How I photographed a high-wire act

Wind turbines.
Turbines spin as the blood moon lunar eclipse sets behind the towers on the Shiloh II wind farm in the Montezuma Hills near Bird’s Landing, Calif.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
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There were hundreds of wind turbines spinning in the delta breeze, except for one: tower D18. I was in the rolling Montezuma Hills northeast of the Bay Area to document the repair of a giant fiberglass blade attached to an idled turbine high atop a steel tower.

I had seen photographs in a Patagonia catalog, sent to me by a colleague, and was inspired to do something different and capture images of my own.

After researching the area, checking maps and astronomical charts for sunrise and sunset times, I found my trip might coincide with the blood moon eclipse. Weather would be a main factor, as too much wind would scrap operations. The forecast was favorable, and the trip was on.

A person hangs from a wind turbine.
Turbine technician Matthew Kelly lowers himself to the ground after nearly 10 hours suspended on a 262-foot-high tower making repairs to a fiberglass turbine blade on the Shiloh II wind farm in the Montezuma Hills near Rio Vista, Calif.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
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After arriving in Bird’s Landing for a safety briefing on-site, I spent the afternoon looking for landscape images to show the turbines in their environment. I drove out into the hills as livestock grazed and blades cast rotating shadows. A “whoosh” sounded through the air. As the sun set, I searched for a spot to photograph the rising moon. Clouds obscured the horizon, and around a corner I saw the moon, now too high for composing an image. That meant extra pressure and getting up before dawn, hoping to capture the blood moon lunar eclipse among the turbine fields as the moon set.

Wind turbines.
Blade technician Matthew Kelly makes repairs on a 148-foot-long fiberglass turbine blade.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

The next morning I wasn’t disappointed as the clouds diminished, the eclipsed moon appeared and dawn broke over the hills.
Up next was a 10-hour day with the repair crew. After meeting early to go over a safety checklist, turbine technician Matthew Kelly strapped into his climbing harness and climbed a ladder inside the D18 tower to his “office” 262 feet up. Kelly’s partner Lloyd Hardin managed the ropes and wind speeds. I also had to monitor the wind, as the only way short of getting certified to climb the tower myself was to fly my drone to capture Kelly at work. Employing the drone and telephoto lenses I was able to capture Kelly working throughout the day on the tower, until the sun set and Hardin guided him back to terra firma.

A person hangs from a winde turbine.
At dizzying heights, Michael Kelly spreads a fast setting epoxy to a fiberglass patch.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
WIND TURBINES
Blade repair worker Lloyd Hardin helps manage ropes as a bucket of tools and supplies is delivered to co-worker Matthew Kelly.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
Sheep near a wind turbine.
Sheep graze on the Shiloh II wind farm.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
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A wind turbine and cattle.
Cattle graze on the Shiloh II wind farm.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
A person on a horse and a wind turbine far away.
A man rides a horse along a road in rural Rio Vista near the Shiloh II wind farm in the Montezuma Hills, Calif.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
A person hangs from a wind turbine.
Matthew Kelly.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
Wind turbines
Kelly adjusts a positioning ring line.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
Wind turbines
Kelly climbs a ladder up a 262-foot-high tower.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
Two people at a wind turbine.
Kelly, left, and Hardin.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
A man hangs from a wind turbine.
Kelly guides a bucket of tools and supplies.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
A person runs among wind turbines.
Hardin runs to change out a supply bucket for Kelly.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
A road leads to wind turbines.
A rural road is deserted along the Shiloh II wind farm.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
The sun sets among wind turbines.
The sun sets behind wind turbines at the Shiloh II wind farm.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
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