Well it’s a simple enough question that demands a good answer because anyone that has been to an airshow can tell you that there is a lot going on throughout the day and the majority is happening when there is harsh light. Most people fly airplanes when there is a lot more light out, we photographers are kind of picky and only want the best light in the early morning and evening. But the rest of the crowd tends to sleep in and get there later in the day. So how do you cope? For starters you can’t be afraid to go out in the harsh light. Be smart and picky with your subjects, don’t just blast away. No one needs a hardrive full of bad images trying to find that one.
Next up, watch your backgrounds. Try to minimize the amount of background by not shooting real wide or angling up. If you can look for clean background with colors that aren’t in the blue gamut range you’ll make your life a whole lot easier. It’s real easy to have washed out blues in the middle of the day.
Always remember that under exposing in the camera is your best friend and finally be smart with your finishing. Thanks to the tools in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom, like the shadow slider, shooting in the middle of the day is a whole lot easier. These are just a few things that I have noticed from my time on the tarmac but there is always more if you go out and play.
Images Captured with Nikon D5, 70-200 VRII on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
This is the best part about Aviation Photography and the fun that can be had at a simple Flyin. No matter which way you look there is always something to photograph. The best part is it only takes one airplane to make something happen. This 1939 Taylorcraft was taking off early Saturday morning to head over to Butte for the annual flyin breakfast. I got there in the nick of time for the taxi and takeoff. With the D5 and 70-200 VRII, I got close physically, kneeled down and got some clicks. Now getting close isn’t always an option but at small flyins like this one it was and I knew that beforehand. That morning was a gorgeous one at that as the cold front moving in pushed all the ugly smoke out of the way which you can see in the background.
The best part of photographing this plane was later that evening out of sheer happen chance I met the couple that owns the aircraft and we talked for quite a bit. Bev told me about her father and how he flew mustangs in the Pacific doing bombing and straffing runs. He flew 113 missions which is an insane amount! It was great hearing her stories and then being able to share my photos with her of their Taylorcraft. But it all comes back to having that one subject and making some clicks happen with that one plane.
Panning can be very difficult to master. It comes down to muscle memory and practice. After a while it becomes second nature and then it’s easy. Now one would think that if you get used to a heavier lens, like the 200-400 then a lighter lens like a 24-70 would be easier, but it’s not. It’s just as hard because of that muscle memory. Then there comes the angle. If you think you have it down pat try shooting at a different height, for instance crouching down. Not only does this make for a unique vantage point between the foreground and the background it also will really challenge your skills.
The Three Forks Flyin was a blast this year and sadly it’s already over. With roughly 50 GA, Antique and Warbirds in attendance, the flyin was a huge success as people came from all over to enjoy this yearly event. I spent Friday evening and Saturday at the Flyin and in those short hours managed to shoot roughly 6K images. Not bad for less then a day. Addison Pemberton and his Grumman Goose were certainly a big hit at this years event having flown over from Felts Field, Spokane, WA. Addison being himself opened up all the panels on the plane and happily stood under the wing talking about everything that made this plane so unique. There are more great stories to come and more images but I wanted to get something up as I’m still going through images.
Image Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
It’s that time of the year again for the annual Three Forks Flyin sponsored by the Montana Antique Aircraft Association. This will be the 41st Flyin and each sees a variety of aircraft from all over the west. Some pilots travel as California and Washington to be a part of the Flyin and this year Addison Pemberton and his Goose will be attending the Flyin. It’s one sweet plane! I’ve been going to the flyin for the past couple of years and it’s always been a blast. It’s this Friday and Saturday so if you’re in the area stop by for some fun.
If you need more inspiration, head over to the MAAA’s website and click on the gallery where you can see a bunch of photos of mine from last years event.
Images Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
We have a lot of old buildings here in Montana and oddly enough people keep moving more into the state. It must be part of the appeal of the state to be old and rustic. I love working with the closeup parts of the rustic buildings. There is so much detail and color and intrigue with each building that sometimes the details are better then the whole picture. One great example is simply the light on one side versus the other side. Using the corner as the divider and the natural vertical lines of the boards, it’s hard to tell what’s light, what’s just the wood and what has just been aged over time. Fun simple way to play with depth of field, light and old buildings.
This one is pretty self explanatory, take photos of the people. The whole point of events like EAA Airventure is to bring people together who enjoy Aviation. They celebrate the culture, the heritage, the adrenaline, the camaraderie and of course the stories. Without these people the Fly-in wouldn’t happen. How do you capture this?
There is no one method. You walk and talk and watch the people. Watch the pilots, the crews, the reenactors and of course the audience. Let their enthusiasm be the story but remember to be respectful and polite. It’s a public event so you can photograph everyone that comes in but be nice about it, especially those that keep the planes going. Talk to those guys and share YOUR enthusiasm with them. As for gear, I’ve taken people shots with everything from an 18-35 f3.5-4.5 to the 200-400 VR. It all depends on what kind of story you are trying to tell.
Continuing on with Airventure advice, many of you will probably recognize the Martin JRM Mars water dumper that was at Oshkosh two years ago. It’s the largest flying boat still flying today and was one of the main attractions in 2016. It’s easy to see why. Airventure always has aircraft in the skies. Whether it’s planes flying in or out or the actual airshow routine, there is always something going on. This is why it’s really important to keep an eye on the show guide which usually there is a hard copy available for those in attendance, the app or their website.
When it comes to flying aircraft I instantly go to the long lens which in my case is the 200-400 VR, along with the Nikon D5, which combined with the ability to go to High Speed Crop in the camera, provides a good focal range. For those that aren’t familiar with High Speed Crop, it’s a simple function in Nikon cameras that allows you to go from the image area of FX to DX which changes the aspect ratio but increases magnification. Sometimes that is a good thing.
With flying aircraft the other areas that you need to focus on is having a slower shutter speed if the aircraft has props, such as under 250th a second and proper hand holding technique. Elbows in, twist at the trunk and hands resting under the lens barrel. All of these elements will help you get cleaner, sharper images.
There is no event on the planet that is quite like EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, WI. Hosted every year by EAA at Wittman Regional Airport, Airventure is the world’s largest Fly-in with over 10,000 aircraft usually in participation throughout the week. Hundreds of thousands of people attend every year and for the true aviation enthusiast there is nothing better. For a photographer, it’s paradise because there is more photograph then you have time for. With so much available how do you not get overloaded?
Unfortunately this year I will not be able to attend Osh, but having gone multiple times over the years I have plenty to talk about and advice to give. The big thing to start with is to not get overwhelmed. There is a lot to see at Oshkosh and it’s really easy to feel like you have to see and photograph everything. The simple truth is you can’t. There is just too much. Your best bet is to research the different areas and setup a basic schedule for where you want to be and when. For instance, down at warbird alley, getting there early in the morning is a great way to get static shots of just the planes and not the crowds. Or like the image above, staying late to avoid people in your photos. Remember to go tight and to go wide. Something like the Nikon D5 with the 18-35 f/3.5-4.5 or 70-200VRII to give multiple options with the static planes. Oshkosh is great because you can get close and get those detail shots so take advantage of that.
Since it’s not always possible to have the camera in hand all the time, today’s the day to start planning this weekends shooting fun. Two days are never enough but at least it’s time behind the lens. Now whatever your field maybe, be sure to spend some time and do your homework today so that you’re prepared for the next day. Before I head out I always look into the area, the weather and what’s happening so that I stack the deck the best I can to get the best photos possible. Does this always pan out? No. But it doesn’t hurt either.
Images Captured with Nikon D750, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film