We’d been planning it for months, paperwork filed with official channels asking for permission, route and mission decided on, all was good to go! The time had come to put the flight in the air. It was a beautiful clear morning 15 March as we meet the team at the gate of the airport. The day before we’d all meet in Rob’s hangar and went over the flight we’d been planning for months. The maps were pulled out and spread on the table, historic photographs of the day laid about, the route was selected and timed with my shot list making sure we can accomplish all that we had planned. Our flight path wasn’t one we came up with but one that followed the morning of December 7th, 1941.
The sun hadn’t graced the skies yet but there was a glow over Diamond Head outlining its very distinctive shape on the horizon. Air to air photography takes longer to get in motion then wildlife or landscape since you just can’t just jump into an aircraft and go. The first thing we had to do was get the screw out of the window I was going to shoot out of. The Cessna 172 is a very common photo platform for air to air work (though not my favorite). The windows though normally only open a short ways, too small an aperture to get the lens out to shoot. Because of the air speed you fly, you can safely and easily with the screw removed, let the window open fully (the airflow actually holds the window up for you) making shooting possible.
After that, there was the preflighting of the 172. I’m always comforted when I see the pilot have the POH in hand and running down the list as we get ready to go. Stab the wing tanks, plug in headsets, seat belts fastened and with a yell out the window ,“Clear!,” the prop turns and the engine kicks over. Then there is the warm up and initial systems check. Then there is talking to the tower so you can taxi. Then there is taxing over to the run up area and doing the last engine run up for oil pressure. An hour has past before at 07:15 its wheels up and in the air heading for our rendezvous.
Our subject plane, a gorgeous SNJ in the paint scheme for the USS Saratoga, is hangared at historic Barbers Point. As part of our briefing the day before we had arranged where we would meet once in the air. While you can plan everything well in advance and go through the preflight with flying colors there seems to be one thing that tends to come up way too often for me. And that’s radio problems most often from loose or dirty connections. And as you might guess, while working perfectly the day before, the first depress of the button and scratchy, static voice rang through the headset. We flew north towards our hook up point southeast of Wheeler Field. It was an amazing feeling flying the path of that historic morning!
Right on que, we find Bruce and his SNJ visually but radio communications are anything but clear. As long as we fly the brief, there should be no problems. We are a little early for our scheduled time over Wheeler Field. Wheeler Field is still active so clearance was obtained to do a couple of fly overs to photograph the SNJ with the Field in the background. We flew a little north and came down the shoot the same as the Japanese did that morning in 1941. In the background were the same rice fields and agriculture that was present on that day.
The radio came to life, a flight of Black Hawks were on their way into Wheeler. They were calling the tower. We heard no response and then the radio cracked to life clearing them. Rob waited a second and called the tower. The sweetest came across the radio answering back. “Ah good, I know her,” Rob said to us and he answered back. The two of them talked pleasantries and then got down to clearing our filed flight plan. With everything cleared, we had the next ten minutes to buzz the field and get the shots. That’s when the challenge begun.
Radio communications with the SNJ were challenging, the connection was sketchy at best. While we flew the brief, being able to talk on the radio to fine tune the photograph is essential. We flew the strafing runs the Japanese flew that fateful morning down Wheeler Field. Bruce is a Pearl Harbor historian and had told us much of the facts leading up to that morning. The P-40s had been lined up in a perfect row to prevent saboteurs from attacking the aircraft (an attack by sea wasn’t believed possible by some of the brass). Needless to say this made it real easy for the Japanese to cause a great amount of destruction with little effort.
One thing that is very hard to do in a briefing is explain angles. The angle of the photographer, the subject and the background so they all line up in the viewfinder is hard to prevision. That’s why the radio was so important. Despite the brief, getting the SNJ in the perfect position just wasn’t happening. After a couple of passes the radio crackled, “Photo flight, air space is now closed. Thanks from coming!” And with that, we headed south.
Bruce took us south on the same path the Japanese took to Pearl. The landscape below us now is nothing like what it was on that day. Oahu urban sprawl has grown up to Wheeler Field. We fly south checking the time. Bruce had managed to get flight clearance over Ford Island and the Pearl Harbor Memorial. A photo mission over these historic areas hadn’t been granted for quite some time because of some military installations in the area that the military didn’t want photographed. At the appointed time, Bruce starts calling the tower to get our clearance to start our run. “Sorry, we don’t have that paperwork, clearance denied.” The PAO hadn’t got the paperwork to the tower! Unlike Wheeler Field, we couldn’t just circle while we tried to clear up the problem. So off we went.
For the next ten to fifteen minutes Bruce tried to run down the PAO. Finally the PAO made the call to the tower and we were cleared for just two passes. That’s not what was originally arranged but the clock had been eaten up trying to reach the PAO. With months in the planning, it all came down to these two passes. The radio issues hadn’t cleared up and the same problems we had at Wheeler Field rose again. The goal was to get photos of the Memorial, Ford Island and other historic locations in the background of the SNJ. Lining up those items with just two passes and poor radio communications just wasn’t happening. After two passes without a word from the tower, we flew out of that pattern.
After leaving Ford Island, the flight split with us heading back to Honolulu and the SNJ back to Barbers Point. After landing and buttoning up the 172, we hoped into the van and drove over to Barbers Point where Bruce was waiting for us. We spent the rest of the day with Bruce having the most amazing, historic ground tour of December 7, 1941. With Bruce’s military clearance, we were able to tour Wheeler Field and see the OC where the card game was going during the attack in which Taylor & Welch left, got into their P-40s (parked at remote strip) and got in the air to bring down some attackers. We saw the secret, underground plane assembly plant and runway. It’s a tour that if you’re into history is absolutely amazing!
We even went back to Pearl, visiting both sides of the channel. Late in the afternoon found us at the hangars on Ford Island. There and at the sea plane port just down the ramp, we could see the remnants of the bombs and bullets of that morning. We were at that infamous place where all the B&W photos of the PBYs and Ducks burning was taken, the pot marks still in the cement. We then went up to where the Arizona and other battleships were moored, next to the officers’ quarters and got out and stood where the explosion did so much destruction. Very powerful!
At the end of the day, we ended up back at Barbers Point. Barbers Point construction was well underway on Dec 7th but not active. While a bomb did fall nearby, many think it was not intentional. In the last waning light of the day, we wheeled out the SNJ on the deactivated base for our last couple of portraits for the day. Our flight occurred from 07:15-08:11, not too much different than that morning. Despite not going 100% as planned, it was an incredible flight and amazing day. It helped to fill in lots of questions about that day, how it came to be and our response. And while the photographs are not as I envisioned, they will always be very special since the military since closed the circuit we flew to photo missions. Experiencing our aviation history from the air, it is an experience that leaves an lifelong mark!
And here’s how it was done …. thanks Mark!
When you’re out shooting, you have two options, shoot or don’t shoot. Since I put a high premium at being out, I see it as we only have one option, shoot. That means that if the weather sucks, finding photo opps priority hasn’t change. Nothing drives me more nuts that when photographers say, “if only the weather was better.” Since we have no control over it, it is like all variables we must cope with once we leave our homes to go shooting. The huge down pour I talked about in Worst Weather post left a tremendous amount of water on the ramp, go figure. So even before the sprinkles had stopped, we were out shooting. With gray skies, it’s time to look down, not up.
Armed with the D4, 18-35AFS & 70-200VR2, Jake & I started looking for those shots not otherwise possible on a good weather day. The first photo is all Jakes, he saw it as I was looking for just the “clean” shot. I had blinders on. The reflection of both the B-17/clouds was so much better than reality (no hangar) is why reality is smaller in the frame than the reflection. i waited for the crowd to have the design element and color combo that you see before I took the shot. Had to wait for a couple of boys jumping in the giant puddle to stop as well (I wanted to join them). The photo of the B-29 came from the stories from my dad of the planes on the ramp at Clark during the war and the giant culverts along the ramps to drain them off from the constant down pour.
Now in the perfect world with the perfect weather for whatever you had previsualized, these photos probably would not have been on your shot list. The sunrise surely hadn’t unfolded as we planned by any measure but that’s how it goes. But then again, the images we came back with were in reality more of one of a kind from an otherwise common subject. And whenever you can take the uncommon of the common, there are good odds you’ll come out ahead. So when the weather isn’t exactly what you had planned, head out just the same with an open mind and make the most of the light at hand.
A common question I’ve been receiving recently has to do with the image I post. The majority of the time, it’s about the action shot and how I get all the elements I desire in just one click. The most common question is, “Do you previsualize the photo?” Yes and no is the honest answer. The light, gesture and color are very much previsulaized but the most important element in this famous formula, gesture, often requires the motordrive (I know, we technically don’t have motordrives but I’m an old fart) to capture. I’ve post a typical example of what I’m talking about to explain my “technique.”
We’re over the Galveston Bay with Ray’s gorgeous T6 and as you can see, its yellow could be seen half a globe away. We’re flying near sunset (remembering the sun sets later at 500AGL than is does on the surface) to take advantage of that soft light. Than there is the gesture which comes from two separate elements that we want to combine into one photo. The subject itself has gesture in it’s wing position, prop blur and how it is placed in the frame. At the same time there is the background which either plays to the gesture of the subject or does not. In this example, you look at the Photo Mechanic light table view, you’ll see I blasted over 29 images on this pass. This is one of the MAIN reasons I shoot with the D4 loaded with Lexar 128GB CF card (lens was 80-400VR3. The D4 loaded with that big ass Lexar card permits me to lay down the hammer and capture at 11FPS this six seconds of the flight and than back in Photo Mechanic, select the ONE photo that represents the light, gesture and color creating the best capture. You see, when action is happening this fast, for me at least, it is really hard to see THE image, tell my finger to push the shutter release and the camera to actually capture THE photo. That small spear of land in the background, the slight tilt of the wing and placement in the frame comes together in just the four of the frames (you can see them tagged in red). So the image was previsualized in a sense, set up for success but it took the gear and finally the photographer’s eye to make the one image come to life. What if you don’t have this experience, this gear or this opportunity, are you screwed? Hell no!
By knowing the possibilities, you know a direction to head with your photography. And by understanding by putting in your time (in my case over 25yrs), you put yourself in the position to have these opportunities. By being aware of these techniques, you start to practice now so when the opportunity is in front of your lens, you’re ready to take advantage of it. In my case, my decades shooting wildlife and landscape exercised my mind’s eye for this shoot of a T6 over the gulf. It’s all powered by passion, something that comes from within and is shared through THE photo.
Now I’m obviously not referring to crawling under a griz to photograph its belly. I’m talking more along the lines of every coin has two sides kind of thing. Many photographers look at a good subject, but it just doesn’t grab them. It happens to me even though I know it’s a good subject. So perhaps by simply looking at it’s other side, the way to take the photo that excites you might appear. This is true for nearly everything from as large as Half Dome to a as small as a flower. Many photograph Half Dome from the valley floor, few find it from its eastern view. Shooting from the sky down on flowers common, the cool photos though come from those shooters who shoot from the bug’s eye view. In this case, the background wasn’t cutting it shooting down on this gorgeous polished T6 Texan. By changing my point of view, the background is improved the the subject shines. Shooting the D4 / 24-70AFS / Vulture Strap and a couple of hand signals and we made the shot. When you’re just not feelin the love, shoot the other side.
I’m the kind of portrait photographer who has to see the portrait unfold. Since day one working with biologists, I shot journalistic style, taking the portrait as the project unfolded. Setting up the portrait is just not my strong suit and knowing that, I’m working on uping my game. As I work with all these hereos, WWII vets, I feel the pressure to tell their story in their portrait. This means pushing myself and it’s hard. Where my bud McNally can meet a stranger on the street and five minutes later have them posing naked, it takes me a hour just to screw up the courage to say hi. So I start by learning a little bit about the vets prior to saying hi. In Houston, I had the added stress of knowing I’d be having a conversation with these vets on camera for our documentary. Can you say … panic!
I started where I knew I was safe, behind the camera. A few of the vets took the stage to tell the four hundred folks gathered in the Texas Fling Legends Museum (host for the reunions) hangar a little of their story. There is a giant American flag on the back wall and to incorporate it in the portraits, I had to stand way off to the side. From that angle, I had all sorts of “stuff” in the frame that made a clean shot a challenge. The top two images, I went vertical because of the “stuff” (mostly folks with pocket cameras) but I didn’t like the results. When I put the pressure on myself to do better, I push myself because of the importance to telling that visual story. I had to do better!
When Jim took the mic, I knew I had to make the shot. I kept inching myself up towards the stage. I didn’t want to get in the way of those there to listen, it was a reunion and the room was filled with family of these vets. It was their day, not mine. Shooting with the D4 / 80-400VR3, I was slowly able to move forward ten feet and that was all I needed to make the horizontal shot I wanted. In my own mind, after listening to some of their story (they have so much to share with us!) and watching them through my lens, I started to feel more comfortable with them. With that, I was able to approach them and start a dialog which led to the portraits. I already knew Joe, but the other gentleman I had not made their acquaintance yet. By the end of the weekend though, we’d all become fast friends and had a great time with them on camera for our documentary. And yes, I made more portraits of them as you’ll see. The moral of all of this, you simply gotta push yourself beyond your comfort range if you want to up your photography. Success comes from failure to some degree. Just don’t settle!
Had a few inquiry what’s up with the blogs the past week. We were in Houston in part to participate in the Wings Over Houston and in part, shoot the Kelby Training documentary on air to air photography. That’s hardly describes all we did but during all of that, I ended up filing just shy of 18k images. I barely had time at night to upload and backup, never got to edit or file. It was crazy good but something had to give and the blog was it. This photo is from one of the many air to air missions I did during the week. There is a lot more to come next week but for now, gotta get back to processing.
Flypast magazine has brought out a special US edition and I’m quite honored to have the cover article. Here’s what the editor Nigel has to say …
“The 124-page November issue of FlyPast – one of the World’s best selling historic aviation magazines – features a superb Moose Peterson B-17 Flying Fortress photo on the front cover! Moose’s brilliantly illustrated feature on the CAF’s AZ Airbase B-17 “Sentimental Journey” also runs to five pages within the magazine. Packed with warbird news and features, this special issue also looks in depth at the North American P-51 Mustang – 24 pages of it!”
The November issue is in Barnes & Noble stores – and other major book stores – across the US now, price at $9.99.
“Show up and you’ll fly.” This basics of aviation photography came true again for me this last week. At the Texas Flying Legends Museum working on the documentary when my good friend Rosie came up and asked, “available to fly?” The answer was obvious, “heck ya!” The photo mission though was to be one of the most unique ones I’ve had. My subject was “Dusty” from the Disney animation Planes. Our family are HUGE Planes fans so this was simply the coolest thing to do! “Dusty’s” pilot is Rusty (not makin that up) and is a really great guy. So Rusty, Dusty, Bernie (Cherokee / photo platform pilot) and I briefed the brief sunset flight and took off. It was such a hoot to watch ALL the kids go crazy when “Dusty’s” prop turns and then takes to the skies. So many smiles and waves.
The was literally the first (and might be only) time “Dusty” has flown with “Skipper” (the TFLM FG-1D Corsair in this case) in real life. We weren’t doing anything other than “purty” pictures for Disney for the sheer fun of being able to fly and make some cool images. Shooting with two D4s (one from Borrowlenses.com, thx guys) and 80-400VR3 and 24-70AFS, we took to the air about thirty minutes prior to sunset. To be totally honest, when the Ag Tractor (Dusty) and Corsair first appeared in my viewfinder, I had to wipe my eyes as we all laughed at the combo. Seeing an Ag Tractor in sexy light HIGH over water just seemed so out of place. But we had a great shoot with “Dusty” putting on a great show for the camera. It was one of those experience I soon won’t forget, I flew with “Dusty” and “Skipper” and have the photos to prove it.
Coming in on a bomb run, the TBM Avenger is jumped by a Zero but before it can do damage, the Corsair comes in and makes its fatal shot. Yes, I have a very active imagination and when it comes to telling the visual story, it really helps. Also working with my good friends the Texas Flying Legends Museum who brought history to life before my camera! Shot 11k images yesterday working on a project that was filmed by the Kelby crew. Lots more to come but wanted to share at least one photo to tease to keep checking in. Shot with a D4 (thx Borrowlenses.com) and 80-400VR3.
No, this is not a great photo, not even good but it’s one I will always treasure. That’s because behind that TFLM Corsair is Houston Control. Being a kid who remembers where he was when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, having it in the background is darn cool! In TX shooting and having a great time. Home to get more posted. mtc…
This coming weekend will be one of the biggest gatherings of warbirds for quite some time and I can’t wait! I hope I cya there and if you see me, please say hello! I’ll be jumping around like a crazy man working on four separate project, the most exciting is a new Kelby Class (but it’s not a class) on Air to Air photography. I’m so pumped now I can hardly concentrate on work I need to do to go. But I want you to be prepared so you might want to check out this post Ten Tips and this post and of course the grand daddy of posts, our BIG Post
Just in time for next week’s huge airshow, Wings of Houston, B&H just posted my Ten Tips for Aviation Photography. We’ll be at the W0H and will have the Kelby Training film crew as we shoot the much requested, Air to Air “Class.” Now Class is in ” ” because it’s not like ANY class KT has ever produced. I’m super psyched! Hope to see you at WoH!
Herb Stachler is a WWII vet, flying the “Jug” in the European Theater. He was your classic P-47 pilot, short in height but a giant in duty and honor. I first meet Herb a year ago when we did a flight with him and his brother at the Doolittle Reunion in OH. The Texas Flying Legends Museum honors our vets by putting them back in the air as a simple thanks for their service. That’s Herb in the back of the P-51D Mustang. I was shooting out the side window of the B-25 “Panchito” giving Casey, the P-51 pilot hand signals for moving for the shot. Herb thought I was waving at him so he we constantly waving back with that giant smile. This past July, I had the great fortune to be with Herb a little more at Oshkosh, that’s him in the center with the mic sharing with the audience stories of his flying during WWII. Herb was an amazing guy, sadly, he past away this morning. Our prayers are with his family and wish him the best, gone west.
Yeap, it’s been one helluva week! With over 10,000 images filed, to say the shooting at the Reno Air Races was amazing! The number of images I have finished is nearly nothin because every night, well can you say partay! Complicating it all, as I write this, we’re off to Alaska for a couple of weeks of griz work. I just wanted to say hello and start your week off with a little inspirational shot.
There is no way I was going to pass up this play on words. This great Zero from the SoCal CAF is at Reno with four other of their aircraft. We arranged to have them pulled out for what turned out to be a spectacular sunrise. There are two great aspects to these early morning (05:30) shoots. One is the gorgeous skies with gorgeous aircraft. The other is the tremendous fun shooting with all these other photographers. With a dozen countries represented, the jokes are constantly flying (pun intended) which just makes the whole event priceless!
On the photography side, it’s pretty straight forward. It’s a single click from a D4 / 80-400AFS that is processed in ACR 8.2. That’s it. Now the Shadow Slider is used to bring out the shadows, the Highlight slider used to bring down the highlights, but that is all that was done to create the photo. Oh ya, I forgot what for me is the most important piece of equipment, knee pads! Good be just getting older, but that tarmac seems to hurt more and more if I don’t have my gel filled knee pads. Remember, daily updates from Reno are at Warbirdsnews.com