FOX 10 News Camera flying interview

PICTURE PERFECT: Man takes pictures, 15,000 feet up in the air

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“Skydiving, as one can imagine, is dangerous enough, but try to imagine the added element of trying to capture the perfect picture, 12,000 feet up in the air. One photographer does exactly that, as a career.

“As a kid, I’ve always been pretty active, always enjoyed extreme sports, whether it was doing the skateboarding thing or riding bicycles,” said Niklas Daniel. “In this case, this was just another thing I wanted to experiment with.”

One can call Daniel a skydiving expert. To date, Daniel has made more than 10,000 jumps, and counting, and he is now known as one of the best behind the camera, at 12,000 feet.

Daniel’s love for photography began at an early age, and after falling in love with skydiving, he blended his two passions.

“The moment is very fleeting,” said Daniel. “So, if you have a shot in your head that you would like to create, it takes a lot of practice, a lot of training, also a little engineering to try and put that together.”

Daniel also described the difference between photography works that take place on terra firma, and those that take place up in the air.

“If you’re taking a photograph on the ground, depending on the subject, you maybe have the ability to take a test shot, take a look at the settings, and then be able to adjust until you get that right shot,” said Daniel. “Skydiving is more of sport photography, where they’re trying to get that perfect shot and it’s not something that you can recreate necessarily.”

Daniel said in order to be a good aerial photographer, you’d have to be a great skydiver.

“Not is it enough that I have to fly my own body or my parachute for example, but I have to be able to do that without having to think about it that much that I can now focus on the shot,” said Daniel. “In addition to that, I have to be very aware of my closing speeds with other people, the distance I’m away from them and I also have to remain altitude aware. I can’t look at my altimeter constantly, because that would ruin the shot.”

Equipment is also important. Daniel’s helmet works as his rig, and his tripod is his own body.

Over the years, Daniel has documented other people’s jumps, along with the formation of skydiving teams. He has also produced training video. Daniel said some of his favorite pictures to take are during competition with his team.

“I really enjoy the pressure of having to get a specific shot, and then being able to present that to the judges,” said Daniel. “That’s been my expertise, but I also really enjoy the off-the-wall projects, so whether someone wants to light a parachute on fire or something kind of more in that direction. Something you don’t see everyday.”

Besides doing what he loves everyday, Daniel also gets to share his passion with others who might not get the chance to. He and his wife, Brianne, support “Operation Enduring Warrior” by donating their time to help wounded veterans enter the sport of skydiving.

Skydiving, one could say, is a sport that has taken Daniel to heights he never could have imagined.” – reported by Danielle Miller of FOX 10 News

For more information on skydiving photography, please click here, and check out the PictureCorrect interview by Richard Schneider.

 

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Arizona X-FORCE on local newspaper cover

The Eloy Enterprise – words by Tanner Clinch, photo courtesy of Kevin Mitchell

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4-way VFS Team Arizona X-Force exits the Dentri (formation M of the IPC dive pool) over Skydive Arizona. 

 

As the clock struck noon on a recent Sunday, the four-man vertical formation skydiving team at Skydive Arizona was 10 minutes from taking off for its 12th jump of the day. As members walked over to the shuttle that would take them to the plane, they took the last few moments to practice their formations, rotating around each other and grabbing various arms and legs with machine-like precision

This is one of about 30 days that the team of Johnny Gunn, Niklas Daniel, Seth Studer, Brianne Thompson and their videographer, Kevin Mitchell, practice for their competitions.

“When you can get four people that are jiving on the same page with a really good video guy like we have, it’s impressive to get four people to do the things that we do in the same time, in the same space in the sky,” Gunn said.

They compete in what’s called four-man vertical formation skydiving (VFS), one of the many disciplines within the sport. It involves the four divers and videographer hopping out of the plane with roughly 35 seconds to pull off all their formations, all while at high speed facing head-first or feet-first toward the Earth. On the ground, the video will be reviewed by judges who base their scores on completion of the formations, precision and style. Different sizes of teams compete in different competitions, from two all the way up to 16-man teams.

Back at the drop-zone, the team finalizes how they will disembark from the plane in a mock-up exit before they are taken to the plane. A team colleague, Justin Price, explains that they will be taken to roughly 13,500 feet in the air before they drop.

As the team pops their canopies following their freefall, it takes members a few minutes before they come zooming into the drop zone from the west side. Despite the fact they are landing into a strong wind on this day, they slide on their feet across the grass for almost 20 feet before coming to a complete stop.

They grab their used parachutes loosely and run around the corner where they return with a freshly packed parachute, and before you know it they’re back on the shuttle for another jump. This round, there’s no time to practice their formations on the ground.

They are practicing for the U.S Parachuting Association Championship, which is slated to take place in Eloy at the Skydive Arizona drop zone in late October. Doing well at this event would qualify them for international events, competing for the U.S. at Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) events across the globe, something that has been a dream of Gunn’s for a while.

“My ultimate goal would be competing at the world meet in 4-VFS,” Gunn said of his favorite discipline of skydiving. “That in conjunction with competing for the U.S. in canopy piloting would definitely be the dream.”

Eloy is a special place when it comes to four-man vertical formation skydiving. The first official U.S. championship for it was held at Skydive Arizona in 2006, and the first ever FAI world cup for VFS was held there in 2008.

While he’s not training with his four-man team, Gunn is training in a different discipline of skydiving called canopy piloting. Just last week, he won best overall in his division at a USPA competition in Florida, and gold in the speed competition.

For Gunn, canopy piloting is a nice break from the team-oriented formation skydiving, something he can practice whenever he feels like it.

“I just love being up in the air, it’s quiet and it’s peaceful,” said Gunn. “It’s just me and my wing doing what I need to do to win.”

In canopy piloting, unlike the freefall disciplines in skydiving, scoring is done on the ground. In a typical meet, such as the one in Florida, there are three events, speed, distance and accuracy.

Speed is self explanatory. Skydivers will guide themselves through gates with their parachutes, and the fastest time wins, with divers sometimes reaching speeds of 90 miles per hour. Distance is measured by how far the divers can go using a technique called climbing in which they manipulate their canopy to give themselves some extra lift to go greater distances.

“Zone accuracy is what separates the men from the boys, for sure.” Gunn said. He placed sixth in accuracy during that particular meet. In this event, divers must drag their feet across four water gates before trying to land on a 3-by-3-foot landing pad, with varying degrees of success.

Competing at such a high level in both freefall and canopy piloting disciplines is uncommon, according to Price, who also competed in the competition in Florida. Unfortunately a botched landing in the event led Price to be on crutches for a few months.

“It’s pretty cool being able to participate in multiple disciplines to that extent,” said Price, who does the same. He shoots video for the belly-down formation skydiving team at Skydive Arizona.

For Gunn competing in skydiving is what he hopes to continue doing for a long time, and hopefully on the international stage following the event in October

“I’m going to keep competing and hopefully be fortunate enough to pay the bills with it because it beats an office job,” Gunn said. “There’s way worse ways to make your money.”

Todd Love featured on German Television Pro 7 Galileo

It has been over a year now since AXIS Flight School got to meet and jump with Todd Love (USMC veteran who lost both of his legs and his left hand to an IED in Afghanistan).  On Saturday 28th February 2015, at 08:15, ProSieben (a German television channel) featured some of Todd’s video footage flying over Skydive Arizona on the show “Galileo Big Picture”.

Unfortunately the segment can not be viewed in the US due to country code laws, but here is a screen grab of Todd rocking out in the head up flying orientation over Eloy.

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Todd on Pro7

Destination: AZ – Indoor skydive at AXIS Flight School

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Original post by Ana Reynolds, 12 News 12:06 p.m. MST February 26, 2015

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Mark Curtis tries skydiving, kind of. “AXIS Flight school is a skydiving school that offers dedicated skydivers the ability to expand their skills and knowledge. They offer one-on-one coaching along with a training facility for experienced jumpers. AXIS is in Eloy, Arizona, which is between Phoenix and Tucson, and also is an area that allows over 340 flying days a year due to the clear desert weather. Niklas Daniel and Brianne Thompson created AXIS after they both fell in love with skydiving and each other. They decided to open the school so that people who have a skydiving license can enhance their skills. The school was created to teach people how to jump with others, do tricks and a variety of other things. Daniel has loved skydiving ever since he first tried it at the age of 20. After that he knew he wanted to make a career out of it. “Skydiving in general has allowed me to carve out a niche for myself and I get to basically be my own boss,” Daniel said. “I get to meet a lot of interesting people from all walks of life and all over the world.”

One of the people he met was 12 News anchor Mark Curtis. Curtis and the rest of the Destination AZ crew ventured down to Eloy to experience what skydiving was like, without having to jump out of a plane. So Curtis entered the wind tunnel. A wind tunnel is a way to go indoor skydiving. Wind tunnels create a 150 mph vertical air column that a person can safely “float” on. This simulates what skydiving is actually like, minus jumping out of an airplane and deploying a parachute. Curtis got into a wind tunnel after a little direction from Daniel and Thompson and began indoor skydiving. “He was very open-minded. He was a good listener,” Daniel said.

He also added that Curtis picked up the indoor skydiving skills pretty quickly and was able to immediately apply those skills when he got in the wind tunnel. Curtis said he was in the tunnel altogether for about an hour but would take turns with other people and would only be in the tunnel for a few minutes at a time. Wind tunnel sessions are available at AXIS Flight School and can last for 15 minutes up to an hour. Be sure to watch Destination: AZ on at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27 to learn more about the beautiful places you can visit in Arizona.”