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on Apr 20, 2012 in Aviation, Friday Thoughts

No Control Problem Solving


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To get to my point, I need to give you a little background trivia. Before the prop ever turns, a brief is held, actually a couple of them. The reason of the brief is to go through the photo mission so all parties are on the same page for a number one reason, the main being safety. I was incredibly fortunate that my friends who fly the Texas Flying Legends Museum aircraft asked if I would do an air to air shoot with them. So they were my client, they had specific formations, “family portraits” they wanted taken. At the same time, they did this amazing flight for two WWII veterans, brothers. One flew in a P-47 (in the back of the P-51 during this flight) and the other a tail gunner in a B-25 (in Betty’s Dream). The photo mission was then not only the family portrait but portraits of the brothers flying again.

Before the main brief with all pilots, Doug (who flew the Corsair) & I sat down and created a Shot List. This is a aerial script of the aircraft/formation sets I wanted to tell the story visually. The shot list is more then, “I want the Corsair and then the Zero” but rather a move by move of planes in and out of the frame. These movements number one priority is safety. Then there is time, time is money because gas is burning. For example the B-25 can’t just dart in and out of place like the P-51D Mustang. So in no time Doug & I had a choreographed shot list for 9 formations in 60min (pilots were so good, we did it in less then 40min capturing 1709 images). With that, we did a brief with just the pilots of the subject planes. Then we did a brief with all pilots, photo platform and subjects. Then we did a walk through brief where we stood in positions of the flight and walk through all the moves for each formation. With all of this planning, we get in our aircraft and go flying.

While we “fly the brief,” simple little things like wind currents which you don’t know until you get in the air can take that planning and send it south. When you do an evening shoot for the light like we did, time is everything. So when one aircraft is taken out of formation for a minute because of turbulence, it then takes minutes for them to get back into position. You add the incredible complexity of five aircraft doing this, even with the best pilots on the planet like I had to work with, getting it all started is a challenge and its something no one has control over.

Our first formation was a Vic, a V formation with the B-25 on point. Getting the tight formation wasn’t coming together quickly and light was fading. It was obvious I was going to have to come up with another solution for the family portrait. All I could do (since I can’t get out and push) was make images to create a pano. The two images below are the two used to create the pano you see above. The biggest challenge was the background was never the same second by second and at the same time, the aircraft were moving up and down. I really didn’t hold much hope for the idea but with the D4 blasting at 10fps, I went for it. The image above is the fist assembly. I am quite pleased!

And the point to all of this? We’ve been finding here on the blog that wildlife photographers aren’t reading posts with a plane photo. Landscape photographers aren’t reading posts with wildlife. Everyone reads a post when there’s a Photoshop technique. How can photographers put their head in the sand like that? If I hadn’t done a ton of panos as a “landscape” photographer, I wouldn’t have had a clue on how to make it work from an aircraft turning 160knts shooting with 70-200 with ever changing background & horizon line! I don’t do portraits for a living and don’t live with flash, but if I didn’t learn those aspects of portraiture, I wouldn’t been able to photograph all the folks I had to this week at an aviation event! I personally don’t know of any aspect of any discipline of photography that doesn’t effect every other. If nothing else, if you don’t have an open mind to all aspects of photography, how can your photography grow and communicate? I’m not saying you need to read everything. I am saying though you might find your photography growing, being more fun and challenging if you simply go outside your comfort zone with the simple idea of learning. While I don’t go out and seek ultra wide panos much anymore, I sure am glad I perfected that technique for my photography. It made it possible to make this click taking care of my clients needs. It’s what photography often boils down to, no control problem solving.