
The plan was to shoot it from multiple viewpoints, in short (ish) takes. Allowing for one camera to be shooting full time, whilst others captured specific action pieces. And shoot stills, too…. It was going to be a busy day.
For this job, the kit bag was substantial:
2x Nikon D810’s, 2x GoPro Hero Session 5, Nikon D5, Syrp Genie, Syrp Genie Mini, Syrp 2m slider, Nikon 24mm 2.8, Nikon 50mm 1.4G, Nikon 85mm 1.8, Nikon 70-200 2.8 as well as my own dependable Keith from 3LeggedThing and all sorts of other gubbins and trinkets to enable us to capture this unique event.
The amount of kit meant we could set up and relocate rapidly - whilst maintaining a rolling camera on the action at all times.
With initial set-up completed, the horses started entering the Border Inspection Post. These were race horses. Fit, strong, and hugely intimidating to be stood next to. I suddenly realised, I hadn’t really been this close to a horse since I was about 12 years old…….
This realisation struck me, as I found myself crouched, ninja photographer style, between this huge stallion, and a brick wall, with nowhere to go. I did what any sensible person would do, averted my gaze, and backed out of the situation, just as the legs of this horse turned round to me, hoofs scratching and stamping on the floor of the stable we were in. Thankfully, there was enough manure on the floor already to mask the scent of my fear.
I find motion time lapse to be far more engaging to watch than static. I wanted to have footage that would allow for a dynamic edit, telling the story and evoking the sense of energy and movement associated with race horses, and these huge, orchestrated cargo movements. I utilized the HD time lapse modes on all the cameras. The auto generated time lapse movies would be edited together later.
The ease and speed at which you can set up and start recording with this method made it perfect for this shoot. Some of the time lapse captures were as short as 40 minutes. With the longest being 2 hrs.
Using the GoPro Capture app and the Syrp app, setting up a time lapse takes a few moments, once you have familiarised yourself with the equipment. This was paramount for my decision to use it, as shooting would be constant through the day, changing position regularly - easy set up was fundamental to it being a successful shoot, not missing any important aspects of the operation.
I wanted panning and tracking time lapses, so what else would I use other than Syrp equipment? I love this kit. The Magic Carpet slider, Syrp Genie Module and a Syrp Genie Mini. This gave me several creative processes to capture unique and engaging time lapses.
I have had the Syrp kit a few months now, using it to shoot award winning piers, new car launches, at a space observatory and full on five day time lapses of a car park refresh..
The versatility of the Syrp equipment is what suited it to this job most of all. Ease of operation, how easy it is to transport, (it’s really compact gear) and the simplicity of moving the modules from location to location.
In tighter spots, like when set up at close quarters to a where horses may be passing, the Syrp Mini was perfect. Compact and silent in operation, which, around horse, is a priceless attribute. I’ve seen horses jump at the most ridiculous of noises, or imaginary threats.. They are very flighty creatures. I didn’t want to be the reason for one to get excited.
All the groom’s escorting the horses through the BIP knew the horses. I was so impressed with how Intradco dealt with and cared for the horses. The calmness and efficiency with how the operation was executed was astounding, really impressive. There was not a single moment that any of the horses exhibited even the slightest sign of discontent.
Stills were shot of the operation whilst the time lapse were being captured. This was a large and unique operation for the company I was working for, they were eager to maximise the image portfolio from this event. Images would be used for internal training, on the website and social media. It was imperative the photos showed every aspect of the operation and ensured that they communicated the scale of the task.
It’s a surreal and rare experience, walking out to an active Boeing 747. We’ve all been on them, but walking up to it, you’re struck by the sheer size of it.
The noise of the craft sat prepping, testing systems and being refuelled, a hive of activity and just the privilege of being under the wings, free to roam around this leviathan of aviation.
I spoke with Tom, we were uncertain how long the operation would take, all we knew is that we had a two hour window to get all the horses loaded and the plane prepped before it’s scheduled take off slot.
Hastily, we set up a motion timelapse with the Syrp mini on a securely weighed down 3LeggedThing tripod, set as low as we could get it. The wind was gusting at 60mph. Previous tests had shown it too windy for the full slider, Syrp Genie and Mini set up. Even weighed down we both felt the motion from the wind would be too much to capture a steady film. I’m sure, with a bit more time, it would be possible to secure the Syrp gear more robustly, but with ninety odd horses all waiting to be loaded and a colossal price per minute sat on the tarmac, the setting up of camera gear was not a priority.
In the final film, you can see the wing of the Boeing 747c moving. The motion in the timelapse is visible, but does give a dynamic feel to the film.
We’ve all stepped on to a plane and been in awe of the size. But, seeing the interior of a cargo plane, empty, is impossible to describe. Just the sheer scale of the aircraft.
It’s actually treacherous to walk around the interior of one of these things. The floor is almost totally covered in ball bearings. This allows the crates it carries to be manoeuvred into position. But, if you’re not careful, you step on one and nearly do the groundward boogie, moonwalking like Michael Jackson before falling with a bump on to your shaking money maker.
With Tom shooting some interior shots, I concentrated on capturing the culmination of the days labours, the final loading of the horses onto the aircraft. This was done with an automated scissor lift, that raised the containers to the side access door on the 747. The containers were then manually positioned and secured.
The tarmac was busy and it was starting to snow. I had the best part of £5000 worth of gear laid out in the dark, with airport vehicles whizzing about and tractors pulling convoys of containers. so I was fairly static, watching out for the gear. You can see now why we had to sport fetching hi vis vests. There was significant risk of the gear being demolished. It was coned off and we commandeered one of the security vans to park beside it for safety.
That important scene captured, it was paramount we got the interior shots. Tom had been on it, and had placed the gopro for timelapse, too.
I’m so glad I went onto the aircraft, as I got invited up to sit in the cockpit and more excitingly, up into the hump of a 747 for the first time!
Fuelled and fully loaded, it was time for us who were not going with the horses to be escorted off the tarmac and through security again to pack up and take a weary journey home. I had to get back to the south coast from Stansted, unpack and recharge everything for a full day shooting an insurance company the next day.
But then, that’s why I’m a photographer. One day it’s photographing images for an electricians website, then 200 insurance staff, then the next day, horses on a plane.
Are you ready for the final video? You can watch it here, press play and enjoy.
To contact Avant Commercial and for more about Phil and his varied photography life, see @avantPhoto on Twitter, or @PhotoAvant on Instagram.
You can also find more details about Chapman Freeborn and Intradco at the following web address https://www.chapman-freeborn.com/en/