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.
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.