Phoenix Heliparts

In my latest installment for the 'People At Work' project I'm working on, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours yesterday at Phoenix Heliparts, in Mesa, AZ. Phoenix Heliparts is known world-wide for their helicopter rebuilding and repair, especially for MD series helicopters. Check out the full shoot inside...


This particular shoot had spent about 6 months in the 'attempted scheduling' phase. There always seems to be a scheduling conflict whenever we'd talk about a date, so all week long I was super excited that it was finally coming together. I arrived to their relatively new Mesa facility at about 9:30am, and after signing in with the receptionist and getting an access card, I was given a quick tour around the different departments by the operations manager.

The very first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the facility. From a beautiful lobby, to nice offices, and into the warehouse, avionics, inventory, and of course the main repair and rebuilding area, it was impressively large. I was given the freedom to wander around and photograph at will.

I brought all the gear in, but mostly just left it staged in a corner. The building was surprisingly well lit and I decided to shoot with just the ambient light as much as I could. The corner of the facility where I spent the most time was where they were rebuilding a Huey. I asked one of the structural techs, Ismael, if he'd mind me taking photos of him while he worked and he was super accommodating and an incredibly nice guy.

I spent a good hour or more just photographing Ismael as he worked on the Huey. We talked about work, life, and even about photography while he went about his work.

Once I had a few frames I was happy with, I found an angle I really wanted to capture the Huey project from, and I got two speedlights, my pocketwizards, etc, and I asked Ismael to help me stage a shot of him working on the helicopter from a specific angle. I showed him how I'd like him positioned in the doorway, I set one speedlight as a main light on camera left, and the second speedlight camera right to come through the windscreen and light him from behind. The lights were triggered with Pocketwizard Plus X's, and I really like the final shot:

After that shot, I went back to wandering around the shop a little, took a few frames here and there, and I started to zero in on Keith working alone on an old MD helicopter. Keith was equally accommodating to me and my camera while he worked on the airframe, he talked with me about what he was doing, about how this particular helicopter had made a crash landing, and what he was rebuilding. Keith has been doing this for 40 years, having spent time at both Boeing and MD Helicopters, so I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with him as well, listening to stories about some projects he'd worked on.

I was back to using just the ambient light with Keith. The only photo I used any additional light on the whole morning was that last frame of Ismael in the Huey and while that's a bit of a departure from my usual style, I enjoyed the freedom to just move and shoot freely. After about 20-30 minutes of shooting and talking with Keith, he showed me a new aluminum floor he was about to install into the airframe. He placed the floor onto the workbench to take a measurement and as soon as I saw him begin to do so, I anticipated the floor acting as a beautiful fill reflector and I was ready to capture it. It's an incredibly simple image, but it's one of my favorite photos from the shoot, and also my last one there:

I just want to thank everybody at Phoenix Heliparts for letting me get in their way and interfere with their work for a couple hours. It was great to meet all of them, everybody was friendly and a pleasure to meet. I had a lot of fun watching them literally build helicopters from scratch. Thanks for having me.



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