Tyson V. Rininger's Blog

TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!

How’d you get that shot – Blue Angels over Big Sur

Michael Goulian with passenger Bill Whitaker from CBS News flies in formation with Ed Hamill behind a C-130J belonging to the 146th Airlift Wing of the Rhode Island Air National Guard.

At the risk of sounding cliche, it all started with a phone call. Make that two cliches. John Cudahy, President of the International Council of Airshows (ICAS), asked if I would have any interest in joining and assisting a news crew on various photoshoots during the weekend of the California International Airshow in Salinas. It didn’t take long to provide an answer.

It was Fall of 2009 and home foreclosures were at an all time high. The market had already crashed and the unemployment rate was not about to decline anytime soon. Due to the popularity of airshows during an otherwise miserable economic downturn, CBS contacted ICAS to find out the secret behind these entertaining venues. Because of time constraints and accessibility, Salinas would be chosen to host the news crew for their national story.

For 2009, Salinas had a stellar line up. Military demonstration teams included the A-10 Thunderbolt, USAF Heritage Flight, US Army Golden Knights and the USN Blue Angels. On the civilian roster was Michael Goulian, Ed Hamill, Bob Carlton, Gene Soucey and Teresa Stokes, John Collver and the ever popular Robosaurus and the Wall of Fire.

Major Paul "Harb" Brown of the West Coast A-10 Demo Team points the business end of his Thunderbolt II toward the open ramp of the C-130J.

The first photoshoot involved Michael Goulian with CBS news correspondent Bill Whitaker as his passenger. Flying Wayne Handley’s yellow and blue Extra, Goulian teamed up with Ed Hamill in his patriotic Pitts biplane. Assisting the news crew and the airshow throughout the weekend was the 143rd Airlift Wing of the Rhode Island Air National Guard (RIANG) with their extended body C-130J Hercules.

Once Goulian and Hamill completed their formation fun behind the C-130, it was time for Major Paul “Harb” Brown in the A-10 and Steve Hinton in his P-51D “Wee Willy II” to join the fun. Harb expertly approached the six o’clock position of the C-130 swaying from side to side providing the news crew with various bank angles followed by cautiously placing the business end of the A-10 within mere feet of the extended ramp. After a few brief minutes, Hinton joined Harb demonstrating the dissimilar formation of the USAF Heritage Flight. A quick glance at the CBS videographer revealed a grin from ear to ear. The news crew was no doubt getting what they wanted.

From the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California, Steve Hinton flies P-51D 'Wee Willy II' during a media flight at the 29th annual California International Airshow in Salinas.

As with just about every exhilarating air to air shoot, it was all over too soon. The ramp of the C-130 slowly closed until the last sliver of light glistening off the maze of pipes along the internal fuselage walls disappeared. A small bump a few minutes later indicated we were back on the ground.

Throughout the weekend the excitement of one of the country’s most successful civilian airshows drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd. The news crew could be found hard at work at every corner of the airfield capturing these magical moments. All the while, Commander Greg McWhirter lead the precision Blue Angles demonstration team through three flawless performances giving us a hint of what was to come at the conclusion of the show.

High over the cloudy California coastline, the 2009 Blue Angels Demonstration Team flies their famous six-ship formation behind a RIANG C-130J at the conclusion of the California International Airshow in Salinas.

Early Monday morning, absent of crowds, aircraft were being closely inspected by their aircrews in preparation of heading home. Vendors were disassembling booths and temporary stanchions were being collected. The airport was still however, far from looking like an airport.

Proudly sitting on the flightline were the six primary Blue Angel aircraft, their canopies freshly cleared of morning dew. Looking on was the RIANG C-130J complete with aircrew and passengers, but without one major entity…CBS. Unfortunately the news crew was on deadline and was forced to head back to New York in order to prepare the piece.

Just as we had done before the airshow started, we received our brief, buckled in and watched from the rear of the aircraft as we taxied toward the runway. Slowly the ramp began to close and we were airborne.

Tilting and tightening in on a singular subject adds to the variety of a shoot.

As soon as we were ‘feet wet’ over the Monterey Bay, the cargo door came down revealing the thick marine layer covering the Central Coast. In the distance a dot could be seen, followed by another dot, and yet another two dots…pretty soon seven random dots could be seen closing in on our aircraft. In no time at all those seven dots became a tightly knit formation of gold and blue F-18’s with the seventh aircraft, F-18B #7 hanging just outside the formation.

By this time we were about five miles off the coast of Pebble Beach, California rounding to the south to follow the Big Sur coastline. The surrealistic view of six F/A-18A Hornets being flown by perhaps the best pilots in the world warranted a few moments of contemplation without a camera in front of my face. Fortunately that didn’t last long and I got back to shooting.

Clearly this wasn’t the first time the Blue Angels had pulled up behind a C-130 full of camera-wielding photographers. The six pilots were as one as they swayed from side to side, smoke on then smoke off.

Just seconds before the six-ship formation broke away from the C-130, the skies opened up over the Point Sur Lighthouse. This was literally the last image shot before the shoot came to an end.

Not that any ‘impact’ needed to be added to illustrate the sheer power and agility of of today’s front line fighter, let alone six, but I did attempt various angles and isolating individual aircraft. A tilt to the left or a tilt to the right managed to fill the frame and add a sense of dynamics. Zooming in on individual aircraft revealed unique views and perspectives, especially with multiple aircraft and multiple angles from which to choose.

During the entire eighty-mile flight down the Big Sur coastline, the marine layer was ever prevalent with no sign of revealing the breathtaking cliffs. But as all hope seemed lost, a break in the clouds appeared just as we approached the Point Sur Lighthouse, made famous by the USS Macon (ZRS-5) which crashed just off shore. A small trough of warm air carved an angular wedge out of the persistent coastal gloom revealing a beachhead and a hint of the lighthouse. Seconds later the six-ship plus one departed in search of an awaiting KC-135. Once topped off, they would be on their way home to Pensacola, Florida.

It was an incredible honor to have been the first civilian photographer to have an image featured as the official team litho for 2010. Thank you to everyone on the team who made it happen!

Special thanks to John Cudahy of ICAS for the special invite along with the entire Board of the California International Airshow for creating the logistics to make this reality. An enormous debt of gratitude is owed to the USN Blue Angels Demonstration Squadron as well as Col. Larry Gallogly and his crew of the 143rd Airlift Wing Air National Guard. Additional thanks to Blue Angels CDR Greg McWherter and Public Affairs Officer, CAPT Tyson Dunkelberger for selecting the resulting image as the official 2010 Blue Angels Lithograph.

For more images from this shoot and the 2009 California International Airshow, Salinas, click here or pick up a copy of the 2009 California International Airshow – Salinas Pictorial.

Camera: Canon 5D
Lens: 28-135mm f/3.5 @ f/5.6
Exposure: 1/500 – Aperture Priority
Aperture: f/5.6
ISO: 100
Image Created: 8/10/09 @ 9:10am pst

For more images from the Blue Angels photoshoot, including additional photography and details of each performer, check out the "California International Airshow" book by clicking on the above image.


3 responses to “How’d you get that shot – Blue Angels over Big Sur

  1. Rob Edgcumbe January 3, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    A nice piece Tyson. Not sure why I wasn’t already subscribed to your RSS feed but that is now done.



  2. Paul M. Murray January 4, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    Nice work!!! I have done a lot of work with the RIANG’s 143rd Airlift Wing over the past three years. They are great collaborators as are the Rhode Island Army National Guard’s 56th Troop Command.

  3. Alva Muncie January 9, 2012 at 12:47 AM

    Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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