Action Camera Placement
With point-of-view cameras now an integral part of our sport, we’re seeing more instances where these cameras are affecting safety in a very negative way. Most country’s skydiving organizations demand a sensible minimum experience level of 200 jumps or more before skydivers can use any type of camera, and not without reason. (USPA recommends that jumpers hold a USPA C license and have made 50 jumps on the same parachute equipment used for camera flying.) In skydiving—and BASE jumping, as well—many dangerous situations and even deadly accidents have occurred when a pilot chute or other part of a jumper’s gear wrapped around a camera. As when dealing with all problems in life, prevention is best.
Here’s some advice about placing your camera.
The most common place to see a camera mounted is on the helmet, either on the front or on top. You’ll also see side-mounts, but these are generally less advisable as the risers will pass by during deployment. Right-side-mounted cameras can also pose a big risk of interference with the pilot chute during non-wingsuit deployments (during wingsuit deployments, the jumper is moving forward with the pilot chute deploying behind), so it’s especially important to avoid this setup.
No matter where you mount, it’s advisable to use one of the many low-profile mounts available on the market today that limit how much of the camera is exposed. Another good solution is to mount the camera upside down on the forehead. This type of mount, particularly for wingsuit flying, almost fully eliminates the chance of getting the pilot chute, line or bridle caught behind the mount.
Back-facing camera mounts have become very popular recently, especially for wingsuit flying. Aside from asking yourself whether a two-and-a-half-minute static view of your rig is really what the world needs, note that hesitating pilot chutes have been known to bounce up and down the body in the burble, sometimes all the way up to the helmet. Any camera sticking out on top or down the back of the helmet presents a serious snag hazard. As a safety rule, try not to mount a camera back past the center point of the helmet.
During a normal skydiving deployment, a low, back-facing mount not only poses the risk of a pilot chute catching if it dances around in the burble, it poses an even greater safety risk during a cutaway and subsequent reserve deployment. Think about body orientation: During normal flight, a back-facing camera is nice and flush against the body and presents a very small snag hazard. However, when the body is in a more upright orientation during a cutaway, the camera is suddenly right in the way of the deploying reserve pilot chute.
Sadly, cameras snagging reserves on opening have caused several fatalities. In a non-fatal incident, Turkish skydiver Mesut Turun cut away from a malfunctioning main canopy with line twists, and the reserve pilot chute and deploying parachute grazed the rear-facing camera, delayed the opening and got hung up on the camera mount. Thankfully, the jumper was moving at a high speed, so the quickly deploying gear ripped the mount off the socket and the canopy deployed fully. If the jumper had deployed at a lower altitude or if his freefall speed had been slower, it could have ended differently.
Helmet Unicorn Mounts
Another increasingly popular mounting position is the reversed helmet angle, in which a camera facing back at the person is mounted on a long bar on the front of the helmet. It’s sometimes also called a “unicorn mount” (or even more extreme, “death stick”). It provides a fun bobble-head view of a jump, but this setup can lead to entanglement with the risers in the event of line twists. Even without entanglement, in the case of line twists behind your neck, the mount limits the ability to pull your head through the risers. Additionally, during a rough deployment, a unicorn mount can cause a large amount of force to transfer directly to your neck, resulting in injury or worse.
With body mounts, chest placement is usually the safest option since it keeps the camera away from the risers, bridle and most other parts of gear that could snag it on opening. Keep in mind that if you are performing flips or rolls just before opening (more common in BASE jumping than skydiving), a chest-mount that’s normally of no added danger can suddenly become a very big snag-point if your pilot-chute throw is premature or late. If those kinds of actions are part of your routine, it is worth avoiding placing the camera on your chest (or anywhere).
Jumpers must always treat foot-mounted cameras with caution. You should never mount a camera on your right foot, as it’s directly in the path of the pilot chute and bridle during deployment. The left foot can be a relatively safe position to mount a camera, but be aware that during pilot-chute hesitations the PC bounces all over the body and can still snag any protruding object.
Body mounts can also change your aerodynamics and actually influence how you fly by inducing slight turns or even instability. So if you use any type of body-mounted camera, make sure it’s tight against your frame and not protruding too far outward.
Just don’t …
Camera Quick Release
Even when you mount a camera in the best way possible, think of the unthinkable. When you do get in a situation where part of your gear snags a camera, don’t count on the camera itself simply ripping off. Forces, especially at low speeds, might not be strong enough to separate the camera from your body or helmet, so it’s worth considering using some form of cutaway or release system. This release can be for just the camera itself or the complete helmet or mount. Some cutaway systems use a force reduction system, similar to a 3-ring setup on a skydiving rig, to make release under high stress possible. Make sure you test any cutaway setup under an actual simulated load and practice using it every once in a while to stay current on its operation.
No video is worth dying for. Keep that in mind when trying to set up those cameras. There are many great solutions available for safer mounting, as well as lots of knowledge within the community. Use those resources to make practicing and documenting our sport as safe as possible.
About the Author
Jarno Cordia, USPA #238702, is a wingsuit skydiver and BASE jumper with 16 years of experience. Specializing in acrobatics and camera flying, he has more than 3,500 wingsuit jumps on his resume. Cordia is a representative, examiner, editor and test pilot for Phoenix Fly wingsuits and travels the world coaching wingsuit flying. Jumpers can reach him at facebook.com/mccordia.