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Tag Archives: Wilmington Police Department

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So I get a call…  “Need you to shoot the SABLE unit tomorrow, the original photog had to cancel due to emergency.”  SABLE stands for  Southeastern NC Airborne Law Enforcement, it’s primary purpose is to support and increase the effectiveness of officers in the field through aerial observation and communication.  The SABLE program is a multi-agency effort, shared between the Wilmington Police Department, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Leland Police Department, and the Pender County Sheriff Department.

At first I was plenty excited, I mean who doesn’t want to photograph helicopters… but that feeling soon waned.  They wanted a group shot and some aerials for submission to a law enforcement magazine.  The problem was, they had scheduled the shoot for 4:30 in the afternoon… in June.  Midday sun is not a photographer’s friend,  nor mid-ninety temps in the humidity of southeastern North Carolina for that matter.

With such short notice, I didn’t have a chance to scout the location until a couple of hours before the scheduled start time.  Fortunately, there was plenty of space inside the hangar… while I was not able to exert influence over the shoot time; I now had a location where I had total control of the light.

The copter is stored on wheeled dollies, which makes it easy to position. So rather than have the crew outdoors squinting into the harsh sun, I positioned them inside where I could use strobes and control the look.  The officers arrived thinking someone with a camera would be taking a few snapshots, so its safe to say they weren’t highly enthused from the start.  But once they saw the setup and the first images out of the camera, they suddenly had a change of attitude and were rushing to a mirror to primp themselves!

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As I mentioned, the purpose of the shoot was to generate publicity for the program and show off the thermal imaging camera (FLIR). So after shooting the group and individuals, the pilots took to the air for some working shots.

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The SABLE program actually has two helicopters – Army Bell OH-58C Kiowas. Both aircraft were acquired through the Government 1033 Program, at no cost to the City. This program allows agencies whose primary function is law enforcement to acquire surplus military equipment.

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Here you get a good view of the advanced Multi-mission FLIR Ultra 8500 forward looking infrared camera and the Nightsun SX16 Searchlight.  The lieutenant in charge of the unit was extremely pleased with the images and I scored a couple of free rides in the copter.   More creative shoots are planned for the future.

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If you’ve ever shot dogs in studio before, you know you have about 90 seconds of their attention and that’s it.  Show dogs on the other hand are much easier to shoot, they are predisposed to holding a position and being in the spotlight.  Police K9s?  Well, they obey well, but they’re high strung because they think they’re going to play… and to them “play” usually means chasing down some crook and chomping him like a chew toy.  That’s rather intimidating when the only thing  between you and them is the camera – especially when they are looking at you as though they are aching for the command to pounce!

Remember when I said I was worried the K9s may have issues with the table?  On cue those beasts leaped effortlessly on it as if they were cats.  Of the five dogs, only one seemed to be in hurry to jump off the table.  The others hammed it up pretty well.

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Using the table setup certainly was the way to go.  Once the dogs were done, it only took a few minutes to get through the handlers.  The only challenge there was getting good expression… by nature, cops strike an “infallible” pose.  I wanted to show their human side in these portraits and save “infallible” for the group shot.  It wasn’t easy.  I had to pull out some really corny jokes to get them to relax and smile.

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It was now time to shoot the group as a whole and I saw this as an opportunity to use a lighting set-up I had never used before, but wanted to try.

I was envisioning outdoors in the evening, but needed soft light.  I also needed a secluded place, with power available to run my strobes.  Fortunately, the management at PPD allowed me to use their employee parking deck.  I had scouted the building the previous week and selected my area… I can’t stress enough the importance of location scouting.  On this occasion, I discovered I would need approximately 300’ of extension cord and about 200 pounds of sand bags for the light stands. Larger groups mean larger light sources; with even a small breeze, large light sources become sails.  Since we were shooting on the top level of the deck, weighing down the lights was paramount.  Losing a light to the wind is one thing, having it crash on a person six stories below is another.

The last major challenge was the dogs.  K9s are alpha dogs and don’t always play well in groups.  Shooting at sunset means slower shutter speeds and trying to keep five dogs tightly posed and still just ain’t gonna happen.  The solution was to shoot the handlers alone and then bring in each dog individually.  The final image is a composite with all the dogs.

When all was said and done, the results of the shoots exceeded the expectations of the department.  As a result, we have a number of future projects planned for additional department units.