100 year photo event, one chance – don’t blow it!

March 25th, 2009 § 2

JOB: Once in 100 year event, 3-5 seconds to get photo, commissioned work for client, weather iffy, precarious platform…. Are you up for it?

Always in for a photographic challenge, here is an anatomy of an interesting photoshoot, and the creation of a very satisfying image that will live on……
The 100yr Hapuawhenua Viaduct shoot - a nervous wait...

The 100yr Hapuawhenua Viaduct shoot - "a nervous wait..."

Department of Conservation is opening a new historical walking track over the Old historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct (background on image below) on the North Island Main trunk line, after extensive engineering and safety work.  

A special steam train excursion was run to celebrate the 100 year centenary of the NIMT line opening, and Paul Mahoney of DOC was very anxious to catch this event, and he had an idea of a vantage point that had never been used before and was after enduring imagery that would promote the new walk, special historic engineering and the spectacular scenery of Tongariro National Park in which the twin viaducts (old and new) sit.

The result: Hapuawhenua Viaducts old and new, with centennary steam train

Hapuawhenua Viaducts old and new, with centennary steam train

Weather forecast was poor as we got up early in Ohakune and arranged key and special permission to use a railway access road and cross the rail corridor.  Carrying camera equipment and other assorted paraphernalia up to the vantage point took a good walk and climb.  Arriving at the spot we were confronted with much vegetation blocking the view, tempting as it was, cutting it wasn’t kosher being within the National Park.  What other options? 

An old rotting rata tree stump angled out over a large drop presented the only opportunity to place the ladder and gain valuable height allowing a great view. 

Precarious postioning, filming the NIMT centennial train, Hapuawhenua

Precarious postioning, filming the NIMT centennial train, Hapuawhenua. Photo: Paul Mahoney

It was somewhat precarious and jusdious judgement was needed.  The rotten old log had the ability to propel (or rather catapult) photog and expensive gear down a very steep drop into the shrubbery below.  Fortunately Paul had an civil engineering background and things were angled to my advantage – but only just.  Despite protests otherwise, the hearty choc muffin was considered extra loading that my stomach should defer until the rotting tree was finished with.

The WAIT…. Good lead time is always needed in situations like this.  Not being familiar with a new location means time looking for better angles and locations, and when one off events like this are planned, extra time is vital for checking equipment and rehearsing (yes, rehearsing) how a shot should run.  When you’re ready, the remaining time seems to be filled with an anxious drive to improve things and fiddle with ideas and gear.  Paul remarked about the number of ‘comfort’ stops taken while waiting – nothing like a once in a 100 year event to give a photogapher performance anxiety that’s for sure.

Fortunately our spy at Ohakune station gave us thumbs up on departure of the train, via shakey cellphone coverage.  The train’s run to our location was only a matter of minutes.

My aim was to shot the maximum potential of the situation, thereby giving the client as many options as possible.  I wanted good standard shots obviously, but my goal was for a stunning panorama file that could be used large if necessary, but the duality of the shoot added a considerable level of complexity – all to be done with a 3-5 second window.  The panorama foramt required a very level tripod head and special panorama stage under the camera.  The tripod that was perfect for me is the carbon Gitzo 2540LVL.  Camera was the Canon 1Ds Mk3 with 24-70 f2.8 Canon lens. 

Weather played a big part on the day – changing from torrential rain (pull the gear down and hide under trees), to brilliant sun patches skudding through (a nightmare with manual exposure for panorama work).  2 mins before the arrival of the train the weather lightened, rain cleared, and we got the shot…we believe the only viable shot of the day from any vantage point.  The suspense of watching the dual loco train pull it’s way up the grade into the shot was nerve-wracking – we only had the one go at this and the light was changing all the time.  Combined with the need to shoot a ‘background’ panorama, and actual train panorama (with the movement) for combining made it a techincally difficult undertaking.

The final shots were professionally stitched into one giant image that I’m very pleased with – we pulled it off beyond expectation. Final shot comes in at a whopping 11800 pixels wide native no interp – allowing good quality use all the way up to billboard size should it be needed.  The client was very happy with the results and promptly submitted it to New Zealand Railfan magazine to promote the viaducts.  The magazine was so taken with the shot that it printed a double page spread, and added:

“If there was one picture that captured the spirit of the occassion of helping celebrate the centennial of the North Island Main Trunk, surely this stunning 25th October 2008 image must be it! …Photo: Rob Suisted, courtesy Department of Conservation.”

And, as Paul said, my first centrefold in a ‘steamy’ magazine…..

Railfan magazine centrefold

Railfan magazine centrefold

As an interesting sideline, here’s a fake miniature shot I created of the same scene:

Fake miniature version photo

Fake miniature version photo

Add your comments below if you wish to know more, or have technical questions.  It’s always nice to get your comments, so fire away. I’ll aim to post more about my work in the near future.

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§ 2 Responses to “100 year photo event, one chance – don’t blow it!”

  • William says:

    Did you actually build that miniature scene? How did you do the SMOKE? Awesome real life photos, too, by the way.


  • Janette says:

    Hi William,

    Thanks for the praise. It’s a little known fact that Rob is a keen model railway buff and has a giant trainset downstairs in the garage that he plays with at night.

    Just kidding!! Understand that he used some clever photoshop technology that changed the original image into the fake miniature. Cool!!


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