Parasailing in Maui
I do not think about paragliders coming in for rocky landings in front of a fire-red sky. Yet that’s exactly what Anton Repponen has captured, in a photo submitted to Unsplash only a few months ago and already downloaded over 11,000 times. This wild photo seemed to be a perfect example of capturing a perfect moment— the image makes capturing a person flying through the air look effortless—so I reached out to Anton to learn more about how he captured this person in flight.
Anton was in Maui visiting his friend Igor, an old schoolmate from Estonia. Igor has lived in Maui for over a decade, and Anton says he visits frequently to get away from the bustle of his own life in New York City.
Here’s the story, as he tells it:
It was Christmas day of 2015, and we didn’t have any plans. We decided to drive up to Kula (part of Maui on the Eastern slope of Haleakala volcano) to meet friends and hang out during sunset with some beers. My friend Igor is a pilot and has been into paragliding for as long as I can remember, flying solo as well as in tandem.
The part of volcano we were at has a short strip with steady winds, though usually Igor flies from locations like the Haleakala Summit where he can stay in the air much longer, sometimes for multiple hours at a time. This strip is short and basically for tourists or beginner pilots, but since we were going to be there regardless, Igor dropped his wing in the back of a car just in case.
The two of them arrived at the location right as it began to grow dark, and Anton noted that fog was covering the entire slope. He realized that with the sun setting, the light looked as if it was breaking through the mist, and it was the perfect time for a photo shoot. Igor began to assemble his wing, and they prepped for some flying with little time to spare.
It’s quite risky to fly in the dark as it’s easy to hit trees or any other obstacle, not to mention that it’s dangerous to fly in the fog. If he would have tried to launch just a few minutes later, it would have been too late. As soon as he was in the air, I started capturing multiple shots on a zoom lens.
The image was captured with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon EF 70–200mm f/2.8L lens. The exposure was set to an exposure rate of 1/400 of a second and an ISO at 400. These settings, in Anton’s opinion, spelled trouble:
One thing that I’ve learned over time is to use a higher ISO than normal when shooting in strange conditions. I’d rather have more sensitivity and allow the camera to compensate, rather than capturing with ISO 200 and having no room for messing with the camera exposure. My camera had been set to only ISO 400 when I took this photo since I was shooting quite steady scenes right before that, but the moment my friend took off, there was much more motion to capture — not to mention that I was using a 200mm zoom, where every single vibration would result in a blur! I wish I had switched to ISO 800 because quite a few of the photos turned out to be nowhere near sharp enough.
The low aperture was something that Anton believes adds to the photo, though he does wonder what it would have looked like with a higher depth of field:
As I was shooting “against the light”, I was getting silhouettes of the pilot and surroundings, things like trees. It took me quite a few photos to get the right one, and there were plenty of photos where I simply wasn’t happy with how two silhouettes would play off each other. Sometimes they were too close and hard to distinguish the pilot or sometimes, composition-wise, the photo just wasn’t nice enough.
I was shooting at f/2.8 to allow as much light in to my camera as possible, and that added some beautiful bokeh to my background. I quite like the effect, but I am still wondering what it would be like to have an entire scene in focus as well. Unfortunately you don’t have much time to switch from one setting to another while shooting something so full of action. You have to decide in advance what you want to get, and then just go for it
Overall Anton is satisfied with the photo that he was able to get out of the shoot, and acknowledges one thing regarding taking once-in-a-lifetime images:
It’s always hard to shoot in abnormal conditions. Your camera gets confused with light measurements when it’s foggy, and on top of that there’s the general lack of light. But in reality, that’s when you get the best photos. You just need to be prepared.
Great advice: Always be prepared, for when that next perfect capture comes your way.