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News

August 2010

When Israel Today's weekend supplement approached me with the idea of doing a story on the Breitling Jet Team, the world's only civilian aerobatics team performing in jets, I jumped at the chance. But I had no idea what I was in for.

I have to say this is not my usual type of assignment. I normally cover conflict zones like those in the Middle East, and humanitarian disasters such as the Haiti earthquake. But it sounded like a once in a lifetime opportunity, so off I went with my EOS-1D Mark IV and EOS 5D Mark II to an airfield near Luzern in Switzerland for two days of flying and photographic challenges I will never forget.

© Ziv Koren

A picture of the former head of the Israeli Airforce, General Eitan Ben Eliyahu, 'wing walking' on a Stearman Biplane. Taken with an EOS-1D Mark IV with a EF14mm f/2.8L II USM.

As a photographer I often find myself in dangerous and unpredictable environments. I wouldn't say this was dangerous, but it was wild, and standing on top of a Stearman Biplane - 'wing walking', as it's called - flying hundreds of feet above the ground trying to take pictures, was one of the craziest experiences I've ever had. I ride a motorbike, so I'm used to strong winds, but this was something else - and it really was very frightening.

When you're on the biplane you half stand-half sit on a tiny chair barely 20cm deep that's tied to your belt. The wind was so strong and the plane loops around so much. I felt like a wanted to hold on to something, but there was nothing to grab hold of apart from the tiny seat. Your legs fly up in the air and your cheeks flap around, so taking pictures was challenging to say the least.

I had my EOS-1D Mark IV with a EF14mm f/2.8L II USM tied to me, but when I was taking the shots I was holding the camera so tightly I thought I was going to break it. It helped to use the heavier of the two cameras in this situation because of the strength of the wind. For the assignment I had to get shots of the man on the other plane, the former head of the Israeli Airforce, General Eitan Ben Eliyahu (pictured above). He'd fought in wars and flown F15s and F16s, so this was his territory.

© Ziv Koren

A picture taken during a vertical dive using the EOS 5D Mark II and an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens.

After the wing walking I headed for the Aero L-39 Albatros jet plane with my EOS 5D Mark II and two lenses, the EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye and the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. They put you on the ejector seat and strap you in really tight, so I felt much more secure than on the Stearman even though we were doing loops and rolls and experiencing 5 to 6 Gs of force. At those times I could hardly breath. I was sucked to the seat and it's almost as if you pass out. Lifting a camera is out of the question. The rest of the time I was shooting as much as I could, and the lighter EOS 5D Mark II camera was perfect, especially as I needed the full frame with the 15mm Fisheye lens.

The challenges of shooting from the Albatros were very physical: to be as steady as possible, to be aware of our position in relation to the other planes and the ground, and to be prepared for the tight turns. The pilots were speaking in French, so I didn't always catch what was about to happen, but my pilot would tell me how many seconds I had until the next loop or roll so I could change lenses.

One of the shots (above) I really like was taken while we were going vertically down and almost upside down at the same time. It's a disorienting image. And the planes fly so close to each other sometimes that you can take a portrait of the pilot in the next plane.

It was an unbelievable and, frankly, scary experience - and it's just great to break loose once in a while and have a pure blast of adrenalin.

Watch a video of Ziv Koren on assignment with the Breitling Jet Team.

Technical

Ziv Koren's assignment kit:

Cameras:
EOS-1D Mark IV
EOS 5D Mark II

Lenses:
EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Biography: Ziv Koren

Ziv Koren

Ziv Koren started his career as a photographer with the Israeli army, later joining the Yedioth Ahronoth daily paper as both photographer and photo editor. He has worked as the Israeli representative for the French agencies Sygma and Gamma, and since 2003 he has been a staff photographer for Polaris Images. His work has appeared in many international publications.



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