RED BULL STRATOS THROUGH THE LENS OF PREDRAG VUCKOVIC
Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner has successfully jumped from a height of 39.044 km and landed safely in Roswell, New Mexico, from where he was launched in the capsule that took him to the edge of space in 14th of October 2012. The whole world was watching and waiting impatiently the leap from the edge of space. After that photos were something that everybody was expecting and it was my great honor to have my photos immortilize this historic moment. During this remarkable jump, Felix broke three records: he became the first person to break the sound barrier during free drop, achieving a speed of 1342 km/h, achieving the highest balloon flight and highest parachute jump.
In January a good friend of mine who is also a photographer and with who I worked on many of large projects invite me for a lunch during my stay in Los Angeles and told me that we will photograph the Red Bull Stratos. At first I thought it was a joke, because I knew how serious and big that story was and when I realized the opposite I was just amazed. But, quickly after I got used to that fact of beeing a part of the great mission. After nearly 200 photo shootings behind me for Red Bull and some of those required climbing through the mountains and diving, extremely difficult conditions, now it came something completely different from everything I have ever worked on. In the first place because none of us three photographers didn’t know what to expect from the whole project concerning photography and everything that was waiting for us in New Mexico. Only after the first test jump in March from 21 km and second one in June from 29 km, we had a vision about how it will look like the final jump which was scheduled for the October.
This project may not have been physically demanding as some of the previous ones but it was definitely hard. We had extremely difficult conditions for photography. Preparings and equipping began at 10 pm till 6 am when everything was ready for the launch. What happened was that we did not sleep for 30 hours or more. The biggest problem for good photos was the lack of light because it was all done at night. For me in one hand it was a real challenge to make a good shot with a less light. When I look now, my impression is that it is precisely the lack of light which contributed that this whole serie of photos looks spectacular. Looking like that, these photos have some higher, impressive meaning and they avoke the atmosphere of the whole Roswell... simply look great. Equipment that I worked with was the Nikon D4 and this camera is one of the best in the world when it comes to a low light shooting. So, I had a technical advantage which made everything worked smoothly and literally perfect.
Our task was to make history through photography, so that after a while when someone looks at the photos it can have the complete story in its head about the Red Bull Stratos – from start to finish. This means that we photographed the whole team – not only Felix, but also all the people involved in the project, their tasks and all the details. Our pictures are what’s left behind. Concerning the final jump, we photographed Felix’s arrival at the location, his preparations, dressing, capsule’s final check, enter the capsule, balloon filling and finally launch of the capsule. One of the photographers was in the mission control room, one at the site where the balloon was launched and my job was to photograph from the helicopter. Immediately after the launch of the capsule, I went to the cineplex helicopter which was responsible for shooting video and taking photos. Capsule were escorted up to a certain limit and then we went to the given coordinates, where Felix was expected to land. There we landed and waited for Felix to reach a certain height. For about 10 minutes before his jump we went on 2,5 km up and waited for him to pass us by. Cineplex helicopter was in charge of the first video contact with Felix that people saw all around the world during the live broadcast and I was in charge of the first photo contact with him. I photographed him after he opened the parachute and then we followed him to the landing place. There was my colleague who follow the story after the landing. Then we all went back to the base.
Delay of the jump was the hardest. Neither the first nor the second test jump we didn’t made at first try. There were always delays and that is what has affected on our team the most and made us exhausted. We would start as I mentioned previously at 10 pm, we worked throughout the night to 6 am and then the chief meteorologist and director of the project would said that the conditions were not good and that we had to postpone the mission. Then we would went to sleep and the next day at the same time we repeated the whole story again. Last delay of the final jump was definitely the hardest in every way because we all wanted to get it all finished as soon as possible, starting from Felix who simply could no longer wait to complete the project, especially because of the entire regime and the particular way of life to wich he was subjected during the preparations – diet, sleep, training and all other details and procedures. Originally, the jump was planned for October 9th and was delayed for 11th when meteorologists said the weather conditions are poor. The last option was Sunday, October 14th and after that it would only prolong the delay for June 2013. When Felix and all the crew realized that all this could be delayed for June, we automatically had a thought of finishing it on Sunday – that Sunday, October 14th when actually the Mission to the Edge of Space was successfully completed. That was one of the most beautiful days spent in Roswell. Another important thing that separates the Red Bull Stratos from my previous projects are the people who worked on it. They are mostly older people, scientests and professionals in every possible way. With them everything somehow went peacefully, with no stress even when it is a moment for it. In every situation you could simply felt their enormous experience and the thing that they always had everything under control. Therefore you have must felt safer.
Acquaintance of all those people and my communication with them have left a large trace on me. Everyone in the team was no different from another, they were full of kindness, restraint and it was all in top level – even more than that. We functioned as one. Sometimes it’s difficult to approach some people to make a good photo of them, because they can not realize how photos are an important factor. However, in this case, they all did their best for me and other photographers to ensure that we get a perfect shot and let the best historical trace behind. This wonderful collaboration is definitely something we all will remember for a long time...for whole of our lives. When I am as a photographer thinking about Felix I can only say that I enjoyed working with him. He understood in every moment the importance of everything that I was doing and what was behind all of the work and gave the great meaning to the photos. His discipline and focuse and everything else that he was wearing as a leader on his shoulder during the whole project were brought to the extreme measurements of professionalism that meant so much to us and had very positive impact on our work. My personal opinion is that he is the only man alive who could pull this off! We came to the limit that no one will ever be able to push. Just knowing that I am the part of this historical story causes me big satisfaction. I meen - being a part of this project is a greatest honor!
EQUIPMENT USED FOR THIS PROJECT
Two cameras Nikon D4 and Nikon D800. Nikon lenses 200mm/f2.0, 16mm/f2.8, 17-35mm/f2.8, 14-24mm/f2.8, 50mm/f1.4, 85mm/f1.4, 24mm/f1.4, 300mm/f2.8, 70-200mm/f2.8, Pocket Wizzards and Manfrotto equipment.