meaningful accidents

So, what do I mean by meaningful accidents?' Well, in the case of my photography, I'd describe it as having a mental 'visualization' of something I hope to capture with my camera and understanding the proverbial 'stars that must align' to have a shot at making it happen. Let's call it 'smart luck' or a serendipitous event.

An article on Psyche - a online digital magazine from Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts describes it this way - 'We tend to think of serendipity as something that just happens to us, when actually it's a process of spotting and connecting the dots, to see bridges where others see gaps. 'Smart luck' or serendipity is about creating meaningful accidents – and making accidents meaningful!"

In this case, I was to be flying with Robinson Helicopter Company, (RHC), asked to capture marketing photos of a beautiful gold painted R44 Raven II with black accents. My camera platform was a turbine powered R66 operated by one of the seasoned RHC factory pilots.

We launched from their facility at the Torrance CA Airport shortly after sunrise as a 'flight of two.' I was shooting my mirrorless Nikon Z9/FTZ handheld, mated with my trusty Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 VR II lens.

We flew west to the shoreline and turned south. I was expecting to capture the gold toned machine against the warm morning light along the sandy beaches and breaking waves.

I was shooting what I refer to as my 'insurance frames;' something shot at what I consider a 'fast' shutter - 1/100 to 1/125 of a second. At this shutter speed I'm confident I can capture a high percentage of frames which render the fuselage 'tack sharp' while the spinning rotor blades are blurred enough to illustrate their rotational movement.

In reviewing the photos as we flew I became frustrated about how the gold paint of the R44 wasn't at all 'popping' against the similar tones of the sand on the beach. While there were a number of beautiful frames, I wasn't satisfied. The angle of the sun was such I could see the 'high-viz' blades were brilliantly shining however I needed to go find a background that would make the colors and texture of the machine really 'POP!"

As we flew south along the Orange County CA coast I suggested we turn inland. I suspected we could find some deep shadows in the protected coastal canyons hoping the growing foliage would provide a soft pallet of greens and blues as a contrasting background.

As we flew across the rugged coastal canyons I could see we had literally minutes to capture what I was hoping. It wouldn't be long before the sun would climb higher in the sky and illuminate the canyons.

We coordinated the R44 to start at the top of one of the shadowed canyons and slowly fly down toward the coast. We asked the R44 pilot to try and keep his machine illuminated by the sun and overfly only the deepest shadows.

As we made the transition to follow the R44 down the canyon, the random bumps and occasional morning turbulence we had experienced along the beach seemed to completely disappear. We were treated to a brief period of calm, buttery smooth conditions.

I decided these conditions were ideal to begin 'pushing the envelope' - slowing the shutter down to accentuate the movement of the spinning rotors. Beginning at 1/100, I began firing off a few frames before dialing back to 1/80, 1/60...

This frame at 1/40 was perhaps my favorite from that morning. I like the way the machine is illuminated against the dark foliage, the movement of the rotor blades and the way the blades are 'set' in relation to the aircraft.

So yeah, it was a 'meaningful' circumstance, to position the aircraft into the setting to achieve something I had envisioned. But it was also somewhat of an fortunate 'accident' or serendipitous luck to have been able to 'connect the dots,' and capture this frame.