I live right next to a large forest.  Forest fires are a constant in the area, but most are way out there and not a threat to homes or towns.  This particular summer, the fires (lightning caused) were burning closer than the norm to local communities.  With these types of fires, the closer they get to communities the more effort is made to stop them.  This of course includes both ground and air efforts.

Numerous helicopters were assigned to this effort and when smoke subsided enough to allow air operations, they were constantly flying.  To help in this effort, large portable tubs were erected which they filled with fire retardant (a red slurry mixture which helps slow the spread of fire).  Some of the helicopters would then come to these tubs, hover over them and with a large tube, suck the stuff up into their onboard tanks.  They would then fly off, drop the stuff where needed and return to repeat the process over and over.

One particular helicopter using the tubs, was this ex-Army Skycrane helicopter.  I was taking photos of the helicopter coming in, filling up and leaving to make the drop somewhere in the mountains nearby.  When I returned home to check out the photos, I was surprised to find in one of the photos, the pilot was waving to me.

I later posted the photo on one of the social media sites.  To my surprise, the same pilot had seen the photo and messaged me and invited me to come and pay him and the crew a visit at the landing site nearby.  I naturally jumped at the opportunity and met a very nice outgoing guy.  He allowed me to take any photos I wanted both inside and outside of the aircraft while he explained every inch of the aircraft.

He also told me I could return at any time as his invited guest.  What a nice guy!  So I then took the opportunity to ask if I could return at night and take some night photos of the helicopter, which he did not hesitate to approve.

So a couple of days (nights) later, I returned with my trusty assistant, my son-in-law Francis.  I wanted to do some light painting of the helicopter and try to make it stand out more than I thought a day photo would accomplish.  The setting was perfect, it was completely pitch black out.  The skies were filled with smoke, so even if the moon was out there somewhere, it didn’t show.  So the only light I had to deal with was the light I provided.

So the trials began!  Time was on our side as the only over or under exposure issues I had to contend with was either using too much or too little light from my flashlight.  Seems simple, but there was so much area to cover, it took numerous attempts.  Maybe one area was lighted correctly, but another area was not given enough.  Then once those issues were corrected, then I got an unwanted reflection off a window – start over.

This whole process took a long time.  We were waiting for someone to call the Sheriff because someone was hanging around the helicopter with flashlights, but luckily I did not have to explain to anybody that I had permission to be there.

While we were going through our numerous trials and more errors, a storm starting coming through.  It dropped only very little moisture where we were, but it also brought lightning.  Talk about the perfect opportunity for a photo to tell a story!  The helicopter was here to fight a lightning caused fire.  So if I could just get a photo of a fire fighting helicopter which is here to fight a lightning caused forest fire with lightning in the background…

Considering each exposure of the helicopter was about 2 minutes long, I was hoping to have a bolt of lightning show up in one of the frames.  The storm was passing from right to left in the frame of the camera and the lightning was behind the helicopter from where I had set up.  So no repositioning was necessary.

As luck would have it, I was able to capture a few of the lightning strikes.  The first couple did not show very well in relation to the helicopter.  The one caught in this photograph was actually the last bolt I remember seeing and it was great!  It isn’t the bright white you usually see in storm photos, but that is because the sky was full of smoke, which diffused the color.

I don’t care though.  I think this photo is the best ‘story telling’ photo I’ve taken, but unfortunately you wouldn’t probably know why without an explanation.  I don’t want the forest to catch fire, but if it does, I hope to catch some of the dramatic action with my camera.


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