A few weeks ago, I got an email from the website-building company, Wix, asking if anyone at Fstoppers wanted to be a part of a zero-gravity photoshoot. Um, yes please.
It may sound silly to some of you, but from the second I heard about these zero-gravity planes as a child, I've obsessed about getting to experience them for myself. Sadly, there is only one of these planes (for civilians) in the US, and at over $5,000 a seat, I wasn't sure I would ever get to do it. Luckily for me, this incredible opportunity fell into my lap.
A few months back, Wix held a photography concept composition. Whoever had the most interesting idea for a photoshoot would have their entire idea funded and brought to fruition by Wix. Reiko Wakai, an incredible Japanese photographer, won the contest with her Zero G concept.
After planning the shoot, Wix set some money aside to invite a few individuals in the media to be a part of this experience in person. I'm so thankful they ended up reaching out to me, because I was willing to put my life on hold to be a part of this ride.
For those of you who aren't familiar with this experience, Zero G has modified a Boeing 727-200 to be capable of producing zero Gs for its passengers by flying in a parabolic trajectory relative to the center of the earth, during which the plane is in free fall for parts of the curve. The back of the plane has 38 standard seats, but the entire front of the plane has been outfitted with white padding. Once the plane reaches altitude, everyone on board leaves their seats and walks out on the padding. The plane then begins to fly in the parabolic trajectory, repeating the cycle 15 times. Each time the plane goes up, you experience positive Gs, and when the plane goes down, you experience weightlessness for about 30 seconds before the plane must start going up again.
Obviously, Wakai was limited in terms of what type of sets or props she was allowed to use for her shoot. Nothing was allowed in the plane that could become dangerous if it began to float around. To try to enhance the cabin, Wakai was allowed into the plane the day before to add silver foil to the front portion of where the shoot would be taking place. For props, she brought things like bottles of water, small silver balls, and tubing. She also chose Stav Strashko as her model, who had long straight hair. Each of these would help convey that the photoshoot did actually take place in zero G, rather than the model simply jumping.
When we were walked out onto the pads, we were all instructed to lay down on our backs. I was afraid that I was going to become sick from the positive Gs, but in this position, the extra pressure on my body felt nice. If I tried to lift or turn my head, I could feel nausea coming on almost instantly, so I made sure to look straight up. At the top of the parabola, you could slowly start to feel the pressure leave your body and soon thereafter, you realized you were floating. Surprisingly, it didn't feel scary or like I was falling at all. It simply felt like I was floating, and aside from the occasional collision with someone next to me, the entire experience was incredibly peaceful.
Throughout my entire day and in zero Gs, I had been filming my experience with the 360-degree Ricoh Theta S. You can float along with me in the video below.
Up in the front of the plane where the photoshoot was going on, things weren't quite so pleasant. Both the model and photographer were working so hard to get the shot I'm not sure they got to fully appreciate the experience. Both Wakai and her lighting person had their own assistants whose sole job was to hold them in place and keep them from spinning out of control. The model didn't have anyone holding her in place and had the difficult task of floating around while still looking toward the photographer. From my perspective, I was in awe as I floated around the plane without a care in the world, but when I looked back towards the photoshoot, I realized how grateful I was that I wasn't the one taking the pictures. I can't imagine the stress of capturing a shot with just 30 seconds at a time while floating, with that many people watching.
Although I was fully prepared to get sick, I ended up feeling totally fine, but not everyone else was so lucky. Because Wakai was constantly looking through her viewfinder, she started feeling ill, and because Strashko was having to work so hard to turn her body and head toward the camera, she also got sick.
One other person who had purchased a ticket on the flight but wasn't affiliated with our shoot got sick right off the bat. In the middle of our 15 parabolas, he was floated back to his seat and was strapped in. For the rest of the flight, he had to experience positive and negative Gs in an upright position. Sitting upright in a chair only made him sicker, especially during the positive Gs.
The 15 periods of weightlessness came and went so fast. The entire experience felt like a dream, and immediately afterward, I struggled to fully remember what I had just been a part of.
I'm happy to say that Wakai was able to get some great looking shots. Everyone involved should be super proud of themselves. I've always wanted to have the experience, but I was never sure how I would be able to work it out. I am hugely indebted to both Reiko Wakai and Wix. It was an experience I will never forget.