Alpine Hot Rod

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Sightseeing Helicopter, Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France

Sightseeing Helicopter, Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France

I have never understood why people put flames on the side of cars. It is an odd tradition.

But I didn’t go through a hot rod car phase. To me cars are just transportation-utility. The quieter, the better. Quiet means efficiency and good engineering. But I guess some guys need their car to be loud to get attention or their diesel truck to sound like a … garbage truck. Why?

But the pilot of this helicopter, man or woman, is driving a hot rod. I guess you deserve to paint bright yellow flames on your transportation if you are running on Jet A fuel screaming over jagged mountain ridges. Perhaps the painted flames are to attract attention to this flying service.

It is flying at about 3658 m (12,000 ft.) in the French Alps. It is a sightseeing helicopter based in Chamonix, France flying over Mont Blanc. They provide trips over the glaciers and mountains and can even include a gourmet lunch stop.

I was photographing Mont Blanc from Aiguille du Midi. It was a rare clear morning (above the clouds anyway) in May. I had been trying to show the immensity of Mont Blanc using a super wide angle lens on a tripod. I had just taken the camera off the tripod when the helicopter appeared, so I tried to quickly change lenses and zoom in on it as it flew below us. It was a good challenge for me, since I had been using a slow shutter speed, etc. I didn’t get all the settings changed that I should have because I was nervously trying to hurry while the helicopter was flying by. In sports parlance, I choked. But I learned too.

When I travel I carry only one camera and two lenses. So I have to be able to change lenses and settings quickly when opportunties arise. Some photographers carry two or more cameras and several lenses. So they can just raise another camera with a different lens when they need it.

But my goal when I travel is to have one camera pack and one carry-on rolling bag. Clothes are minimized so that I can fit in the tripod and power equipment in the rolling bag. (I highly recommend the Manfrotto 714B tripod. It collapses down to 18″ with an integrated head, so it fits in a carry-on.) I avoid checking luggage and work hard to minimize weight. It is a fun packing and planning challenge. This way I am more mobile-from plane to train to walking as needed.

This experience with the sudden appearance of the helicopter on Mont Blanc helped me be more prepared for the sudden appearance of a big horn sheep in Joshua Tree National Park a couple years later. And that experience will help me with the next unexpected photo opportunity. Experience is a good teacher.

Tomorrow I am going to photograph a university graduation ceremony. I am doing it just for the fun and interest of photographing the pomp, the people, and the emotions. I put on headphones and listen to music and escape into the unplanned images that occur. It is a creative exercise.

There are more photographs of the French Alps in the Photo Gallery at my website:




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