Staying Awake for 24 Hours for the Perfect Aerial Shot
Jan 19, 2023
Armand Sarlangue won the 2022 Siena Drone Awards with “Big Bang,” a photo of an erupting volcano. Here is what one of Amazing Aerial’s newest photographers had to share about the story behind the photo as well as his career trajectory.
Armand’s Siena Drone Award-winning photo, “Big Bang,” captures a secondary fissure erupting in the Fagradalsfjall volcano. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Armand Sarlangue
By Rebecca Duras
Armand Sarlangue’s love of nature shines through in his landscapes full of abstract patterns and colors. The 2022 Siena Drone Awards winner recently joined Amazing Aerial and spoke to our Magazine about his process, motivations, and the amazing journey that led to his award-winning photo.
What drew you to nature photography?
I started as a commercial photographer about seventeen years ago, but I always loved nature.
I try to find the stories in the view in front of me and capture an image that can translate my feelings to the viewer. Sometimes, it’s more about the emotion that I try to translate into the picture, and I use the composition to reflect what emotions the specific patterns and color combinations trigger in me.
The engine behind my interest in nature photography is that I hope those pictures can be a way for people to connect more with nature. We live in a complicated world where we all have tons of preoccupations and don’t always think about nature, when nature is the base on what we live in.
Conservation is a very important aspect for why I’m doing what I’m doing. I want to share the concerns I have about the world on an emotional level.
It’s what unites most nature photographers. It’s not always easy to do what we do, but we love nature, and it can be very painful to see the locations that we love such as glaciers being impacted and changing over the course of just a few years.
Do you have something specific in mind when you take photos, or do you improvise?
A combination of the two. Especially when you’re talking about aerial photography, you can get a general idea of what you’ll find when you get up in the air, but it’s just a general idea. The final image depends on the time of day, season, light, how it evolved since you checked the last satellite images, and so on. The best way to capture amazing pictures is to both be well-prepared, by checking everything in advance, while keeping an open mind. Sometimes the really interesting stuff to shoot won’t be what you came for.
Your photo “Big Bang” won the Siena Drone Awards and has quite the story behind its creation. How did you get this shot?
It was a crazy adventure. I wanted to shoot the Fagradalsfjall volcano ever since it started erupting in March 2021, but back then there were still a lot of COVID limitations and French people couldn’t go to Iceland. Finally, we all got vaccinated and I could go to Iceland, but by the time I got to the volcano the eruption was over. I took some photos of the black lava but I was really disappointed and decided to move on to a different part of Iceland.
Then, I rented a 4x4 vehicle and went to shoot in the central Iceland highlands. I started my shooting day early in the morning, before sunrise, with the goal of wrapping up early because there was a storm approaching from the western side. I drove around to some other locations before finally settling down for the night. After parking and having dinner, sandwich and a beer, I checked my phone and saw that the Fagradalsfjall eruption was starting again!
I thought I was going to go crazy. I was exhausted after a full day of shooting, I would need to drive five or six hours to get there, and the volcano was in the west—where that big storm was brewing. I realized it could erupt for just one day and I had to seize my chance. I drove through the night to get there. I even got stopped by the police at one point—I thought it was because they could tell I was falling asleep at the wheel, but they were just conducting alcohol tests.
When I got to the eruption, it was 4 or 5 a.m. It was raining as the storm was just arriving. I put my rain gear on and hiked up to the eruption site, which took around 60-90 minutes up pretty steep terrain.
I always wanted to shoot a volcano, then I was finally there. It was just incredible—but the conditions were terrible. It was raining. The visibility was horrible due to the rain, the low clouds from the storm, and the steam from the rain hitting the lava. It was also very windy. It was magical, but not very fun at the moment. I took a moment to enjoy the show then tried to shoot with my regular camera, but that was hard due to the conditions.
As I was shooting, I noticed a secondary fissure in the middle of the lava field. It sparked my curiosity so I hiked a bit further up to get a better view and noticed the interesting patterns. I became obsessed with sending the drone to shoot it, but I was afraid to do it. The wind alone is stronger than the Mavic Pro 2 can handle, and that’s without factoring in the rain. I debated for maybe 30 minutes then realized I had to do it to get the spectacular photo.
I waited for the rain to calm down a bit, then I sent the drone. It was amazing, just as I had imagined it, like a big firework or a galaxy of fire. I spent my battery on shooting just that fissure, ignoring most of the other exposures because it was that special. I knew I couldn’t send my drone back out again so I had to make the most of it.
There were other photographers there but they were all shooting from the ground. I didn’t see any other drone in those conditions. I guess that’s why it got the huge honor of winning the Siena Drone Awards.
What did it mean for you to receive the Siena Drone Award Photographer of the Year?
Honestly it’s been huge because the Siena Drone Awards was the first photography award I tried to win a few years ago. I wasn’t interested in awards until I switched from commercial photography to nature photography, then I wanted to confirm my worth in the eyes of my peers.
It’s a contest that I really admire because I appreciate what they are doing for photography as a whole. They are not just giving you a certificate and sending you on your way, they create a whole event in Siena that gathers photographers around the world to share knowledge, meet lots of people from the industry, and check out the exhibitions. The ceremony itself is huge as well, to have that recognition.
You are the newest Amazing Aerial team member. What made you decide to join the agency and what are you hoping to get out of your membership?
The first trigger was meeting with Paul Prescott, who is a very convincing person and I believe in his ability to make the project he is trying to make happen, happen. I’m very interested in the community aspect of the Amazing Aerial project, creating a network of photographers that can be there for each other, helping each other, encouraging each other to grow. That’s something that I really believe in. Of course, I’m also interested in the licensing and publishing opportunities, gaining recognition through Amazing Aerial.
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