Getting better, that is a constant theme in just about everything photographic. Is it just human nature or is it just the nature of photographers? Whatever it is, getting better at our craft is a huge part of what it is to be a photographer. You know what I’m talking about. You do it, we all do it, that’s why you’re reading this blog post right now. You’re hoping that some pearl of wisdom will leak out of my pea brain that will help you be a better photographer. I’m just as guilty of it. I’m constantly looking for that piece of advice of a posting, that one statement in a video that will trigger a response in my head to send me out clicking. But quite often, I find some of my best learning comes right from my own files.
I was looking for a specific image of a specific aircraft for a client. They wanted a particular angle, which while important to the client, didn’t really excite me at the time I took it so it wasn’t one of the images I finished for myself. In the process of locating the image, I came across the original Nefs of the AZ Wing of CAF B-17G “Sentimental Journey.” A favorite of mine, I never was satisfied with the 24×30 print. I didn’t like the blue reflection of the sky in the fuselage. I didn’t like the gesture in the frame and I wasn’t satisfied with sharpness. The image, which is now almost 4yrs old, was selected as a favorite 4yrs ago. That’s a LONG time ago in the life of a photographer!
In my own files, I found what 4yrs later I think is a better image. Why is it better? Since the photo itself is 4yrs old, it’s not because I shot it differently. Rather, what in my mind as a definition of what makes a better image has changed. At the same time, while software offers more options, how I use those options has evolved as I’ve learned more. What I have learned (and has stuck in my mind) then affects how I see and how I communicate. By looking at my own files, I’m not finding “new” images that can be reprocessed, but can find what new lessons have taught me that can be put into action.
But more importantly, by looking at your own files when you put that camera to your eye, you see better when you go click. While I might fine that one file that I can reprocess to produce a better image, more importantly that one file might click in my own mind an important lesson I want to put into practice in the viewfinder. Ya, you run the huge risk of seeing images you’ll say quietly to yourself “that sucks, what was I thinking” but that’s OK, you learn from them just as well. Why is that? Because we are our own best teachers!
There were some GREAT reinactors at the Planes of Fame airshow, we’d heard about the German officer the day before so when I walked over with Steve on Sunday morning, I found him. He had a great uniform and presense and because of Steve, I had a few minutes to get shots of him in front of the Focke-Wulf Fw190. I had the same gear still, D4 with either the 80-400AFS or 18-35AFS. He was in demand and was being pulled every which way. So I waited until our eyes meet and when they did, the first thing I did was pull him out from the Fw190.
As always, you gotta ask yourself, “What’s the subject?” For me, it was the office and not the aircraft. The Fw190 is the background and the rest of the story to the portrait of the officer. So shooting with the 18-35, you can see in the top shot what he looks like next to the aircraft and in the second shot, what he looks like pulled away 15′ from the Focke-Wulf. He has an excellent lear that really comes across well on film.
Just for comparison, this image was taken with the 80-400AFS when he was against the Fw-190. You can still make good images with the pilot/model near the aircraft but the story telling completely changes. The subject isn’t so much the pilot but the moment. Now as always when I do this, and I am getting better at grabbing strangers and asking them to perform for the camera, when I get done I give them my business card and I take care of them with images. They add so much to a photograph and to the photographic experience at airshows. And, they are simply fun to be with!
I can’t get a sharp image to save my soul when I’m laughing! So last weekend at the Plane of Fame airshow, when I first heard “Banzai” exploding behind me, it at first startled me. When I turned around and saw this little guy in the perfect Japanese officer uniform from WWII waving the Rising Sun and yelling Banzai, I just smiled. I went back to shooting, that’s until the A6M Zero came around and Steve started to yell, “Kamikaze, Kamikaze off the port bow, shoot it down!” that I started to bust up.
But it’s not like he yelled just once, Steve at the top of his lungs did it for two days! He wasn’t more than 15-20′ away from us so he knew we were taking his photo and of course, that was the point. Reinactors put so much time and craft into their “dressing up” to be authentic, that they are a killer way to make more of the airshow experience. But Steve, well he just over the top. We seemed to hit it off pretty quick so for two days, we made the most of each other.
What really got me laughing was watching others when they first experienced Steve’s Banzai! It scared the daylights out of folks because Steve was so good at it, his intensity so intense, folks took him seriously at first. Watching those reactions and then trying to shoot knowing those reactions were occurring just kept us all in the Media Pit in stitches. It wasn’t until Steve started to yell Kamikaze that folks realized he was putting on a great show.
On day two, I caught up with Steve as he first came into the airshow. We talked and walked over to the Zero to take some photos of him in front of the Zero. Now his uniform is not that of a pilot, but that really didn’t matter. So with his voice not as strong as the day before and with him putting down his HUGE saki bottle that he was now carrying (he assured me it was filled with water), I pulled him out and away from the Zero to get some shot. He wasn’t too tall which we joked about. Photographically though, it required me to get down on one knee to shoot up on him. I wanted that angle to emphasize his posture. The overcast light was helpful because at this time, the gates were open and there were plenty of folks around. Steve was getting pulled from person to person to pose. Steve was great though and when I gave him the high sign, we would look at me so I could get the shot. With the conditions, I didn’t pull out the flash and just shot D4 with either the 80-400AFS or 18-35AFS (a great duo for airshows!). But even now, Steve knew I was an easy mark and had me laughing when I would put the camera to my eye. I like Steve!
Finishing was all done in ACR with the key being to bring up the shadows and bring down the highlights. The overcast light worked great! It not only made the shadows softer and more even, it really cranked up the saturation on the Rising Sun. By the end of Sunday, Steve’s voice was just about gone cause he gave it his all. I’ll never forget watching him leave. In the front seat of a golf cart with flag and saki bottle in hand, he looked at our group and with a big smile, tried to yell Banzai one more time.
I DIDN’T even see this photo! One of the BEST parts of the weekend was shooting with my favorite partner, our son Jake. He is always looking for the something different photographically to tell the story and does a great job of finding it. And thankfully, he shares with me what he finds. In looking for those photos that says Lightning Strikes Chino which is the theme of the airshow, this image does a pretty cool job of it. This is the P-38L “Glacier Girl” and the Chino tower just as the sun is thinking about making an appearance. It’s again another simple click from the morning, shot with D4 / 18-35 with the image right out of the camera. I just to thank Jake for sharing with dad what he sees and having the great willingness allowing me to take the same basic image. I realize he got the best one, but I like mine too
Jake & I got the Sunrise Pass for the Planes of Fame airshow and so glad that we did! You have to get to the flight line by 05:00 which is some time before the sun rises so you have some time to kill. We started to walk the line looking for possible opportunities even though there was no, zero, nada sunlight even hinted on the horizon. We got up to the P-38s which are the theme of the show and started to scratch out heads wondering what if ….
So with the D4 / 18-35 on at the RRS Tripod, I dialed in -3 exp comp and went click. I hit the LCD and wow…cool! The sodium vapor city light way off in the distance were doing this cool magenta wash thing in the thick cloud cover. The D4′s AWB nailed the color balance of the field lamps so I just had to design the photo in the viewfinder and go click. These are simple images right out of the camera.
No, these are not your typical aviation photos. No, I won’t be making prints of these images and putting them up on my wall. But when you have nothing to loose, clicking can often pay off. I mean, the worst thing that could happen is you delete the file. But the most is you simply have a little fun trying something a little different. And since I am different, it fits right in with me. You simply never know!
This is a very common and understandable question that I receive. I was asked it a lot this week as many are heading out to airshows. So I thought I’d cap the most common ways I like to put action in my stills. Realizing most learn best from watching rather than reading, you can head to my Kelby Class on Aviation Photography for more in depth explanations. But just because you see planes here, these techniques apply to ALL moving subjects! Start with understanding that shooting unrestricted is essential! My airshow set up this year is the lightest ever consisting of the D4, 80-400AFS and 18-35AFS and that’s all. I love it being so light as that permits me to easily carry it all in my slingbag along with iPad (to show previous images to pilots) and business cards (to give pilots). The less you carry, the more mobile you are, the more mobile and limber you are, the sharper the photos and better composed they are (here is a complete listing of the gear that’s with me, most in the vehicle just in case). With that in mind, here are some tips that you can apply to any action photography and in particular airshows.
Put yourself in relationship to the action in a position where it performs around you. At airshows, aircraft often make a “photo” pass which is often done in what’s called a “banana pass.” If you can picture a banana with your being inside the curve of the banana, that’s basically a banana pass. When you’re on the INSIDE of that curve, the aircraft or athlete or motorcycle will will be MOVING into your frame which gives a feel of not only speed but also intimacy. Keep in mind that being on the inside of the curve, the subject will be going faster in relationship to your position so your panning has to be spot on.
Taking your shutter speed down below your comfort zone is key! Shooting in Shutter Priority to be in control of shutter speed and then the blur puts action into your still. In some cases the shutter speed is arbitrary based on how you feel. In some cases it could be a very specific shutter speed to blur props of aircraft or blades on a helicopter, in this case 1/20 to blur the blades of this Cobra. Keep in mind that your panning blurs the background and the degree of that blur is a function of how fast you’re panning vs. your shutter speed. Now if your background is all blue, bald sky, there is not a slow enough shutter speed to show motion. You need something in the background to scream movement.
When you’ve got the light, forget everything else! Ya, there are lots of rules, ideas, suggestions and sexy action that can grab your attention but when you’ve got light, ditch them all for that light. I love this example of just that because many tend to not photograph the bellies of aircraft. This belly shot is of a Hawker Sea Fury Race 232 which ended up in the victory circle in the 2012 Reno Air Races. On the afternoon this shot was taken, it wasn’t this fact that is was a winner that had me trained on 232 but rather the way the light played on its red color against the great blue / white background. The angle of the light makes all the rivits pop and creates a shadow that just makes it seem like it’s going faster. You can’t go wrong with great light!
Go for the ass! Any subject that is going away from you in the frame sets the mind to thinking movement. While this seems obvious, ass shots in themselves can be tricky. There is the matter of proper social protocol (not my speciality) along with attractiveness. There are a couple of aspects of subject positioning that goes along with this. Lower and centered in the frame is the place to start and then based on other elements in the frame can be moved about accordingly. When shooting the ass of an aircraft, the blurred prop is required to speak of movement. The slower the shutter speed, the more blurred the prop and the more blurred the prop, you change the position of the aircraft in the frame.
This one is real simple. When you have a great background, think of smaller subject size in a slightly awkward placement in the frame. Yeap, that’s all it takes for the mind to see the placement and move the subject through the frame against that background. I like simple!
Let the path set the movement. A track, street, sidewalk or trail of smoke communicates movement when you place the subject on that path. This again is another real simple one to employ but to take it to the next level, put the subject on the path again in a slightly awkward place.
Low angle with a wide angle is a great way of communicating motion! Here is a classic example considering the only thing moving in the frame are the props. The rule of thumb is to leave enough room in the frame in front of the subject for the mind to give the subject motion. You can enhance this mental path by getting down low with a wide angle. This technique is great when in reality, you’re crammed up in a crowd and can’t get physically where you want to. In the case of aviation, think of slow shutter speed and not keeping the horizon plum. Here, it’s slightly slanted up hill and the sun is included (lens closed down all the way for a sunburst) to finish the feel.
Follow your subject in the viewfinder for its entire path! You just never know what surprises you might find in the viewfinder that if your eye is not up against it, you’ll miss. In this case this P-40 did a loop right overhead so a normal view of an aircraft from the ground, the top of it, was all you see in the viewfinder. A unique perspective to any common subject begins the journey of having a unique photograph!
Cramming action into a vertical creates lots of mental movement in a still! The tension of the subject looking like it’s going to run into the side of the frame can work with the rest of the elements are in sync. Other elements? Ya, light, blur, color, placement in the frame vertically, all those elements that together bring movement to the subject. Keep in mind that as soon as you turn the camera to vertical, your panning gets more difficult and composition more challenging. At the same time, the rewards for success goes up as well.
Never ignore the common! This little Piper is no warbird or screaming jet yet I would be really bummed if it weren’t in my files. When you can make the uncommon out of the common, your photograph always wins! In this case, since it’s an airplane and it’s up in the sky, the mind knows it’s flying and that in itself says motion. Use proper handholding and panning, look for the light and think motion with a big dash of fun and you will be successful! have a great weekend shooting!
As previously posted, I was part of the media day at Planes of Fame for their upcoming airshow, Lightning Strikes Chino. Not until late last night did I remember I shot video with the Moose Cam (Contour w/NightFlight filter). Shooting with the D4 with 80-400AFS attached, the Contour rides left of the viewfinder, attached to the shot shoe with the Manfrotto 492LCD Micro Ball Head. There are two reasons why I love the Contour: the rotating front permits you to level the image no matter the angle of the camera; it works Bluetooth with the iPhone so I can see exactly what the camera sees!
You will see just how much turbulence there was for our short flight as I bounce around. You can see the end of the 80-400AFS which was on its first of many air to air flights. I did an amazing job! My gloved hand is around the front to keep from scratching plex I’m shooting through (you can see scratches already there from others) and shade the plex as much as possible. It was an amazing fun, bumpy, great flight! I want to thank Planes of Fame and the pilots, John Hinton (P-51D), John Maloney (P-38J) and Matt Nightingale pilot of T-Bone for doing a great job!. Enjoy!
Ceiling broke and the winds picked up, there was three flights with three photo platforms each to get all the photographers air time. That meant we had about five minutes on station with 23 Skidoo and Wee Willy II. Its home base is Planes of Fame which will be holding their annual, phenomenal airshow 04-05 May in Chino, CA. I can’t wait, FIVE P-38s in one place, that will be so incredibly cool!
I lucked out that I had Scott in the back of the T-Bone with me. I couldn’t see squat in the rear seat (I had solid fuselage on both sides of me) so when 23 Skidoo pulled up to our 4 o’clock, he let me know so I could point the D4 with 80-400AFS around the corner and shoot. I was in Shutter Priority, 1/100, f/something, zero exposure comp, Auto Area AF with the VR on the 80-400 set to Active. And active is an understatement for the rough air we were in. I swear, I figured when we touched down I didn’t have a single sharp image! We were tossed about, the pilots doing an AMAZING job flying making the opportunity available to us.
The bummer in the whole thing was we were all shooting through the windows, the plex. Wearing gloves, I grabbed the front of the 80-400 when shooting for two reasons. First was to protect the window from getting scratched (it already had a dussey!). 2nd was to shade the plex around the lens to minimize glare from the plex being seen by the camera. Because of the gear and pure luck, I came back with a couple of image not only sharp, but that I like. This was my second air to air with 23 Skidoo yet my heart is still beating a mile a minute! There are no words to describe the experience to look out the window and see P-38 Lightning 100 feet at your 3 o’clock! You need to get to the Planes of Fame airshow and if you see me, say hello. And if you need an assist, don’t hesitate to ask. Jake & I are more than happy to help if we can.
I’m working the first airshow with media credentials, a first for me. I’m down at Planes of Fame for their amazing show 4-5 May shooting for EAA Warbirds (really great folks!). I arrived at Planes of Fame early to the typical SoCal overcast skies. It typically burns off so I wasn’t worried but for the immediate moment, there wasn’t a thing to click. It was that way for the next two hours so like all good photographers, we got in a huddle and started to tell stories. I’ve yet to figure out how we got on the topic of Bigfoot….Mark
We were at PoF a week early for the media air to air. The theme this year for the airshow is Lightning Strikes Chino with five P-38 Lightnings flying at the show. Our air to air was with 23 Skidoo you see pictured here. With space in the photo platform limited (I flew in a T-Bone), all I had was the D4 with 80-400AFS attached and the D800 with the 18-35AFS (I tell you these are sharp lenses?!). These photos were taken with the D800. We were still just standing around waiting for the weather to fly when the skies started to break. I wanted to take advantage of them so I got close, low and shot at 18mm. If you looked at the LCD on the back of the D800, you would think the skies were a tad overexposed and Skidoo underexposed. But by using the Highlight Slider in ACR, you can see I puled down the sky. And with the Shadow Slider, brought up the shadows (a common technique of mine with aircraft). I mean, I could only talk about Bigfoot for so long, had to make some clicks to limber up for the main event coming up next.
We were incredibly fortunate to have the guys from the Florida Historical Preservation Group or as their Facebook page states, the Florida Flyboys. They were simply amazing adding to the Precon a great level of authenticity to the WWII scene created by the folks at Fantasy of Flight with their aircraft. Between the planes, the guys and the jeep, we had hundreds of possible set ups we could shoot and have fun with. Here they are out with the Stinson L-1, first time the L-1 had been out after many years of complete restoration. Everything in this frame could have easily been seen exactly the same way 70yrs ago during WWII!
Since I was working the field helping the students so I didn’t have much time working any particular situation the Florida Flyboys would set themselves up in. So when I saw this scene in the shade of the wing of the C-47, I ran over before they could move. Shooting with the D4 and 18-35, I got up close shooting at 18mm (notice how little distortion there is at 18mm). Then shooting on the fly with only moments, I made the three clicks you see moving them slightly in the corner to make the selection which one I liked best back at the computer. Because after these three clicks, I was out helping a student.
Now shooting on the fly, I didn’t have flash out (should have!). So finishing was done in post with ACR used to open up the shadows which should have been done with flash. The only other thing done in post besides ACR was using Pro Contrast in Nik’s Color Efex. I want to thank the Guys for being not only great sports, but for helping preserve and share our history!
At our Precon for Photoshop World last week, we were at Fantasy of Flight where they had pulled out a number of aircraft for us to photograph. One of them was the B-26 Marauder, a rare bird indeed! The B-26 is normally in the back corner of the hangar with all these other tugged in under its wings. I’ve never gotten a clean shot of it, not even one I could clean up in post. I check it out every time I’m there, but I had no photos of it. So when I saw it on the line, I was really excited to spend some time shooting it on a gorgeous Florida day!
I had the D4 with 18-35AFS (fabulously sharp lens!) and went to work. I shot knowing that I was going to remove much of the distracting background in post. That is key! I selected my angle for the shot, raising the camera up and down to maximize the background while minimizing by post removal.
Nope, I’m not sleeping on the job like our guy at the Photoshop World Precon, just jumping, running, smiling, exhausted and exhilarated here at Photoshop World to get blog done. What our reinactor is acting at sleeping under (he said he was acting) is the only airworthy, flying L-1 in the world. My bud Paul rolled it out for the first time on the grass for me to photograph and as it turned out, our whole group was able to enjoy this great aircraft and experience of a rollout. It’s a real simple click made with D4, 18-35AFS using a SB-900 on a SC-28. Well, gotta jump back into the mix and the fun here at PSW!!!
Talkin light, I put one of our GREAT reinactors under the wing of the L-1 and the other, well he just kept sleeping. The set up was not meant to be a simple, easy shoot. It was set it up basically like what you typically find at an airshow and how to solve the lighting problem by yourself with a single flash set up. We started by learning how to use the camera to tell us the range of light (more than 8 stops here) and then using the camera and flash to compact it. What you see here is the before and after. If this is a lesson you which you could participate in, well you need to get yourself to Photoshop World
Today was the start of Photoshop World, for many at least because this was Precon day. This is when workshops with small groups explore a whole lot of topics, mine today was light and aircraft. After a classroom session, we headed out to Fantasy of Flight for an epic afternoon. We had GREAT folks join us in the field and the GREAT folks at Fantasy brought out a dozen aircraft for us to work with. They weren’t just any old airplane, oh no! Here’s the gorgeous P-51C “Red Tail” that like many of the aircraft was out on the grass just like during WWII. This is a simple click taken with D4 / 18-35AFS and finished using the techniques taught in class. It was just a marvelous day and want to thank ALL who made it so memorable!
Major Thomas Griffin past away 26 February, one of the remaining five Doolittle Radiers. While I only meet him twice, it was a pleasure to spend just a little time with the gentleman. If you’re not aware of this national hero (though doubt he thought himself as such), I highly recommend you take the time to find out. He was a very important part of our history. Safe flight West Major!
The above photo taken at 70th Doolittle Radier Reunion, 2012 OH.
I had just gotten my Nikkor 400f5.6 EDIF. I got it mainly because of this photographer’s gorgeous photograph that he stated he had made the photo with. That was good enough for me, that was the lens I had to own and after shelling out $1k I didn’t have, I was ready. For the next six months, I spent hundreds of hours trying to make the photograph. While I got shot of the bird, they were nowhere close to the photo I held in such esteem. It was incredibly frustrating and I felt as if I was just the dumbest photographer. I had the gear, bird and time, why couldn’t I make the damn image?!
Then I went to a presentation by the photographer and I saw even more gorgeous images like the one I was trying to emulate. I was going downhill when it was time for the half way break. The photographer, a real people person stood and took questions during the break. Another participant came up to the photographer and started to talk to him about the photograph I was trying to get. My ears perked up and I tried to find that missing ingredient to the formula to get the shot. After a couple of minutes, the photographer said he used a duper and made a cropped duplicate slide!
The photograph I was going after wasn’t what the photographer had seen in the viewfinder. It wasn’t the photograph he had gone click and captured. That revelation stung and I wasn’t alone. The other participant who had asked the question demanded his money back, accused the photographer of being a fraud and stormed out. His point was simple, the photographer was passing his work off as being what he shot and it wasn’t. (So obviously that quality was important to the photographer that he lied about it.)
I personally don’t care if photographers crop, I really don’t because it’s not my photograph. It’s there’s and they can do whatever they want that puts a smile on their face. That’s works for me! But for my own photography, this just isn’t good enough. I remember working and working to get that shot, which I thought, was out of the camera to come out of my camera. It took years and I finally did get it but it required a 800mm, not 400mm. And it set in my mind another reason for the standards of quality for my photography I still must shoot by.
This photo of a Morane-Saulnier MS.230 was not easy to make. On one of those flukes that is the aviation biz, I was at its first flight after seven years of restoration. Better than that, we were at an unrestricted airfield and it was a grass one too boot! I could drive my vehicle right on the field and set up on the runway to get the shot you see. I was going to take advantage of the opportunity. Well, I pushed the limit and pulled out the big gun, D4 with 600VR2 to get a shot of the Morane-Saulnier down the throat shot.
While it’s not perfect, it’s the best I’ve got so far so that makes me happy. And learned a couple of things which will make me better next time. And a point of pride, what you see is what I took and I take that very seriously. I know others look at my photos and say to themselves, “I want one like that.” It’s my hope that with my standards of quality, you can take a little comfort in knowing that if Moose could do it, you can too! And this is just another reason why I don’t crop.