Sunset Crater Volcanic National Monument, established in part to stop a Hollywood film crew from dynamiting it for the movie “Avalanche” in 1928, looks pretty spectacular at sunrise too.
Contiguous with Wupatki National Monument and 20 air miles or so northeast of Flagstaff, this park has long been on my “must get” list for the Highway 89 project. There’s a three hour hike from which most published photographs have been taken, which would necessarily entail a three hour return in the dark. That prospect did not appeal and I did not have a good alternative figured out.
Last month at the Moab Photo Symposium, I met Adriel Heisey. He presented his extraordinary photographic work on the Sonoran Desert, and on the last day, I introduced myself to him. At lunch with Victor Beer, we hatched a plan to get me the crater from Adriel’s new plane, a light sport craft from Flight Design USA.
Weather and Adriel’s schedule coalesced into a quick trip for me to Flagstaff. I flew commercial from Salt Lake to Phoenix; he flew his craft over from Gallup to meet me. In between sunset and sunrise, we had dinner with his friends Greg and Jean, and about 5 hours of sleep.
Adriel is a certified flight instructor in addition to amazing photographer, so he can fly from the right seat. Putting me on the left gave me the favorable side from which to open the door (Adriel has tested how the propeller airflow differs on either side) for shooting. Open the door–did I really sign up for that? We practiced before take-off, and by the second time, opening the door in mid-air almost seemed normal.
Adriel strapped me into the safety harness. Once the shutter started clicking, I forgot to be afraid, and I was leaning out the door frame to get a better angle. Adriel has this cool gyrostabilizer that minimizes camera shake from hand-holding in a moving environment, like an airplane, or boat, or anywhere you can’t use a tripod, but can power it up. I just had think about composition and exposure.
It was all over too quickly, and that from someone who doesn’t really care to fly. I now have so many great shots the hard part will be deciding which one goes in the book. Those are the kinds of problems I like to have. Thanks Adriel.
Adriel Heisey photographs and flies out of Gallup, NM.
Edited 1 July 2008 to add links and corrections.