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Heath Moffatt:

Straddling a paradox

Photographers have a difficult task. They must be in the moment in order to see and appreciate what’s happening, and also be an outside observer, capturing the feeling for the rest of us. Professional freelance photographer Heath Moffatt straddles this paradox perfectly, giving us incredible images of the moment that put us in the action.
A black Airbus H130 lights up nicely when illuminated by three strobes.

The challenge was especially poignant when he was hanging from a hoist, being lowered onto the deck of a moving ship in the Netherlands’ shipping channels. The assignment was to capture a major operator’s capabilities to pluck sick people off cargo ships and rescue those who had dropped in the water. “I was yelling with adrenaline excitement as I’d never experienced this situation before. While lowering down I started photographing my approach to the ship to give the viewer a sense of what it’s like for rescue personnel being lowered to a moving vessel. Describing that situation is one thing, presenting the visuals to the viewer tells a better story of what SAR personnel do answering the call for help out in the shipping channels.”

In a career that has taken Moffatt around the world photographing helicopters in a variety of places and roles, he considers dangling out of one to be a top-three experience. Helicopters can be incredibly difficult to shoot, and Moffatt is adept at nailing the technique while telling a story.

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Please click on any image to see the slideshow (below).

Heath Moffatt

Shooting a full rotor disc in flight is difficult. Moffatt was able to pull it off on a Skycrane, shooting one-twentieth of a second, using an Airbus H125 as a platform. "The company was installing 150 kilometers of high-tension power lines to go between a uranium mine and a hydroelectric dam. The Sikorsky Skycrane was the heavy lifter, and here it’s placing the upper portion of the tower into position. That requires lifting 12 tons of steel structure and setting it down with precision accuracy. The pilot and people handling the guy lines are trying to put an 8-inch pin into place. I wanted to show the size of the structure and the helicopter, with the lines going off into the distance.” It’s hard to know who is braver in this photo, the pilot of the MD500 or the line workers he is picking up off the tower. "I wanted to show the line workers and the extraction of the crews from atop the high tension towers by helicopter. The helicopter moves in from communication from the line crews. The line crew attach their safety lines to the helicopter and step onto the hovering helo. Great skill and teamwork communication ensures everyone goes home safely. The orange haze was from smoke from a forest fire started by lightning strikes the day before.” "At the forefront of every assignment that comes through is that someone has tasked me to come away with a good story, collected safely and professionally. I consider it to be a privilege and an honor to photograph in this industry; to be able to follow my passions and my love.” Moffatt stood on a mountain to capture this shot of the CH–149. "This showcases the operating environment of AgustaWestland CH–149 Cormorant SAR [search and rescue] helicopters. It’s an incredible life-saving instrument. The mountains are a typical working environment for the CH–149, and these are approximately 15 minutes from the base at CFB Comox. The pilot flying the Cormorant is a great photographer and knew how to do photo passes to show the helicopter in its working environment. At 125mm focal length, full frame, it’s a big helicopter to photograph.” The bright red paint scheme of Temsco’s H125s makes a beautiful contrast to the ice on Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau, Alaska. "This is Temsco Helicopters in Alaska. Because the helicopters were carrying revenue passengers to the glacier ice field, I had to shoot strictly as a photojournalist and not interfere with the tourist flight operations. Shooting from an MD 500D helicopter, vibration is really minimal. When I saw all four of the H125s on this beautiful glacier, I knew the colors worked really well.” A Bristow Helicopters Airbus H225 over the ocean in front of a Scottish castle perfectly illustrates the aircraft’s base and mission. "This was my first international assignment back in 2008. I was going to Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Netherlands to photograph SAR operations. When I arrived in Scotland, I asked the crews at the base if there were any areas along the coastline that would readily identify where the helicopter operates out of. This particular castle ruins in the background is Dunnottar Castle.”
Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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