I don’t often photograph much modern military aviation but every now and then I get the chance to at airshows and one of my favorites from day one is the A-10 Thunderbolt II, also known as the Warthog. Built by Fairchild-Republic the Warthog in many ways is the successor of the P-47 Thunderbolt. It was the only close air support (CAS) production built aircraft in the USAF specifically built for CAS. It entered service in 1976.
The Warthog was designed as a low level, ground attack aircraft for supporting ground troops. With this purpose in mind they were built with very specific safety measures. The plane was built around the front 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon along with 1,200lbs of titanium armor for protection. The plane was built to take hits and keep flying. With this premise in mind the mechanics of the aircraft are rather simple making for easier repairs at maintenance facilities.
The first combat seen by the A-10’s was the Gulf War where it distinguished itself in it’s CAS role. While the USAF had always planned on removing the A-10 from service with it’s replacement the F-35, plans for this have not gone through. How long will it remain in service is debatable.
Since this week marks the 70th anniversary of VE Day and with the number of airshows that are happening around the country, it seemed like a good time to write a little about different areas of aviation photography and how to approach certain scenarios. A good place to start is of course with your feet on the ground. Static photography is certainly the best place to start as all parked planes are easy subjects to work around safely. Airplanes have one very special feature to them that stands out and that is the lines. Planes are made of great lines and the relationship between those surfaces and light is what makes an image come to life.
Whether it’s working at an airshow or at a private hanger, you have to think about what the story is. There is nothing wrong with capturing the moment that exists when approaching an aircraft but if you want to really make something special you have to work at the angle and the gesture of the plane to make a statement. One of the best ways to bring out that gesture is to go in tight with a longer lens like a 70-200 VRII or even a 200-400VR. A long lens does a great job of isolating details like the prop hub, the blades, the canopy, guns, or other characteristics of planes without having to get close physically. When working around other people using a long lens helps to keep heads out of the way while still able to get a shot.
When it comes to telling the whole story one image is never really enough. This is where going wide by using something like a 24-70 AF-S to capture in everything is just as important as going in tight to get detail shots. Just like with a good landscape image a wide shot is only going to be strong is the foreground and background are strong. Some of the se planes are really big, and not having a good sky behind the plane is not going to help. It is important to watch all the elements. One way to help overcome this obstacle is by getting down low and shooting up. This helps to blur the details in the foreground and accentuate the plane while making the plane look bigger. Even with a bald sky shooting this way can make the image more interesting.
The last thing I want to point out is that no matter what the age the plane is, whether it’s jet powered or prop driven, the devil is in the details. Just like with any subject the light is key and where that light is highlighting the plane is a great place to focus on. One great way to help bring your eye to that point is by using a simple gradient on the top and bottom that brings down the exposure. Another simple way to accomplish the same desire is to use a vignette.
Tomorrow is the start of Photoshop World. Before I get started sharing some of what goes on at this marvelous and overwhelming event, i wanted to bring to you some of the aircraft that was at the Florida International Air Show. Everything you see was up flying both days, giving some fantastic performances.
It’s day two of the Air Races here in Reno and they are shaping up to be very exciting. 4 F14’s came in the night before and were resting on the ramp in the morning. Along with them were the Blue Angels but since i had already showed them i thought i would go to these guys. Plus there is no telling how long these guys will be around. The light was great, there were a couple clouds and the right amount of light to make them pop. I got down low and shot up into the sky trying to eliminate that pesky ground. It seems to be the favorite approach out here with static planes. You can go to Dad’s, Scott’s or Bill’s blog to see more spectacular static plane shots.
I was working with the F14 when Bill walked past me rather quickly. I asked him why and he said there is a A10 down the way. I said what and he replyed an A10 Worthog, one of my favorite planes. I followed him down the ramp and there it was parked in a little fenced off area, waiting to be photographed. Well the background sucks, just filled with cars and buildings and junk, far more stuff than i wanted to deal with in post. I therefore stuck to close up shots and it appears that the rest f the guys did the same. It turned out to be a rather cooperative subject, just wish it was out on the ramp.
Images captured with D3, 70-300AF-S vr, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film