9 months ago

Shooting with the U.S. Coast Guard

Shooting with the U.S. Coast Guard

Rich Cooper
Professional Aviation Photographer

Good day military aviation enthusiasts!

Rich Cooper here from the Centre of Aviation Photography (COAP), I’m a relatively new addition to the FPP team and this is my first post.

Going forward, I plan to give you a tale from a shoot related to the current Podcast episode. Sometimes this might not be possible if I’ve not shot the episode’s subject (and my travel factors may also be an issue on timely delivery sometimes), but after you’ve listened to the episode we hope you’ll enjoy hearing about a photographic engagement with the chosen subject.


So… The US Coast Guard! Who’s loving the episode? Excellent as always.

I undertook a pretty major assignment with the ‘Coastie’ guys n gals at Kodiak, Alaska, at the end of last year. It’s a totally wild place! There’s nowhere quite like it as a posting and the aircrew and technicians have to be super experienced before they even arrive on the island to start flying, due to the extreme conditions and landscape. Seriously brave dudes.

My assignment there was an extension of the COAP photography trip to Alaska, and we spent three days on the island shooting USCG operations. The weather was crazy bad for the first day – so bad that we couldn’t even leave Anchorage – but then cleared to form two days of beautiful sun, the last of the year in fact (and this was September).

The air quality was excellent so this meant that the shots would be crystal clear, and I used everything from a 10mm, through wide-angle zooms (24-120mm and 28-300mm), through tele zooms (80-400mm) and a fixed 500mm prime, all swapping about on two bodies (Nikon D5 and Nikon D7200). I also took a set of lights with me too for some of the special crew set-ups.

I interviewed two H-60 pilots, an H-60 technician (the guys in the back), a Rescue Swimmer (the guys on the end of the winch), a H-65 pilot and a C-130J pilot and Mission Commander for an upcoming feature in a few different magazines. Every single person was awesome, just so enthusiastic about their job and making a difference – especially in the SAR role. Interestingly, around 90% of those I spoke to had a real, genuine, enthusiast-level of interest in aircraft – it really isn’t just a job.

Here’s three of my personal favourite photo set-ups from that shoot, with one where I am being rescued (so much fun!), another showing the heroes themselves and then a third taken during an air-to-air session over the stunning Kodiak scenery with one of their shiny new J-Models.

The rescue shot was on a 10mm lens and the helo hovering above was causing a lot of downdraft (obviously) so the Rescue Swimmer was spinning around a lot. I had to be super quick to anticipate his swing near my hand, shoot one-handed, keep the helo in the frame and make a trade off between a sharp shot and the faster shutter speed that would start to freeze the rotors.

The aircrew image was on a 24-70mm f2.8 lens just after sunset and involved a briefing with all parties to place the guys where I wanted them and the helo coming in behind. In such situations I am not scared of bumping the ISO up to ensure that the shot remains sharp.

The aerial of the Herc was a stunning flight and the cameraship was actually an H-60 with the door open – that means it was vibrating and bouncing all over the place. In the back of the Herc were other members of my team, which had just shot me in close trail behind them. Comms are hard on these due to the noise of a rattling helo, rotor blades and air rushing.

So how does the US Coast Guard use these machines? In what role? How are they different from the regular military? Well, the Podcast is ready and waiting with an excellent briefing from CDR Dan Warren as he joins ‘Jell-O’ in the studio.

Semper Paratus!

External Links