Sunday, May 26, 2013

Aerial Photography 101

I went to an awards ceremony for a local photography contest held in Maun the other night. It reminded me of going to similar shows in Alaska. When surrounded by beauty in nature, whether it be landscape or wildlife, taking a good picture is easy. Especially with the rise in digital camera/photo-doctoring technology, snapping a good photo is something anyone can do.

Creating a good picture is another thing entirely. I’m reminded of a friend in Hawaii ranting about all the people that came into his gallery and after looking at his work exclaimed, “Wow, you must have a great camera.”

You don’t go to someone’s house and after a wonderful meal say, “Wow, you must have a great stove.” No one has ever asked me what kind of pen I use. For the record it’s a Zebra (pronounced so it rhymes with Debra by everyone except Americans) 301. My friend Ryan gave me my first 301 more than a decade ago and I haven’t looked back since I dropped the Uni-ball.

But check out a photography magazine or website. They’re chock-full of fractions, lens sizes, and f-stop gobbledy gook. That stuff helps, sure, but first you need to know some real basics. Here’s what I know about how to take a good picture from a helicopter.

Lose the vest. We’ve already pegged you for a douchebag by the hat. Those things were designed to hold rolls of film. You don’t use film.

Turn off the flash. It’s annoying to at least one pilot and the reflection off the windscreen won’t help you land a NatGeo cover. Oopsie, I’m getting ahead of myself. Learn the buttons on your camera before you get into the helicopter.

Turn off burst mode. That way at the end of the flight you’ll only have 300 terrible photos to delete instead of 10,000.

Keep your lens zoomed out until you find the critter. Once it’s in the frame, adjust the zoom. And it works best if you find the animal with your eyes before you start looking through the camera.

To paraphrase Kenny Rodgers(who also wrote ‘The Condition of the Condition I’m in’) there’ll be time enough for looking at the pics when the flight is done. Fuck man, helis are expensive. Why waste your time assessing the photo you just took on a tiny screen in bright sun? This is an extension of the ‘learn the buttons’ category.

Realize that if you ask the pilot which lens you should bring, he will think of several responses which he can’t use in the name of good customer service such as, ‘If you have to ask me, the pics are gonna be shitty anyway,’ or ‘Why don’t you take the small lens? That way I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll run out of cyclic authority with a 6kg lens and your fat ass leaning out the door.’

Friday, May 10, 2013

Travel Advice

Don't buy trip insurance. Your sciatica flaring up two days before you head from your cushy EU country where everything works to the African bush? Definitely take a twelve hour flight and sit in coach seats. If that won't massage your aching back, perhaps you should try bouncing along in the back of a game-drive vehicle. Ignore the camp manager's suggestion to leave the bush. Complain when the doctor arrives in camp and tells you that your husband can't have any pain medication because he's severely dehydrated and you gave him two sleeping tablets at six in the morning.

Invite your guide to join your party for dinner, but wait until you sit down for the meal to make the offer. That way you'll get to see mad dash table moving/setting. Don't ask the guide to expand on life here in Africa. Rather ask him what he knows about your country. Yes, you live in a densely populated state with an obese governor. No, Baratile hasn't heard of him.

Stop the pilot from giving you his safety briefing by saying, "I flew in a helicopter two weeks ago." Listen to the pilot explain that regardless of how many times you ride in a 747, they have to tell you how the seat belt works with a look of disdain on your face. Then try to get in the pilot's seat. "Oh, sorry, in my Bonanza the pilot sits on the left." You see, sir, a Bonanza is an airplane. This is a helicopter. I agree, airplanes are much better for traveling across Florida. But the reason you're in a helicopter today is that the airstrip is closed and your Bonanza can't land on the soccer pitch.

Hire a helicopter to fly you and a professional film maker over your lodge as a part of your overall marketing campaign. Insist that because you paid for the flight, you get to ride along and use the film maker's still camera. Spend the better part of an hour trying to figure how the camera works while in the air. There will be another sunset tomorrow.

When the pilot says, "There's a hippo feeding on the edge of the river at our eleven o'clock," pipe up and say, "That's an elephant." There's no way the pilot will fly closer so that everyone in the helicopter sees the hippofuckingpotamus.