Photograph by John B. Carnett; Illustration by Garry Marshall

BIRDMAN (top): April 21, 2003 GONE IN A FLASH (bottom): Photographer Carnett frames the shot after setting up two strobe lights that will be triggered, via radio transmitter, to flash when he clicks. The sky flyers stood in a triangle, Kuosma slightly in front, then jumped together.

My subjects were falling backward from an airplane traveling 110 mph; I had just one chance. In the second my strobe lights would need to recover, the jumpers would fade to specks. Here, I caught Jari Kuosma of the BirdMan wingsuit company and two buddies leaping from a Skyvan I’d rented for the purpose.
After a brief rehearsal on the tarmac, we flew up over DeLand, Florida. I set the aperture of my 11-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds to f/16 and the shutter speed to 1/125 to get a sharp image with a slight blur around the edges to suggest motion. To dampen the plane’s engine vibration, I mounted the Canon to a gyro stabilizer. Meanwhile, I knew that if I fell out, camera around my neck, I didn’t want to be dragging half my equipment with me. So instead of wiring the Canon to the strobes, I programmed a radio transmitter to trigger them remotely.
I put on a parachute, a standard precaution, but I’d never used one. “I don’t have time to give you a skydiving lesson,” the jumpmaster told me, “but if
you find yourself in free fall, pull this thing–hard.” Kuosma counted down
“3… 2… 1… Smile!” As he and his companions jumped, I hit the shutter. Then they were gone.