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safety : Freefall Photography : Hey Bro, Check Out my Go Pro

Hey Bro, Check Out my Go Pro

The sleek, low-profile design, an easy-to-use system, so small it’s hardly there, and it’s oh-so-glorious high quality images – the Go Pro, Hero. In this social media society, the Go Pro is seductive, yet it’s oh-so-risky. For all you rebels at heart, those willing to learn, and especially those with less than 200 jumps - let’s lay down some tracks about being courted to don the camera.

As an AFF Instructor and having been in the sport for nearly two decades, I have developed a hearty outlook about jumping a camera. But let’s slip on a bit of perspective mixed in with a bit of old school and new school thinking. So to round out this discussion, I interviewed two well-respected and well-known camera flyers about the topic – Norman Kent and Brian Buckland.

Norman Kent, a life-long photographer and artist has been jumping a camera since 1975. Norman only wanted to try skydiving once. However, he experienced something so captivating, he saw an opportunity to capture the moments of beauty that was so different and so freeing in the sky. He admitted to be a fast learner, however he first strapped on a camera only having 24 jumps – it was a Kodak Instamatic with 126 cartridges.

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Norman didn’t have a skydiving photographer mentor. In fact, there weren’t many people strapping cameras on their heads in those days. It was an arduous and expensive venture for those willing to try. And for Norman, he made his own contraption by using a motorcycle helmet with no chin cup, wired a mechanical plunger, and confessed he didn’t know anything. So as he jumped his equipment, the air pushed the helmet up and the buckled strap choked him as the helmet moved all over his head and he fumbled in the sky. While these set backs were disappointing, it did not detour him. Instead, he was motivated to invent something that worked better - this approach lead to many camera helmet and jumpsuit innovations over his career, leaving a legacy of pioneering in camera flying.

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I asked Norman what he thought of today’s USPA’s current regulations for jumpers to wait until they had 200 jumps to fly a camera. “Regulation is a good idea, a good guideline,” he says. “It sounds hypocritical to say because I started with the ‘yahoo’ approach, but it’s wise to wait.”

I’ve known Norman for a long time. I’ve seen him jump enormous contraptions carefully constructed upon his head. He’s a proficient and a well-respected camera flyer and we talked how different it is today with the Go Pro being so small. I ask him if he sees any dangers. “It all comes down to the attitude of the jumper,” he begins. “Because the Go Pro is small, it’s inviting people to use it who aren’t even in photography. It’s [jumping a camera] not so simple and there are dangers involved.”

Norman and I both agreed that there is a shift in thinking in skydiving from the renegade days of the past. The development of tandem jumping and social media have greatly changed the image our sport, attracting more types of people to experience skydiving that the thinking of the past has to change.

Norman elaborates, “People learn so differently that I’m not pro-regulating, I’m pro-educating. We need to develop a training or an awareness program [about jumping a camera.]” Although he recognizes the dangers happening, he also sees this as an opportunity for the sport. “This is an opportunity for coaches and instructors, for inventors, for schools…” Norman is currently working on a project for a You Tube production geared towards camera flying educational purposes coming out later this year.

Let’s bring it back in the day where these young lads photographed below are sporting some serious state-of-the-art camera gear in 1988.

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Brian Buckland comes from an entirely different background. Brian made his first jump in 1994 and didn’t jump a camera until 5 years later and racked up about 500 jumps. Brian’s philosophy was to become a proficient flyer first; so he logged about 200 belly jumps, then learned how to freefly. During this time he notes that he was becoming more aware of his routine with gear checks, canopy skills, and landings. Finally the time came and he strapped on his first camera – a Canon Rebel 2000, with film.

Brian went to Radio Shack after buying an off-the-shelf flat top camera helmet to wire up a shutter release. He admits to being nervous since his routine greatly changed with having to be concerned with battery life, clean lenses, and correct camera settings, in addition to checking his gear and high fiving everyone. When he landed from his first jump, he looked over his wares and was surprised how well they turned out. He submitted them and they were published.

“I learned about photography after the fact [of getting the first photo published]. So I went to a continuing education course for photography and started translating that to the sky.” Over the years Brian has developed a systematic routine and is busy the entire flight making sure everything is in order prior to jumping. “It’s important to be comfortable with gear, build good habits, and safely skydive with others.”

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Brian also didn’t have any skydiving photography mentors. However, he looked up to the likes of Norman Kent, Joe Jennings, Mike McGowan, Tom Sanders, Craig O’Brien and later, Jason Peters. Now with established photographers in the sport, I asked Brian what he thought of USPA’s camera regulations. “The numbers are decent because the time in sport and time in the air are important in building a comfort level. Adding something new when you’re new and not comfortable with the everything else, something like a camera becomes a distraction.”

Both Norman and Brian elaborated how the common attitude is, “it’s [Go Pro] not a camera, it’s so small, you-don’t-even-notice-it” attitude. Brian conveyed a story how, against his advice, a tunnel instructor with about 100+ jumps had lost two Go Pros! And we’ve all seen the photo on Facebook with an AFF student’s pilot chute wrapped around an instructor’s Go Pro. The Go Pro is a snag hazard and most people who wear them use non-cutaway helmets and screwed on mounts.

This is an excerpt from USPA on September 1st, 2011:

Adhering to Camera Recommendations

USPA has been receiving an increasing number of calls and e-mails from Safety & Training Advisors and instructors regarding what to do about inexperienced skydivers who want to jump with small-format video cameras, such as the GoPro. Many new jumpers seem to feel that the small camera does not pose a risk, and they simply want to wear the camera while jumping. For that reason, the new jumpers do not consider this to be a video jump that falls under the 200-jump recommendation in the Skydiver’s Information Manual [SIM].

The truth is that even though the camera itself may be small, it still represents a significant snag hazard to any jumper. This is especially true considering the various camera mounts jumpers use. In addition to the snag hazard, no matter how much a jumper thinks the camera will not become a distraction during the jump, it will. There are plenty of cases of newer jumpers forgetting to fasten chest straps or creating dangerous situations in freefall, etc., that were directly attributed to the distraction of the camera.

USPA’s camera recommendations appear in Section 6-8 of the Skydiver’s Information Manual. Be sure jumpers at your drop zone are following these guidelines. They exist for very important reasons.

The SIM is an excellent outline about camera safety and requirements, but it doesn’t educate. I agree that too many people have a careless attitude about the jumping camera equipment too soon and that we need more education. We’re fortunate to have an organization that mediates our government relations, memberships, insurance, etc. However, they do not govern, they suggest and that gives us the freedom to self-police safety amongst ourselves. If we want to see change for the better, we need to take it into our hands and pass on good information.

Allowing newbie’s to jump camera equipment just because they’re “heads up” isn’t a qualifier to allow them the privilege to wear one. I visited a DZ and asked the S&TA about their policy of jumpers with sub 200 jumps wearing a Go Pro. The answer I received was, “If their heads up, it’s ok.” I quizzically looked at him and said, “How do you know he’s heads up? Have you jumped with him?” Two hundred jumps is, although not the best, a measure of experience. At least I can assume they’ve earned their B-license (including the canopy progression) and have a bit of time and experience. I don’t have a chance to jump with everyone to qualify someone with sub 200 jumps “heads up,” and who’s to judge whose heads up anyways?!

There’s so much more to just jumping a small-little-thing like the Go Pro. Because of social media, there are ethics that ought to be tied into this conversation. Excited newbie’s may use their footage unjustly and this effects more than the person jumping it. For example, Gerardo Flores – an uncurrent, 30-jump wonder sneaks a camera on his jump and has a “near death experience” that goes viral on the web. This situation affected the skydiving community negatively and gave a sneak peak to the public how “reckless” skydivers can be. Not to mention other videos that go live streaming on the web.

I asked Brian what advice he’d give to those thinking about jumping any kind of camera and he said, “Be comfortable with yourself well before strapping on a camera. Be proficient under the parachute, build your awareness, know your emergency procedures, know your gear and wear the proper gear. Then, learn about the camera prior to jumping it.”

Although Norman and Brian didn’t have mentors, both have been a huge help and inspiration to aspiring camera flyers over the years. Both have made themselves available to help give direction and may be reached through their websites, and And stay tuned for Norman’s upcoming video on You Tube, "The Dangers of Being a HERO".

Now, for all you rebels at heart and those willing to learn, I cannot tell you what to do but share my experience. However, when you meet the camera flying requirements, it’s like earning the rite of passage to don a camera on your head. Throw in a bit of education in there and believe me, it’s totally cool and absolutely worth the wait.

About Melissa Lowe:

Melissa Lowe (Formally Melissa Nelson) is a 3rd generation, well-accomplished skydiver logging over 10,000+ jumps. She's an AFF-Instructor and travels the world organizing at events. She earned her pilot's license in 2012 and is currently finishing her late father's book, Sugar Alpha, due out in 2013. Melissa currently lives in Moab, UT where she currently co-runs Over the Edge, Moab and Arches Air Sports with her fiance, and lives her other life as a BASE jumper, yogi and slackliner.


By Melissa Nelson on 2013-05-07 | Last Modified on 2017-01-31

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.  | Votes: 13 | Comments: 12 | Views: 15667


Skynet  2013-05-07
1 out of 5 stars

Jump Numbers don't mean anything!. It's more about the jumpers ability to develop skills and awareness. Not everyone progresses the same. What's very funny it's that i know less than 200 jump wonders who i feel way safer jumping with, that some of the over 1000 jump skygods. With that being said, It is a RECOMMENDATION, not a regulation, or a rule. Take also into account that in order to be a coach, you need a B license and 100 jumps, this is a rule not a recommendation. So 100 to be a coach rule but, but 200 to fly a camera recommendation? And they're trying to enforce the recommendation? Where is the common sense in this? This is one of things i hate about the sport, all these jumpers who seem to have this mind set that everyone has the same cognitive processes as they do.

deathwish603  2013-05-07

Its a good point, but as I was sayin for years, USPA need some kinda training for a camera flyers as well as they have for some other categories. But some ST&As are so freaked out by the idea of ppl jumpin with a camera that even when U hit 200 jumps they don't let you do it and they don't even tell you what they want you to do. And its pissing me off. Im not gonna point fingers here, but the rule is a rule, I followed it, why cant they???

DSE  2013-05-07
5 out of 5 stars

Well written, timely, and spot-on. Hopefully all the 'wanna wear a camera" newcomers can grasp the importance of the commentary.

vanessalh  2013-05-07

Well written article, thanks!
I bought my Go-Pro at around 150 jumps, and did my first jump with it at around 165. I was careful to do a jump I felt very confident in - in this case a 2-way belly with a very experienced skydiver and camera flyer.

I'd heard that the camera tends to be distracting in freefall as you try to 'get the shot'. For me this wasn't the case, but it was distracting in the plane before exit - especially the GoPro which has an inane set of controls compared with the Contour. It also makes the exit trickier, whether climbing out or diving out.

I only did about 10 camera jumps before I hit 200, because I realized I needed to make my in-plane procedures more habitual before I added another distraction.

Even now at 260 jumps, I still take my camera off if we're doing a jump with 16 people or more, if it's a complex jump with more advanced fliers, or if it's a situation I'm not yet comfortable in (like a 5-way free fly).

wazdiver  2013-05-08

Great article and Melissa makes and documents several great points in flying any kind of camera. I also, however, agree that jump numbers aren't the end all when it comes to jumper competence. I didn't try to put a camera on a helmet until I had over 250 jumps. I now some that started at 75 and 100 jumps and others that I wouldn't trust with one at 500 jumps. Unfortunately, sans some sort of jumper judgement and common sense test, jump numbers are about the only way to put some sort of measurement on when some is ready.

Anachronist  2013-05-09

More and more regs won't save stupid people from being stupid. Don't punish the masses because of the transgressions of a few. I know many 200+ jump retards that I wouldn't dare fly with. There is far too much emphasis on jump numbers in this sport and not enough on common sense and competence. But common sense and competency can't be logged in a cute little binder so that is out the window for most, unfortunately.

livnbored  2013-05-09

I remember seeing someone with 30 jumps who was about to jump a goPro. I asked him how his emergency procedures have changed now that he has a camera. He looked at me dumb-founded and then laughed and asked what I meant. So I asked him what he would do if a line got caught on his camera. He just looked at me amazed. That can happen??!! I told him to take the camera off his helmet and go talk to a videographer before he decides to add new equipment and new tasks to his jumps.
I'm glad someone wrote this article. It's been a hot topic of debate at many dzs. Some people, and perhaps we think old-styles, believe that if you want to fly a camera should be able to skydive competently before adding more complication. Others, and maybe it's because of the new thinking and how accessible the sport has become (allowing people who normally wouldn't have learned to skydive) think it's there life and they can do what they want, which is fine - until there's an incident ... and then the recommendations become rules.

MissMelissa  2013-05-10

I appreciate USPA's efforts in trying to pass on safety, however it's up to us to educate, not regulate. HOWEVER, if we do not self-police and look out for each other, then recommendations WILL become rules. This discussions is long overdue as there are more incidents happening, more concerned people, no educating, and one recent fatality overseas.

Norman Kent's new You Tube video released later this year will be a FREE educational video. Instructors at your local DZ or videographers should be able to do orientations for people who wish to jump any type of camera for the first time. As Norman said to me in the interview, "If you give someone a knife who knows nothing about a knife, they won't know it's dangerous until it cuts them or someone tells them about it."

Let's pass on good information!

StarFlyer  2013-06-02

Hi Melissa, what kind of helmet is that you have on in your picture? It looks a bit safer than the usual "snag hazard on top" mounting.

shah269  2013-06-17

I'm only at jump 125......i think it would be cool....but maybe next year>

tonyluce  2014-01-13

Alternative to GoPro - and no snag risk - check out

DocMallard  2015-05-04

11 April 1987 I did my first camera jump on number 56!
Walt Roy, and I, were the only regulars flying camera at Lodi at that time.
Taking a camera up was NOT done lightly with any kind of flippant attitude!
"People are snagging go pros, and doing dangerous things. What do we do??"
"I dunno, lets make another rule…"
Despite the new 200 jump rule, the attitude is still wrong! You just have 200 jump plus people snagging cameras!
Gluing a Gopro to one's helmet doesn't make them a cameraman!

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