Safe flight: Juan Mayer on Freefall Shooting

Photographer-parachuter told Bird in Flight about interesting things that can be shot in an extended jump.

Juan Mayer, age 42

Mayer is a professional photographer and parachuter. He was born in Buenos Aires, lives in Dubai and works as a photographer and cameraman for the United Arab Emirates Skydiving Team. He began jumping with a parachute in 2000, and has completed more than 9,000 jumps in the 14 years since.

I was already a photographer when I began to jump with a parachute. So I’m more of a photographer with a parachute rather than a parachuter with a camera.

At first I jumped together with other parachuters and offered them my services for the price of a jump ticket. Needless to say, shooting through a porthole in a plane and shooting through a camera in a helmet — falling at 200 km/hour — are totally different things. But I eventually got the hang of it, learning by observing how my more experienced colleagues did it. And now my skills enable me to travel around the world and do what I love more than anything – shooting photos of: various jumps attempts to set records, group acrobatics and practice drills.

Anyone is able to do what I do after the appropriate training. But the difference between someone who simply sticks a camera on their helmet, and someone who truly loves photography, will be apparent all the same. In order for your shoots to stand out you need to be passionately enthusiastic about both photography and parachuting.

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I suppose that the most difficult thing is figuring out the right setups in the camera while you’re still in the plane. It’s important because the lighting or weather conditions can change during the jump.

Shooting in freefall is difficult, but interesting. Imagine that one hundred people come together in a large formation, all in a matter of seconds. And I am the single person who can provide the proof that they truly did it. It’s a colossal responsibility and there’s no room for mistakes. I double and triple check my equipment as we’re ascending.
The secret of a good photo is in mental preparation. While I’m in the plane, I visualize the shot I want to take. I prepare myself for that moment when I take the shot.

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Every photographer has different equipment, but the bare minimum is a helmet to which the photo and video cameras are attached, and sometimes an external flash. I have been shooting on a Nikon for many years. Now it’s a Nikon D600 and Nikon D810. Regarding lenses, I use many of them: Nikon 10.5 mm, 14–24 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm, аnd sometimes a 80-200 mm.

It’s important to remember that a freefall shoot takes a lot of your own attention and it can easily became a distraction that can make you forget of all skydiving safety procedures. I was in several dangerous situations but everything turned out fine thanks to my skills. Of course, I also shoot on land. I like air shoots because I can combine my two main passions in this particular genre. But I love any kind of photography.

Photographs done during jumps can sell well. But not as well as it may seem to some. As with any passion, what difference how much money you earn if you are doing what you love?

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