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PPD Spotlight: Bob Croslin Photographs in Zero G

By David Schonauer   Saturday June 17, 2017


“It was one of the hardest environment's I've ever worked in.”

So says Central Florida-based commercial and editorial photographer (and PPD reader) Bob Croslin, describing a story he shot for Smithsonian magazine that called for him to shoot aboard a Boeing 727  flying in arcs that produce weightlessness.

The assignment came to him in the summer of 2016, when he was contacted by the magazine’s director of photography, Jeff Campagna. The magazine was running a story about the challenges of living and working in space, and he wanted Croslin to illustrate it. “I didn’t know it at the time that it would involve me working literally in zero gravity on two separate flights. That  sounds amazing but was incredibly hard,” he says.

The 727 Croslin shot in belongs to ZERO-G, a company that operates weightless flights from United States airports. “The plane I was in is the same one Ron Howard used to film scenes for Apollo 13 and that astronauts use to get an idea of what working in space is like,” he says. The 727 creates weightlessness by flying a series of parabolas; gravity is suspended for brief periods as the plane pushes over the top of the arc.

“Before I shot I reached out to ZERO-G,and they put me in touch with their Las Vegas photographer, Al Powers. Within 30 seconds of talking to Al, I quickly realized I’d have to work with a stripped down camera kit,” says Croslin. “My original idea of mounting a few Profoto heads wouldn’t work, because everything in the plane must be screwed in and strapped down. During the plane’s dive everything inside is essentially falling around inside the fuselage, so anything unsecured runs the risk of potentially colliding with passengers.”

Croslin decided to shoot with a Nikon D810 DSLR and Quantum strobe. On his first flight he shot with a 24-120mm zoom lens. “But I quickly realized I needed something wider and switched to a Nikon 14-24mm lens. The 14-24 provided the widest view of the cramped interior of the plane,” he says.

“It took me nearly the entire first flight to get the hang of working in a zero gravity environment,” Croslin says. “Because the pilots fly parabolas to create the zero gravity environment, the plane makes a steep climb to 32,000 feet and you feel the pull of a 1.8 G-force, so standing and even holding a camera is difficult. As the plane descends, you float around the plane. The sensation of weightlessness is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The slightest micro-movements can send you careening around the plane and into other people. I got kicked a few times and crashed into a few people camera first. Each parabola lasts 25 seconds, so there is an extremely short window to make images.”

See a BTS video of the shoot below:

On the first flight, Croslin was accompanied by tourists. On his second flight, he was joined by six researchers working on experiments in the ZERO-G Weightless Lab.

“Most of the researchers were college students and first timers, and the initial five or six parabolas were pure chaos,” he says. “I was now a veteran, but everyone around was struggling to stay oriented and get their work done. Almost immediately, several researchers filled barf bags and had to be escorted to their seats at the back of the plane. My job was to capture the researchers working on their experiments while trying not to float away, or worse, to puke. It wasn't until near the end of the research flight that I knew I had several great images. That’s when I could actually enjoy the experience of being in zero gravity.”

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