May 29, 2010

Three Kilometres High (over Cookstown, ON) II

"Don't worry, I've got your back" had never sounded better.

There was no way I would jump, but for safety reasons I was wearing a parachute - a "rig" rather, as the parachute is the part that opens.

I asked to be tethered, and they ran a cable from my rig to the plane. But, soon enough I would realize that was only to humour me - when we reached the desired altitude, they unhooked me.

As logical as the reason was - it's better to fall off a plane than to be dragged by it at 200 km/h - my discomfort was hard to hide.

That's when James, who was staying in plane with me, told me "Don't worry, I've got your back".

This is Marc, signalling me to come and take my position. (Note the angle of the horizon; my camera is parallel to the airplane)

To get the picture I wanted, I had to lean outside the aircraft. One knee was still inside, and I was holding (clasping, grasping...) the red bar (see photo) with my left hand.

Knowing, or rather thinking, I would be attached to the plane itself, was the only thing making me feel safe about this position.

So much for that.

The practice runs helped. I got accustomed to suppress my fear of heights long enough to make photos.

And on what was to be the very last jump because it was already nighttime on the ground, the pilot executed what would have been a wheelie had we been on a motorcycle to catch a last glimpse at the sun.

And it worked.

May 26, 2010

May 08, 2010

You've been... Thunderstruck (Sydney, NSW, Australia)

When I first posted that picture, almost exactly a year ago, and use the same clever title, I don't think I realized AC/DC was an Australian band. In fact, unless I'm mistaken, they have played more than once at the Opera House that seems to be hit by lightning.

It was a Saturday night in Sydney. In fact it was Saturday in most parts of the world, but I was in Sydney. I don't remember what I had planned to do of the evening, but I know that whatever it was, it changed right away when the thunderstorm began.

Skies can be amazing before of after storms. It wasn't the case on that night, but it's hard to know in advance (so you just go).

I told the story before of my homeless friend Jay, whom I met trying to protect my camera from the heavy rain on the porch of the church. When asking why I was heading to the riverside park, I specifically told him I was "going to photograph lightning hitting the Opera House", and on my way back to the hostel, when I showed him the picture on the back of the camera, he thought I was some kind of magician.

Jay didn't really understand the ins and outs of photography, let alone how to shoot lightning, so he was simply impressed at the timing I must have to be able to snap a shot just when it strikes.

The reality of it is, you simply take longer exposures and wait for something to happen in your frame. When you're outside of where the storm is, it's quite enjoyable, you just set your camera on a tripod, watch the show, and click every so often for the next picture to be taken.

That night, well it was somewhat different. I don't travel with a tripod (too big), so I usually use whatever I can to fix the camera. There, it was my bag padded with my coat.

That coat would have been useful since by the time I got to the pier, the storm had shifted and was over and behind me and not over the downtown core.

Because it was pouring rain, I used my shirt to protect my camera and keep the lens clean - that smudge is a raindrop that got past me and my makeshift shield.

I couldn't just stand there and enjoy the show, I was simply hovering over my camera when I saw the reflection of a flash, and just made sure the camera would stay still for the remainder of the exposure.

I knew (at least hoped) I had something. I was on vacation so I just kept shooting, but if you're working and you're on deadline, once you get such a picture, you have to quickly decide if it's good enough or if you can get something better.

This was the case last August, while I was on staff at the Toronto Star. After a full day of work, I was watching the Simpsons, trouser-less, when a raging thunderstorm pulled me back outside. I quickly grabbed the camera, and started to think of a better vantage point (than that of my basement). I tried a few places, but couldn't get anything good. I finally parked my car on a curb of the highway exit, raced to the top of the overpass, and started snapping away. All of this happening really quickly because I didn't want to miss the storm.

(Again, no tripod, hand-held against the metal railing for 10 seconds at a time, thinking the streetlights would be hit before the railing I was holding on to)

The picture below was the last frame I shot. After seeing it, I quickly had to make the decision to stop shooting, rush back home to send it to my paper.

No way it would've been published had I waited any longer.

May 07, 2010

Stars for the Star (Toronto, ON)

Spent a delightful night with astronomers at an observatory a few weeks back. Light pollution makes Toronto an odd choice of location for an observatory, but the brighter elements of the sky are still visible and analyzable.

I got to see Saturn and its rings, Mars, and super close-ups of the Moon.