On a freezing January night, as the rising Supermoon tinted the slopes of the Nebelhorn (2224 m), Southern Germany, an eerie silver, a handful of people sheltering from the cold at the mountaintop Propst Haus refugio spotted a UFO. But while the shimmering, swooping lights looked like evidence of some visiting alien intelligence, they were, in fact, the work of a man – with a very big dream.
First I had to think about the equipment. I believed my well trusted Nikon Z7 would be the ideal camera, but the far bigger issue was illuminating the scene. The unusually large January Supermoon would provide a little ambient light, but the images would require a unique flashlight set-up, too. In fact, I ultimately opted for flashlights with ten times more power (1,100 watt seconds) than those typically attached to a camera.
To capture the background landscape at night required a long exposure. That would allow me to do some fancy stuff with light – in the language of photography, ‘light painting’.
So I then came up with the idea of using LED lights on the paragliders. I mounted 320 LEDs on the trailing edge of each of the wings, hoping the pilots could make some wingovers, and with the long exposure, leave behind them a light trail.
The problem was then working out how to retain the long trails of light created by the LEDs in long exposure, while capturing the paragliders themselves in pin sharp focus.
To do this, I set a long exposure to capture the LEDs, then used a burst of the powerful flash to illuminate the paragliders right at the end of the exposure. That way, I got the best of both worlds.
The wait is over and we can finally share the first new images of this year's Red Bull Illume Image Quest! Every week, we announce the semi-finalists of a different category, so stay tuned for more mind-blowing images.