Lighting a Wakeboarder Using a Battery-Powered, Helicopter-Mounted Strobe

Photographer Bryan Soderlind recently did a photo shoot with his buddy, professional wakeboarder Rusty Malinoski (the first person to ever land a 1080 in competition). Instead of the usual setup photographers use for wakeboarding photography, the two decided to try something crazier: lighting the action from the air using a battery-powered strobe placed in a helicopter.

Soderlind writes that a helicopter “would be the ultimate light stand, following the rider and being able to light him at any angle.”

After consulting with a wakeboarding photographer friend who had tried the same idea in the past (with mixed results), renting a helicopter, finding a good location (a rock quarry owned by a friend), and picking a day with good weather, the shoot went down. Soderlind states,

We had the helicopter for two hours of fly time to get the shot we were going for. While the sun was high and were waiting for evening to set in, Rusty decided to take a a warm up ride and I decided to jump in the helicopter for a few shots. Our pilot Dirk was new to this kind of aerial photography but quickly learned how close he needed to be for us to get the shot. The light was still too high to shoot so we all decided to wait till the sun dropped to the horizon […]

At about 7pm we made the call to fire up the boat and helicopter again. Rusty rode like a man possessed, hitting double up after double up, getting almost 20 feet of air almost every time. The strobe in the helicopter didn’t fire every time as planned but it did fire enough times to get the shots we wanted.

Here’s Soderlind’s favorite photo from the shoot:

Sunwest [Bryan Soderlind Journal]

Image credits: Photographs by Bryan Soderlind and used with permission

  • Anthony Harrison

    Awesome – surely some images lighting from a different angle without the helicopter in shot though?

  • shootinglight

    Agreed. I was scrolling down hoping for that. Surely that was the idea??

  • Mark

    maybe these shots are the ‘making of’ shots…the end product is probably being used by the client somewhere..?

  • brob

    if these are the final shots, I’d say this was huge a waste of money

  • James Dugan

    These are odd in that the light on the wakeboarder appears to be coming from somewhere other than the helicopter. Was there another helicopter? Other lights? If we can see the light source in the photo, it shouldn’t wrap around the subject as this does. What gives?

  • harumph

    Like everyone else, I don’t get it. Are these behind-the-scenes shots? I wouldn’t have thought that the point of renting the helicopter was to take shots of the helicopter. So the photographer was on the water, and the point was to take shots of the helicopter shooting a strobe directly into the lens?

  • adam

    these are terrible…i certainly hope that he took some without the helicopter involved.

  • brandon

    put me down for not getting it either. a couple are okay, but really these all look like the behind the scenes shots for a “making of”. Not the finals. yeah, i’m not to sure this photo guy knows what he’s even doing with that back light helicopter, but if this is what he wanted, i guess he got it. i wouldn’t be happy with it.

  • brandon

    on second though, i don’t even think the light from the heli is even doing anything, other than distracting the image. i speak with a good bit of lighting exp with back/side lighting.

  • matt jones

    I don’t get it

  • Brandon

    if you go so far as to rent a freaking helicopter, surely you could remember to balance your shots a wee bit closer to 5600k, no?

  • Ivor Wilson

    I’m getting a distinct “How can I spend an obscene amount of money achieving an inferior result than if I’d simply shot in Sunlight?” feeling. I expect he’s also being lit by a spotlight on the towing boat. What a strange, misfired concept.

  • Mattbuzz

    I don’t get the positioning of the helicopter, shouldn’t it be infront of the surfer ? I know backlight is nice, but not that necessary in that case imo