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Join The "Charge" To Tombstone

David McMahon

Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description

I’m not a mountaineer, but this shot was taken high above terra firma, from the cockpit of a helicopter in Tombstone Territorial Park in Canada’s Yukon, in late August 2008.

Yes, if you look closely, you’ll spot a couple of blemishes around the mid-frame – but remember I was shooting through perspex!

I’m not sure what height we were at that morning, because I was watching the amazing mountain scenery, not the chopper’s altimeter. But this series of images (including Peak Hour) almost never happened.

As I told the story live on my blog that day, with the post Power Struggle, this is what took place shortly ater we took off from Dawson City ….

Until mid-2006, I’d used quite a few camera brands. Then in August 2006 I used a Pentax for the first time when I had to review the performance of a K100D. I liked the camera so much that I bought it. I liked the way it handled, I liked its balance, I liked the feel of the camera, I liked the weather-proofing of the body. But more than anything else, I liked the fact that it was powered by simple AA batteries.

For more than a decade, I had become accustomed to sealed battery units, but with the Pentax and its 18-125mm lens, I suddenly realised there was much greater freedom. It’s the perfect lens if you’re travelling. And it’s the perfect power source – crucially – if you’re on the road. Hey, have you ever come across a place, even a remote town, where you can’t buy AA batteries?

In my travels since I’ve had the Pentax, I’ve always used rechargeable batteries, but I’ve also carried backup with me. In my camera bag, I always have a spare set of AA batteries. A few months before my 2008 Yukon trip, I made assurance doubly sure and slipped in a second set.

It was a simple decision that saved me from what could have potentially been my greatest embarrassment. In August 2008, I was privileged to be invited by Yukon Tourism aboard a Fireweed chopper flight over the snowy peaks of Tombstone Territorial Park. It was only my second day in the Yukon and because I was using a Pentax K200D along with the K100D, I had charged both sets of rechargeable batteries overnight.

The chopper had barely taken off and I started shooting immediately. We took off from Dawson City and had been flying for a couple of minutes when the battery indicator on the K100D showed I had no power. I was puzzled, but I knew I had backup in my bag.

Mate, if you’re six foot three, never try this in the cockpit of a helicopter. I emptied the battery compartment and, scrabbling around by feel only, found four spare AA cells in my camera bag. Praying that I wouldn’t drop one (or more) I put the fresh batteries into the camera. No worries at all.

About ten minutes later, the same thing happened on my other camera, the Pentax K200D, which had my 70-300mm lens on it. Again I had to repeat the difficult process in the cramped confines of the left-hand seat.

Yes, I had two sets of spare rechargeable batteries, but they were in my hotel room. Now I had to work out why my batteries had died so quickly and unexpectedly. The answer slowly dawned on me. I was using a 240-volt Australian charger – in Canada, where the voltage is significantly lower.

Immediately after the flight, during which I shot almost 1000 frames, I headed into Dawson and bought a set of lithium batteries and a Canadian-voltage charger. From that point on, I had no worries.

Certainly, my decisions to a) buy Pentax and b) always carry two sets of spare Energisers in my camera bag had paid rich dividends.

I do not crop, enhance or post-edit my images in any way. Shot with a Pentax K200D, using a Sigma 70-300mm lens. F8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400, focal length 300mm.

Featured in FROM THE COCKPIT, August 2010.

Canada08-Tombstone29Aug-8067

Artwork Comments

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