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Principal Photo Takes Flight with HyperDeck Shuttle

The Lockheed T-33 is an aircraft with history, entering into the United States Air Force in 1948 as America's first operational jet fighter and trainer, and seeing service in a variety of countries over the next three decades. Though it has been retired from most active service, T-33's around the globe are still flying and the plane has become a featured performer in a number of air shows around the globe. Acemaker Air Shows is currently highlighting the T-33 and demonstrating that age does nothing to minimize excitement.

This is quite an accomplishment considering the competitive nature of the air show industry. With fully functional World War II planes and stealth bombers still in existence, an aircraft needs more than history to stand out from the crowd. Acemaker performer Greg Colyer decided to create a promotional marketing video in order to prove the T-33 is still a sight to behold.

Colyer set a few parameters for the video he had in mind. It would have to be exciting enough to get people interested in seeing his routine, while still preserving the historical significance of the plane itself. He selected John Parker of Sacramento's Principal Photo, an accomplished pilot himself, for the job of creating a video to bridge the gap between past and present.

Parker has been involved in film and photography from a very young age, but tabled that hobby for a job as a corporate pilot. This was a seemingly natural career choice for the son of a third generation pilot. But he eventually found himself distracted by the literature and videos that used to fill his time between flights. So Parker found a way to bring his passions together into one profession and created Principal Photo.


Principal Photo is a film and photography company that specializes in aviation related content. They shoot everything from the fastest military jets to slow moving crop dusters. For Parker, who started the firm in 2007, it's not just a job. It's a way of life.

The task of separating the T-33 from the alphabet soup of other planes, from the A10 Warthog to the Zero, and grabbing the attention of air show enthusiasts in a single video, was an exciting challenge for Parker. Not because of the aerial photography, which is a given at Principal Photo, but because capturing the essence of the 1950s era jet meant gathering footage that showed grace, speed, aggression and the sheer joy of flying the first jet in America's air arsenal.  Nailing the perfect shot meant having plenty of options to choose from.

Parker chose the Blackmagic Design's HyperDeck Shuttle to make that possible. The compact, battery powered solution was appealing in terms of both quality and portability. Its ability to record uncompressed video directly to low cost solid state disks was an added bonus. Parker explained, "having footage in the uncompressed format is always nice for editing and archival purposes. You never know how long these planes will be up in the air. They could have a long life of action ahead of them, or be placed in a museum, and it's important to have that footage either way."

Parker wanted to maximize the footage he acquired with his Sony PMW-EX1 camcorder and enjoy flexibility in post without compromising size. Though he had never shot HD-SDI to any external recording device, he was excited to try the HyperDeck Shuttle, and potentially add a new step to his workflow that would maximize the value he could offer clients.

Applying the new product to this high profile project was just about the only variable Parker had the freedom to factor in. Most of his missions are briefed thoroughly before take off, and this particular flight, which was going to cost upwards of a thousand dollars for an hour's worth of fuel, was no exception.

Reminding himself that the HyperDeck Shuttle would not make or break the success of this project, but was simply along for the ride to potentially revolutionize the future of how Principal Photo does business, Parker tried to not overthink it. He boarded his flight with a pilot and another videographer, switched the HyperDeck Shuttle on and went to work as usual.

"We had the rare luxury of smooth air and clear skies on the afternoon of our flight, and I knew we were in for a special evening," recalled Parker. "Flying over the San Francisco Bay, we planned to shoot as the sun was setting over the Golden Gate Bridge."

For Parker, the most incredible part of an air to air mission like this one is the initial join up of the two aircrafts. He explained, "I always find myself giddy as our subject pulls in alongside us.  Generally it happens as almost an aerial ballet, but that changes when you start hearing the sound from the engines of the subject. It's really one of those moments as a photographer where it's difficult to look through the viewfinder, because for just a moment, you want to take in the amazing sight with your own eyes. That 'seeing is believing' feeling that you can't quite put into words is what I try to capture in my work."

Once the planes are together, Parker directs the subject aircraft into multiple positions and through various maneuvers as he shoots, highlighting its curves, lines and features. Though Principal Photo's missions are always thoroughly briefed, Parker admits that the breathtaking sight of an aircraft in its natural environment always catches him by surprise.

With the T-33 project, Parker reviewed the footage stored on the HyperDeck Shuttle's SSDs and was impressed. "The footage we got out of the HyperDeck Shuttle was incredible," he said, "and there was no doubt that that was the material we would be using." They brought the footage shot on the EX1 and recorded onto the HyperDeck Shuttle into Adobe Premiere Pro, which offered them a fluid workflow.

Deinterlacing the interlaced EX1 footage and combining the separate fields into a single frame was really the only tedious part of the whole process, but not one worth changing, as the camera is Parker's handheld of choice. Not to mention, the simplicity of HyperDeck Shuttle more than made up for it. It was as easy as hitting "record."

To Parker and his team, having a plug and play tool that delivers like the HyperDeck Shuttle is invaluable. He said, "You never really know how it's going to work out when you try a new product, but the extent to which we were impressed with the HyperDeck Shuttle was a first for us, and it earned its spot next to me in the cockpit."

Capturing the artistic essence of the T-33 and other planes like it to share through a visual medium is what Principal Photo does. Lucky for Parker, doing what he loves just got better.

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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, Principal Photo, HyperDeck Shuttle, Greg Colyer, Adobe Premiere Pro, Sony PMW-EX1

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