The tribute lights displayed each year on 9/11 in Lower Manhattan are beautiful, yet they are a remembrance of terrible tragedy. No one should ever forget that terrible day 15 years ago.
I have photographed the tribute display for several years and try to get different perspectives each year. I had taken a couple of helicopter flights the last year and decided to try photographing the lights from a helicopter this year. FLYNYON offered flights at night for this purpose and I’m glad my friend Bob Tullis joined me for this experience.
I had never tried helicopter photography in such low light before, so we were unsure of the shutter speed and other variables that would work given the movement, vibrations and wind during the flight. Bob asked for suggestions on a photo forum and the idea of a stabilizer came up a few days before the flight. We looked at a few options from Kenyon and hurriedly rented two KS-4×4 gyro stabilizers. We experimented with the stabilizers before the flight on flat ground just to see how they felt and handled movement. I found the weight was too heavy and didn’t like the corrective movements when the stabilizer dealt with motion. I decided not to use the gyro stabilizer and just used the in body stabilization of my Sony A7Rm2.
I shot in manual with aperture at f2.8 (wide open on the Sony FE 24-70mm GM lens) and auto ISO (capped at 6400). I shot at 1/125 to start, but I dropped down to 1/80 and 1/60 when the helicopter felt relatively still. ISO never went below 6400 during the flight. A few shots came out sharp at 1/80, but the 1/125 shots had a higher rate of success. The shots in closer proximity to buildings had higher rates of success than shots farther away. Times Square was the easiest area to get sharp images as there was so much light in a concentrated area. At some point early in the flight, I adjusted the aperture to f3.2 by mistake, but it didn’t seem to be a detriment to the images.
On my last helicopter flight at sunset/twilight, I shot two cameras with a prime lens on each body (Zeiss Batis 25mm f2 and Sony 55mm f1.8). It was awkward switching between the cameras during the flight and I ended up using the 55mm more than the 25mm. Despite the primes having a speed advantage, I found the Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM lens to work better for me as I was able to change the focal length as we moved closer and farther away from subjects.
It definitely was an exciting experience. I have to say the most memorable part of the flight was getting close to the Empire State Building. The red, white and blue colors were so vibrant. My photos can’t do justice to how brilliant it looked.
I hope you enjoy the images.