When we look up at an aircraft flying overhead, we often see clouds in the process. We naturally associate flying aircraft with clouds so incorporating them in our photographs is just a natural. In the summer, the wx patterns in North America make for great, afternoon clouds. often thunderheads. The drama in these clouds are a killer background, stage for our aircraft. But there is definitely a ying and a yang when it comes to summer clouds. The ying is the incredible drama they bring to a photograph. And for some aircraft like this Wildcat, it finished the story for the Pacific WWII fighter. They flew through clouds like this going to and from battle. At the beginning of their use, they used the clouds also to hide from the Zero, but that’s another story. The yang of having these clouds is they can stop flying all together. I will always remember my father’s story of a B-29 flying through a cloud like these in the Pacific during he Korean conflict and it not coming back out. Along with the power in these clouds are flight rules like VFR and IFR. Doing an A2A like we did here took great planning, willingness to stay aloft to work the clouds, using a long lens (I shot at 400mm) to pull the clouds in from a distance and very talented pilots. I’m planning my shoots for the next couple months carefully because summer means great clouds!
Before starting and at the end of photographing Kodiak Brown Bears for two weeks, I squeezed in a little aviation photography. We’ve worked with Willy and his delightful wife for a while now, getting our tonnage flown into and out of Bear Camp. He’s the best! I wanted to add to my library images of his aircraft so this year you could say, I went for broke. I wanted to blur the background much more than I did last shoot and make the Beaver look a little faster on the water. That meant going with a slow shutter speed, a low percentage shot. I set the Z 9 to Shutter Priority and the shutter speed to 1/30. I was using the Z70-200f2.8 with the Z1.4x so the camera could go to f32 if it needed (it went to f/22) to to work with that shutter speed. With the Z 9 set to Auto Area AF, all that was needed was a smooth pan and in theory, I’d have the shot. As it turned out, I had a hole bunch of images to pick from, the Z 9 and the panning all worked as they should. And Willy, he not only has a whole bunch of photos to select from, he gave us a ride back to civilization!
P-47 captured by D5 / 24-70f2.8
Aircraft are just wood, fabric, and metal but you give them life by the way you tell their story. There is no easier or more powerful way of giving that story a kickstart than through white balance. This is a real simple idea. The light on the ramp this morning was pretty cold as far as the camera was concerned but I saw the glow in the east and knew it would come through the photograph if, if I took control of the white balance. I went to K and then set the white balance manually to 8000k and shot away. Why do this in-camera when you can do it all in post? One reason is that the camera is your data capture device, I want it to capture all the data, correct data when I go click. Mostly, a year from after taking the photo and I’m looking at those images, I want to SEE in my photos what I was feeling and thinking that morning. I can’t count on my memory to do so. And that’s what photography is all about, preserving memories!
Travel Air & Waco captured by D6 / 70-200f4AFS
Spring greens are unique. They have a unique tint setting them apart from the rest of the year which is why they scream, spring. If you want that in your aviation photos, you gotta plan for it and then go and get it. The foothills of California have a gorgeous carpet of green in spring but it doesn’t last long. As you can see here, some patches were already turning summer brown before it all got green. But for these two red aircraft, it was the perfect background to tell the story and that’s what we’re going for. When planning your shoot, try to incorporate the season with the background to bring more story depth to your photos.
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?
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