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Don't Drop the Camera

Chris Crisman holding tight to his camera.

This guest post from photographers on assignment for The Nature Conservancy Magazine takes them to a place where they’ve never made pictures before. It's a place that afforded a truly unique and inspiring point of view, and a place where they needed to make sure they didn’t drop the camera.

For the first time, the Chris Crisman Photography team took to the skies to shoot aerial photography of southern Utah to capture visuals that would help show the changing landscape of the Escalante region as well as illustrate the problematic nature of the invasive species the folks on the ground are working so hard to eradicate.

Our morning started early at the “airport” in the town of Escalante. Yes there was a runway, and this sign, but honestly that was about all we could see besides the wide open landscape around us. At least we’d be able to sport our plane from far away as it landed for us.

Our plane and pilot, Will Worthington, are both associated with Lighthawk, a volunteer pilot organization devoted to helping promote conservation in North America. Once Will arrived and we began discussing our flightpath, Chris and I knew we were in good hands. A lifelong pilot with thousands of hours of experience under his belt, Will was able to reassure us we’d be in for a good flight.

Once we were loaded in and safety double and triple checked, we were up in the air. I should mention here that our plane was tiny and there was only enough room for Chris, myself and our gear. Very lucky for Shea, our video guy (who happens to be afraid of flying) that he got to stay on the ground.

Climbing towards 10,000ft our jaws dropped a little bit. The change in perspective redefines your view of the landscape in a way that’s almost impossible to describe.

Oh – and it was a pretty crazy flight. Little did we know that the best position for aerial photography was while the aircraft was in process of making sharply banked turns. We learned that pretty quickly. We also learned that the horizon became a very relative term – good thing we didn’t have much for breakfast that morning.

Despite any nauseousness, the results were absolutely worth it. We were able to make photos that we’ve previously never had the opportunity, while also documenting the progress and growth of the river we came to document. Seeing the entire ecosystem from a birds eye view was necessary to help us wrap our heads around the true size and scale of what we were shooting.

Technically speaking, this was also an interesting and unique shooting experience. We’d gone into the shoot having read up as much as we could about shooting aerials and what technical aspects were necessary to get good photos, but once we got up in the air it was time to focus on composition and making sense of understanding the landscape in a visual way while screaming by it at almost 200 mph. The most important thing I can stress is shooting at a fast shutter speed to overcome motion blur and the vibration of the plane. We were lucky our shoot was in bright sun – otherwise we would have needed a stabilization rig, and that can get complicated quick.

And to answer the question I’m sure you’re all thinking – no, Chris did not drop the camera. He held onto it for dear life!