Photographing the arts: What the heck is that thing!? (Why, it's a blimp, of course...)
[UPDATE for 2018: I’ve recently changed from Canon cameras to Fujifilm, and the new mirrorless bodies like the X-H1 are so quiet, I don’t need the blimp any more…! But in case anyone’s interested in what it does, I’ll keep this essay here.]
If there's one piece of camera gear I spend the most time talking to people about, it would have to be this: my Jacobson Sound Blimp.
When I'm talking to clients about it, it's my 'silencer' - which lets me photograph in near silence during filming, concerts, operas, and theatre performances with an audience. When people do (occasionally) spot me during these kinds of shoots, mostly they imagine it's a giant old film camera, and wonder why I'm not into digital like all the kids are today!
In fact, it's just a big box with acoustic foam inside, cushioning and absorbing the noise of a perfectly normal Canon camera body - with something that looks like a piece of pipe for each lens.
Given that it costs about the same as a camera body, it's not surprising there aren't that many of them around; but for what it does, there aren't many substitutes. It's the Hollywood standard for stills photographers on film & TV sets; it lets you keep working while the audio team are recording dialogue. Or, as has often happened for me, photograph an orchestral or chamber music performance while it's being recorded for radio, or broadcast live to air.
And just for interest's sake, here are a selection of shows I've been able to photograph with the blimp, which wouldn't have been possible otherwise:
- Belvoir Theatre's production of Angels In America Part I: Millennium Approaches;
- National Theatre of Scotland's production of Beautiful Burnout;
- New Theatre of Riga's production of The Sounds Of Silence (a play without dialogue);
- Francois Girard's production of The Lindberg Flight / The Seven Deadly Sins;
- the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (on stage with them, at Auckland Town Hall);
- the Vector Wellington Orchestra (with the camera on stage, triggered by a radio controller from my seat);
- The Sixteen choir and chamber orchestra in concert;
- Tafelmusik baroque orchestra in concert;
- James Thierree's production of Raoul;
- Propeller Theatre's production of The Winter's Tale;
- Dead Letters, a short film; and of course there are many more!