Is There A Perfect Lens?

Mustang flight captured by D4s / 24-70f2.8

Whenever I see a question that has the word perfect, I retreat to a corner and pull the covers over my head. That’s because that word denotes there is only one choice, option, answer and I’ve never found that in my photography. With warmer wx coming, it would seem many are preparing to hit the skies with many reaching out asking this question, “Is there a perfect lens for air-to-air photography?” This is really a great question, except for the use of the word, perfect. Lens selection has evolved over my short time shooting A2A starting with the 28-300 and my current being the Z70-200f2.8 WITH the Z1.4x attached. There are two things I personally look for in lens selection for this, length and minimum f/stop. The photo above was taken with the 24-70 at 70mm. With the very talented pilots, I was working with, having them tucked in a little more the normal was something I was comfortable with. We were doing nothing more than the formation you see. Safety is everything and distance is a great safety measure to always keep in place. Distortion is also a concern so 24mm is not an option. The other important variable is the minimum f/stop. I need f/32 or more in the lens I use. This is why I have the Z1.4x on the Z70-200f2.8, it gets me down to f/32. I need that for the slower shutter speed at ISO 100 when I want that full disk blur. In this formula for my own photography, there are multiple lenses that I would consider “perfect” but there is no one. Heading to an airshow and putting your subject in the viewfinder and looking at the image size is the perfect way for YOU to determine the perfect lens for your air-to-air photography. Just don’t be surprised with time, you might change the answer to, is there a perfect lens?

Light Tells The Story

Wendy ironing out the fabric captured by Z 9 / Z24-70f2.8 w/SB-5000

“I know I’m covering up all this great stuff, the craftsmanship that will never be seen because of what I’m doing.” Wendy is one of a handful of incredibly talented, experienced and sought after people who can put fabric on an airframe. Few in the nation have her skill or knowledge that she is very willing to share. I’m real fortunate that she waits on some pieces until I’m in the hangar to cover them so I can learn a bit of the craft. I’m always amazed how cloth becomes a skin that makes an aircraft soar through the heavens. It’s an amazing art and that’s the story I wanted to tell in one photograph. The passion, skill and knowledge Wendy applies and how, that’s what I wanted in that single click!

How to bring that all to light? Light is the keyword here! As Wendy mentioned, she is covering up all the “mechanical stuff” which includes the framework in which she is attaching the fabric to. Once it’s attached, she has to iron it twice, at two different temperatures to bring it tight and ready for the final process making it as tight as a snare drum. As you can see below, when working with the ambient light of the hangar, you can see the fabric and Wendy working. You can also see the rest of the hangar and Allison photobombing me. What you can’t see is one thing I want to say or tell a story about. That’s where the flash comes in. I have a SB-5000 set to Manual over on the opposite side of the fuselage. Sharon is holding it and aiming it directly at Wendy. The light from the flash is going through two layers of fabric, the most expensive light diffuser known to man! I’m at ISO100 with a shutter speed of 1/20. I wanted to blur the iron as it travels over the fabric. I dial in -1 stop exposure comp into the Z 9 to bring down the ambient light. I set the flash to Manual shooting at 1/32 ratio and then let the light do its magic. Now, you can see the airframe, the iron traveling about and the TLC Wendy puts into her work. It’s really easy to do, just takes a bit of a vision, light tells the story!

Wendy ironing out the fabric being photobombed by Allison captured by Z 9 / Z24-70f2.8

Doolittle Raid – 80 Years Ago and Cannot Be Forgotten!

19 April, 2012 75th Doolittle Reunion, Grimes Field (left to right) Edward Saylor, Thomas Griffin, Dick Cole, David Thacher, Raiders at the Reunion

Eighty years ago today, 80 airmen in 16 B-25Bs launched from the USS Hornet to attack mainland Japan. Pearl Harbor was fresh in everyone’s memory and even though the damage from the raid was thought to be a token at best, the boost to the US morale was immeasurable. In Dayton, OH in 2017, eleven B-25 flew over the USAF Museum to pay their respect and tribute to the Doolittle Raiders and thank them for their sacrifice for our freedoms on the 75th anniversary of this event. Lt Col Dick Cole, 102 years old then, was the last of the eighty Raiders and was present for the ceremonies (he passed 8 April 2019). We owe all our vets a tribute and thanks for all they did, and do and the freedoms we enjoy because of them!! Lest we forget!!!

Spring Cleaning Time

Dakota Territory Air Museum hangar 2 image pano captured by D5 / 24-70f2.8

Winter is when lots of aircraft maintenance is done and spring is when the hangar doors fly open. This is a great time to get out with your camera and get involved. I’ll be doing just that this weekend, putting on the rubber gloves and unpacking hangars. Yeah, there will be a camera hanging from my shoulder and A2A kit in the back of the truck. At the very least, I will have fun and put in my time for later on this season to have time with aircraft. I will more than likely get some static time with some aircraft. I know I’ll learn more about aviation which always improve my photography. And what happens sometimes, I’m thanked for my time with a flight. I have one tip, one saying I tell all aviation photographers that I adhere to all the time. Just show up!

An Airshow Strategy

Northrop N-9M captured by D5 / 200-400II

Airshows are an adrenaline rush for photographers! There are so many targets of opportunity, that it can be hard to get every shot. I’m here to tell, don’t try! At the end of the day, how many photographs do you need to share with your friends, family, IG, or blog to show you had a great time? At the end of the day, one, maybe two. Of course, we want and often get hundreds but having that one, that single one that folks just say, sweet, that’s the one we want to go for. Doesn’t mean we’ll get it, but we’ll put our best foot forward. An example …

Northrop N-9M captured by D5 / 200-400II

The Northrop N-9M was a one-third scale test bed for what became the Flying Wing that today we know as the B2 Bomber. If I remember correctly, only five were built and up to two years ago, only one survived and it was airworthy. Sadly, it crashed a couple of years back killing the pilot and pretty much destroying the only remaining example of a N-9M. There is so much going on in the skies at an airshow that trying to get it all, I tend to not come back with that “one” image. So I look for that rare aircraft, not necessary as in “rare” as much as one missing in my image library. This particular weekend I focused in on the N-9M. That’s one strategy I think of when I’m at an airshow in getting the shot. I save myself, prioritize my time, focus in on that one bird. I check the show schedule and make sure I’m in place right place to give it my best shot. Nine out of ten times the strategy works and I get that one shot I wanted. Just food for thought.

You Can Squeeze with A Plane Too

C-47 “That’s All … Brother” captured by Z 9 / 105f2.8mc

“The Squeeze” is a simple technique I like to use to make a starburst out of the sun. You’ll see it a lot in my landscape photographs. I use it with aircraft whenever I can like you see here from a week back. A lot of the time, just closing the aperture down to its smallest opening will create a starburst out of the sun. I often combine that with “squeezing” the sun more through branches or off the edge of a rock. The makes the sun a smaller point light source and a better starburst. In this case, I didn’t want more depth of focus so I just bent down to squeeze the sun permitting a tad to peak over the top creating the starburst. It’s a really simple technique but can add some drama if you’re looking for it. You can use many landscape photography techniques with aircraft, you can squeeze with a plane too.

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