Up, Up, and Away

The only thing I like about flying is it forces me to be bored, which sometimes I need. Something about sharing the inside of a giant metal tube with 200 strangers going 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet in the air just isn’t right in my mind. But sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. It didn’t bother me as a kid, maybe due to a couple long flights to Australia and back. My father flew small planes and for a long time that didn’t bother me either, but slowly it started to. Maybe as I developed an excruciating fear of heights. So when my brother started taking flying lessons, my reaction was not “Oh boy this is going to be fun!”

One of the hardest things about being a photographer is finding new perspectives of the subjects we shoot. I discovered infinite possibilities when I started doing aerial work with a drone. Its amazing how much different something looks from a couple hundred feet in the air. But drones are still very limited. As I grew to appreciate the work of a couple photographers who do aerial work, such as Chris Burkard, and Michael Shainblum, I started thinking about the kind of stuff I could get shooting from a plane. Could these ideas overpower my issues with flying?

January 1st of 2019 I decided it was time to go up with my brother. We had a quick window in Portland winter weather, and were expecting a great sunset. This would be a trial run, more focused on how comfortable I was than shooting photographs, but I decided to take my camera along. As a licensed sport pilot he’s limited to daylight flying, so we would land when needed to and figure out some times in ratio to sunset for future planning. It was an incredibly foggy day, and was taking its time burning off in Scappoose where he lives and flies from, so fingers were crossed. I got to the airport at 3pm just as the fog finally started to clear.

The first thing to figure out was whether or not I could even fit in his Skyreach Bushcat. This thing is tiny. And I’m 6’5″. Its a light sport aircraft so its very light, and can take off and land on rough terrain in very short distances. And one of the coolest things is the doors come off. For me I’m im going to shoot quality photos from this thing, I don’t want to shoot through windows. But one step at a time. It was tight. Very tight. Especially with a 70-200mm lens on my camera. But I would make do. Skyreach Bushcat

We hopped in, went over some stuff and were on our way. As we lifted off the ground I was surprised how at ease I was. On commercial airliners, Im squeezing the heck out of the armrests on takeoff, landing, and through any turbulence. Usually accompanied by closed eyes and deep breaths. But this was different. Maybe its because generally you know nothing about he pilot, and I knew Travis’ primary goal was my safety. We were also traveling much slower than in a 737. Whatever it was, I was very glad. It was really fun, and absolutely gorgeous views.

 

 

We flew north along the Columbia River to Rainier, Oregon. On my brothers side I could see beautiful patches of fog through the hills west of the river. We went up and turned around and flew back, giving me a much better view of the fog on my side. Lucky for us to be up here and witness these conditions. As we flew back to Scappoose, the sun started to go down and we were given a nice show of color. I was actually able to pop off a few shots I was pretty happy with, even though I was shooting through the windows.

 

Even the landing was easy for me. Thats typical the hardest part, but we just seemed to plop on the ground and stop almost immediately. Travis really knows what he’s doing. We taxied back to his hangar, parked and got out just as my back was really starting to bother me because of the cramped space. I could see this being the only real drawback for me. So we would just need to keep the trips short. Or take the doors off so I can stretch!

As we sat at the airport we witnessed one of the best sunsets I have seen in a long time. These shots really don’t do it justice. But you get the idea.

 

Taking this flight really has me rethinking the possibilities. Being able to go places most other photographers can’t go. Perspectives that are otherwise impossible to get. Hopefully our future flights are as smooth, and the conditions are as perfect. Photographers generally spend a significant amount of their time shooting when the conditions don’t work out, that’s why when they do the shots they take are so special. Its not easy. Fortunately, even if the photography conditions aren’t perfect, I will still be taking part in something incredible.

For more information about light sport aircraft visit http://www.portlandlightsport.com.

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New Years Day

Monday December 31, 2018, was forecast not only to have an amazing sunrise, but an equally amazing sunset. At least this was the case according to Skyfire, an app that forecasts colorful sunsets and sunrises. I haven’t shot much landscape photography in the last few months, so I decided I was going to go out with a bang and shoot both. My wife had to work, and daycare was closed for the holidays, so I arranged for Olives grandmothers to watch her so I could go out.

At 5:30 when my alarm went I had zero interest in getting out of bed. I somehow talked myself out of going out, and cancelled Nana coming over to watch Olive. I’ve been incredibly exhausted for the last 6 months, with very little sleep due to my child learning how to sleep, so it can be really tough for me to get up and going. Especially when there is never any guarantees about how the shoot will go. A bit later when I got up I noticed how foggy it was outside, which is my favorite time to shoot. Bummer. Snooze you lose! A couple hours later I checked the weather and they had pretty much cancelled the colorful sunset prediction, so I bailed on that too. Though my wife and I took Olive on a walk just before sunset, and it wasn’t half bad.

So I basically blew my last day of photography for the year. I checked Skyfire, and there was another good sunrise predicted for New Years Day. Elizabeth would be home from work, and could watch Olive, so this could work. I decided to go for it. I knew I would be up late on New Years Eve, and it would be especially hard to get up, but I needed to force myself.

Tuesday morning came and I hopped out of bed. I peeked out the window and saw that once again, we were fogged in. I had originally planned on staying close to home and shoot around the St Johns Bridge. But with the fog, I decided to go for something else. One of my more popular shots is of Portland taken at sunrise from the Pittock Mansion viewpoint. I shot this in 2016.Portland Sunrise

Though this is one of my favorite photos I have taken, I hadn’t been back to Pittock Mansion since. Its grown increasingly crowded. And honestly I think its impossible to grow as a photographer if you just shoot the same places all the time. I know a few that seem to go to the same couple spots over, and over, I guess hoping for the perfect shot. But that is very boring to me, and limiting to my artistic vision. Especially a place like this, where every day you are likely to be along the fence with a dozen other photographers. But over the last couple years I had seen some great shots of this view with fog rolling over the city lights, and thought this might be a good day to do some long exposure work. Who knows, maybe it will be quiet there with everyone being hungover from the night before!

I headed up to Pittock Mansion only to find the gate closed. It was 6:15, and the sign said it would open at 6. I did see a couple cars with people that seemed to be waiting for the gate to open. I almost went home. But instead, decided my two feet would take me past the gate just fine. So I grabbed my gear and hiked in. I was the only one there. Amazing. It was a little over an hour before sunrise, earlier than I usually show up, but it made me think it could be a quiet morning at the vista. A snapped a couple shots, but the fog was too thick to be able to do much with the city lights. The sky above it didn’t look like it was going to be especially great, but I was here so I would wait it out.

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“Peeking Through” 200mm, f11, ISO 200, 30 sec

A couple people started showing up, but no one was shooting. A woman did tell me that the day before the fog went all the way up so there was no view. I felt a bit better about not getting out. As the sky lightened, a couple photographers started showing up. I still couldn’t see much through the fog, but it made for a couple interesting shots.

The next 20 minutes were nuts. They must have opened the gate. People started flowing in. Suddenly there were 50-60 people behind me, and over a dozen photographers on each side. This was everything I don’t like about photography. But the sky was doing some wonderful things, and we all knew something special was on its way.

Though the fog was finally making way to expose the city trapped underneath, the lights had pretty much gone out so the shot I was hoping for had passed. But as each minute passed, the colors improved and the gasps of the crowd got louder. The crescendo of the morning light show arrived. For me its often not about when the sun rises, but the colors of blue hour, the period just before sunrise, and just after sunset. The view was amazing. Well worth the effort. A quick reminder of the excitement that can come from photographing the wonders of this world.

New Years Day

“New Years Day” 35mm, f13, ISO 100, 1/13 sec

As the pinks and reds faded, and the oranges grew stronger from the sun rapidly approaching the horizon, I zoomed in to check out the lenticular cloud formations sitting on top of Mt Hood in the distance. I ended up with a shot I really love, and one that is significantly different than the above photo in my opinion. Same city, same sky, just a few minutes later.

Rings Around

“Rings Around” 70mm, f16, ISO 100, 1/30 sec

Right after that shot, even before the sun came up, I decided it was time to go. I had no interest in waiting in line to file out of the quiet neighborhood the mansion lies in. I may have missed a couple decent shots, but I was pretty content with what I had just witnessed.

It had all worked out. If I had gone out Monday morning, and was disappointed, I likely would not have come out for this wonderful morning. Funny how that works. One of the hardest things about landscape photography is chasing sunrises and sunsets not ever knowing what you will get. Some will say its a thrill and exciting, but with my limited schedule it can be tough. But once every now and then it really pays off, and it totally makes up for every time I’ve gotten up and haven’t been able to get any decent shots. Every time I see a sunrise like this, it makes it a little bit easier to get up for the next one. The day I’m well rested again, assuming that day will come, I look forward to it getting easier yet. I get an incredibly amount of joy witnessing mornings like this, and its also very rewarding to be able to share these experiences with others. This is going to be a great year. Happy New Year!