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Arild's Big Wide World

Aerial photographer Arild Solberg is producing exquisite 360-degree aerial photographs of his native Norway using his favourite Hasselblads and a set of ingenious rigs that he’s designed himself.

Arild Solberg (50) has always been a fan of the quality larger formats can provide. He began his professional career in 1990 with a Sinar 5x4in studio camera supplemented by a Hasselblad system. The following year he built his own 600 square metre studio in the Norwegian town of Sykkylven and for the next nine years he worked from there with his collection of film cameras.

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“I moved across to digital in the summer of 2000,” he says, “and I started off with a Sinar Multishot technical camera, which was supported by a Nikon D1x. That same year I experimented with the idea of 360 degree landscape photography but the quality, when compared to what I was getting from the Sinar, just wasn’t up to scratch. I decided to park the idea for a few years, but I never forgot about it completely.”

In 2004 fate, in the shape of two serious car accidents, was to play a hand in Arild’s life, and it left him with injuries to both his knees, which effectively meant that his days of walking in the mountains with his cameras was over. “Instead of getting depressed I had to find other ways to take pictures,” he says. “That’s when the idea of flying a helicopter came to me and things just went from there.”

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As he took to the skies it was only natural that Arild should look to combine his interests and assess the potential for aerial photography. He also revived his passion for the 360-degree panoramic shot, and now was in a position to really deliver images that could reveal the true beauty of the world around him. Conscious that quality could be an issue, however, he was determined that this time he would go bigger and the Hasselblad was the perfect compromise. Arild knew the Hasselblad was big enough to deliver files with huge resolution while remaining portable enough to be carried up aloft.

 

There was just one problem: at that time there was nothing available ‘off-the-shelf’ that would accommodate a Hasselblad and enable it to be taken safely up in a helicopter. Fortunately another part of Arild’s background came to the rescue: “My father ran a mechanical factory,” he says, “and I worked there myself until I started to work as a professional photographer. This kind of background was ideal for someone like me who was looking to create bespoke equipment that could help me to realise my ideas. My father always said that if you have competition you should create something new to give yourself an edge, and that’s always been my slogan.”

There are three rigs designed by Arild that allow him to shoot his exquisitely detailed panoramas. The first is a hand-held arrangement that relies on the support of a tripod and a vibro head to cut down on camera shake. The second rig is a remote unit mounted on the outside of the helicopter and both of these rigs can accommodate one or sometimes two H3D-50 cameras which are fired remotely every three seconds to enable the components of the panorama to be produced.

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There is now a further, more exciting, possibility, since Arild has created a fixed rig on a mount on the helicopter that will accommodate eight cameras each fitted with an HCD 28mm, and the huge advantage here is that all of the files for the panorama can be created instantaneously.

The 360-degree images aren’t just stunning to look at, they also have great commercial applications, and Arild’s work has been used for virtual showrooms, tourist advertising and as a tool for different kinds of planning.

“There really is no other option than the Hasselblad for the kind of picture I want to take,” says Arild. “Because of the quality of the Hasselblad lenses, the size of the camera’s sensor and the huge dynamic range that’s offered you can almost zoom into infinity in the pictures, without any loss of quality. My goal is to build a huge picture, and the more pixels I’m working with the more zoom you can have on the web. My largest picture so far from a helicopter is 5Gb - and I know I can go bigger.”