Making the Museum Shot Cool

C-54 captured by Z 6II / Z14-24f2.8

I haunt aviation museums for so many reasons but the main one is doing homework so I’m a better visual storyteller. That’s why at the end of our Chickens & Grouse Adventure in NE, I took a couple of hours before flying out to visit the marvelous Sac Museum. I never go into a museum thinking I’m going to come out with amazing photos, it’s a learning and not shooting op in my mind. But I always go with a camera and in this case, the Z 6II / 14-24f2.8. I was there to check out the B-29, one I believe my father actually flew in. After soaking that all in, I checked out the marvelous rest of the museum (including the B-36!). I was looking at the C-54, looking at the angle I had and the lighting and thought I might be able to make a cool shot. The dark foreground and light on the other aircraft caught my imagination (what you want to look for when sizing up a shot in a museum). What you see is just half of the hangar, a large hangar door separated them and it was slightly open so I could step back an extra five feet. I was just looking at doing that when a person working for the museum greeted me.

He saw the camera, saw me thinking over the situation and I think he saw me shooting other aircraft prior. He asked if I’d like to shoot the C-54 from the other hangar so I would be further back. I assumed he was just going to move the rope that was behind me so I could have a few more feet. Instead, he completely opened the hangar doors so I could walk to exactly where I wanted to be. I folded out the monitor, held the Z 6II / 14-24f2.8 over my head and shot. Then the conversation began between me and the educational director for the museum. The take away from this all will help your photography. Go to the museum to do your homework and light the imagination. Take your camera and have in the back of your mind light and interesting angles. Follow those instincts and be ethical in your approach. You will be noticed and often afforded opportunities otherwise not available. And always, always have that business card you can put in that person’s hand and follow up with pics. It makes that museum shoot cool!

The Magic of Smoke

B-25 “Betty’s Dream” captured by D5 / 200-400VR

Smoke from pyrotechnics at an airshow can be a God send or curse. It all depends on you and in some part, the wind. Especially on bald sky days, smoke brings a visual depth and if handled correctly, drama to an otherwise stale photo. Along with being on top of your photo game with solid Panning and exposure, you gotta think like a pilot, act like the control tower and depend on your senses to make magic from the smoke. Here’s how …

Tora Tora Tora’s P-40 captured by D4 / 200-400VR

Putting yourself at the right place on the flight line is EVERYTHING when it comes to making magic of smoke. How do you determine this PRIOR to the airshow even starting? You gotta look at the in field and watch the folks setting up the pyro. By watching them you can determine if there is none, a little or a lot. If the amazing CAF Tora Tora Tora group is there, you know there is going to by pyro. Look at the guide, see what acts are flying and then do a little looking and you’ll see where their pyro is set on the field. This will give you an idea about what the pilots are thinking as they need to fly through, around, above or away for the explosions. Next, think like the tower, how are they going to direct the planes through the smoke? You might need to do a little research before even arriving at the airshow to come up with the needed info. Talking to a pilot that uses pyro is also a great idea. Then you have to look at the winds, which way are they going to blow the smoke. All of this tells you where you need to stand.

For Betty, it was a real still air day so the smoke was going to rise and rise fast. That’s because of the heat of the explosion causing the smoke. Looking at the pyro team, I knew I wanted to stand near show center as that’s where the biggest bang for the audience buck can be spent. For the P-40, I knew that the Tora Tora Tora pyro team puts up a wall of fire near the end of their show. Looking at where they set the pyro, the direction of flight of the P-40 and very importantly this day, the direction of the wind, I was as far left of show center as I could get to make the shot. No two shows even with the same act are the same. Think it through and you too can make magic of smoke.

Think of Panning as Art

FG-1D Corsair captured by D4 / 200-400f4

Panning in its most basic form, is moving the film plane in sync with a moving subject to capture it sharp in the photograph. This synchronization nullifies the movement of the subject as far as the camera is concerned so we have effectively, frozen a moving subject. This is a very old technique and for it to be effective, as far as rendering a sharp, frozen moving subject, it must be practiced on a continual basis. I’m talking about a minimum of once a week in order to make it a tool in your arsenal that will serve you whenever you need it. This is basic, human, muscle memory training which is what panning boils down to in its most simplest terms.

 

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

But just capturing a sharp image cannot be an in point to our photograph, its just the start. We must push our craft past just sharp so then panning becomes a means to art. These photographs of a FG-1D Corsair and F-22 Raptor are an example of what I’m talking about. Shot on a gorgeous days when the background is as much of the photograph as the plane itself. Where panning is including them to finish the story, becoming art. The fall color and great clouds all being brought to life with gorgeous light. Shooting handheld with a D4 / 200-400 and D5 / 180-400VR is a big part of the art. I put myself in position so when the aircraft made its pass, the gesture of the aircraft was set against the background I wanted, the background making the aircraft pop out with the light bringing it all to life. Yes, panning is why the Corsair & Raptor are sharp but moving past the technique and to the art, panning is what brought all those elements to life in the photo. Push your technique so it is the building block to your art and then your photography will take life. Panning is more than a technique, panning is art.

Airshows Are Starting Up – Dust Off the Skills!

There are many airshows paying tribute to our heroes who fought for our freedoms, the last this year are coming up! I want to give you some thoughts, tricks, and tips so you can make the most of your airshow shooting. Now of course, buying a copy of Takeoff would be a great start! Realizing most learn best from watching rather than reading, you can head to my Kelby Class on Airshow Photography for more in-depth explanations. I want to talk about putting movement into your stills right now so just because you see planes here, these techniques apply to ALL moving subjects! Start with the understanding that shooting unrestricted is essential! The less you carry, the more mobile you are, the more mobile and limber you are, the sharper the photos and better composed they will be. My main gear for an airshow is the D6 / 180-400VR for ground to air and Z 6II / Z24-70f2.8 for statics. With that in mind, here are some tips that you can apply to any action photography and airshows.

[ A-10 Warthog
captured by D4s / 200-400VR2[/caption]

Put yourself in relationship to the action in a position where it performs around you. At airshows, aircraft often make a “photo” pass which is often done in what’s called a “banana pass.” If you can picture a banana with your being inside the curve of the banana, that’s basically a banana pass. When you’re on the INSIDE of that curve, the aircraft or athlete or motorcycle will be MOVING into your frame which gives a feeling of not only speed but also intimacy. Keep in mind that being on the inside of the curve, the subject will be going faster in relation to your position so your panning has to be spot on.

AH-1 Super Cobra
captured by D5 / 200-400VR2

Taking your shutter speed down below your comfort zone is key! Shooting in Shutter Priority permits you to use a slow shutter speed consistently blurring moving parts communicating speed. In some cases, the shutter speed is arbitrary based on how you feel. In some cases, it could be a very specific shutter speed to blur props of aircraft or blades on a helicopter, in this case, 1/20 to blur the blades of this Cobra. Keep in mind that your panning blurs the background and the degree of that blur is a function of how fast you’re panning vs. your shutter speed. Now if your background is all blue, bald sky, there is not a slow enough shutter speed to show motion. You need something in the background to scream movement.

B-17G “Sentimental Journey”
captured by D5 / 200-400VR2

When you’ve got the light, forget everything else! Ya, there are lots of rules, ideas, suggestions and sexy action that can grab your attention but when you’ve got light, ditch them all for that light. I love this example of just that because many tend to not photograph the bellies of aircraft. This top shot is of a B-17G taken at Sioux Falls Airshow is a banana pass in gorgeous light. The angle of the light makes all the rivets pop and creates a shadow that just makes it seem like it’s going faster. You can’t go wrong with great light!

FG-1D Corsair
captured by D5 / 200-400VR2

Go for the ass! Any subject that is going away from you in the frame sets the mind to thinking movement. While this seems obvious, ass shots in themselves can be tricky. There is the matter of proper social protocol (not my specialty) along with attractiveness. There are a couple of aspects of subject positioning that goes along with this. Lower and centered in the frame is the place to start and then based on other elements in the frame can be moved about accordingly. When shooting the ass of an aircraft, the blurred prop is required to speak to movement. The slower the shutter speed, the more blurred the prop and the more blurred the prop, you change the position of the aircraft in the frame.

PT-19
captured by D5 / 200-400VR2

This one is real simple. When you have a great background, think of smaller subject size in a slightly awkward placement in the frame. Yeap, that’s all it takes for the mind to see the placement and move the subject through the frame against that background. I like simple!

Beech Model 18
captured by D5 / 200-400VR2

Let the path set the movement. A track, street, sidewalk or trail of smoke communicates movement when you place the subject on that path. This again is another real simple one to employ but to take it to the next level, put the subject on the path again in a slightly awkward place.

P-51D “Precious Metal”
captured by D4s / 24-70

Low angle with a wide angle is a great way of communicating motion! Here is a classic example considering the only thing moving in the frame are the props. The rule of thumb is to leave enough room in the frame in front of the subject for the mind to give the subject motion. You can enhance this mental path by getting down low with a wide angle. This technique is great when in reality, you’re crammed up in a crowd and can’t get physically where you want to. In the case of aviation, think of slow shutter speed and not keeping the horizon plum. Here, it’s slanted up hill and the sun is included (lens closed down all the way for a sunburst) to finish the feel.

PT-17 Stearman
captured by D5 / 200-400VR2

Follow your subject in the viewfinder for its entire path! You just never know what surprises you might find in the viewfinder that if your eye is not up against it, you’ll miss. In this case, these Stearman finished a loop right overhead so a normal view of an aircraft from the ground, looking at the top of the aircraft, was all you see in the viewfinder. A unique perspective to any common subject begins the journey of having a unique photograph!

Snowbirds
captured by D5 / 200-400VR2

Cramming action into a vertical creates lots of mental movement in a still! The tension of the subject looks like it’s going to run into the side of the frame can work with the rest of the elements are in sync. Other elements? Ya, light, blur, color, placement in the frame vertically, all those elements that together bring movement to the subject. Keep in mind that as soon as you turn the camera to vertical, your panning gets more difficult and composition more challenging. At the same time, the rewards for success goes up as well.

AH-1 Huey
captured by D5 / 200-400VR2

Never ignore the common! This Huey is no warbird or screaming jet yet I would be really bummed if it weren’t in my files. When you can make the uncommon out of the common, your photograph always wins! In this case, since it’s an airplane and it’s up in the sky, the mind knows it’s flying and that in itself says motion. Use proper handholding and panning, look for the light and think motion with a big dash of fun and you will be successful! have a great weekend shooting!

There is a Method to the Madness

Aero C-104 “Bücker” captured by Z 6II / Z24-70f2.8

There was a definite chill in the air as the three of us pushed the 1947 Aero C-104 “Bücker” out. I’d seen the plane for the first time the night before and from that had envisioned how’d I’d like to photograph it, the story to tell. The Bücker was the trainer of the Luftwaffe and later became one of the premiere aerobatic planes thrilling crowds world around. This particular Bücker was owned and flown by world famous pilot Mira Slovak. From the get go though, I knew this shoot would be a challenge. While I had been “hired” for the shoot I got the feeling I was going to be challenged by it.

When we pick up a camera, no matter where we are in our photographic journey, we do have some methodology to our photography. For me, this was not my first rodeo on a chilly morning on a bare ramp with an aircraft. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, how I was going to do it and how it would look when I was finished. I knew how the Picture Control and WB I’d set in the Z 6II would take what we’re seeing (down below) to tell the story I want to tell (above). But to the uninitiated, watching me run from this spot to that as the light changed ever so slightly and hearing the camera firing off when the plane isn’t moving, I must seem like a wackado! And yet, well, my results kinda speak for themselves.

It is these times you must have confidence in yourself even if your abilities are being questioned. This is even true if you know that you might not have all the answers, it is a whole new experience, you’re sweating bullets. You must believe in what you have done up to this point to bring you to this point. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong or right, doing you best ever, just the best for you at that moment. Though I was being questioned, I knew exactly what the camera was capturing and what the final photograph would look like. For those not familiar with my process, how could they ever “see” what I’m seeing or saying until the print is in their hands. You just need to have faith, there is a method in the madness!

How we saw the Bücker standing there

Background Move

P-39 Airacobra captured by Z 6II / Z70-200f2.8

It was simply, a brilliant morning! The folks at Central Texas Wing CAF were the perfect hosts for the Precision Camera shoot. First, they rolled out a T-6, and then after it took flight for us, this rare, flying P-39 Airacobra came out of the hangar. And while that was great, where it was parked on the ramp was, well, let’s just say less than desirable. The background was so nasty, I didn’t even shoot it though I so wanted to. I went off to other targets of opportunity.

Then the clouds started to roll in and the folks at CAF became more comfortable with the group of photographers who did a marvelous job being respectful and inquisitive. I asked Clint from CAF if they could tug the P-39 out further on the ramp explaining where it was parked was not conducive to great images. While the sun was out in its full glory, there were moments that if you were ready, a cloud would scrim the scene for a heartbeat.

I set up the Z 6II / Z70-200f2.8 with the monitor flipped out at ground level (which means I was bent over with my reading glasses on). The lens was set to f/2.8. The light was hard but wanted to make the best possible photo of the opportunity. The clouds filtered the light a few times and each time, I let the shutter fly. Hand holding while shooting looking at the LCD, I know to take more than normal just to CYA. While not a killer shot, I was pleased as I didn’t have a P-39 in the files. At least now I had a photo cause before I had nothing without the background move.

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