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Photographer of the Week: Brian Buckland

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  September 15, 2008 02:00 PM

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Upside Down Under
Upside Down Under
Australian skydivers start to build a national record for largest Vertical Formation
in 2005 over Picton, New South Wales, about 40 minutes south of Sydney.

By Brian Buckland
Jumptown, MA

If you’re someone who’s lucky enough to find something in this world that you’re passionate about, don’t hesitate: Embrace it and enjoy the ride.

Overall, I consider myself a lucky person. I have found things in life that I am passionate about, and I’ve been able to turn them into major parts of my everyday life. Skydiving is one of those things; photography is another.

I started skydiving back in 1994 at the Boston-Providence Skydiving Center (they closed for business in 2001). More than 3,000 jumps later, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of some truly amazing skydives and help pioneer a new discipline within our sport with my team, Team Mandrin (VRW / VFS 4-way), all while traveling the globe for skydiving and taking pictures along the way.

Tracking into the sunset
Tracking into the sunset
There is nothing like a sunset tracking dive after a full day of skydiving. These jumpers attached streamers to their feet for a little added flare over Skydive Atlanta.

Becoming a computer geek after college, I lived all around Boston, Salem, Wellesley, and Bellingham. I sat in the land of the cubicles yearning for the weekend of jumping to arrive, which would allow me the chance to keep a small piece of my sanity and attempt to capture that magic moment. I always said if I got one good shot out of any skydive, it was all worth it.

It’s a rare thing in this world to find something that you’re truly passionate about. I can honestly say that I’m a better person for finding skydiving and having had the ability to embrace that passion as much as I have over the years. What’s absolutely amazing to me is that this passion has opened the door to others that I would have never imagined.

Slapping a camera on my helmet several years back was originally just something I did on a whim. At the time, I was shooting slide film with a Canon Rebel. Although I had point-and-shoots growing up -- both 35mm and APS cameras -- this was the first time I had truly realized the potential of photography with my first SLR. It turned my perception of the world upside down (literally and figuratively), and I began to see the world around me in a different light as I slowly became obsessed with photography.

On Josh's canopy
On Josh's canopy
Somehow I managed to capture my shadow on my friend Josh's canopy
as we circled each other after a skydive over Picton, Australia.

Since then I’ve upgraded my equipment and embraced the digital age. I’m currently shooting with a very nice (but slowly succumbing to the abuse I put it through) Canon 20D. I’ve been fighting the urge to upgrade, since I’m slowly outgrowing the 20D and am awaiting the arrival of Canon’s new 5D -- rumored to be the 5D Mark II.

Until then, I have a great camera that’s allowed me to capture some amazing memories over the past few years. For skydiving, my lens of choice has been a Sigma 15mm fisheye, which on a 20D, because of the 1.6x magnification, equates this lens to around a standard 24mm.

On level and building
On level and building
Canadian freefliers attempted to break their previous record of 12
during this year's Canadian record attempts near Toronto.

As you can imagine, falling through the sky doesn’t exactly allow you to stop, pose, adjust your settings, and take the shot! For a glimpse into what’s involved, you first need to understand the environment that all of these shots are taken in.

A normal skydiver, flying on his belly, is traveling at about 120 mph. Of course, as in any sport, there are several disciplines. The one that I chose to pursue years ago is called freeflying. Instead of falling on your belly, you fly your body headfirst and average a speed of about 165 mph. Plummeting toward the earth at that speed brings safety to the forefront, which is why skydiving aerial photographers mount their cameras on their helmets; this allows their hands to be free during freefall.

I use a SkySystems Vapor helmet where I mount my still camera as well as my Sony HD video camcorder. In order to rapid-fire my camera for those moments that slip away much too fast, I use a Conceptus Inc. bite switch to trigger my shutter release. For each shot I take, I bite down on a little rubberized switch and capture the moment.

And we must not forget the most important piece of equipment: the parachute. I jump a Katana 120 (that’s roughly 120 square feet) made by Performance Designs, and my harness / container is a Vector Micron made by United Parachute Technologies. I chose the Katana because with a little more than 7 pounds on top of your head, you want a parachute that opens as softly as possible to help save your neck … literally. The Katana delivers.

Birds of a feather
Birds of a feather ...
... flock together. Three skydivers put on wing suits and flew the skies over Jumptown in Orange, Mass. While flying a wing suit, you can double your freefall time and travel at speeds up to 100 mph horizontally -- literally turning your body into a human wing.
Wanna go for a ride?
Wanna go for a ride?
Boston local Britt hops a ride while I'm flying my wing suit over Orange, Mass.
This shot was captured from a camera mounted backwards on my camera helmet.
In the background, our friend Leah is slowly gaining on us.
Sugar Gliderz Unite
Sugar Gliderz Unite
An all-woman team named the Sugar Gliderz posed for a shot over Skydive Chicago.
Making it back
Making it back
Matty Wright flew back to Skydive Chicago at the Annual Summerfest Boogie. Cornfields surrounded one side of the drop zone while the Fox River bordered the other.

Skydiving has been good to me. I wanted to push myself to the next level, so I started to travel to events, chasing the bigways and attempting to better myself as a flier. [Ed. Note: We asked Brian to define "bigways": " 'Bigways' are just another way to say Large Vertical Formation of skydivers," he said. "Everyone is in flying in a head-to-earth orientation and they link up, grabbing each other's hands, typically forming a 'round' in the middle and then what we call 'pods' attached to the round, and so on. Pretty much anything over 20 people linked in the same formation is considered a bigway." Hmmm. On the ground, we call that a 'suburb'.]

The Lodi 20 unite
The Lodi 20 unite
Members of the Lodi 20 invitational event built a formation over the Camanche Reservoir in Lodi, California. The event challenges the best freefliers to push their limits.

One thing led to another, and I volunteered to be the USA Artistic Events team manager for the US Parachute Team in ’04 and ’06 (taking me to Brazil and Germany). I also was fortunate enough to be a part of the 53-way Vertical Formation Skydive that set a world record.

My aerial photography took off when I filmed the Canadian and Australian Vertical Formation records in 2005, and then the most recent 69-way world record in 2007 for the largest Vertical Formation ever built.

World record attempt
World record attempt
Skydivers from all over the world exited from three aircraft during a world record attempt at Skydive Chicago last summer. The formation started with a base of six jumpers and built out from the center.
World record achieved
World record achieved
Success! Sixty-nine skydivers set a world record for largest Vertical Formation,
smashing the previous record of 53 set in 2005.

After this, my VRW team, Team Mandrin (of which I am the videographer), took gold at the ’07 USA Nationals. All of these were experiences that I won’t soon forget.

Having success at aerial photography, I decided to dive into the world of "ground-based" photography. With a handful of lenses at my disposal, my current favorite is my Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L series lens. It’s amazing how much of a difference nice glass makes. In the mid 2000s, I took a few adult ed photography classes at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. That helped me solidify the basics and allowed me to reach out and explore the world and what my camera was capable of.

With skydiving, I had traveled all over the world to jump out of planes: Brazil, Australia, Europe, even Dubai. A few years ago, the itch to travel again just got too great. I left the skydiving gear behind and, armed with a backpack and my camera gear, I ventured out to embrace the world.

After working for 10 years in the corporate world in and around Boston’s high tech sector, I was burned out and decided that I needed drastic change. This lead to another passion: I sold my house in Bellingham at the end of 2006, quit my job at Analog Devices in Norwood, and traveled the world for a year and a half. I went to more than 30 countries, meeting up with skydivers I had met from previous travels and events. From Moscow to Tel Aviv to Tokyo to Sydney to Cape Town, I was greeted with open arms, a warm smile, and, of course, countless photographic opportunities.

To withstand time
To withstand time
This statue caught my eye while wandering through ruins
around Ankor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
School of terror
School of terror
Once brightly painted and well-lit, this high school in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia,
was turned into holding cells and torture chambers during the Khmer Rouge's genocide
in the mid-70s that killed an estimated 1.5 million people.
The school remains standing today as a reminder of those horrific events.
We call him 'pigeonkeet'
I spotted this one-of-a-kind bird in Gaudi Park in Barcelona, Spain last spring.
It has the body of a pigeon but the colors of a parakeet.

This journey brought me around the world twice and allowed me to catch up with friends in far off lands where I was able to combine all three of my passions: skydiving, photography, and travel into a once-in-a-lifetime journey. None of that would have happened if I didn’t make that first jump or pick up that Canon Rebel. I’ve posted some of my travel blog and photography, as well as my aerial photography, on my website, Brian Buckland Photography.

I’m currently working with other leaders in the skydiving aerial photography world on a project to put together a book with our images to be released in the summer of 2009. I’m also working on documenting my travels and the images I captured from my two around-the-world journeys, which I hope will be released around the same time.

Now I find myself back in the states with a better appreciation of the world, searching for a new home and a new career. The best part about all of this is that the journey has only just begun ...

Team Mandrin
Team Mandrin
Team Mandrin launched a formation called a Trident over Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, IL. The team is currently training for the 2008 US National competition in VFS (Vertical Formation Skydiving).

About Brian

Brian Buckland
Given his recent history, it's only natural that Brian has branched out to travel photography and writing. In fact, his photos have been published dozens of times in trade magazines around the world. Currently, Brian is actively training with his skydiving team for the 2008 Nationals to be held in late October at Skydive Arizona. After that, he plans to find a new career and settle somewhere in the US, pursuing photography on the side.

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