TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!
Category Archives: The Business of Photography
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.
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.
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.
There are some things that only happen once in our lifetime and sometimes there are only a few people present when that happens. Although there will always be that one publication that wants the “scoop”, can you really afford to market that coverage to just one entity?
Of course client loyalty is paramount, but so is communication. If you know you’re going to be covering an event that will yield massive coverage, be sure to communicate that with any potential clients beforehand.
Most publishers will be willing to work with you as long as they know what other publications will be bringing to market. Two competing magazines showcasing the same image on the cover would be a very bad idea, so be open with your clients as to what is going where.
Besides good communication, logistics are also vital to successfully distributing imagery to multiple clients. Know each client’s market. Not all aviation magazines are aimed at the same aviation market. Some magazines are aimed at warbird enthusiasts while others go for the modern military jet crowd, and still others are read solely by those fascinated with the luxury of aviation. In many cases those magazines are not considered competitors and similar images and accompanying stories can be run simultaneously.
Even if you’ve done all your homework, this process can still backfire. While one magazine may not see another as a direct competitor, the other magazine may deem otherwise. In the interest of running the story first, a magazine may not be totally honest about their position, especially if it is a smaller publication. Often times you will be forced to make a choice as to who gets what even though two competing publications want to run the story. You’ve spent a lot of time building relationships, don’t ruin it with a competing story that will only yield a couple hundred bucks. Client relationships are worth much more than that.
But magazines aren’t all that’s fit to print. There are still other markets that may be interested in coverage of the event outside the magazine industry such as aircraft manufacturers, air shows, aviation parts manufacturers, and the list goes on. The key to understanding the timing for exposing your imagery is to understand the life cycle of an image. A magazine has a life span of approximately one to two months and a limited readership. An advertisement can be wide reaching and remain in the public eye for many months. Because of the publicity advertisements provide, it is usually best to let any potential magazines share the story and images first before marketing the photos for use as advertisement pieces.
A single historic event, if covered well and marketed properly can be distributed to various clients successfully for six to eight months or more. And with good communication and forward thinking, it can be a win-win for everyone.
[Images seen here are a result of the US Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight training program. Special thanks to Dr. Richard Sugden for the use of his aircraft along with Peter Kline for his excellent piloting skills. Additional thanks goes to Lt. Erin “Eeyore” Flint for putting the commemorative Hornets in the air and Captain Mark “Mutha” Hubbard for his incredible support for the program. Of course without the hospitality of VFA-122 and the cooperation of all the civilian Legacy Pilots, none of this imagery would be possible. It is also with deep regret the passing of Lt. Matt “11” Lowe and Lt. Nathan “Beefcake” Williams as their F/A-18F Super Hornet crashed at NAS Lemoore on April 6, 2011, shortly after the conclusion of the Legacy Training Program. Both aviators were to have taken part in the 2011 Airshow Season as demonstration and Legacy pilots. Moreso, they each served this country dutifully and honorably both locally and in hostile territory. May they fly on in our memories forever.]
Above my desk lies a shelf full of various camera bodies. These tools have been instrumental in sharing my experiences and memories over the years. My very first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 126 rests alongside my first SLR, a Pentax K1000 and my first medium format camera, my 501C/M Hasselblad. The first automated camera I owned was a Ricoh KR-10M and sits next to my first pro-camera body, a Canon EOS-1V/HS. Two digital cameras also reside with my antiquated collection, a Canon 10D and a 5D.
Some equipment I had once used is no longer with me such as my Pentax Super Program bodies, Pentax ME, my Nikonos V bodies, Canon EOS-1 and others. The point being, I’ve had the pleasure of utilizing the technology provided by many camera brands.
It was tough moving from Pentax to Canon in the late 1980’s, but Canon had some very impressive AF technology at the time. For the next 20 years, I had moved through the Canon professional line until digital became the norm. In the late ’90’s I owned an EOS-1 and an EOS-1N which performed incredibly…until they were stolen. They were then replaced with two EOS-1V High-Speed bodies which performed well until 2003 when digital could no longer be ignored.
The switch to digital would not be an easy one. At the time, each EOS-1V body cost about $2,200. A professional digital SLR couldn’t be touched for under $5,000…and actually closer to $8,000. A compromise had to be made.
I ditched the pro-level bodies and ventured back to the pro-sumer category. After all, digital technology was changing practically by the minute. A 6-megapixel Canon 10D was about $1,500 at the time and served me very well. In 2003, the camera was put to good use covering the 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight and images from that camera were first published in Air & Space Smithsonian’s issue covering the Dayton Air Show. It was clear digital was not going away. In 2007, the 10D was retired in favor of the $3,000 Canon 5D full-frame camera.
In late 2009, Canon introduced the EOS-1DmkIV with an unprecedented ISO range and a terrific frame rate all in a solid body. With resolution reaching a steady and versatile range, it was now time to think about reentering the pro-level of camera bodies. With my 5D showing age and my lenses all reaching their 10-year age, it wasn’t just the body that needed to be replaced, but my whole camera bag. Now would be the time for me to take a look at what the ‘other guys’ were up to.
Canon is and has no doubt been an incredible company and their products have served me well. I had candid conversations with Nikon representatives, Bill Pekala and Bill Fortney along with other Nikon photographers. They, along with Canon, allowed me to make use of their products in order to come to a more educated decision.
Just like buying a home, one needs to consider where the community is headed and what level of resources are available. When comparing the variables, the product quality, long-term support, ease of transition and ease of communication, Nikon squeezed ahead of Canon.
It’s going to be a long journey for me to relearn the basic camera functions and differences between Nikon and Canon. From component compatibility and accessory part numbers to zooming, focusing and menu functions, the two companies couldn’t be more different. But, a camera is a tool and an investment and needs to best suit the photographer and their needs. For that, I feel Nikon has best filled the criteria and I look forward to what they have to offer in the future.
Many thanks to Nikon’s Bill Pekala, Bill Fortney, Jose Ramos, Deborah McQuade, Melissa DiBartolo and many others for assisting in the acquisition and future relationship. And of course a big thank you to Dave Carlson from Canon for his continued friendship.