Flying with Film

Flying with Film

Flying with film doesn't need to be complicated. Plan ahead, be nice and follow a few, simple tips and you'll wonder why you ever thought it was so intimidating.

Flying with film doesn’t need to be complicated. Plan ahead, be nice and follow a few, simple tips and you’ll wonder why you ever thought it was so intimidating.

There are many film shooters who might be reluctant to fly with your favorite film camera packed for the simple reason that flying with film is too complicated or difficult. I’d like to propose that it’s not as much as you think, and the benefits are worth the perceived cost. Having just returned from a trip to Chicago, recording some information and fresh insights seems like a good idea.

The questions have been asked millions of times: can film go through the x-ray and survive? Do you put your film in a checked bag, or carry it on the plane. Here is what I’ve learned in my own research from different sources including Kodak and Fuji, and from my own personal experience.

Removing your film from original packaging in the hopes of cramming more into whatever case you'll carry is a bad idea.

Removing your film from original packaging in the hopes of cramming more into whatever case you’ll carry is a bad idea.

First and foremost do not pack your film in checked baggage. The X-ray used to scan checked baggage is stronger (in some cases considerably stronger) than the x-ray used to scan humans and carry on baggage. If you think you can put your film in a lead-lined pouch and be free of worry – you’re wrong. They’ll simply crank up the X-ray to penetrate whatever you put your film in, further damaging whatever is in the bag they’ll eventually see into.

Always ‘carry on’ your film, and ask a TSA agent to hand inspect it. Here are a few tips:

I put my film in a small, black, zippered, padded case made by Eagle Creek Travel Gear. It fits 24 boxes of film perfectly. I always leave my film in its original packaging.

Years ago on a flight to Haiti I made the mistake of removing all the film from its boxes to be able to fit more film in the case. When TSA opened it they had to swab every single canister of film for gunpowder residue, which is protocol.  This took forever and I could tell they were a little exasperated by the whole thing.

Live and learn.

35mm film

Nice n’ neat. When the TSA agent opens the zippered case to see the contents they’re met with original packaging, clean organization and a speed of ‘high speed’ film right there in front.

Now I leave all film in its original packaging. While it’s true I can fit less film in the case – I still have more than enough for my needs. When TSA opens the case and sees the nicely organized, neat, clean original packaging they’re far more willing to visually inspect, swab a few boxes, and call it good.

My experience has been that TSA agents actually seem happy to break away from the grinding line of scolding people for putting to many items in a bin or being frisked – to step over to their table and investigate this neat, clean package for a brief moment. It seems to give them a break. It goes without saying that smiling, being polite, courteous, respectful and patient is good human behavior where ever you go – especially when someone has the power to either make your day miserable – or easy. Choose easy. Be nice.

Occasionally I’ll have a TSA agent tell me film doesn’t need to be hand inspected if it’s not ‘high speed’ film. Rather than getting into a discussion about what constitutes ‘high speed’ film and arguing the counter points there in line (see below) – I simply add a few rolls of super high-speed film to end the debate. If they care to open the case and check, they’ll see ISO3200 film front and center.

What may not be common knowledge is that x-ray scanning is cumulative. So if you allow your 400 speed film to pass through x-ray on the first leg of the journey it will probably be fine. But if it then passes through again, and again, and again – the effects of x-ray build up and at some point it fogs. I don’t know exactly what the point is.

The Whole "film thing"...

The Whole “film thing”… If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure I don’t need to explain the whole “film thing” to you.

Empty the camera before sending it through x-ray. They will not hand-inspect the camera so whatever you have in it is going to get x-rayed. There’s no way around this. Best to simply fire off your final frames, remove the roll and tuck in your case for hand-inspection.

If you follow these simple guidelines there’s no reason why you can’t fly with film. It does represent an additional step, compared to simply using a digital camera – but if ease were the main goal we probably wouldn’t be shooting film to begin with.

So why go through all this? Why not just bring a digital camera and be done with it? This year my son went to Latvia for the summer. I remember having the conversation with him prior to leaving about his choice of camera. I offered one of my film Nikons, reasoning it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he might be glad of something besides his iPhone. It turned into a rather comical skit of millennial vs. whatever I am (Boomer, I suppose). I let it go. A few weeks after he arrived in Latvia we were Face-timing and he admitted he’d made a huge mistake. Upon returning home he bought his first camera – a digital camera – but hey – baby steps, right? At least it was a Nikon. My point is, the trips in our lives come and go. The afterglow of a trip can last for many years if not a lifetime. The question I ask myself when getting ready to travel is, what gear is going to provide the results I’m most satisfied with a month or year after returning. The answer is always film.

Hope that helps. E-mail me with any questions or comments about your experience flying with film.

 

 

Kodak Reveals How and When it’s Bringing Back Ektachrome

Kodak Reveals How and When it’s Bringing Back Ektachrome

This is pretty exciting… (rather then re-hashing the same information, this post was lifted from DPReview)

Kodak first announced the rebirth of Ektachrome way back in January at CES. Along with Kodak Alaris—who will distribute the 35mm Kodak Professional Ektachrome film for stills shooters—the company said it would bring back Ektachrome by the end of 2017… and then promptly stopped talking about it.

But if you were worried that Kodak had given up on the idea, fear not: in a new episode of the Kodakery podcast, a few of Kodak’s higher ups (including Marketing and Product Manager Diane Carroll-Yacoby) updated the world on the progress of the Ektachrome reboot, how they’re making it, and what testing still stand between your hands and a fresh 36-shot roll of the stuff.

You can listen to the entire Kodakery podcast update below:

The first half of the podcast is mostly a photography and history lesson: discussing the origins of Ektachrome, its ‘characteristics’ (read: limitations), and how Kodak has managed to bring it back to life after discontinuing it in 2013. But if you want to get into the “how and when” of the matter, you’ll want to skip to the 22 minute mark.

That’s where we get to learn about how difficult it is to bring back a film like Ektachrome—which is made up of 80 ingredients, some of them no longer available to purchase—and how Kodak is making the economics of Ektachrome work by creating it in smaller, more sustainable batches.

You’ll want to listen to the discussion to really get the details of how the film is made, but here are a few of the most interesting tidbits about the revival process (for us anyway):

  • Kodak has managed to either find or manufacture all 80 ingredients required to make Ektachrome.
  • Much of the process so far has involved retooling the formula so it will work on the machines available to them, because they no longer have all of the equipment they had when Ektachrome was being developed previously.
  • They’ve already produced some ‘pilot coatings’ that they are testing to ensure they’re ready to mass produce Ektachrome that’s up to snuff.
  • When they’re ready to go, they will be making rolls using a coater that produces the film on sheets that are 4 feet wide and 6,000 feet long. The first of these ‘wide’ rolls will be produced before the end of 2017, and will be used for internal testing.
  • Kodak will be making a single (4ft x 6,000ft) roll for the first production run, so they don’t have to hold on to too much inventory at one time.
  • Kodak Ektachrome’s market release is planned for 2018.

Eastman Kodak itself will produce all of the film and plans to distribute the Super 8 cinema version of Ektachrome, while Kodak Alaris will distribute the 35mm slide film for stills shooters. For now, we still don’t know exactly when Ektachrome is coming back in 2018, but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know so you can mark your calendars.

Working with Filters for Color Photography, part 1

Working with Filters for Color Photography, part 1

There are different schools of thought on whether one should use filters for their color film photography or not; each having its own merits. For example, why get a super high-quality lens and put a ‘cheap’ filter on it, effectively reducing the quality of glass the image has to travel through? Great question (you should never do this, btw). What about if you put a ‘good’ filter on your lens? What is a ‘good’ filter? Does it matter? Can you stack different filters? Most have thread mounts on the front and back… does image quality suffer when you do this? What about vignetting? If you stack filters then mount the ‘correct’ hood, you’ve pushed that hood out a few more millimeters. Will you get dark corners in your photos?

Another question or concern is, if you don’t use a filter on your super expensive lens does the front element get buggered up over time? Do you ever wipe your lens off with your t-shirt before taking a picture? (I’ve done it ;-).

What about multi-coated filters? What about Polarizers? Warming filters? Cooling filters? UV filters? Skylights, etc., etc. Or do you get a clearer picture with just pure lens? What about a hood? Why bother with a hood?

So a few weeks ago I decided to answer the question for me and my own personal preferences once and for all. I took the F6 up to Rocky Mountain National Park with an assortment of filters I regularly use and did a couple controlled experiments. The results surprised me a little.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

 

If you’re short on time, here’s the executive summary: yes, using filters matters when you’re shooting film. What filter, and how much it matters is the big question each photographer needs to answer by doing something similar to what I’ve done here. Stacking high-quality filters has virtually no impact on image sharpness, vignetting wasn’t an issue in my situation, and I’ll be doing this a lot more in the future with no fear of negatively impacting the photograph.

I’ll keep it short and sweet. On most of my lenses I run at the very least a UV filter. Here in Colorado, without a UV filter – especially at high altitude, pictures tend to get a bluish cast, stripping the image of all the lovely color nuance your eyes saw when you were standing there deciding to take the picture. UV filters filter  out Ultra Violet light and do have an impact on the image.

I’ll say this straight away: I use high-quality (expensive) filters on all of my lenses. Citing the first paragraph above, I’m a believer in using the highest quality piece of glass I can on any lens, no matter the lens.

I did this test with three specific filters:

  1. The Nikkor L39, a medium strength UV filter that filters a little more than some other UV’s. According to the old Nikkor catalogs it’s not suitable to leave on your lens all the time – but I do it, and it doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference.
  2. The Nikkor A2 filter, picked up for $10 at Englewood Camera in Littleton. The A2 filter introduces a slight warming tone to the image that – depending who you are and what you like – will either balance your image out nicely with the ‘real scene’ or make ‘too yellow.’ Different strokes.
  3. A Circular Polarizer, in this case the Nikkor circular polarizer. I also have and use a Heliopan slimline Circular Polarizer, but it’s 77mm and too large for the lens I was using for this test.

A word about filters, lenses and sizes. This is can be a quagmire of a topic. So many lenses have different sized front elements, creating the need for either different sized filters, or step-up/step-down rings to put smaller or larger filters on miss-matched lenses. True – you can do this. But you wind up with a bag of stuff you might not want to carry around all the time. It really depends on your priorities. There’s no absolute right approach.

My priority these days is going as light and small as possible while still getting being prepared for whatever. I decided on a series of lenses I thought I’d use often, then adapt the F6 to accommodate pre-ai lenses. This allows me to use many of the older Nikkor’s, most of which are 52mm front thread. Most of my zooms are 77mm front diameter, so I have basically two sets of filters: big and small. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than spending a fortune on redundant sizes then fumble around with a lot of extra stuff when you’re trying to take a picture.

Enough of all that. Here are two sets of images showing the results of:

a) no filter

No Filtration

b) A2 filter only

A2 Warming filter only

c) L39 + A2 warming filter

L39 UV + A2 Warming Filter

d) L39 + A2 warming + Circular Polarizer

L39 + A2 + Circular Polarizer

L39 + A2 + Circular Polarizer

and a second set:

No filtration

L39 UV filter

L39 UV + A2 Warming

L39 UV + A2 Warming + Circular Polarizer

One of the important things to me is not sacrificing image detail for slight color improvements. Let’s face it, shooting 35mm film is already at a disadvantage to medium or large format film when it comes to holding detail. So anything I can do to hold as much detail in the final image as possible – I’ll do. I was delighted to examine the “stacked” image closely and determine that there was no loss in detail, even shooting through three high-quality filters. To see the final image, click here.

Of course, there are things that will make a difference in your images, like quality and angle of light, haze, etc. so you’ll just have to play around to see what combination appeals to you. But rest assured that if you use a high-quality filter, even if you stack them, you’re not hurting the detail and sharpness of your image – providing you’re doing everything else right too.

 

Nikon F6 + Rokinon 14mm IF ED UMC Lens

Nikon F6 + Rokinon 14mm IF ED UMC Lens

Rokinon 14mm lens

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. I am on my belly, as close to the front of the skull as I can be without touching the front element to his furry snout. This thing is w-i-d-e.

This past February I returned to New Mexico’s Bisti Wilderness in search of dramatic skies. Armed with the F6, a freshly repaired 645 ProTL (thanks to Dave at Key Camera in Longmont) and lots of Velvia I was in search of drama. Watching the weather for two weeks before had my imagination racing. There was a big system due to hit the Rockies from the Pacific northwest and it looked like either the trip would be scrubbed – or – it was going to be perfect.

Hunter Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico

Hunter Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico

Enter the iPhone’s numerous weather App’s. My friend Dan turned me on to Dark Sky, and easy-to-use, paid app providing weather and satellite updates through a great UI. According to the satellite it looked like the southern tip of the storm would camp out just north of Farmington, New Mexico. The Bisti is about 40 miles south, making views of the storm great – but hopefully dodging the mud caused by excessive rain. You don’t want to get stuck in the mud in the Bisti Wilderness.

Dramatic skies are even more dramatic with the super wide 14mm Rokinon.

Dramatic skies are even more dramatic with the super wide 14mm Rokinon.

As the weather picture solidified so did my plans and things looked good. At the last minute my buddy Mark offered up his new Rokinon 14mm. Now, you have to understand I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to gear. I’m not proud of that; it’s just the way its been. So my first inclination was to say “thanks but no thanks.” I’d mostly planned on putting the Mamiya through its paces and wasn’t that interested in adding more stuff to the already full bag. Then I reconsidered, remembering one road and one shot in particular that might really benefit from it (the shot atop this page; Rio Chama just below Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico). We were there a few years ago and I just couldn’t get the composition I was trying for with my already wide 17-35 (Nikkor).

Because the weather was rapidly changing the decision was made to push up departure a day early. The Rokinon hadn’t arrived via UPS and I was a little torn… Then – literally at the last minute as I was backing out of the driveway – the big, brown truck turned up the street and I was handed the package. I was all set.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. As you work with a 14mm lens it's easy to understand how front elements are damaged.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico. As you work with a 14mm lens it’s easy to understand how front elements are damaged.

I didn’t open the box until two days later in the parking area at the Bisti. My first impression of the lens was “holy cow!” I think I even said that out loud. It’s a very impressive piece of engineering. Well built, solid and tight. It’s attractive too – if that means anything to you. But the most impressive feature is the GIGANTIC bulbous front element emerging from the front of the lens. Right away I knew I was fortunate to have it with me, but man – I was little nervous about doing anything to that perfect, HUGE front element. Fortunately the lens has a solid, molded butterfly hood build around it and an equally solid, plastic lens cup (not a cap per say, but more of a cup) which fits snuggly over it all to keep it protected.

Active skies in the Bisti are worth the colder February weather.

Active skies in the Bisti are worth the colder February weather.

Overall I would rank the lens an incredible value at the listed $320. But when you compare it to Nikon’s equivalent 14mm lens at over $1,800 – it’s a no brainer. To be fair, I haven’t shot the Nikon 14mm to do a head-to-head comparison. All I have are the images made with the Rokinon. It’s manual focus and is chipped to indicate when the shot is in focus, as well as pass info through to EXIF. The Rokinon is not a G-style lens, meaning it has an aperture ring so you can use it on film cameras older than the F5, and it does have some vignetting, but it’s easily correctable. I’ve read some reviews indicating sharpness varies copy to copy, but my experience was extremely good. I’ll let the pixel peepers debate things like edge sharpness and let you decide if the image quality is good enough or not. I’m pretty sure of this: when the time comes for me to go ultra wide with 14mm I’m saving the $1,500 and going with the Rokinon.

Pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600 with the Nikon F6

Pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600 with the Nikon F6

Over Christmas we had the opportunity to visit Chicago again. Growing up in the suburbs I’d never had occasion to overnight in the city, with home being only 30 miles away. This trip we decided it was time we changed that.

Harry Caray's, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

Harry Caray’s, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

One of the wonderful things about spending the night in the city is – the night! Chicago, as many other cities, is so active at night, with so much light that it’s easy to photograph hand held with the right setup.

The City at Night, Dearborn St. Bridge over Chicago River; River North District at Night, Chicago, Illinois

The City at Night, Dearborn St. Bridge over Chicago River; River North District at Night, Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

In anticipation of various low-light scenarios on this trip I stocked up on Ilford HP5+. In the past I’ve shot it at rated 400 with success. One goal for this trip was to simply drift about the city at night to see what I could see. Pushing HP5 was an excellent way to avoid a tripod and open the experience up to simple creative experimentation. This outing was shot with the Nikkor 17-35 f2.8 ED (remind me to tell the story of how I stumbled upon this incredible lens some time…) at ISO1600, off the hand, just having fun. Processed in Ilford DDX at 71° for 12 minutes.

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois

353 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois

The only thing really notable working with the F6 for these shots was taking advantage of the ENORMOUS viewfinder. To this day I’ve never seen anything like it.* It’s huge and bright, allowing easy composition in poorly lit situations. One of the other benefits of the F6 covered in another post is Custom Setting B5, Extended Shutter Speeds. Though shutter speeds were high enough for this roll to hand-hold, I always have Custom Setting B5 enabled on the F6.

House of Blues, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

House of Blues, Chicago, Illinois Part of the Chicago at Night Series from December, 2016. Images made hand-held pushing Ilford HP5+ to ISO1600. Developed in Ilford DDX.

The creative liberty of shooting film, then processing your own film to desired tastes, is what film photography is all about. With what seems to be a true resurgence interest in film, there’s no better time to dive in. With a camera like the F6 that is flexible, dependable and durable for the rest of your natural life – it’ll be a robust adventure attempting to exceed its creative capabilities.

*A big thank you to Chris, our Canadian F6 Project reader, for pointing out he felt the Olympus OM-2 and Pentax ME Super actually have larger, brighter viewfinders than the F6. What a great time to be a film photographer, with so many wonderful tools accessible to work with.

Aerial Photography of Rocky Mountain National Park

Aerial Photography of Rocky Mountain National Park

Above: From left to right: Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Mountain and Chief’s Head Peak. At center-right you can see the very tip top of the Spear Head, a triangular slab of granite jutting up through the clouds from the valley floor beneath. Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (2017). [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 70mm; 1/250 @ f7.1]

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Poking their massive, craggy heads above the clouds to say hello; 14,259′ Longs Peak and 13,911′ Mount Meeker. Having stood atop both of these mountains, I appreciate this view from above all the more. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 70mm; 1/250 @ f7.1].


Flying commercially isn’t my typical MO, preferring instead to drive through places rather than fly over them at 30,000′ and 600 mph. So when a skilled pilot offers to take you flying low and slow over the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain’s High Country simply for the sake of the experience – just say yes – please, and thank you. A few weeks ago I had the privilege with my son and a few good friends to see this country I love so much from a completely different point of view, and make a few photographs for those of you who may never get to see it.

Aerial photographs of Colorado; western slope, Kremmling area

Coming in to Kremmling, Colorado; west of Rocky Mountain National Park, between the park’s western border and Hot Sulphur Springs along Highway 40. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 38mm; 1/250 @ f5.6]

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 48mm, 1/200 @ f7.1.]

We’d been planning the flight for several weeks but as is sometimes the case at the last minute weather decided not to cooperate. When morning came for the scheduled flight, rain from the day before left the cloud ceiling too low and visibility wasn’t happening. Texts flew to and fro debating logistics and eventually one party fell on their sword, letting go of their seats because of an afternoon commitment. This opened the door for an afternoon flight if weather cleared.

Aerial photography of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Over Weld County in a Cessna Skyhawk, 2011. Landing gear and wing struts are facts of life shooting from the air. As much as you want them on the plane for obvious reasons – they can be tough to shoot around.

Because the opportunity to fly low over Colorado’s High Country doesn’t happen often I wanted to make the most of it. Considering how to approach it photographically briefly included going digital. A few years ago I was in another Cessna and appreciated the flexibility shooting digitally provided. Instead, I spent some time going through my previous shots looking at ISO, shutter speeds, lens choice and aperture and decided The F6 + some recently acquired Ektachrome 100VS was the winning combination.  As a back up I had the F5 + Portra 400 in case light became an issue.

Camera nerd:  focal length, shutter speeds and aperture info is provided for anyone interested in such things; some day you may have opportunity for such a flight and this could provide a head start setting up. Shutter speeds were typically between 1/400 and 1/250 at f7.1. The plane was traveling about 200 miles an hour but the ground was so far away the overall impression through the camera’s lens was that it passed slowly below. Most of the time the lens was zoomed to about 70mm. I also had the 70-200 with me but it was unnecessary – and too large and unwieldy in the small cockpit.

Ypsilon Mountain, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

A favorite from the day: 13,520′ Ypsilon Mountain, Rocky Mountain National Park. Light is everything. The direction and angle of the plane determines the shots. With no way to roll the window down, shooting through it is the only option, introducing the challenge of reflections and glare entering from the opposite side of the aircraft. Having a skilled pilot maneuver to the desired point of view is crucial to frame things up properly. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 45mm; 1/250 @ f7.1].

I wasn’t sure what plane we’d be flying and held my breath as we walked across the runway. Beggars can’t be choosers. To my delight it was a Cessna Centurion II, a high wing aircraft with retractable landing gear and no wing struts; the perfect plane for aerial photography. Wing struts and extended landing gear have a habit of creeping into the frame when you’re pointing the camera towards the ground.

We enjoyed a brief introduction to the plane and flying in small aircraft then climbed aboard, donning headsets and fastening seatbelts.

Aerial photographs of western Colorado.

The Colorado River just east of Kremmling, Colorado along Highway 40. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 48mm; 1/160 @ f5.6].

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

A sea of dense, puffy clouds blanketed the Rockies this beautiful afernoon, with the occasional granite beheamoth poking its craggy head up through for a breath of crisp, high-altitude, Colorado air. The Mountains seemed to wave hello to our little craft as we passed above, reminding me of humpback whales breaching in Alaska. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 70mm; 1/250 @ f7.1]

Beginning in Loveland, Colorado the first leg of the flight was into the afternoon sun. Clouds along the Front Range had dissipated and skies cleared allowing navigation by site and gorgeous views below. Given the angle of the sun, even with the large hood of the Nikkor 28-70 flare was a problem. We zig-zagged and spiraled our way up and over the unbelievable terrain of Rocky Mountain National Park accompanied only by sound the single turboprop spinning at 2,500 RPM’s (the miracle of flight, right?). Every once in a while a robotic, female voice broke the silence with, “warning, terrain… warning, terrain.” At one point – as casually as I could fake – I asked our pilot if that was anything we needed to be worried about. He assured me it was not. In less than an hour we were in Kremmling. It would have taken me three hours by car.

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Earlier in the afternoon flying into the sun (west) the light was a little more harsh; shadows more pronounced, and fighting glare and reflections off the windows was a challenge. Despite this – it’s just tough to make a bad photograph when this is what’s before you. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 34mm; 1/800 @ f5.6]

Refueling in Kremmling, Colorado (2017)

We refueled in Kremmling and decided to make our way back the way we came. After take off I put the camera down and flew the plane for a bit, my first time flying. But when we approached the big mountains I handed the wheel back to the pilot and it was time to get to work. The light was perfect, skies were clear and the views were, well…

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Nothing but Colorado’s magnificent high country filled the view in front of the plane. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 70mm, 1/320 @ f7.1.]

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National, Colorado.

Coming home over Rocky Mountain National Park in perfect conditions. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 48mm; 1/400 @ f7.1]

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 60mm; 1/400 @ f7.1]

F6 Nerd Stuff: As each roll finished we were flying over something else I just didn’t want to miss. Fortunately the F6 rewinds and reloads fast (Custom Setting D:2 set to ‘Auto’ automatically rewinds the roll at the end of the the last frame. Custom Setting D:3 tells the camera to leave the leader out rather than sucking it all the way back into the canister, and Custom Setting D:4 tells the camera when to rewind the film – at frame 35, 36 or whenever the end of the roll is detected). Auto rewind pulled the film back into its canister in mere seconds, the new roll was put in place and the leader pulled out to the red line. The back snapped shut and just like that I was shooting again.

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 48mm; 1/320 @ f5.6]

For this flight, focus mode was set to Group Dynamic auto focus (the little diamond icon on the focus selector switch). I also re-coupled auto focus with the shutter release button (Custom Setting A4: AF Activation Release/AF-On). Plane cockpits are small and making my thumb do the autofocusing on the AF-On button required swinging my arm up a little higher as I turned my body at an already awkward position in the seat, trying to avoid the wings and adjust to whatever reflections and glare were coming in through the window. It’s amazing how one little tweak can simplify shooting – something the designers of the F6 well understood and planned for. There was no need for selective focus as the camera quickly and accurately acquired whatever ground it was pointed at.

Having the time of my life. iPhone photo by Matthew Crane.

Having the time of my life. iPhone photo by Matthew Crane.

Having the time of my life. iPhone photo by Matthew Crane.

Having the time of my life. iPhone photo by Matthew Crane.

Keeping horizons level can be a challenge in flight. Between composing quickly, a shifting horizon line out the window and dodging reflections in the window, often times you get as close as you can and rely on straightening in post production. If you’re close in the original shot you’re not throwing a lot of image away when you straighten the frame.

Aerial photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Never Summer Range, western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. [Nikon F6, E100VS, Nikkor 28-70ED f2.8 @ 50mm; 1/500 @ f5.6]

Often I found myself simply gazing out the window in silence, trying to imagine standing at that line where the shadow begins. I’ve been there many times; experiencing the mountains as warm, inviting, beautiful friends basking in the glow of afternoon sun. When the sun sinks and that shadow line rises they become cold, foreboding places leaving one feeling vulnerable and alone. These Rocky Mountains are a treasure and deserve our utmost respect.

Flight Crew, Kremmling, Colorado (2017)

At the end of the flight we glided gently back to the Loveland-Fort Collins airport as our pilot stuck a perfect landing. He smiled as he said, “you guys don’t know how lucky we were on this flight… it’s never like this.” Afternoon flights are prone to a lot of upheaval from warming air, sending the plane into various lurches and making for a bumpy ride. Our flight was smooth as glass making shooting that much easier and more enjoyable.

A big thanks to my good friend Kole, an awesome pilot and generous guy allowing the use of his Cessna Centurion II for the flight.