17th of Jan, 2014.
Chilly in Chile (sorry), I wake up in El Salvador to a cooler Dakar morning than normal.
The tent has dew on it and the visibility is no more than 100 metres will low lying fog.
I am worried of course that my only day in a proper photography helicopter will be ruined by weather.
A quick bite and bags packed, I drop them off at a truck which will carry it to the next bivouac as the choppers are not roomy and only bare essentials in camera kit is allowed. Making my way to the local, tiny, airport, our chopper pilot gives us the word that we fly as normal. He is ex-military and I am happy and concerned of course, not being an experienced helicopter flier.
Within minutes of taking off with 3 other photographers (Filipe from EFE, Victor from AP and Fred from DPPI) we rise high and lift above the fog and with mountains and dunes popping out of the mist, the silence in the cabin from the photographers is broken by the shutters of our cameras. Even with load clattering of the engine and rotating blade, it’s rather peaceful as we glide through the sky, soon the cameras stop and we all just take in the beauty of the setting.
We land not far away to get some details of the bikes at their start point, this is very new to Filipe and I.
After the first riders take off for their days racing, using GPS, we locate the first action point the riders have to come through. Unlike before with the 4x4 where we are given photo points, the helicopter photographers have the luxury of the whole course for the day and landing where they want, getting the leaders in as many locations as time will allow.
We land in a spot not far from the start and another photographer helicopter lands not far from us.
I am not sure if it was the wind from the chopper or the morning sunrise or both but after they land, less than a minute later, the fog is clear and from previous 200m vision we can see for kilometres.
ilipe and Victor stay on the ground shooting the first riders and Fred and I put our harnesses on, attach to the safety points and fly up, feet hanging out of the door, two cameras slung over each shoulder and gripping to the chopper belt for dear life.
The initial taste of dust from the down forced wind is soon exchanged for as crisp fresh air as I can remember inhaling. Sad, I know, but I have the A-Team tune playing in my head as we lift off!
Within minutes we have caught the second rider where the pilot manoeuvres us into positions to get the rider from the air.
It's an exciting moment and the sunlight is low on the horizon so it make some cool pictures with long shadows. I find it hard to put the wider lens down as the landscapes are immense and with some fog still on the horizon and dust from the back of the bikes, I am very happy with what I am seeing and shooting.
We chase down the first then bike and follow up with the top 5 guys. After this is done all within 20 minutes, once I am not shooting, I realise how cold my legs are as I have shorts on but this is short lived as we land when we go back pick up Filipe and Victor and go to another point ahead of the first bike.
The GPS gives us an accurate point so Fred and I are left here while the others take to the sky.
20 minutes later, they are back and we have the riders on dunes with mountains in the background.
What would have taken us days to get in terms of image variety with the 4x4, I have in two hours!
Together we go to another point head of the leader bikes again. Fred and I leave the guys again to get a few more bikes, then land to wait for the first 5 cars. As soon as the blade slows to a halt, we hear the first car approach and the pilot rolls his eyes, we board and rise again.
Cars are a bit easier to shoot because of their size plus on the wider landscape shots, it more obvious in the frame. Also the helicopter can get lower and closer as the wind from the blades does not affect them like the bikes.
Once the leaders are covered, we head back and Filipe and Victor are asked to board but Victor wants to stay on the ground, I am offered to go up again. This time I refuse, the other thing I didn’t think of along with the cold as we shoot, is the motion sickness. A combination of looking through the camera while the pilot is zooming us around every which way, then add the sudden drops as a vehicle goes over a ridge and the chopper follows, it plays a bit of havoc with me. Just think of trying to take photos looking down from a really high and fast rollercoaster, thats what I have just done.
The location Victor and I shoot from while Fred and Filipe go up is really nice and the bikes, cars, quads all come through in quick succession.
The guys land and ask to go back to send their images as its a few hours away by chopper but I ask to wait 30min or for one truck, whichever comes first. 20 minutes in and I see a lumbering beast crash over a distant dune, no.506, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! All four of us take a spot as not to be in each other frames and we shoot then head back to the chopper. We stop for a quick refuel on route then head back to our next bivouac in La Serena.
What a day in the air. Picture wise, we only covered the leaders but it was full of images I am really happy with. At moments it’s a bit worrying but overall what an amazing experience to be in one of these mechanical marvels taking photos, one I hope to do again with another sporting event (hint hint boss!).
The usual edit, food, tent......blah, blah, done and its late as normal for Dakar.
Tomorrow is the final day and from what I understand, in my non-existent French or Spanish, not much race action will be on the cards. Alarm set for 5:30am, my new favourite toy, after my cameras, the helicopter will be taking us up, up and away!
If you have any questions about today or any of the previous days you have read, please feel free to ask away on @AllSportSnapper on twitter!
View Dean's coverage of the Dakar Rally 2014 on Getty ImagesSee more images
Editors Note: The 2014 Dakar Rally will be the 35th running of the event and the sixth successive year that the event is held in South America. The event starts in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina on January 5 and finishes in Valparaíso, Chile on January 18 after thirteen stages of competition. To find out more visit the official Dakar Rally 2014 website.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos is a Sports Photographer for Getty Images. Follow him on Twitter at @AllSportSnapper
About Deal Mouhtaropoulos
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Mouhtaropoulos' love for photography began when his godfather bought him a camera for his 12th birthday.
"My journey to become a photographer had started and led me to the Big Smoke as I always knew London would provide a good platform to start my career in the photography business.
Working full time in various non-photo related roles and shooting for magazines and newspapers on weekends, it was then that I discovered Getty Images. When visiting the Getty Gallery, which was in Chelsea at the time, and looking at all those amazing pictures I had an epiphany and knew this was the company I wanted to work for.
I started hounding Getty’s Human Resources department to give me a role, any role, in the company. A few months and hundreds of phone calls later a role came up doing coffees, spreadsheets and filing.
Thanks to my boss, who saw some potential in me, I became a Field Editor for Getty which is like the modern version of working in the Dark Room. I got to work with the best photographers around the world at events like the MTV Awards, Cannes Film Festival, both Football and Rugby World Cups, the Olympics, Champions League football, World Championships in Swimming, Diving, Hockey, Athletics and so on.
This has taught me more than I could ever imagine and after 7 years of absorbing information and applying it to my own photography, I earned the opportunity to become a staff photographer for Getty.
10 years in London came to an end at the start of 2012 and I am now based in the Netherlands covering sports and news in the Benelux, France and Germany. My knowledge of photography has progressed but my passion is as strong as it was when I picked up my first roll of Fuji film as a 12 year old."