I received an email a while back that basically said my aviation photography would improve if I got a pilot license. It made me think. I texted another friend and asked him if he thought that was true, if I got my pilot license, if he thought my aviation photography would improve. He texted back the worst answer, “What is it you tell people?” When I’m asked this question about knowledge, I typically say that knowing your subject is a very important part of wildlife photography.

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Knowledge is such a powerful tool in whatever endeavor you might tackle in life. This is especially true in wildlife photography. The knowledge starts with the basics of f/stop and shutter speed and advances to the knowledge of light. It’s from light that all our images are born. This then progresses to applying this knowledge to our subject. With wildlife, we commonly start and are pleased with just finding the critter and getting a sharp image. But as we all know, that’s not the end all of critter photos. What gets you to the end all is, knowledge.

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Jake & I made a suicide run to Chino on Saturday, to the Planes of Fame flying event. These are really cool because they bring in pilots who actually flew the aircraft and in this case, it was the TBM Avenger. One of the presenters was Charlie who was aboard the USS Franklin during WWII in the Pacific which was bombed by the Japanese and over 700 were killed. While a B&W film was being played of the Franklin burning and the rescue efforts during the event, it was quite something to think that for Charlie, it wasn’t a B&W film but his memories because he was there. Jake & I now had a little glimpse into history, into what it was like being a pilot of the Avenger with two Zeros on your tail trying to bring you down.

Just how much knowledge of the subject do you need to improve your photography? The real answer is, we can never have enough knowledge. But the question at hand for me is, do I need a pilot license to take better aviation photographs? I have always said that knowing basic biology is very important to be a successful wildlife photographer. At the same time, I don’t think you need a PhD. Personally, I’ve never taken one class in biology. Rather, I’ve learned in the field from the best which has served me very well. So getting a pilot license in my mind is no different than a PhD and I don’t think either would change my photography. Doesn’t mean for a moment I won’t continue my education with critters and planes, but I’m a photographer not a scholar and the knowledge I seek, it’s just part the photograph, not all of it. Seek the knowledge that in the immediate future will answer your questions and if your continue to do that, you can’t help but to improve your photography!

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