You’ve seen the Phoenix Microburst photos, now hear the story behind the photos.

Phoenix Microburst

Phoenix Microburst. (Chopperguy/Jerry Ferguson/Andrew Park)


We spotted this microburst as we were covering a dust storm near Phoenix, and I instantly thought the same thing as everyone else, “It looks like an atom-bomb just detonated over Phoenix.”

Capturing these photos is a team effort between myself and my pilot, Andrew Park.

Our Robinson R44 Newscopter is just a really tall, really expensive tripod. We work together as pilot and photographer to be safely in position at the right place at the right time to capture these images.

There’s a lot going on in that little cockpit. I’m simultaneously photographing the action with video and still cameras, reporting the news, coordinating with the news station producers and engineers, and talking to my pilot to reposition our tripod in the sky.

Andrew, on the other hand, is basically wrestling a mechanical bull 800 feet above the ground, making calls to other aircraft and control towers, and keeping us safe.

Microburst Over Phoenix

Microburst Over Phoenix. (Chopperguy/Jerry Ferguson/Andrew Park)

A lot of times, I push my pilot to get closer to the action, but after years of working together, I know when we are reaching the limits of safely flying the aircraft in stormy, chaotic conditions.

We have 3 HD video cameras on board that are gyro-stabilized, and I usually toss a Canon 5D Mark III with a couple zoom lenses (Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VR & Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS II) in the back seat.

The chopper vibrates a lot and I shoot handheld. I also often shoot in low light, so I use wide aperture, image stabilized lenses and set my camera on shutter priority with the highest shutter speed I can manage (usually around 1/400) to eliminate vibration blur.

I shoot to the right, bracket, and rattle off a lot of exposures to make sure I have at least one keeper from each scene.

I’ll also often shoot bracketed HDR panoramas because we shoot in such dynamic lighting situations.