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.
The A6M Zero intrigues me to no end because this very simple looking plane caused us so much trouble in WWII. Lightweight (1 person can push it our of a hangar), agile, fragile and 1 bullet could blow it up, at the beginning of WWII it and its pilots just caused havoc in the Pacific. At the beginning of our K&M Adventures in ME, we were at the Wiscasset at their airshow that featured my good friends of the Texas Legends Flying Museum. Warren was at the stick and man, can he show off this planes abilities! This is a simple, D4 / 200-400 ground to air shot.
Earlier that same day, my buds asked if I wanted to go flying…do a “little” air to air? Well Duh, you think?! So we went up for a 90min flight over the Maine cost and the Atlantic. Seeing the Zero over the water was really quite a visual treat. And it didn’t suck either! Shooting out of a Piper Cherokee with the D4 and 70-200VR2, I was able at times to just focus on the Zero. It made me wonder what it would have been like to be a teenager in a FM-2 seeing this below me just moments before diving on it for the kill
K&M Adv Me begun with our taking our new friends to meet some of my old friends. Unbeknownst to anyone, arrangements had been made at the beginning of the year to be Wacasset for the “airshow” featuring my good friends at the Texas Flying Legend Museum. We got the field before anyone else and found Cub (what I think of as a happy little plane) parked on the grass. We had a lot of fun with it to start. Then I popped open the doors on the boys B-25J “Betty’s Dream” and they got to go inside one of the nest restored planes and shoot till their heart’s content! Smiles all around!
Now this is a different way for sure for folks to experience fall color (or lack there of). I come to find out that only 1 of our adventurers had ever been to a airshow before! Ralphie put us all to shame by shooting 5400 images! He said in true Ralphie fashion< "It was all right!" Of course, being spoiled by the TFLM boys made it all that more special for these first time airshow shooters.
The best part was it was really fun learning for all! They learned about photography, things like panning and planning and placement to how planes move and the best part, about our aviation heritage and the men who flew these magnificent craft. It was a great day and great start to our ME adventure!
Kent Pietsch just makes flying look like fun! At the same time, he is the perfect example that the subject does not have to fill the frame to grab the eye. In this example, any smaller and you wouldn’t be able to see him flying in his Interstate Cadet. Shot with the D4′s and 200-400VR2 (handheld), his “dead stick” show with smoke is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The smoke takes the eye through the frame, you need no tricks or whistles to lead the eye right to the Kent. And with leading the eye like that, you don’t have to fill the frame with the subject, quite to the contrary. It’s an important lesson you should tuck in the back of your mind, it’s a great technique to making more of less.
One of my favorite quotes comes from John Shaw, “Tripods have legs, so do you!” Photographers have the bad habit of planting for a photograph and never moving. While some of the time, that is OK, the majority of the time, the first place we stop to make our photograph is not the best. One of the most common comments when criticing images is simple, literally, take one step closer to the subject. Moving can be just that slight in improving your photograph. The main point is, don’t settle!
I’ve posted a couple of these photos already since they were taken last week at the Reno Air Races. F-15s of the OR Air Guard were at Reno doing demo flights and being part of the Heritage Flights. One morning we were down the ramp where they were parked and after a discussion with the guard, we want shooting. The photos are not on the page as they were taken, I’m going to leave that up to your imagination how I went about it. But the first photo I took was the one the first grabbed my eye. Then, thinking there must be more I picked up and moved. And I’m glad I did because I then took the image I like the best. The last photo I took turned out to be my favorite, the last place I parked my tripod.
This means that even after all these years, I still need to move just like anyone else. It means that there is possibly something better around the corner if you go look. There is no guarantee but there is always the possibility and that in itself should make you go and look. When you have a sunrise, sunset of any situation where the light is changing quickly, your moving might have to be quick too. This can create shooting stress and for that, I have no solution. In this case, I was shooting 5 image HDR to get the gorgeous tons on the fuselage. Shooting with the D800 with the 24-70AFS, I started off with the most dramatic light and then followed it around the aircraft (a hint in the order I shot). With light fleeting, I chased it to make the shot so light dedicated my moving. Not settling for the first shot though cool and pushing for more is the only way I could have found the shot I really like. So keep in mind, your tripod has legs, so do you!
They are fast, they are loud and they do things in the air that planes just shouldn’t be able to do! I love watching Raptors, the F-22 strut its stuff. I never tire photographing them either. Shooting them is easier than you might think. Shooting with the D4, 200-400VR2 w/TC-14e in Aperture Priority at f/5.6, just pan and click. Now here’s a little trick for you. If you’re not sure about your panning skills, not sure about your ability to compose and pan, simply rip the camera on each pass. The plane has to travel out, travel back before it can perform again giving any camera plenty of time to empty its buffer to do it all over again. Until you refine your skills, you can let percentages work in your favor.
There are a lot of aviation enthusiast who travel the country documenting aircraft that have been set up on large posts, what I call “plane on stick.” There are actually books on where to find these! Well, Jay Maisel has his own version I really like, a shot of a departing 747 that looks like it’s perched on top of a control tower. I’ve always wanted an image like that so this last week at Reno, I tried to get my own and I think I got pretty close. I love havin fun!
I know, kinda lame but when I saw this OR Air Guard F-15 with the Eagle on the tail, I was in love! There wasn’t a time it was in the air I wasn’t shooting it. The did all sorts of “on the deck” slights which while hard on the ears, is simply fun to watch! If there is anything on my bucket list, it would be to be on the deck in a military jet. It’s just gotta be fun!
At this point in time, shooting static aircraft at sunrise at Reno is kind of a slam dunk. The hardest part is getting up after only 4hrs of sleep. After that, you simply look at the clouds in the sky (or lack there of), the aircraft, and the story you want to tell and go to work. The vast majority of the time the gear is pretty cut and dry as well. The lens of choice for me has always been the 24-70AFS which I use along with my feet to get the gesture I want in the aircraft. This year, I’ve moved to the D800 for these shots because if everything goes as planned, I’ll be making BIG prints from the final image. The only other important tools are knee pads (getting old sucks) and the Really Right Stuff Ground Pod with BH-40 head. While I feel confident I can do this and produce a clean image, it’s not really helping my photography move forward. It’s all well within my comfort zone. One of my biggest fears is that my photography fails to progress, that I stop growing as a photographer.
It’s no secret I’m a warbird guy, I just love them birds! (I’ll have a story about them later.) I had a special project this past week that took me as far from warbirds as possible working with what I’ve always called “plastic” aircraft (which is really not fare of me). We saw September Fate our first morning at Reno and it instantly caught our eye. Its gull wing form takes you right back to the Corsair. The other thing that caught my attention is, it’s freakin small! I mean, I could never fit in it! There is only 4″ of ground clearance for the prop and your ass when in the aircraft, well lets just say pucker when you land! Making the shot of it was a challenge for many reasons. The first was, getting down low enough to shoot up on it. I needed that angle for a couple of reasons, the first to show off the wing design. Next was the light, making it show off the shape of the Fate. And lastly, to get the canopy to separate from the mtns in the background. Now this is the worst of the photographs I made that morning, can’t post the best until they are published but it really pushed my button to make those images! The key was to start with what I had so well practiced in my warbird images. Then I had to push past that comfort zone, go beyond the pretty picture to the advertising picture and then zero in on the heart strings. Then I had to get my ass off the tarmac, the most painful part!
The shooting is everything, that’s where I always put all my attention because I don’t crop, straighten, fix in post! I do finish and in both of these images, HDR was used, the top is Nik HDR Pro and the bottom was Photomatix. Why the two? I see and more importantly “feel” a difference in the final image based on how they were finished. Many ask how do I know? The answer is, I do it a lot and learn from my mistakes. I don’t have a formula. Russell Brown released a new Extension at Photoshop World so when you save your image as a TIFF, you click on the Extension and it opens the TIFF in ACR. To me this is HOT and gives us the power of ACR to finish the file really fast (Nik & Photomatix do the heavy lifting, not the finishing). I am sooooo thankful I got this project because while at first, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, it pushed me and my photography and that is always, always a good thing!
Well, we made it home after an amazing and completely exhausting week at the Reno Air Races. I have lots to share, lots learned and fun to pass along. But right now, I can barely hold my eyes open after 8 nights of 5hrs of sleep and that’s coming from Photoshop World. So for the moment, here’s a simple click of the marvelous F-22 Raptor taken with a 600VR with TC-14e attached.
I got to Reno Air Races this year to learn I had a special assignment added to my already long list. All the other shoots were aircraft related, this one was all people and nothing but the people. It’s no secret that walking up to strangers and asking to take their photo scares me too death, I devoted a whole chapter to it in my new book Taking Flight simple because it does scare me. So when I learned about my assignment, to say I was not thrilled is an understatement!
But at Reno and with aviation folks in general, they make it easier for a scardie cat like me. My new friend Wayne is just a hoot! He had me in stitches before we finished shaking hands the first time. And Thom and the whole crew of Precious Metal, they are just great. And their crew bus rocks…literally! While the assignment at first really bummed me out, especially since it’s keeping me from shooting out at the pylons has turned out to be a two point blessing. It got me working and a real weakness at the same time making some new friends. I’m really looking forward to the piece coming out and being able to share it with you. It is what photography should always be about!
The first challenge for most aviation photographers is getting a sharp image. It is a very real challenge because them planes scream past. This Tigercat is a great example, winning its heat, you have less than 6sec to get it in the viewfinder, focus and fire and it flies past during the race. The D4′s AF system using Auto coupled to the 200-400AFS & TC-14e makes for pretty fast work of the focusing part. So once you lock down focus (which might take time and good handholding and panning), it’s time to bring life to your aircraft in flight!
I know of no better way than with clouds. In this case, we had a very thin layer and with a slow shutter speed, they streak as you see here and those horizontal lines in the background make #232 Hawker Sea Fury look like it’s screaming by even faster than the Tigercat. It’s such a simple element that can add so much. Backgrounds, they are everything!If you’re at the Reno Air Races this weekend, and you should be, and see me and need help, come ask. I look froward to seeing you!