|Quoting Aogdesk (Reply 2):|
From what I've seen, they're all staged flights. I know that Clay Lacy Aviation has at least one specially outfitted Lear that has externally mounted cameras.
Yep, as far as I know too, this is the case. I have a book called "Airliners in Flight" that features many beautiful air to air shots by the (sadly late) photographer George Hall. The book also details the specifics of a typical photo shoot. As Aogdesk said, Clay Lacy has 3 Learjets that can be outfitted with a purpose-built, gyro-stabilized upper and lower periscope mount for high quality video cameras. Lacy's system, called Astrovision, required a supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA for the aircraft they can be mounted on. On these media missions, photographers shoot through a specially designed window, and the cinematographer and the photographer will take turns doing their thing in the tiny Learjet cabin, now cramped with heavy equipment and 2 guys who are both trying to position themselves to create the best artwork possible. Boeing, either as a company or at the request of the aircraft's destination airline, has contracted Clay Lacy many times for a session of air to air video and photography work on behalf of a new aircraft's delivery or for some type of ad.
There is also at least one B-25 outfitted for windowless air to air photography from the tail gunner's position, although the B-25 would obviously performance limited in speed and altitude, limiting the variety of photography possibilities when compared to a Learjet. However, this unique position has resulted in many beautiful air to air's. There's no telling how many different ways these photo missions can be done. It would be interesting to see who Airbus uses for their air to air work as well.
As far as ATC concerns, the book says that most of these shoots are done below 18,000 feet, where they aren't required to be on an IFR flight plan and talk to ATC, so they can maneuver freely. Occasionally, they will go up to the flight levels for contrail shots though. While the book doesn't say how this is coordinated with ATC, I wouldn't assume that it would be too big of a deal, as ATC usually seems to be pretty understanding about things like this. They also have special procedures already designed to handle military formations and tanker ops, so I wouldn't imagine an air to air shoot being too much different from that, as far as the logistics are concerned.
Here's a website that has samples of some of George Hall's superb photography.