Knowledge is Key

It’s funny as you get older the things that start meaning more to you. When you’re a kid all you can think about is the next toy or the next game that will be more fun then the last. In some ways being a photographer is like being an adult kid. We travel a lot, we meet a lot of people, we get to play with really awesome toys and we decide when we want to share the results. One thing that I have truly come to enjoy and treasure are my books, which ironically, I never liked reading when I was a kid.

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Books don’t just look good in a home or office they are a gateway to more knowledge. Knowledge is truly an important thing when it comes to each owns photography because the more you know about a subject the better your photographs will be. When it comes to Aviation or Wildlife photography, knowing your biology is key to getting that one great shot or knowing about where that particular plane flew and fought helps when planning an air to air. It’s simple to think about afterward but it’s so critical in the planning of any shoot is that knowledge. Sometimes it’s best when you can’t think of what to shoot next it’s best to put down the camera and pick up a book.

When to Change the White Balance

The White Balance is a very important feature with our digital cameras and is one that is often underutilized. It’s very simple these days to shoot RAW format and then in post make the changes that the White Balance could’ve have done in the camera. While there is nothing wrong with this if you’re shooting to make memories as well to create content then getting it right the first time is important. Personally as much as I enjoy playing around with images in post, I’d rather be out fishing, bike riding or shooting. That time thing is always the one area where you have to get it right the first time.

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While I was out shooting a few days ago I changed from Auto White Balance to Cloudy in hopes that the warmth of the sunset would come back and a more dramatic sky would be produced. Well it didn’t. The sun was going down behind a wall of clouds and only a a couple breaks in the wall were showing. Because the temperature of the sky was below 5000K switching to cloudy wasn’t going to do any good anyway. If anything it actually made the scene more accurate to the current temperature.

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The second image was taken while in Auto White Balance. In this case what you’re seeing is what the camera senses is the most accurate based on the hue and intensity of the light source measured in degrees Kelvin. The camera then choose a result from preprogramed measurements. Both images have a very different feel to them as a result of these changes. While you could make these same changes in post, taking the two second to switch modes while shooting a going click saves you a whole lot of time. The important thing is to test different modes while shooting different scenarios that way when the need arises again, you’ll have a base of knowledge to go to that can help you determine what the best method is to create the best shot.

Where does Inspiration Come From?

Inspiration can come from a lot of places, so many in fact that I couldn’t list them all in one blog post. Everyone has their own way of getting pumped about a project and that’s part of being human. Lately I’ve been working on an aviation project that I hope to accomplish later this summer and to get ready I’ve been going through historical records to know as much about my subject as possible. The problem is there ain’t much of a record about my future project. Oh well, guess I’ll have to make one.

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A couple of months back I found this book at an antique store. I love going through antique and used book stores for Aviation books. There are so many out there and you never know which one while have tid bit that can spark an idea. The really interesting part or sad part in this case, is that most of these books come from veteran collections. This particular book came from a Colonel that lived up in Helena and who passed away last year.

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What caught my attention most about his particular is in the tag line, “a pictorial history of World War II Air Forces in combat.” Since aviation photography is in part about recreating history, then the best place to study is the photographs from that time period. The formations, the angles, the planes and their backgrounds, it’s all important to know. Seeing images like this is no different then seeing a portrait that you like and wanting to duplicate the technique. Or seeing a beautiful animal and wanting to go photograph that critter. These are the photographs that we draw inspiration from and it’s how we strive for greater things.

Dam Busters, A Good Read

A while back I had heard about this book and instantly had to get it. I knew absolutely nothing about the raid against the German dams back in 1943 except that they happened, which for me, was a major draw to this book. Having read it now I can honestly say that it is a great read to start the year off with.

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Back in 1943 a British engineer, Barnes Wallis, came up with a very controversial and almost unbelievable way to destroy the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams in the heart of Germanys, Ruhr Valley. The goal was to cause a devastating blow to the psychological, moral and industrial areas of the Ruhr forcing Germany’s war industry to be further delayed with set backs. It did just that. In 1951 Paul Brickhill wrote the first book about the raid in which 19 type 464 Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron flew a night mission to destroy the dams. In 1955 a movie was made about the raid that has become a classic amongst aviation and history enthusiasts. James Holland’s book picks up where Brickhills left off. Due to Brickhill’s book being published in 1951 many documents were still classified and therefore could not be included in his book. However at the time more veterans of the raid were still around to interview. Holland’s book was published in 2012 and is said to have more information in it because those documents were released. However, only a handful of the veterans were around to interview. Having not read Brickhills copy I can’t make a comparison, but I can say that if you are looking for a good read and know absolutely nothing about this mission then you should pick up a copy of Dam Busters. It delves into British politics, engineering, human psyche and of above all, aviation.

The Man Who Flew The Memphis Belle

There are a lot of famous people in the world and most of the time it is that one thing that they did to become famous that we all know about and nothing else. Well sorry to say this was somewhat the case when I started reading this book. Robert Morgan was captain of a plane that most people have heard of, the Memphis Belle. This plane and it’s crew were the first ones to complete the 25 required combat missions in World War II in order to go home. The 25 missions was a change in policy given as a rewarded to flight crews that flew in the European theater. The hitch with it was that not many crews were able to survive that many missions early in the war. These guys were the first and became heroes for doing so. They were not the last.

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Robert Morgan lead one heck of a life. From growing up in North Carolina, to flying 25 missions over Europe only to return home for a few months before reenlisting in the Pacific to fly B-29’s against Japan where he flew 26 more missions! I’m usually not big on memoirs just because every memoir has it’s own unique writing style, some more technical then others, and it’s own personal message. The conflict I have with this is it’s hard to judge which ones are good and which ones aren’t. This one is a good read for anyone.

Hell Hawks

I just got done reading my 6th book of the year. A little slow this year but still grateful to have time to read that many books. Well the latest one is called Hell Hawks. This book came out last year and is all about the 365 fighter group known as the Hell Hawks, and their role during WWII in the European Theater. It’s an amazing story that is expertly written. If you have ever wondered what the role of the P-47 was or how much it affected the war then this a great read for you. It took me a month to read this book solely because I didn’t want it to stop. If you have the time I suggest picking up a copy.

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This is the P-47D Razorback, 42-74742, “Snafu,” painted in the scheme of Lt Severino B Calderon part of the 84th Fighter Squadron, which I was able to photograph at Planes of Fame this past May.

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Sierra Sue II

This past July, my Dad was telling me about a P-51 called Sierra Sure II while we were at Oshkosh. I had never heard of this plane before but it sounded like it had quite a history to it. He recommended a book about the plane and naturally needing another book to read, especially if it’s a good one, I went out and bought it. I just finished it and I have to say that it’s a very interesting read! It’s a great read for pilots providing just enough pilot talk with a good story tied in it for the average aviation enthusiast. It’s less than 200pgs but it’s a good 200. If you’re looking for a good quick read I recommend it.

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The Twilight Warriors

I love reading! After a long day of having to think and solve problems there is nothing better than lying on my bed reading. Lately it seems mostly what I read is aviation based. Partly because I enjoy the stories and partly because I like learning the history. Well I just finished reading The Twilight Warriors which is about a group of Corsair pilots as they fight during the invasion of Okinawa, the last island of the Pacific War before Japan. I got to say it’s a pretty good book. If you’re like me and don’t know much about that chapter of history it’s interesting to learn about. For instance it goes into a lot about the different types of Japanese kamikaze’s, dog fighting, naval strategy and overall why they kept fighting. If any of that sounds interesting to you, go get the book.

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A Higher Call

As I have progressed into Aviation Photography, it has become important to learn more and more about the history of these planes. Thankfully someone decided a long time ago to start writing down the stories about these boys and what they went through, that way one day the rest of the world could know too. However, it’s not as often you run across books that tell the story from the other side of the war.

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Back in December I first heard about this book that was supposed to be like nothing else out there. My Dad got it for Christmas and after reading it he was in awe of the book. He texted saying, “I just finished A Higher Call, you need to read it so I bought you a copy.” I can honestly say that once I started reading I didn’t want to stop. Although I could have finished in a day I spread it out over a couple of weeks, savoring every word. A Higher Call is about a German Fighter Pilot who led a very interesting life in WWII. He tells his story of how he was fighting for the people and not the leaders. If you ever thought that all Germans were bad in that time, then you should read this book. It’s not like any other. When my friends ask me what I have been reading and I say aviation history, they always ask if any of its interesting. Although most of the books I can’t suggest because they aren’t for everyone’s taste; too many numbers, stats, and dates, I do recommend Unbroken by Laura Hillendbrand and now A Higher Call by Adam Makos.

Other Ways of Keeping History Alive

One of the addiction that I seem to have inherited from my Dad is the overwhelming desire to purchase more books. There are worse ones to have but it can be an expensive addiction. Well I am constantly on the search for more of Montana’s Aviation History. I love reading about the pioneers out this way that you wouldn’t think about being Aviation enthusiasts. Now Montana is definitely a place where veterans come to retire but it’s not always the easiest getting a hold of them. On my travels one day I stopped at a local antique shop, gotta love those whole in the wall ones. In the basement, in the corner was the section on Aviation. That’s where I found these.

They may not look like much but in fact these manuals are a significant part of history that most people wouldn’t recognize. Three of these books are from the War Department on the maintenance of specific systems on aircraft. The other three are on Meteorology, Civil Pilot training Manual and a Digest of Civil Air Regulations for Pilots. Each one was published between 1940 and 1942. That’s old paper that usually doesn’t get saved. I mean there airplane maintenance manuals from the 40’s. It’s very important however that they do get saved. I’m not bragging because i know have them, I’m saying that as photographers we record history ever day and some days we even make it. Always remember to look beyond the obvious parts.

Now one of the really cool things about these books, as you can tell in the picture, one is signed. Frank J Pickett, which after some research done and this is unconfirmed, I found out that he was an Army Air Corps flight surgeon from 1942-1945. He went to bases throughout the United States, East Anglia, United Kingdom and even to Paris during the Battle of the Bulge. He started a family physician office right here in Bozeman until his retirement in 1976. He passed away in 1999.

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