Air

It was a first.  A single engine light aircraft photography flight.  I was insanely nervous.  I’d been up in helicopters to do this before but nothing quite like this, there was no hovering or stopping allowed.  I was in a single engine light aircraft that would do no less than 100 knots.  I had a hole in the cockpit the size of a grapefruit to stick the lens out.  I learned quickly what I could and could not do.  I was given a headset and told to direct my pilot Hal to wherever I wanted to go above the Hopi range and the Black Mesa coal mine.  Our round trip flight would be roughly two hours.  I had our first tentative day scrubbed by low lingering cloud cover.  On our second attempt, a week later, we managed to have a beautiful start to the day.  We got off the ground a little later than I wanted but I still had some nice low light to work with for much of the shoot.

The size of the mine was hard to capture.

My first attempt to put my 70-200 with a 2x outside the window and my lens slammed into the side of the window due to wind drag.  I had to contend with not only the wind but the wing of the aircraft as well.  I was hoping for a Cessna style craft with the wing coming out from the top of the aircraft and yet here I was having to shoot around the wing which on this aircraft protruded from underneath the fuselage.  Whenever I wanted to photograph something it involved coordinating with the pilot to execute a steep turn that would enable the wing to dip out of my frame.

Two large strips in the earth.

Once I got past fighting the wind and the wing I had to figure out how to shoot from the air.  The different perspective posed its problems as well.  In some ways it was similar to shooting on the ground though.  I was surprised that I needed my 24-70 and even my 16-35 in some cases.  I envisioned myself only using my telephoto zoom but it barely made it out of my bag.  In retrospect I was photographing something massive: the largest strip coal mine in the U.S., so why or what would I need to be taking closeups of?  I thought that at 2000 to 3000 feet in altitude I would need to be tighter than normal.  In some respects yes, but ultimately to give what I was photographing perspective, I needed the horizon, and that kept me from using long lenses.

One time my 200mm actually gave some perspective

But in the above photo I was still able to use my 200mm lens and still achieve a sense of scale.  You can obviously see the large crane with Peabody’s name emblazoned on the side, but did you manage to see the “normal” sized front end loader in the bottom left of frame?  That should tell you about how big these massive cranes are.  Supposedly they are constructed on-site as they are so big there is no way to transport them.

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