TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!
It was our first shoot of the week for the Mid America Flight Museum. Departing Mt. Pleasant Airport almost one year to the day, the sun could not rise soon enough to cut through the chill of the Texas air.
Matt Bongers was at the control of the O-1 Bird Dog we were using as a photo ship when Scott Glover and Kelly Mahon joined up on our wing in the 1929 Curtiss-Wright Robin and a 1928 Curtiss-Wright Travel Air 4000 respectively. We did a few solo shoots first before having them join up together. The biggest challenge being the incredible amount of snot one can produce in the freezing air. Pretty sure no one will ever buy my camera now.
But I digress; Scott, Kelly and Matt quickly acclimated to the formation positioning, changes and lingo putting me at ease knowing the rest of the week will go smoothly. Once the sun began to peek over the light fog, steam also began to rise over Lake Bob Sandlin. Through the camera, it looked great, but my focus was on the two aircraft and how to get them to line up.
You see, my Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (OCD) seems to be getting worse as I age. Two different aircraft types typically result in two different angles of attack (AOA). An angle of attack refers to the perceived pitch of the aircraft. Some aircraft types have a perceived higher or lower AOA due to the placement of the wing, fuselage design, center of balance, etc. When formating two completely different aircraft, it’s not uncommon for the AOA to be different between the two. And that’s where my OCD comes in.
When it came to editing the resulting images, the solo shots were great! Everyone did a spectacular job. But when it came to selecting two-ship images to edit, nothing was calling to me. My OCD was kicking in big time due to the difference in AOA and what appeared to be an awkward formation.
Kelly Mahon wasn’t having any of that. He wanted to see formation shots so I compromised. I found an image that seemed surreal and majestic even though to me it was imperfect. The wings didn’t line up, it looks as though the aircraft are headed in slightly different directions, it just didn’t speak to me. Regardless, my issues shouldn’t get in the way of pilots and aircraft owners taking joy in their accomplishments. And let’s face it, flying these 80+ year-old aircraft in formation on a freezing morning is no easy task. They deserve every ounce of recognition for what they do!
So, I put my OCD aside and tried to approach it from another perspective. As someone who loves history and even going so far as to recreate historic moments, that was what I saw. The more I finessed the image, the more respect I had for our early aviators. This became a brief glimpse into the early days of aviation when pilots arose before dawn and began their cross-country journeys low over the countryside. They didn’t always fly in perfect formation, as a matter of fact, they hardly ever flew perfect formation. It was about getting from point A to point B and enjoying the smaller points in between.
To me, this image became more about drawing an end to the birth of aviation and ushering in the 1930’s with air racing, endurance and speed, improving commercial travel and making this world a little smaller. I didn’t feel it at first, but this has become my tribute to the pioneers of aviation; a good compromise!
Thank you to Scott Glover, Kelly Mahon and Matt Bongers from the Mid America Flight Museum for allowing me to document their collection. And thank you to Aviation Week Space Technology for awarding me 2016 Best of Show for this image.
About thirty feet away, a freshly restored P-51 Mustang was coming to life after a four-year restoration by Airmotive Specialties in Salinas, CA. The Mustang, a former air racer once owned by Lefty Gardner, was having her legs stretched by Eliot Cross as an historic resemblance to WWII Ace, Charles E. ‘Chuck’ Weaver’s aircraft. Knowing both Lefty’s and Weaver’s history, standing alongside this aircraft was simply magical.
It was about that time my phone rang; how I heard it over the roar of the Mustang’s Rolls Royce engine, I’ll never know. On the other end was good friend, Scott Glover of the Mid America Flight Museum in Mt. Pleasant, TX.
“Wanna Photograph Air Force One?” He asked.
Only a few weeks earlier I had heard about the purchase and intent to restore the first Air Force One, a Lockheed Constellation named Columbine II that had become President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal transport. Needless to say, I was beyond excited to have been asked to document such an historic moment.
The aircraft was purchased as part of a lot of five Lockheed Constellations which were to eventually be heavily modified for low-level, high-acrage crop spraying. Three of the acquired Constellations were converted, one was used for parts and the fifth aircraft was denied certification by the FAA due to incorrect landing gear. Apparently the military chose to replace Columbine II’s stock landing gear with that of the more robust L-1049 variant and the FAA didn’t like that. Due to the cost of replacing the landing gear, the aircraft sat in the Arizona desert.
Fast-forward to March 18, 2016, nearly a year after that initial phone call, when the diligent work of Dynamic Aviation, with the assistance of the Mid America Flight Museum, came to fruition and Columbine II took to the skies once more.
For the rest of us, that was our cue to head to Marana, AZ, and begin the next phase. She was to embark on a cross-country trip to Bridgewater, VA, where she would undergo a thorough restoration and become a flying museum piece.
When I arrived in Marana, I was able to see first-hand the amount of work the two teams had put into getting the nearly 70-year old aircraft flying. Structurally, the aircraft is like new, but the years still took its toll on the aging aircraft and like most things her age, everything needed to proceed slowly and with extra caution.
The crew moved all of the aircraft closer to the runway the night before departure. On the apron sat Karl Stoltzfus’ King Air chase aircraft as well as his new pride and joy, Columbine II, in addition to Mid America Flight Museum’s immaculate B-25 ‘God and Country’, which would become the platform from which the flight would be documented.
The key word used throughout our briefing process and conversation was, ‘document’. Sure, I had high hopes of in-your-face dramatic formation positioning, precise lighting, stunning prop blur and every other image a photographer strives for when going on a photo mission. But, this was not that…it was not a photoshoot.
Typically, when flying with another aircraft being photographed, I’ll position them by asking for minute movements in relation to the photo platform; 5 feet forward…10 feet down…10 feet back, etc. The challenge lies with the subject aircraft’s pilot making fine adjustments to the throttle and yoke in order to accomplish those positions. Doing these types of maneuvers in a partially restored aircraft which still needs the input of a flight engineer in addition to the pilot and co-pilot, would put unnecessary strain on the already aging mechanics of this special aircraft.
Sitting in the back of the B-25, the Connie approached slowly and cautiously over the course of nearly an hour. As pilot, Lockie Christler; co-pilot, Scott McDonald and Flight Engineers, Tom Woodward and Tim Coons inched the aircraft closer to the B-25, I was able to provide some basic suggestions like, more to left, more to the right, stack high, stack low and scissor. Precise positioning was out of the question as was a change in our heading. Basically, what you see is what you get, and I was perfectly happy with that!
One of the biggest technical challenges was the focal length of the lens vs. the shutter speed required to get motion in the propellors. Most of the air-to-air work was shot with a Nikon D810 and 70-200 f/2.8, mainly used at the long end. Rule of thumb, (prop-blur aside) is that the shutter speed should be equivalent to the focal length being used, so at 200mm my shutter speed should have been no slower than 1/200 sec. to insure sharp images.
That simply wasn’t going to happen. The RPM of Columbine II’s radial engines were significantly slower than that of a P-51 or aerobatic Extra 300. In order to get full rotation of the three-bladed assembly, a shutter speed of 1/40 was needed. In the freezing cold tail of windy B-25, the Kenyon Labs gyro saved the day. Had it not been for the improved stabilization of the gyro, many of the images would have been unusable.
Over the course of the 4.5hr flight to Mt. Pleasant, TX, I was able to get in some Yoga courtesy of crawling over the bomb bay and under the flight deck to get to the nose. Although it had probably been some ten years since I’ve had to do that, it was a stunning reminder of what these 20-something year olds were faced with on a daily basis flying B-25’s into combat zones during WWII. The big difference, we didn’t have anyone shooting at us and the temperature at 9500ft was far more bearable than their high-altitude missions.
With Scott Glover at the controls of the B-25 and Matt Bongers sitting right seat, they managed to position the twin-engine bomber to reveal the Constellation’s beautiful lines from the rear-quarter view. Add the sprawling American countryside to the equation and you have your photoshoot-esque images of an American icon coming back to life.
The complete restoration is estimated to take 3-4 years and will take place in Bridgeport, VA. Once finished, Columbine II will be the only civilian-owned Air Force One and will travel across the country educating people on the history of presidential aircraft as well as how Columbine II changed the course of history regarding all aircraft that would eventually transport the President of the United States.
Special thanks to Karl Stoltzfus and his incredible crew at Dynamic Aviation for making the impossible possible along with his aircrew, Lockie Christler, Scott McDonald, Tom Woodward and Tim Coons. Without the incredible friendship and enthusiasm of Scott Glover and his crew at Mid America Flight Museum; Matt Bongers, Gregg Williams, Erik Johnston, Frank Glover, Jr., Linda Cortelyou and many others, I wouldn’t have anything to write about. Thank you for this incredible opportunity!
It doesn’t happen too often, but every now and then I’ll get a request for my RAW files. Usually it goes something like this:
“I understand these 20 are your best shots, but I want to see everything!”
“How about I edit them and save you the time?”
“I don’t understand this editing fee. Aren’t you going to send me all the files anyway?”
All perfectly reasonable requests for those who are unfamiliar with the editing process. But once the process is explained, it tends to make a little more sense why giving clients RAW files is a bad idea.
My simple explanation is that the client hired me for a reason; to supply them with the best images possible. A RAW file is not a finished product, not even close!
The most successful analogy I have been able to come up with is to that of a master painter. One wouldn’t expect Michelangelo or Leonardo daVinci to hand over an outline of a painting thinking the recipient is going to finish it. (Not that I am in any way comparing myself to these amazing artists and thinkers!) But could you imagine an unfinished Mona Lisa? A half-carved statue of David? Inaccurate coloring of The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel?
A photographer’s imagery and vision shouldn’t be treated any differently. Often times I will sit down with a client and share all of my files with the warning that these are incomplete and not representative of the finished product. They’ll pick out a few and I’ll begin the editing process, but I never turn over the RAW files.
Remember, your portfolio is only as good as your worst image. The same goes for your reputation. Should you cave in and hand over RAW files thinking they will never be seen by anyone else, those files may very well end up in the public eye without your finessing. And of course the one time you get proper credit for the image, it will be this image you get credit for.
Recently I ordered a bunch of GoPro stuff hoping to dive into video. Instead I ended up diving into a heap of random parts. As someone with a mild case of OCD, I needed to find a practical solution to not only organizing everything, but finding a system where I could account for each and every piece out in the field. I thought of old camera bags, Pelican cases, tool boxes, whatever, but none of those choices seemed like a solution to me.
Since I began photography back in the ’80’s, I’ve always had some sort of system. Making sure everything had a place and those places were occupied by everything meant that I should leave an event with the same number of items I arrived with. As aviation photography became more my forte, it became even more crucial that nothing gets left behind. If a random part were left on a tarmac or taxiway after a nighttime shoot, that part could easily get swallowed by the intake of an aircraft resulting in a very expensive mistake.
I had heard of a company called Cocoon and these boards with webbing aptly named ‘Grid-it’. On one side was a random series of straps used to secure small items and on the other side was a pocket perfectly sized for an iPad…or perhaps, instruction manuals, pens, lens cleaning tissues or whatever else you could fit. I ended up purchasing three of these for $25 each; one for each GoPro set up and one for the remaining oddball clamps, housings and other components.
An unexpected benefit to the system is the ability to cover the lens of each GoPro with the webbing meaning no scratches. Once all three boards are set, they can be stacked and placed in any bag safely. Removing a single board enables a complete set up to be used without messing up everything else.
There are no doubt other ways of organizing your system, hopefully this will just be another tool in your belt. And if this system ends up not being the best solution, the Grid-it boards can be used for just about anything.
As for a useful bag or carrying case, check out Sporty’s or PilotMall’s collection of flight bags. These bags are specifically designed to carry books, charts and other paperwork where the Grid-it boards will fit perfectly. Additionally, the exterior pockets will provide plenty of additional room for larger accessories and components that wouldn’t otherwise fit on the Grid-it boards.
It’s that thing we do when we’d rather be out shooting. First you dive into the really cool shots you created editing the best of the best to share with the world. Then you take a wee bit more time to scour through the thousands of rejects to find the obvious winners only to go through them all one more time to single out those with potential. Once everything has been separated, the editing and archiving process begins. But it shouldn’t end there.
All those supposed rejects that we hold onto for that ‘just in case’ scenario still need a little love. This is where I hope I can help.
Everyone’s archiving techniques are different and none of them are wrong so long as you are able to find what you’re looking for quickly and efficiently. If that’s not the case, maybe my system can offer a few ideas.
My system is very simple. I archive my digital images the same way I archive my slides and negatives. I never lose touch of the original file or frame number. A photo of an A380 taken at Airventure in 2011 will look just like this:
It denotes the location; Oshkosh, the year; 2011, the subject; A380, and the original file name assigned to it by the camera; 1234. I can even add a few more descriptive notes to the file name such as manufacturer or another aircraft that may also be in the image, such as an Airbus A330. It would look something like this:
Why might I choose to be more descriptive with a file name? A little thing called SEO is reason enough for me. Search Engine Optimization is the core tool used by Google, Yahoo, Bing and other companies to find appropriate images, links, websites and more. The more descriptive I can be in the file name, the better chance I have of my images showing up in a consumer search. It goes without saying Metadata and Keywording is also extremely important, but I’ll save that for later.
Now that you have a library of edited images with keywords built right into the file name, searching for the appropriate shot should go a lot quicker.
But what about all those rejects? Same thing. Before I even begin editing photos, I batch rename everything! I personally use Adobe Bridge, but this can be done in Lightroom as well as Aperture. Batch renaming will allow you to search your entire hard drive, whether the images have been edited or not, for that perfect image for which the client is seeking but may have not seemed relevant at the time.
I don’t often share my Apple Store experiences with anyone outside Apple even though I regularly have some pretty amazing interactions with customers. Quite frankly, with Apple’s intense secrecy I’m not sure I’m allowed to, but it would be a shame not tell this story.
Although this may seem like another Apple Feel-good saga, and in a way it is, if you’re reading this blog for photography related material, you’re still in the right place. Hang in there, it will all come together.
Wandering through a sea of aluminum computers and solid wood tables, an elderly couple attempted to interact with these relatively alien devices. The husband appeared a little more lost than his wife, but that was only because she was the one who had an interest in a new computer. He couldn’t care less.
She and I talked for a bit while her frail husband continued to meander around the store. Another staff member brought out the desktop computer she wanted along with all of her fun accessories. We unpacked the computer together and with the help of another Apple associate, began the process of setting up the basics and making the computer her own.
Her husband sat down at the same table but at a distance and alone, still appearing lost as he curiously watched other people in the store. I moved a bit closer to him and began a completely unrelated conversation so as to occupy a bit of his time and not make him feel ignored. We got onto the topic of how computer savvy younger kids are today and how quickly they pick up on technology. He asked if working at Apple was all I did. I told him my primary job was that of a photographer and I mainly photograph airplanes. He laughed a little.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “A plane is a plane, a car is a car and a cow is a cow. How can you make a living taking photos of these ordinary things?” To relay my best customer service, I agreed and told him that’s a very good question. “If the photos I create look just like the objects I photograph, I would no doubt have a very difficult time making a living,” I told him. “The challenge is to make every aircraft look unique but familiar and bring out the strongest feature of that plane.”
I could tell he was a very objective man and doubtful that a simple photograph could make an ordinary object look extraordinary.
On the table was a 15” MacBook Pro laptop. I navigated the web browser to my gallery of Reminisce black and white photographs and proceeded to show him some of my photography. What happened next was nothing short heartwarming.
The fragile older gentleman’s eyes began to water as he watched image after image flash before him. I asked if he was ok. He glanced over at his wife, then back to the screen followed by a simple nod. After a few more seconds and without provocation, he started to tell me a very powerful story. “I was at Normandy and remember seeing these planes. They didn’t look like this,” he said. “I have few words to describe what I saw and what I experienced. Come to think of it, it’s been nearly 30 years since I’ve even talked about Normandy.” Another lengthy pause followed as he watched the slideshow intently. “These are beautiful,” he said. “You’re right, a photograph of an airplane can look a lot different than just an airplane.”
I was speechless. Not only did I suddenly have a better understanding of his objectivity, to him at the time these aircraft were simply tools of war, but I had so many questions and was poised to listen intently to his stories if only he were willing to share them. At that moment however, I could sense the sight of these aircraft seemed a bit overwhelming. The fact that he was willing to open up to me and share a piece of his past that he hadn’t shared with anyone in three decades almost brought a tear to my eye.
He continued to surprise me as he named off the individual aircraft. “I jumped from quite a few of those C-47’s,” he recalled. “I also remember seeing those white stripes on the wings for the first time [referring to the D-Day invasion stripes applied to all allied aircraft]. They painted hundreds of them that way.” He went on to describe the actions of P-38’s and P-51’s in the European Theater. For someone who managed to distance himself for so long from such intense experiences, his memory was flawless.
Soon his wife was all set and her computer was back in the box. He and I both thanked each other for the shared stories and shook hands. I watched as they walked hand in hand toward of the front of the store and then out of sight. What really caught my attention was how his once frail shuffling steps turned into a more confident stride. Moments like these remind me of why I do what I do, both at Apple and as a photographer.
To some, winning a contest defines a good photo. To others, selling a print defines a good photo. To me, nothing could define a good photograph more than a single tear.
Be different, think different, make your mark.
When most of us make large purchases aimed toward our craft, it’s difficult to justify the uncool things like tripods, batteries, strobes, filters and the like. So imagine how difficult it was when I plopped down $2800 for a gyroscopic egg thingy that will only make my camera heavier.
Kenyon-Labs, the most well known, and probably only manufacturer of portable cinema gyros, offers six different mainstream models; the KS-2, KS-4, KS-6, KS-8, KS-10 and KS-12. Photographers and DSLR videographers will most likely narrow this selection down to three, the KS-4, KS-6 or KS-8.
The KS-4 unit falls on the smaller end of the gyro scale and is designed to support a camera and lens combo weighing up to 4lbs. This may prove to be quite limiting and not allow for your gear to grow if not already using slightly heavier pro-level equipment. The KS-6 will support up to 6lbs which should fill the need of the average user. Even bigger is the KS-8 which can support a fairly heavy mass of 8-12lbs, but weighs over 5lbs by itself. With all that in mind, I chose the KS-6.
The Kenyon KS-6 gyro comes complete with a massive battery, AC and DC adapters and of course the gyro, all contained within a hard Pelican travel case. Lightweight, it’s not. At almost 3.5lbs for the gyro itself, it weighs more than most cameras like the Nikon D4 at 2.6lbs and the Canon EOS-1D MkIV weighing 2.7lbs. The battery is just slightly smaller than the one you’d find powering your car and comes with Scoliosis-inducing shoulder strap. Holding the entire unit can be a bit unwieldy with it’s combined weight, including a lens, reaching 8lbs or more.
Despite these rather small drawbacks, a gyro is an amazing tool and contrary to physics, it enables a camera to float in your hands.
When you first attach the gyro to your camera you’ll find it a bit difficult due to the lever-type rod and its inability to rotate a full 360 degrees continuously. Add to it the slight fumbling of joining two bulky objects. A good solution is to add a quick release plate right off the bat so the gyro will simply snap on and off the camera.
Another limitation you’ll notice is that the gyro is intended to remain beneath the camera aligned perpendicular with the lens. If you plan on shooting verticals, this could prove to be a little awkward. A simple solution is to add a rotating flash bracket and cut off the flash bracket part. A basic bracket that won’t set you back too much can be found here. A slightly more advanced bracket can be found here, but you may want to think twice before breaking out the hacksaw.
Now that everything is assembled and the gyro has been turned on, it will take about 20 minutes for the unit to spool up to its working speed of approximately 20,000 RPM. The first thing you’ll notice is the gyro wanting to fight you with every sharp movement you make. One of the most important little tidbits about using a gyro is its rate of turn limitation, in this case about 20 degrees per second. If you swing the camera with a gyro attached any faster than that, the spinning motion of the gyro will try to stop you. There will be a slight learning curve toward avoiding this effect.
Another issue to be aware of is fatigue. As you’ve probably noticed, I repeatedly mention the combined weight of things. Holding a camera/lens/gyro combination may not be a big issue for the first 5 or 10 minutes, but eventually it will begin to weigh heavy on your mind, pun intended. If there is a means of supporting your rig through a series of bungee cables or other creative method, it may be worth giving a try.
And finally, bulk. While it’s an incredible tool and definitely makes a difference in the final product, it can be rather large and at times, impractical. Photographing from a tight cockpit or at an unusual angle, like in a contorted position, may illustrate its limitations. Photographing from a designated camera ship with a large door and a comfy seat, would be ideal.
Despite the limitations; price, bulk and weight, once you’ve used a gyro it’s difficult to imagine not using one. It’s a necessity for video work and can save the day during those turbulent evening aerial shoots. Undoubtedly one of the best investments in uncool things I have ever made.
There’s no doubt I’m not a huge fan of HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography. While I think it’s a neat effect and a fun thing to do with photos that didn’t turn out quite right, I’m seeing this overused effect pop in places it never should have even been considered.
Now before I begin my little diatribe, I have given HDR a try and I even own RC Concepcion’s book, “The HDR Book: Unlocking the Pros’ Hottest Post-Processing Techniques”. It’s a fantastic and thorough book detailing the process. However, this overly used effect is becoming common place in places where it shouldn’t be common.
So what exactly is HDR? The proper way of creating an HDR image requires the blending of multiple images, usually three to five photographs, shot at different exposures. Think of it as a bracketing burst all in one exposure. The results enable a wider range of exposure similar to what our natural vision can capture. Unfortunately, this effect also pulls out details that are unrealistic and over saturated. Essentially, HDR images take on a more painterly or illustrated look rather than appearing like a traditional photograph.
Now I’d like to think I’m relatively accepting of new technology and techniques. My workflow incorporates the latest in software and computer technology, my equipment is constantly being updated to keep up with the Jones’, I’ve even embraced the world of DSLR video and motion picture editing. But, when it comes to tweaking photos to the point of creating an unrealistic world and still calling it photography, I personally have to draw the line.
Case in point, my wife and I have recently begun our search for a new home. Browsing the thousands of listings, I occasionally come across homes where the real estate agent has accepted images from a photographer employing HDR or the agent has tried HDR first hand themselves. As I mentioned earlier, HDR brings out details not visible to the human eye in a very unrealistic nature. This is an instant turn off for me. Any time the photographer or agent feels the need to manipulate photography of an item for sale, my trust for that agency disappears.
Another example I recently came across was an aircraft for sale. This particular broker showcased numerous aircraft all featuring HDR as the photo technique of choice. The effect was so prominent I had difficulty telling what kind of plane it was. The sky ended up becoming more defined than the aircraft and the leather seats looked like a newly discovered material never seen before.
But is HDR completely out of the question? Absolutely not. I offer my clients the option of using studio lighting to properly light a home for brokerage or architectural photography or, if they choose, I can apply a subtle use of HDR to brighten up shadows and dim down hot spots. To reduce the cost of the shoot, most clients prefer the latter. There is however a bit of an educational process when comforting photography-savvy clients about the subtle use of HDR. When used in moderation, HDR can provide a realistic and pleasing image that will not change the overall appeal and still provide a factual representation of the subject matter.
The point is, be very careful when using HDR. If you enjoy the effects of HDR photography, great, but the resulting illustrations should remain outside the considerations of showcasing products for sale if the effect is not used in moderation. If you’re a photographer, do your clients a service and utilize your knowledge of photography and post processing techniques that provide a realistic perspective of the product you are photographing. While HDR may be fun, it’s not a solution for everyone and can end up being detrimental to your client.