The Pick Up

Puss Moth 80A captured by Z 9 / Z70-200f2.8 w/Z1.4x

Yeah, not your everyday ordinary plane you’re going to find in a hangar! The British designed Puss Moth 80A was built between 1929 – 1933 by De Havilland. They only made 284 and only a few are flying today. This is one of them. While I had seen this in a hangar a number of years ago, its wings were folded back and it was covered in dust. I never gave it a second thought. Then the owner came over from England with his new bride (such great folks) as they were going to fly the Puss Moth up and down the west coast for their honeymoon. I happened to be in the right place in the right time for an easy A2A pick up flight. In less then a coupe of minutes after I was asked if I wanted to do it then we were launching for a fifteen minutes evening flight. The point? Just show up and be ready!

I’m up in Alaska right now and tomorrow heading to the airport to see a friend. There has been no mention of flying. A photo mission not even in the conversation. It wasn’t when I did the Puss Moth either. But you can bet the Z 9 battery is charged. The sensor is cleaned. The Z70-200f2.8 has the Z1.4x attached and strap attached. If, If I get asked, with a zip of the bag I’m on a plane. When you’re prepared, there is nothing better than the pick up!

Remember the Pilot!

Brent Peterson & Addison Pemberton captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

While this seems really simple and straight forward, in application it’s anything but! The pilot is everything to your photographic success. He’s the one the literally flies that plane that you want to get more time with, even in the air with. And even though they say they don’t have an ego, present them with a great portrait and what makes them smile puts a huge smile on their face. It also puts you on the A Team of photographers. The challenge though is that photo. In this example, Brent is at the stick in a high wing aircraft. He’s in a deep shadow. How do you overcome that dark light? In this case, had him stop of the white lettering of the taxi way using that white to reflect light up into the cockpit. How do you get that close up of the pilot, a long lens. In this case, the 180-400 with the 1.4x engaged. Lastly, talk to the pilot and tell them what you want to do. When you say you want to get their portrait, you’d be surprised what they will do to accommodate you. Your part is to not only make the photo, but get that FILE into their hands for them to use. It’s real simple and real important. Remember the pilot!

Work Now, Play Later

Bear Cat & Goose flight captured by D5 / 70-200f4

“How do I get close to a plane for an air-to-air?” That question lands in my email box alot (not as much as, “what’s the best f/stop for prop bur?” answer, there in none!) The answer I give is really simple, put in the time now to get it back later. This is a classic example. Many aircraft in fall are winterized starting now so they are ready to fly in the spring. This Goose for example, it’s a spring / summer fun machine when the air is warm and the water cool. In the winter, the air is cool and the water frozen so it’s not flown. Can’t just park a plane for four to five months and think it will be happy to fly at the turn of a key. It’s take some time to winterize and often takes multiple pairs of hands to do it. Hang around a FBO, talk to the guys who pump gas. Ask them who they know winterizes their aircraft. Then, with grease rag, not camera in hand, head to that hangar as asked if you can learn and help in that process. I have meet a lot of kids in hangars who do just that. Many of them go on to become pilots with this start. Photographers can easily do the same thing. Not to become pilots but next season, be part of that crew to fly and to the eventual A2A. It’s really simple, work now, play later.

Light, It’s On Us!

B-25 “Devil Dog” captured by D4 / 18-35AFS

It was one of those clear blue, dewy mornings at Osh as Jake & I walked the line. This morning, we decided to work the B-25s with “Betty’s Dream” present. I spend my time with just “Devil Dog” and “Betty’s Dream” especially doing arse shots. Once the sun came up, the shooting was already wrapping up. I walked around to the front and saw the sun squeezing past the B-25 tail. I closed the 18-35AFS all the way down, took a couple of shots, and kept on going. What you see above is what I saw, what the camera accurately captured at first but definitely not the final photo I saw when I went click. The D4 faithfully captured what was there. I had dialed in -1exp comp, I had raised the WB to 6k and with that input the D4 did it’s job. Now it was time to do mine!

B-25 “Devil Dog” finished captured by D4 / 18-35AFS

Here’s the deal, I have to know light and bring it to the subject. Whether that light is falling perfectly or as in this case, not so perfect, the light is on me. Remember the word photograph loosely mean, “write with light.” How’d I “light” “Devil Dog” in post? Well, that’s the class I’m teaching today at Photoshop World. The key is, shoot for the subject, finish for the light. You know how I shot it and the finishing, well you’d need to be in class for all of that. But it was done in ACR using their power Masking. The key to both shooting for the subject and finishing for the light of course is, the light. The photographer must understand light. Not just exposure but how it works. How it works in the camera, how it works in post and most importantly, how it works to the viewer. I think though you can see what some call a dramatic difference in the top and bottom photos. For me though, the bottom photo is all I saw in the viewfinder and on the computer monitor the whole time. That’s because I know the light, it’s on us!

Prepping for Client Shoot

4e Speedmail captured by Z 6 / Z24-70

The excitement sets me into a frenzy of mental show of the images I’m going to have. Then the panic, fear, dread, delight, rush sets in. How am I going to not only fulfill my commitment to the client, but bring back the photographs I have in my head? Everything and anything is possible but in the world of reality, how do I deliver content that lives up to my own standards? Prepping for a client shoot takes a whole lot more than just the budget, the bottom line. It was pounded into my head by editors, “You’re only as good as your last photo!” I have one if not two client aviation shoots in the next week. Both coming to me because of recommendations of other aviation clients. To say they might have over sold me could be an understatement. While I’m very grateful for that, this piles a whole lot of pressure on the click of a camera. Now’s the time to plan.

The first thing I do is take a deep plunge into research. That starts with literature search on the aircraft. Knowing the history starts the creative wheels turning. One of the big things for me is backgrounds for the aircraft. Getting to know the history helps me figure out where I want to fly and what time since I get a feel for the background I want for the aircraft. This is critical to my photographic success. This then helps figure out flight path, photo platform and camera gear. But this is only part of the photographic process. If the aircraft is a 1930’s plane, it doesn’t “move” in the sky like a WWII fighter. If the plane is on floats, having it just flying and not on water doesn’t tell its story. These are all considerations that come to mind that doing basic literature research really helps with. But it doesn’t end there.

Next is the visual research. I look at all the photographs of the aircraft others have taken over the years. Why? I want ideas for what to do and not to do! This can be everything from angle of attack to light to background. There is no reason when you’re on the clock, literally, to reinvent the visual wheel. This includes looking at my own image library to see what I can improve on and, what I don’t have in my library at all that I can add. This has to include the “crazy” ideas that come to mind during this whole process and/or a client’s request.

From this research, I create a shot list that I send to the client prior to our meeting. Just because I think this would be a cool photograph doesn’t mean that logistically it can be done. First and the biggest consideration is safety! Next, is it something the aircraft can do. And finally, is it something the pilot can do! With that discussion comes the setting of the brief time for the flight. That then puts into action my list for A2A and making sure all the personal and camera gear is prepped and ready. And after all of this, there is no guarantee. I’ve arrived at many a hangar to have the flight scrubbed because of weather or mechanical issue. That is simply part of the process. On the flip side, the brief is done and you’re in the skies seeing all of your planning, prep and ideas coming to life in the viewfinder. That’s the lows and highs of the photographic business. But when those funds change hands and you see the smile on the clients face as they gaze at those big ass prints, it just gets me psyched to do it all over again!

Can Warbirds be Romantic?

OV-1 Mohawk

Not what would normally pop into your head as “romantic”, there are many though who think very romantically on their old rides! Those are really powerful memories pilots have of their aircraft even if they flew them into battle. It’s only human nature to think fondly of something you possibly risked your life or save your life. So while I might have that same memory, feeling, I sure have talked with enough vets to know they do. If I want my image of a “warbird” then to go out and touch heartstrings, yeah, they need to be romantic. And for those who never flew them, reaching out to them on a positive rather than a negative vibe I think is a strong visual way to tell the story. It’s kinda a win-win!

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