Saturday, May 26, 2007

World Trade Center Towers—With Gold Ribbons

Every amateur photographer deserves one great shot in a lifetime. Well, I've got a lot of lifetime left but I've got my photo. And it illustrates that a "Big Photo," just like a "Big Idea," must be pounced upon. ACT FAST or you can lose it. Here's the story of this photo.

For 25 years I was a private pilot in the busy New York City area. A frequent trip was to fly at 800-foot altitude and go south down the west side of the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty. Then I'd circle to the east and fly north up the right side of the Hudson to pass with my wingtip just 500 feet away from the World Trade Towers. It was always an awesome sight to see those two gigantic gray shapes—it felt as if you could reach out and touch them. Late one October afternoon in 1986 I made this flight in my single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza. As I passed the Twin Towers, two brilliant gold ribbons suddenly flashed—for just one second. The beveled corners of the towers had momentarily reflected the setting sun.

I'd flown by the towers well over a hundred times, but had never seen these golden ribbons before. It was a stunning picture, a Big Photo, and I knew I had to go back and capture it. Picking up a Nikon with telephoto lens and a motor drive, I began a 360-degree turn to return to a point where I could see them again. But would the gold ribbons appear again? It would take three minutes to complete this turn and the sun might set one degree further toward the horizon. With the sun's angle changing by just a fraction, would the ribbons still be visible?

To slow for better photos, I reduced power and lowered the landing gear and flaps. By halfway around the turn, my initial speed of 165-mph had dropped to a lumbering 70 mph. I put the Bonanza on autopilot and picked up the camera.

Now I waited for the first glow of gold. There! CLICK… CLICK… CLICK… Thanks to the plane's slower speed I was able to fire off three shots—but when the film was developed only one photo showed the golden ribbons. In years to come I flew by the towers many times, always looking for my ribbons.

I never saw them again.

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