Short Story Long
Redemption: the action of saving or being saved from sin, error or evil.
I'd like to tell this one in short form but simply can't. I am mortified but also ebullient and cannot contain it in a couple of paragraphs. There is good here, an outcome that is genuinely wonderful, but there is also great loss too. In the end, yes, there is redemption. I refer, of course, to redemption from error here, not evil or sin, although clearly I am a sinner. Evil? Perhaps, but mostly this was just me fucking up. You will have to read on and wait for Short Story Long 2 to get to the "redemption" part as there is an impressive array of screw ups here before all is right with the world. Read on.
A couple of weeks ago I went up, flying out from the small strip in North Andover with Erik the pilot (Eagle East Aviation). Things looked good on the ground. It was a clear and warm morning and it was during a week that was more summer-like than May-spring in New England. I'd done considerable homework on setting up my camera to what I though was correct for aerial shooting. As it turns out the Nikon D810 has two separate focusing systems. As there is no "go to" manual for using this camera aerially, I read up and figured I should use nine point focusing, a little biased towards the closer part of the frame. At the airstrip I looked over the plane, and decided to try sitting in the back, never comfortable, but better suited to shooting things perpendicular to the direction of the plane. I use the Kenyan Gyro Stabilizer clamped to the bottom of my camera. I get in, belt in, put the headset on over my ears, turn on the stabilizer and off we go. Things look like this when looking out of the plane from the back seat:
This also gives you a pretty good idea of what I am shooting. That is Hampton Beach, NH up there along the coast.
Right away we are bouncing in the air currents, which increase as we get closer to the shore. This isn't unusual due to the air over the cooler water working against the warmer air. I open the window to my right as Erik is flying from the left side of the plane. Most Cessna 172's have hinged windows that stay open with air pressure. Once we get over the marshes I start shooting:
The plane is doing its thing, jolting us up and down like a yo yo and I am doing all I can to point the camera in the right direction, let alone frame it carefully. I've got the battery for the gyro over on the back seat on the far left side. That's where the on/off switch for the unit is and I assume it is on as I turned it on when we took off. The battery is tethered to the stabilizer on my camera with a long stretchy cord. But my assumption that the unit was on throughout the flight turned out to be wrong, very wrong. I shoot away hoping for the best. I am using my standard aerial lens, the justifiably famous f2.8 70-200 mm Nikkor zoom lens, generation 2. This is a lens that's famous for its sharpness.When really spinning the gyro makes heat while it works and I notice that the unit is not warm to the touch. I keep shooting as it is very cool in the plane with the window open and I think that's why it is not warm. Wrong.
It might help you to understand my mistake (but not excuse it) to know that things are very chaotic inside this little plane as we fly along at about 100 mph with the window open. Ever stick your head out the window of a car at speed? That's it. Plus during this flight we are really being thrown around by the turbulence from the air current. Erik's strapped in but I am not and am bouncing around in the back seat, holding a heavy camera clamped to an even heavier gyro stabilizer that is not spinning one bit.
Irregardless of whether or not I am getting this, what is down there below is extraordinary. I have kayaked through some of this extensive marsh over the years but never seen it from the air. It is wonderful.
We make several passes over the expanse of these marshes, which are tidal and then head on back to the airstrip to land. I am seldom queasy in a small plane anymore but I was with this flight. It was that rough. We land and now I am quite sure. The switch to the battery was up against the left side of the plane's interior and in knocking around it must have flicked off. This isn't good, I think, but I've made successful flights with no gyro and so perhaps this one will work out okay. Wrong.
Of course, I get home and download the files and start to look at them on the big screen and there really is nothing that is sharp. As lovely as they may be they simply won't do, as printed any size it will be apparent that, although they may be striking images, they are not at all sharp.
Let's take a look at the above one, cropped and enlarged:
Unacceptable, as you can see if you're reading this on any screen larger than your smart phone (hint hint). I call and book a flight for the end of the next week, hoping if all goes well, we will have less turbulent air and I will make sure the stabilizer is actually on.
Stay tuned for one more major problem to solve before I redeem this mess.
Short Story Long 2 coming up.