And then there are times when I simply use what’s around me to make the light happen. Here you can see Stu outside of the plane with the original rib that is damaged and needs replacing, the new rib he made the the pattern he made to make that replacement. At one of his workbenches with his tools putting the final touches on the rib, I made a real simple click of the craftsman at his craft. I only had a minute to make the click.
Working in a hangar has lots of pluses to this process. The background light is really soft, big hangar doors facing to the north bounce in soft light. Behind us is a part of an aircraft, I think it was a nose all polished metal. I wanted Stu and the new parts lit, not the workbench foreground. Holding the D4 with 18AF vertically (gotta love them vertical firing button), the SB-900 on the SC-28 was held up and turned backwards to bounce light off the aircraft. The foreground shadow was created by me, perfect to darken it. I didn’t take time to think about the lighting, just reacted. I can do this one light thing fast and easy. Add a second flash or ask me to draw it all out and plan in advance and then shoot it, I’m screwed! Hope this helps.
After a recent presentation, I was asked a bunch about my very simple, shooting on the move lighting. A little background, when working with biologists and pilots, I can’t stop them during their work, ask them to backup, set up a shot and go. I have to shoot on the go and get the shot when it happens. I really prefer being transparent and if possible, not even use flash so the subject doesn’t know I’m shooting. There are times when that is simply not possible so the flash comes out. Working with these folks, space is usually part of the equation. There isn’t much which is a plus and minus. The plus is I don’t have to have much light. The minus, me and the gear gotta squeeze into that space. With that said, here’s one example.
I’m photographing Stu, an amazing “metal” guy busy fabricating ribs for this aircraft as he restores it to airworthy. It’s an fascinating craft and art that I love to watch (and ask lots of questions). What was once done in mass production is now done one piece at a time, often with no blueprints. Stu is working rivet by rivet in this section matching up what he hand made with the side of the aircraft just like it came from the factory. He has one high powered work light on the right side that is a source I have to take advantage of. In the background is the roof of the hangar lit by daylight from the open hangar door. The rest of the scene is dark as sin as far as the camera is concerned. Shooting with the D4 set to ISO 800 and with CS e4 in use, shooting with the 18AF (A favorite lens) and SB-900 on the SC-28, I pop up through the hatch (still have a lump from that!). I need to underexpose the ambient light (roof & work light) and light the rest of the tail section & Stu. To do that on the fly, exposure comp in the body is dialed down -2 and the exposure comp on the flash is zero. The flash it turned backwards otherwise it would have lit the tail section like a tunnel, bright closer to the camera and darker back at Stu. With CS e4, the comp dialed into the body only effects the body or ambient light exposure and does not effect the flash. I find this Custom Setting SUPER valuable in my work. I hope this makes some sense and helps you get an idea of how I work on the fly on a project shoot.
The challenge is to keep it moving forward!
With the huge response to the Epson Finish Strong campaign that we were a part of, one question keeps getting asked. “Which is your favorite?” Great question with the perfect phrasing because “favorite” is exactly how I look at my images. Not the best, but my favorites. I had the amazing great fortune to work with the one and only Larry Perkins, pilot of #57 and my amazing team Kevin Crozier & Scottie Foster and of course, Jake. So it was really pretty easy to do the shoot. It was 90min of flying nirvana as we warmed up then got into position and then made the shot you see in the ad. During that whole time, I brought back and filed over 3000 images so narrowing it down to my favorites is no minor feat. This top image taken with a D800 (loaded with Lexar 128GB 1000x cards!) and 70-200VR2 is one of them because it’s the shot I was going for. Everything you see in the photo from the mountains, sunburst and gesture of the Super Corsair were all in my head before we left the ground. There is a certain satisfaction when what you conceived of months before and sold to a client actually comes to life in the viewfinder. If only critters would do the same thing!
And then there is this shot. When we did this shoot in July ’12, there were two airworthy Super Corsairs, #74 & #57. Both of them restored and flown by the legend Bob Odegaard, the man responsible for so much more in my short aviation career. Two days after the Epson Finish Strong ad first broke in Sept, Bob died in a crash flying #74. This photo here with Larry at the stick, I see in #57 a number of little things Bob pointed out to me in how he restored #57. In the gesture of the Corsair, the light, the background, all remind me of how Bob so loved to fly and work on these pieces of history. Right after the shoot in July as I filled all the images, this one didn’t stick out to me. It was later, after Bob passed that it struck me. There is in this image more than just a plane and a pilot to me. So in answering the question, which is my favorite, I have two. One is from the accomplishment and the other in remembrance of a dear friend.
I sat down by the fire last night with the latest magazines from Mr. Postman and the first one I opened, I said, “I recognize that photo.” Sure enough, the great front and rear cover and inside spread of the latest Dispatch is by Jake. To see the piece, you need to be a member of CAF, a very worthwhile organization. Great job bud!
Sharon & I took what, at least as of this moment, is our last commercial flight for 2012 up to WA to spend Thanksgiving with the family at Brent’s. This, after 21,433 air miles just in the last 3 months just in the US (doesn’t include all the driving). Now I’m told I’m on vacation since I don’t have a teaching, speaking, shooting gig but the computer is humming and the cameras have been clicking. I brought all my gear up in the Think Tank Airstream, which rocks because it holds the D4, 200-400, 70-200VR2, 24-70, 24f1.4, 18f2.8 & SB-900 with accessories and still fits under the seat of the small Dash 80s we flew in. Ya, they wanted to take it from me to put in ALa Cart but with a smile and reassurance that it fits under the seat, I was good to go. (D600 was in the Disguise 60)
Oh, no, we didn’t fly up in this DC-3 nor do I include the air to air shoots coming up as part of my “flying” since air to air is fun, travel commercial isn’t always fun. This photo is from one of the many air to air shoots I did a week ago. While I’m on “vacation,” I’m getting all the images processed from those shoots. The DC-3 was a quick 23min flight but I have 100 cool images to send off to the client. I would have loved to have puffies in the background but the desert dust at the bottom of the frame works OK, better than bald blue sky. My good friends Dale & Brian are at the stick and shooting this old bird was a hoot! This was a quick “ID” shoot, have plans for some others with this great old plane. This photo was a simple click, D4 / 70-200VR2.
Jeff has this great, authentic radio operator uniform that we normally have him don once the light starts to get hard. We then typically get out the light modifiers, flash and other “stuff” to deal with the light. I simply wasn’t in the mood this morning so I started to look around at my options for shooting without working hard (what a horrible attitude!). Jeff was over by the door to “Sentimental Journey” when I asked the AZ CAF folks if the hatch could be opened so Jeff could hop in.
Shooting with the D4 / 70-200VR2, when I put the camera to my eye, I wanted to tell the story of a young officer getting on board and ready for a flight. With the DC-3 / C-47 in the background, to me is seems like a believable recreation of a 1940′s airfield occurrence. So I worked Jeff in the hatch doorway along with the DC-3 in the background to make the shot. I asked Jeff if he was OK holding himself in this awkward position because I just had a what if moment. I says to myself, “I wonder if while I’m here I should shoot tight?” I wanted to tell the visual story of a time gone by, but then the light though hard was not so bad for just the portrait. So then I started to physically move in closer.
As it turns out, I kinda like them all. But it leaves me with a problem for the further. Do I set up for the story or for tight? If I had brought in flash, set up for the story would have been different from tight. And could always for with no flash like this time but I know that more times then not, I need flash. It could be argued, and I wouldn’t disagree, that flash inside the belly of Sentimental Journey would have helped this photo series. This is not my strong suit when it comes to photography, so I keep shooting, thinking, shooting and working towards finding a solution for my style that, well, is simply the easiest for when I’m shooting on the move.
I have one fatal flaw, I’m real lazy when it comes to flash. I mean, if it’s a critter I’m all over flash if I need it but otherwise, I just can’t get with the program. While I had it all in the truck, I prefer to find the light that works and use it instead of doing what I really should do and that’s get the lighting gear out. So a week ago when worings with my buds from the AZ Grnd Crew, when I saw the light in front of Maid in the Shade, with D4 / 70-200VR2 (@f/2.8), I grabbed Murph and did the whole nine yards. For those who do not know where the saying “The Whole Nine Yards” comes from, it’s WWII term. When the fighter pilots wanted to know if their ammo was loaded, they would ask, “Do I have the whole nine yards” because that’s how long the entire belt of 50cal happened to be. They could have asked, “Do I have the whole 80lbs” because that’s how much the belt weighs, but that doesn’t sound as good. As for Murph, he was two inches shorter after this shoot, but it turned out good, even if no flash was used.
Dale is simply a great friend. Dale is a great friend with great toys! And Dale loves to fly so I know that when I’m with him, I’m going to have fun and this morning was no exception. What you see here is an example of what I’m talking about. The Churchills (Dale & Brian) installed a new feature in one of their T-6s and wanted me to give it a test run. I was more than happy to going flying to test a new photographic platform so off we went!
What was new was our ability to shoot basically straight down, literally, shooting with the D4 / 70-200VR2. Now it’s really hard on the pilot of the subject aircraft since they are really cranking their neck skyward to watch the photo platform. The photo platform pilot has to fly the brief because they cannot see the subject aircraft. Then I have to watch the best I can the subject aircraft and report its position to the photo platform pilot while taking photos. And as photographer, the biggest challenge is not being able to see anything since I’m basically looking through a tunnel. I have no idea of what backgrounds are coming up until they are gone. And flying doubled over in a fuselage is anything but comfortable. And with all of that said, the shoot went off without a hitch as you can see. Dale wanted two photo, the “glory” shot of him flying and the “far away” speedster shot. Now they aren’t perfect, the light is hard, background for the glory shot sucks but we learned a lot, got some shots and landed safely. It’s just a crying shame that we’ll have to go back up and work on making it perfect!
What do I want to perfect? The symmetry in this photo is off…while you can see our photo platform in the cone, the subject aircraft isn’t perfectly centered. But you sure can see Dale’s smile and if you look hard in that reflection on the cone, mine!
The art of panning, it’s simple something I’ve gotta practice over and over again. Whenever I get the opportunity, not matter whether I think I will keep the images or not, I will simply shoot as long as I can.
Even if I don’t think I will keep the images, I work on making them perfect. This means watching the background, position of the subject in the frame and most importantly, the panning technique. In this case, shooting the D4 / 200-400VR2 handheld @ 1/50 (Shutter Speed Priority), using proper handholding, I pushed myself shooting at the slow shutter speed. Since the props wasn’t being lit with front light, prop blur wasn’t the priority. Practicing my panning and getting a sharp image at a slow shutter speed was.
I was disappointed that my keeper rate dropped to 72% for this practice session. One of my own personal issues is to remember to pull the camera tight against my forehead and assume it as the same this session. That’s because the next day I went out and reminding myself to pull the camera back, my keeper rate went up to 89%. That’s why I practice and recommend others do the same. There is nothing worse then to have that great action shot on your monitor and it not being sharp!
It’s all about storytelling! I’ve got this great friend Dale who loves aircraft and the romance of flight more than me. When I say we’re coming down, he always rearranges his schedule (and his brother Brian’s as well who is also a huge inspiration!) so we can play with planes. Well the two brothers have this crazy DC-3, the exterior I still don’t understand but the interior is from the days when this plane was the corporate sled for the Hoover Vacuum corp. I’ve been working on this series of aviation images so a bit more of their historical romance comes out. Many a DC-3 served as C-47s in the Pacific taking off with important personal in bigtime storms. How do you do say all of that visually?
Well, first you start with a piece of the airport that you can operate in and thankfully, I have the support of the AZ Wing of the CAF. Next, I have Dale & Brian, great friends who have the planes and knowledge. Lastly, I have the Mesa Fire Dept, great guys!!! The first time we did this earlier this year, we had just the captain in the truck, Dale & Rick with the plane and me at the camera. This time Dale, Brian, Rick & Chris were in the plane, the Capt came with not just 1 truck but TWO and with the whole dept! And a heck of a lot of the Wing was present to watch the show because it is simply just FUN! The process once all is in place is pretty simple, the fire dept puts down 1500 gallons of water, the engines turn and I shoot. This is a simple click, D4 / 24-70AFS @f/11 3sec. The fun comes not only from the DC-3 but all the friends that make it happen. To all, I thank you for the fun and friendship! And hopefully in the process, there’s a little storytelling going on.
While they’re mostly nuts like me, I’ve got some great friends who support my photography and I’m very grateful for that! These are some of them, the great guys of the Arizona Ground Crew. At 05:30 on the first freezing morning in Phoenix of the year, they are present and accounted for at the AZ Wing of the CAF to do their schtick! What’s is it they do? “We are agroup of living historians dedicated to keeping the memory alive and educating the public and the military of the great sacrifices and long hours of work done by the ground crews of World War Two”. And those who know me know I love history.
In the short time we shot together this morning, I filed over 900 images! They simply don’t stop unless you tell them to, they are constant activity! Both of these shots are set ups, the top is their version of a group portrait and the bottom is their version of a coffee break. I placed the ladders in the top photo and they did the rest and the bottom, I placed the table and they did the rest. The whole time, the D4 / 70-200VR2 are on a tripod as I learned long ago that handholding when shooting these guys is impossible. Why? I am laughing too much the whole time! Everything about them from overalls to pencil are all authentic WWII issue gear and their knowledge of the gear, aircraft and verbage transports you back in time. I can’t thank them enough for once again coming out and all we have planned for the future! mtc
Taking Flight – Your Start in Aviation Photography bought in 13 countries, that is so cool! Folks continue to buy and best of all, write us about out ground breaking iBook from around the globe. It is just so cool! Many have found it’s a photography book just as much about photography as it is about aviation photography and that was the whole idea. Most are really digging how Brent put it together making learning funnier, cooler and easier. That was the idea as well. And many have found the offer earlier this month about receiving an autographed cover when they email me their iTunes receipt asking if we”re still making that offer. How can I say no to all of those great emails! As long as you’re in North America (sorry, mailing out of country is just too expensive anymore), email me your receipt up until 11.03.12 and we’ll send you an autographed cover (those who did so in the last couple of weeks, your covers go out Monday). Thanks to all who have made this iBook such a hit! And wait…there’s mtc!
- Optimized for the New iPad! Enjoy the highest resolution possible.
- Compatible with all iPads (if using an original iPad, please be patient during use)
- Hundreds of images, from best to worst, so you know exactly what works and what does not
- Detailed captions. Know everything there is about the image you are looking for
- Videos on key techniques like Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, with more to come. Go beyond words!
The response to the Epson Finish Strong campaign has been a hoot. Either folks know that’s me or it’s total shock when they find out. The next question is always the same, “Where’s the door?” This photo of me was taken by our son Jake shooting his second national ad of the year. I’m sitting cross-legged (and in some discomfort, Mooses aren’t meant to sit that way that long) in the back of the A-36 Bonanza we use as a photo platform. I’m shooting with a D800 w/MB-D12 and 24-70AFS. The ad is everywhere and prints are up at the Photo Plus Expo. Thanks for all the emails and overwhelming response, Jake & I had a blast doing it!
Backlight and me are just not good friends! I have always struggled working with backlit scenes and subjects. It’s never been a technical issue, one of exposure or sun flare (light striking the front element) but rather of story telling. The vast majority of the time when shooting backlight for me, it is what it is. You can use flashfill on some birds, but you can’t a Moose, Bison or Bear and they don’t seem to really come close when you use a gold reflector. Now most of the world can recognize the silhouette of a Bison or the Statue of Liberty, but most of the subjects I work with, showing the subject is a big part of telling their story visually. So with backlighting, the subject is often lost except for shape. Hence my problem with backlight and story telling.
What happens though when the background assumes (because we say so) a more important role in the photograph? When the background has as much importance and perhaps even more than the subject, what happens then with backlight? It wasn’t until I started shooting air to air projects did this question ever enter my thought process. That means for over 25yrs, I avoided backlit subjects because I visually didn’t know how to make it work for the subject. It was my first over water project that I realized backlighting was essential in telling the story. That’s because the highlights off the tops of the waves is what really makes the water, a sea visually in the photograph. I wanted to say “ocean” and not lake or pond, these backlit highlights are essential in saying that. And in my desire to capture historically accurate photos of WWII warbirds, that was very important. All three of these aircraft, The B-25J, P-40K and P-51D saw battle over water, oceans, and that’s what I wanted in the photograph, the background, the story!
In my air to air shoot with the Texas Flying Legends Museum shooting with the D4 (shutter priority @1/60) and 70-200VR2 (@f/22), the segments of our flight over the Atlantic, I welcomed that backlighting. “Betty’s Dream,” the B-25J carries 22 mission symbols and two silhouettes representing sunken Japanese ships. The P-40K The P-40 that you see here represents the “Aleutian Tigers,” i.e. the 343rd Fighter Group activated on September 11, 1942 and operated in Alaska until the fall of 1943. The P-51D “Little Horse” represents the thousands of Mustangs that crossed the channel to defend the bombers taking the war to Europe. The water was everything to these photos! The D4 took care of exposure with 0 comp dialed in. In post, I used the Shadow Slider in ACR 7.2 to bring out the shadow detail in the fuselage. And backlighting did the rest to tell the story I wanted to tell about these very cool aircraft.
Major Charles Mastro (ret) in 1940 at the age of 22 enlisted into the Army. On June 6, 1944, he landed with the 4th Division on Normandy, part of the D Day landing. “I walked from Normandy to Belgium” he says in a salty voice. When I walked into the basement yesterday, I was introduced to Charlie (known as Shorty in WWII) and the first thing I noticed was a pin on his hast, D Day Landing 1944. We went back today to talk with Charlie and hear some of his story. Now 95, at the time of the landing, he was an “Old Man” at 25. A Sgt, he served in Europe through the Battle of the Bulge and then returned to the states in preparation for deployment to Korea (which never happened for him). It was a great two hours of conversation with Charlie starting it off with, “I tired of talking about my experiences.” He wasn’t that tired of telling his story as it turned out.
On the photo side, I shot with the D4 (@ISO 800) with the 24f1.4AFS (@f4) again but this time, I brought in a flash. Charlie sits in the same place all the time and I noticed yesterday it was a dark hole. I used one SB-900 with a 1/4 CTO gel to warm the light a tad. I had it off camera, to the right and low to get light up under the brim. I set the advance to S so to not blast off a number of frames blinding Charlie and continued to talk to him while I shot. It was a marvelous time and there is more to share with you in time.
I’ve been working on a long term project and today, I had the sincere pleasure of meeting Mike Moretti. This very young 91yr old was a gunner in a A-20 in Italy in 1942-43. Being shot down and crashing into the sea loosing his pilot, having a ME-109 go past his guns while being chased by a spitfire, going through the military system and all that brings to a soldiers life, Mike spent hours telling us his story. What you see here is Mike in the basement in NJ where vets from WWII (90mm gunner on Midway during the battle to landing on Normandy) to vets from Vietnam (during the Tet offensive) meet to share stories of the past while supporting themselves in the future. Mike is here pointing out his aircraft in a book he brought to give to me (Mike & I have been emailing back and forth for the last few months). Our friend Breck & Kathy introduced Sharon & I to these great guys and I know we will back!
On the photo side, there are two things here. First, when I walked into this group, the camera was left outside. I walked in with just a iPad and notepad and pen. I started with introductions, sharing images and hearing stories. Only after a while after I was accepted did I go and get the camera and then asked if it was OK I made images. As you might notice, this was not some giant room, I was literally leaning against the water-heater! To make this photo of Mike, I shot with the D4 (@ISO 1600) with the 24f1.4AFS (@f4). There is a white wall just out of frame on the left. There is also a small window letting in a little bounce and natural light. Above is a fluorescent fixture and on the right a white wall. There was enough light bouncing around I didn’t need to use flash. The look and motordrive made enough of an impression, didn’t need a flash constantly going off. As you can see, the D4 and lighting worked out just fine. Would I have preferred using flash? I would have loved it but on this visit, photography wasn’t the priority so as I do often with my wildlife projects, it was put down for the bigger story. I shot a lot more than you see here and heard and in time, I’ll share more because Mike and many like him, have so much to share with all of us.