When Red Bull asked Dan Vojtěch to photograph the Flying Bulls, its aerobatic team, from a plane flying at 250 kilometres an hour, he did not hesitate, knowing it was a chance to try something new and he had the Nikon D5 to do it with.
A unique challenge: shooting at 250 km/h
From the start, Dan knew the shoot would take meticulous planning. As he explains, “with four planes in the air, it would be impossible to improvise”. While on the ground, he was briefed by the pilots on their sequences and from there, each shot was planned with military precision.
The time pressure on Dan to get the shots was extreme: he only had a short 10-minute flight to capture all the photos he wanted.
He was also restricted in movement: cramped into a small Xtreme Air XA42, he didn’t have the luxury of being able to adjust his position. His full reliance was on his experience, the planning and equipment to nail the shots.
Focus and speed: the importance of your kit
The constraints of the shoot meant that Dan was unsure whether he’d be able to capture all of the photos he wanted, but the new Nikon D5 did give him some relief. He explained that the camera’s focus made it an obvious choice, highlighting that the camera is, “superfast and can focus in even the lowest light”.
The familiar feel of the camera compared to his Nikon D4 was also a plus for Dan, who explained, “that’s what I like about Nikon: you know what to expect”. The easy handling meant he had no difficulty adjusting between shots, even while flying hundreds of metres up in the sky and at incredible speeds.
Dan chose to pair the Nikon D5 with the NIKKOR 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens specifically for the unique perspective it would lend to the photos. The wide angle would allow viewers to be immersed in the shots; putting them in the pilot’s seat from which to take in the beautiful formations made by the Flying Bulls.
In the end, he couldn’t have been more pleased with how the photos turned out. Bubbling over with excitement, Dan told us, “seeing the pictures on the camera’s screen for the first time was an unforgettable moment for me”.
Fulfilling a dream shot: the mirror formation with strobes
For some time, Dan wanted to shoot airplanes with strobes inside. It did not take long for him to combine this idea with shooting the mirror formation stunt: two planes flying in mirror formation. His vision materialised in the photo below, taken when two aerobatic planes were just two metres apart. For this shot, Dan used the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED.
This was a challenging shoot. First the team had to figure out how to mount the strobe inside the plane, which they did by fastening each strobe on the front seat with the seat belt and some tape. The second issue was ensuring the pilots could still fly with a fully lit strobe in the front seat.
When asked for his tips for shooting aerobatic planes, Dan replied without hesitation: careful planning, preparation and complete focus on what you want to achieve.
Watch this space: where Dan is jetting off to next
It’s true what they say about the adrenaline rush being addictive; Dan is already planning to work with the Flying Bulls again this summer. He tells us that the pilots are up for a challenge, so he’s dreaming up even more daring ways to capture the acrobatic team.
What was in Dan’s kit bag for the shoot?