Back in the Air

July 20, 2016  •  1 Comment

I began dabbling in aerial photography about five years ago. It took only one flight for me to become hooked. But for the fact that it can become expensive quickly, I'd be shooting from the air frequently.

At the outset, I worked with a wonderful pilot out of Laconia, New Hampshire - which gave me good access to the Lakes Region of the Granite State. Then I began to take advantage of the fact that one of my brothers is a pilot, and would go up with him when he was flying out of central Florida. Before I left the Northeast, I tried something different and took to the skies above the Seacoast of New Hampshire in a small helicopter - a truly tremendous shooting opportunity. The door is removed for photo flights, which affords great flexibility. Those opportunities, however, are a rarity: helicopters are even more expensive to rent than Cessnas.

Since relocating to eastern Idaho, I've had aerial photography on my list, but until this week had not pursued it.

Middle- to late-summer is not optimal for aerial shooting here: the atmosphere tends to be hazy (actually, it often impacts shooting from the ground as well). This is exacerbated when smoke from inevitable forest fires, sometimes burning hundreds of miles away, moves into the area. Another contributing factor in this agricultural region is all the dust raised during harvest season. Last August the skies were stubbornly hazy; I put my camera away for most of the month.

I was hoping to take advantage of clearer skies while I still could, and made arrangements to fly shortly after sunrise out of Jackson, Wyoming early this week. My objective was mainly to photograph the Cathedral Group from various perspectives, bathed with warm, early morning light.

Unfortunately, storms over the Tetons on Sunday afternoon generated lightning. It has been very dry lately, with humidity as low as 9%. Therefore, all it took was one strike to spark a fire near Bondurant - very close to Jackson. By Monday morning, the skies over the valley were filled with thick smoke. I was just about ready to cancel Tuesday's flight when the wind cleared things out nicely. We decided to play it be ear, so I made my way to Jackson very early the next morning. As the darkness began to lighten, I could see that the Idaho side of the mountains was clear. A good sign! Once I made it to the top of the Teton Pass, however, the intense smell of smoke hit me like a brick. I knew exactly what I was going to see once the valley came into sight. Thick smoke. Clearly, I was going to have to scrub the shoot.

However, I'd been thinking about a contingency plan so continued on to the airport and discussed it with the pilot. I decided to roll the dice and see if the air might be clearer up at Yellowstone, which would enable me to photograph Grand Prismatic Spring. As we traveled north, the smoke was still quite heavy. Uh oh. However, as the geyser field came into view, it cleared up significantly. 

Though I hadn't set out to shoot Grand Prismatic this week, and it therefore wasn't the time of day I would have chosen had that been my original plan, I did want to get there at some point - and was pleased with the outcome. The play of light and shadow I was initially concerned about added to the otherworldly feel of this weird and wonderful thermal feature.

I still plan on shooting the peaks from the air - but now may need to wait for the clearer skies of September.

Grand Prismatic SpringGrand Prismatic SpringThe only way to really appreciate Grand Prismatic Spring is from the air. From this perspective, not only is its size apparent, but also its otherworldly, star-like appearance. (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

 


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