I Thought I Was Going To Die . . .


This is the story of two photo shoots — one that had to be canceled, and another that may well be one of, if not the, most important shoots of my life.

It is also the story behind the reason I haven’t posted anything here in quite a while.

Two of my favorite events were happening on the same weekend, May 31 thru June 2: the annual OKC Pro-Am bicycle races and the not-quite-semi-annual air show at Tinker AFB. I had planned on shooting the bicycle races on Friday evening and Sunday morning, while going out to Tinker Saturday to shoot the US Navy’s Blue Angels (among other flying fun things).

But I had to cancel the Pro-Am completely, and severely cut back on the air show.

Why? Because in May I spent several days in the hospital, where . . .

I nearly died.

On Tuesday, 5/14, I suffered a medical issue that I had never heard of before, and knew nothing about. What I know now is pretty simple —

It’s called a gastrointestinal bleed, and simply put, I almost bled out.

According to the doctors, there are a number of things that can cause GI bleeds and in my case, they thought I might have a touch of diverticulosis. I’ll let you look that up. What they knew for sure was this was definitely not cancer.

After 6 days in the hospital, after scaring the daylights out of my poor wife, who was afraid she was going to lose me, after rattling my sons’ cages pretty good, I was well enough to go home, but not yet well enough to resume normal activities.

As a result, I had some photographic choices to make. Even though neither the bike races or the air show were paying gigs, I wanted to get back to shooting.

Each of the two shoots had their challenges. The bike races mean a lot of standing up, possibly for several hours at a time. The air show could mean a very long walk, hauling all the gear a considerable distance, and spending an entire day doing it.

I decided that I would blow off the Friday bike races completely. Since the air show and the bike races were both happening on Saturday and Sunday, I thought I would do a modified air show shoot on Saturday, and if I felt up to it, take in a little bit of the bike races on Sunday.

For the air show, there are usually two options. The first is to go on base, where the planes make runs along what is usually referred to as the “flight line.” There are great shots to be had there, including the shots of the Blue Angels doing their amazing low-level fly-bys. But crowds are always huge for this event, so to shoot from the flight line, it becomes necessary to get there very early and stake out a good shooting location. And this is where the very long walk comes into play — it can be up to 1½ miles from the parking lot to the flight line (and back again after the show).

No way. I was still too weak for that kind of outing.

The other air show option is to shoot from a vantage point off base. Of course, this means no flight line fly-bys. But there are still good shots to be had. I joined forces with a friend who is another Nikon shooter, and chose a spot just north of the north end of the main runway. As it turned out, the Blue Angels took off from that very runway, and flew right over our heads.

The air show that day was abbreviated by a passing thunderstorm, so while the Blue Angels were able to get their usual show in, there were several other flights that were canceled. We did get to see one of the two remaining flying B-29 bombers (“Doc”), but of course, the big deal that day was the blue Angels.

I had both of my Nikon D810 bodies, one with the 500mm PF, and one with the 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom with the 14x TC, which gave me an effective focal length of 98-280mm. For all of these shots, I was in Manual Mode, but with auto ISO. The idea was to be able to set a specific shutter speed and aperture, but still let the camera do the heavy lifting (i.e., setting the exposure) by choosing an appropriate ISO.

The hardest thing was shooting “Doc,” the B-29, at a shutter speed slow enough to get some blur in the props (1/200 sec). As big as that plane is, I still ended up using the 500mm PF for quite a few of the shots, and very slow shutter speeds with a 500mm lens is just not easy for an old geezer like me. Of course, the 500 PF's VR's "Sports" setting helped a great deal.

It was all a lot of fun, and although I felt pretty good the entire 2 or so hours time we were out there shooting, it was still quite tiring. Sadly, come Sunday morning, I realized that Saturday’s activity had pretty much worn me out, so I decided to pass completely on the bike races. They’ll be back next year, and I’ll catch them then.

Since then, I have been able to get back to about 90% of my stamina and strength, so I really feel I am ready to get back to regular shooting.

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Oklahoma Freelance Photographer

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Don Risi Photography
Oklahoma City 


Based in Oklahoma City, able to travel anywhere in the

continental United States

Using Nikon Cameras and Lenses exclusively since 1979.
Proud member of Nikon Professional Services

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