I Will Do Better!

F-22 Raptor captured by D5 / 180-400VR

Yeah, I’m not really a “modern” fighter kinda shooter. There are a couple of reasons for this primarily, I know I won’t ever get into a cockpit for an A2A to have all the images I’d want to tell the story visually so I put my time into those I know I can tell their story. And there are lots and lots of great images of these gorgeous aircraft out there telling their story. With that said, I want to add to my files some great shots of them just for my own satisfaction. The photo of the F-22 tells me there is hope for me when I look at the photo of the F-35 which blows chunks!

So I’ve committed myself to getting out in 2023 and work the skies to the best of my abilities to make those shots happen. For me, this means making the shot IN THE CAMERA and not on the computer! This means a couple of things. First, I gotta get my butt on some flight lines and more than just once! I’ve started that process. Next, I need to keep lifting my 10lbs weight to strengthen my left arm more. With that, practice, practice, and practice my handholding and panning. Finally, decide what rig am I going to shoot with. My first inclination is the Z 9 / 180-400VR. I love the balance, easy 1.4x addition, and of course the sharpness! But then there is the Z400f4.5 which is so light and so sharp. The first flight line is a month away so I gotta get to it.

It’s all in my wheelhouse, I just got to make it happen for myself. I’m telling you all of this because the same applies to you, your photography, and your passions! You’ve gotta find that subject, and go after it with the intention of doing better behind the camera! You’ve got to make the plans, do the practice then get out and do it. It’s how we improve our photography. At least, it’s how I improve mine. I will do better!

F-35 Lightning II captured by D5 / 180-400VR

The Print is Your Ticket

Stallion 51 herd of Mustangs captured by D3s / 24-70f2.8

We all desire having that intimate time with an aircraft, on the ground or in the air. But how do you make that happen with the aircraft and its owner you don’t know? A bigger question in this process in your mind could be simply, “How do you stand apart from all the other photographers pointing their camera at the same plane?” I have the same problem but thankfully I learned the answer when I first started out. It’s the print! While there are a couple of owners I know who do live with their planes as the hangar and home are one and the same, they are rare. Most leave their “babies” at the airport. They can still enjoy it back at home with your print on their wall. How do they get that print? You hand it to them, for free, big and beautiful just like their aircraft! And where does that print come from? It starts with making that amazing photo of their plane as a static like you see here. Yeah, there were photographers standing on either side of me but I made the click in the camera and finished the image in the digital darkroom for the drama you see here. Then I made a print, a 24×30 and placed it in their hands. That’s how the photograph below came to be. Yeah, it’s that simple. Just show up, make the click and make the print as the print is your ticket!

Right Now It’s Not So Early

Waco EQC captured by Z 7 / Z24-70f2.8

One of the perks of winter is sunrise is so much later compared to summer. 08:20 compared to 05:20 is a huge difference especially if you have an aircraft you wanna photograph at sunrise but the owner isn’t an earlier riser. This is kinda an example of that where we got the plane out with the owners permission, but he wasn’t on the field at 0:dark thirty in the summer. I’ve waited a few winters to ask owners to pull their aircraft out for a sunrise shoot and you’d be surprised how many owners say, “glad this isn’t the summer!” It’s a simple an easy thing you might just want to try to get that sunrise static portrait you’re after.

Winter Projects are a Gold Mine

Steve working on installing upper wing strut captured by Z 9 / Z24-120 w/Profoto A10 & Click Octa

Winter with its colder temps and gray skies are the natural time to be in the hangar working on projects. Many pilots do the annuals on their planes this time of year. Others pull projects out from the corner of the hangar where they are stored during the warmer flying months and go back to wrenching on them. Either case, it’s a great opportunity for the photographer wanting / needing to get involved. This is a the time to find these hangar rats and be apart of something great. What you see here is just that, the continuing N3N-3 on floats restoration project. I’ve been involved with this project for a year now documenting all the stages. How do you do the same thing?

Addison working on installing upper wing strut captured by Z 9 / Z14-24f2.8 w/Profoto A10 & Click Octa

You start by finding the project. How do you do that? You’ll find that information by looking at AOPA, EAA or CAF newletters, websites and meetings. You kinda just invite yourself to start, you have to go find them. They are there and finding them is a whole lot easier then you think. Next, realize you might be starting at the bottom, as in sweeping the floors. Don’t go expecting you’re going to get paid, quite the opposite. You’re putting in your time to just show up and take photographs. The sad truth you are more than likely not the first photographer to come along and you have no clue is the last photographer did it right, or wrong. While you’re sweeping the floors be thinking photography as you ask questions, lots of questions! Have your camera in your car at the ready. Have techniques up your sleeve like what I did in these two. I have a Profoto A10 on a click Octa nine feet up on a SmallRig stand to bring cleaned up light to the subject. Then when the time comes, make that one, solid photo to show your stuff. I guarantee if you stick with the project you won’t regret it and in the end, be in the air with the plane! Winter project are a gold mine!

Winter Panning Practice

Atlas 747-46NF captured by Z 9 / Z400f4.5

It’s actually real simple, just get out and shoot! Then when you’re done, shoot some more and that will keep your panning skills sharp. A quick review is to use proper handholding, then plant your feet and twist at the trunk following the subject. Bam! Proper handholding consists of pointing you left palm to the sky and having the lens barrel rest in your palm. Bring elbows into your sides, press the camera against your face and roll your finger on the shutter release to fire the camera. Panning consists of selecting the background you want, stand so when you’re shooting “straight ahead” is facing that background then follow your subject and firing when the background first appears in the viewfinder and continue firing until it disappears and continue to twist at the trunk until the camera finishes firing. Easy peasy!

4e Speedmail captured by D5 / 180-400VR

To take your photography to the next level, look for the uncommon background and drop your shutter speed. Shooting at ANC, when I saw the rainbow forming I moved so the incoming Atlas 747 would be at the right AGL to incorporate the rainbow in the background. For the Speedmail I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/20. Pushing is how you continually grow which goes for your photography and your client list. That photo of Atlas’s 747 and other I sent to corporate which we have now picked up as a client with this and additional images already being used in their communications. It might be cold but the photography can be hot with a little imagination and winter panning practice.

Dec 7th, “a date which will live in infamy”

A6M2 Zero being chased by P-40
What you might have seen Dec 7th, 1941 over Pearl

They were high school juniors and seniors when they heard on the radio the attack on Pearl Harbor. Without hesitation, they enlisted to serve their country. The “Greatest Generation” came together making the USA a life priority with many making the ultimate sacrifice. We owe all who served and paid the ultimate price for our freedoms, especially that day in Dec 1941. They shall never be forgotten!

Kate Torpedo Bomber
Kate Torpedo Bomber

Years back we wanted to understand that Sunday morning so we traveled to Pearl Harbor to fly the routes of that morning. This is the story of that flight. 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 from the morning attack on Pearl Harbor, 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. The first thing we had to do was get the screw out of the window of the photo platform I was going to shoot out of. The Cessna 172 is a very common photo platform for air to air work. The windows though normally only open a short way, too small an aperture to get the lens out to shoot. Because of the airspeed, 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 passed before at 07:15 its wheels up and in the air heading for our rendezvous.


Our subject plane, a gorgeous SNJ painted in the scheme of 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 a 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 queue, 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 flyovers 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 were present on that day.

Flying down the valley of the first bomber attack
Flying down the valley of the first bomber attack

The radio came to life, a flight of Black Hawks was on their way into Wheeler. They were calling the tower. We heard no response and then the radio crackled to life clearing them. Rob waited for 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 began.

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 really 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 to 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, airspace is now closed. Thanks for coming!” And with that, we headed south.

Flight over Wheeler Field
Flight over Wheeler Field

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 to be 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.


Flight over the Arizona Memorial
Flight over the Arizona Memorial

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 hopped 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 the 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 seaplane 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 an amazing day. It’s our history to honor, remember and pass on so it is never forgotten!


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