Monday, January 31, 2011

Above The Rim

Ok...the title doesn't mean that I'm playing basketball again!! :-) It actually refers to the Mogollon Rim, an extended escarpment that forms the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau. This escarpment runs across a large section of Arizona beginning southwest of Flagstaff and extending through the White Mountains near the New Mexico border. Thanks to a fellow Sedona area photographer, Fred Parsons, I recently had a wonderful opportunity to fly over both the Mogollon Rim and the Sedona area with a glider pilot Ted Grussing.

Aerial View of Coffee Pot Rock, Wilson Mountain and the distant San Francisco Peaks

First off, I've got to say that for someone who doesn't embrace heights too well and hates rollercoasters, this adventure definitely took me out of my comfort zone! To make matters worse, the moderate winds that morning kicked up a fair amount of turbulence, making for a rocky flight. So much so that this ground hugger started feeling the effects of motion sickness and had to cut the flight short after a half hour or so. Despite my inability to cope with the bumpy flight, I was never really worried about any in-flight mishaps as Ted is a very accomplished pilot and his motorized glider was more than up to the task. Being a photographer himself, he also knows where to go for the best vantage points and did a great job of maneuvering the glider into position for the best shots.

Ted Grussing and His Motorized Glider

Of course getting in position to shoot a particular scene was only half the battle. Once there, I found it took a little skill and a lot of luck to actually get the shot. My strategy was to make use of a stabilized lens and fast shutter speeds (sacrificing depth of field) to overcome the lack of a stable platform for my camera. I also set the camera's focus mode to continuous as shooting a static subject from a moving position is no different than shooting a moving subject from a static position (the normal case when shooting wildlife, sports, etc.).

The final issue to overcome was how to frame the scenes of interest. I knew beforehand that the only place to get a clear shot out of the cockpit was going to be through a small sliding window situated just above my right leg. Thus, there was not going to be a way to look through the viewfinder when framing shots. It would've also been impossible to utilize the live mode on my Canon 5D Mark II as its fixed LCD screen would rarely be in a position where I could view it. My thinking was that the articulated LCD screen on my Panasonic GH1 (micro 4/3rds) camera would be the ticket as I would be able to utilize its live mode for framing. In the end, I'd say it helped a little but not nearly as much as I had hoped. Eventually, I found myself simply subscribing to the "spray and pray" philosophy...that is, I just roughly aimed the camera at the scene of interest and took a lot of shots of varying focal lengths. When I got home I then prayed that a few of them turned out!! However, had the flight not been as turbulent as it was, I don't think I would have had to resort to this practice as often.

The Mogollon Rim Near Sedona
Upon returning home and viewing my rather large volume of images, I was actually amazed at the unexpectedly high percentage of relatively sharp images I came away with. The compositions, however, were another matter. I probably came away with a dozen or so that I actually kept. And, of those, only a half dozen that I would ever really bother showing to someone. In reality though, I can't say that I really had expectations higher than that anyway, given the obstacles inherent to shooting from airborn vehicles.

Despite all my phobias and woes, I really must admit that this was a fantastic outing and the incredible views above Sedona's red rock fantasy land will be a memory that I won't soon forget! Ted has graciously offered to take me up again sometime with calmer winds and more optimal light. There's no doubt that I'm going to jump all over that offer!

1 comment:

  1. Spectacular photos here and elsewhere on your blog!

    First time I've heard of something called a "motorized glider". A bit of an oxymoron, eh? But if the motor is light enough it sounds like a great idea, use the motor to climb and then shut it off and glide. And never have to worry about engine failure being the cause of a crash!