Arizona resident, Niklas Daniel, is a skydiving instructor with a difference. He's also developed the specialized skill of taking photographs whilst jumping! We caught up with him to discuss the thrills and dangers of skydiving and learn a bit about how he creates such awesome pictures while hurtling through the sky!
Could you tell the Lomographers a little about yourself?
My name is Niklas Daniel and I am a professional skydiver local to Arizona. I participate in a wide range of disciplines throughout the sport, including photography, instruction for first timers and tandems, international competitions, coaching canopy piloting, and teaching body-flight in wind tunnels. I am also a co-founder of Axis Flight School, a training center specializing in coaching already licenses skydivers to expand on their skills for self improvement or preparing for competition.
When did you decide you wanted to become a skydiver and what made you decide to do this?
Ever since I can remember I have always loved being in the air. As a kid I would find things to climb on such as trees or buildings, only to jump off when I reached the top. I don’t remember when I first learned about the concept of jumping out of planes, but I have been aware of skydiving’s existence for along time. I just had to wait until I was old enough to do it.
Once I got started I was hooked. Even while I was a student, I knew that this is what I wanted to do for a living. Once I received my license, I spent a lot of time in wind tunnels (free-fall-simulator) in order to accelerate my learning curve.
I received lots of coaching from already established jumpers and soon thereafter found myself on a 4-way formation skydiving team as the videographer.
Can you describe the first time you ever jumped out of a plane? Your feelings, reservations, emotions etc.
I think every jumper, no matter how long they have been in the sport, remembers their first jump. It is an experience that you never forget. There are many mixed emotions when you are standing at the edge of an open airplane door, looking straight down at the ground from over two miles up. There is a feeling of uncertainty, a fear of the unknown, however, if you trust your training and your equipment, that fear turns to excitement.
As you step out into the void, you learn a lot about yourself. Not just about your body by manipulating the wind around you, but also your mind. There is a certain sense of getting to know yourself and how we interact with others. The more you jump, the more you realize that your fears, anxieties, and over all mental chatter start to fade because you realize that it is self inflicted. You become more and more aware of what is important at this very moment and take action and responsibility for your own actions.
Once a skydiver has many jumps under their belt, the jump itself is no longer enough. You want to start jumping with your friends and challenge yourself in new ways. Testing your skills in a competitive environment can bring similar emotions to the surface at the time of the very first jump. I believe that this is one of the reasons why some people, including myself, decide to compete in the sport.
Could you describe the process of taking pictures while skydiving? How difficult is it?
Taking pictures in free fall is a specialized skill. Not only does the jumper have to have superior free fall and canopy skills, but also has to have a good understanding of the camera equipment. Because of all the extra gear carried on each camera jump, there is an added element of danger. Entanglements with the parachute on deployment, excess G-forces on opening causing severe neck strain due to the fact that all camera equipment is worn on the head mounted to the helmet. For this reason it is not recommend to perform this activity until one has logged over 250 jumps.
In order to get started, most will start by attaching a small video camera to their helmet in order to get an idea of their distance and framing. Given the fact that your hands need to be free in order to manipulate the airflow around you and to operate the parachute after deployment, you can not hold the camera in your hands and look through the view finder. The shutter release gets activated by a switch controlled with the mouth (biting or blowing into a tube), and framing is done with a ring sight that is calibrated to the center of where the cameras are pointing. Most of these tools can now be purchased through specialty stores, however, the more complex shots you want to get, you will probably start to improvise and create some home made rigs. Depending on what discipline you are trying to capture, you may have to have other equipment to assist you with the job, such as specialty suits or parachutes, all which require a new skill set to operate.
What’s your favorite skydiving experience?
Skydiving is an amazing activity that has something to offer for everyone. With a diverse range of activities, there is always more to learn and experience. Even though skydiving appears to have a never ending supply of activities, I think that my most favorite experience has been getting to meet the people involved. There is great camaraderie amongst skydivers. People from all walks of life who join together and experience something larger than life. If you are a skydiver, you are part of a family the world over.
Some of my most favorite activities in skydiving have been jumping at night, which takes everything to a whole other level.
Another activity that I am thoroughly enjoying at the moment is a newly emerging discipline within the sport called XRW.
The acronym stands for extreme relative work and refers to a person under an open parachute flying next to a person piloting a wing-suit. This has become possible only recently, with cutting-edge advancements in the manufacturer’s designs of both the canopy and wing-suit construction.