The Background tells it’s own story

Background is everything. One of my Dad’s favorite catch phrases. He’s right of course. Background makes a big difference in the story of any photograph. One of my favorite shoots was a couple years back down in Mesa, AZ. We had for the second time a B-17G Flying Fortress, “sentimental Journey,” in an air to air shoot. Now when anyone says Arizona the first image that comes to mind is the desert and we had plenty of that to work with. Finding something else wasn’t too hard which helped to change the story.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200VRII, TC-17E, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film



Finishing Images

As I have been working through a number of images this past week, trying to get everything updated before another season of images start pouring in from airshows, I was thinking about the process that I go through and the comments made by a few other people. There are some that feel that it is still best not to finish images and the image that comes out of the camera is how it should remain. Your skill is consequently reflected by that images. I would have to agree that what comes out of the camera does reflect ones own skill, but finishing an image also shows ones own skill. Take this image for example.

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This is the same shot, the top is the jpeg out of the camera, the bottom is finished through ACR and CS5.5. This shoot took place on a cloudy morning with grey skies, I was shooting vivid to bring out the vibrance in the Arizona rocks at f/6.7 1/125. The best way to get the props to blur with the plane staying sharp is too shoot in shutter priority with a low shutter speed. As you can see there is a clear difference in the two images after the one went through post.

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Some of you might be wondering how much I did in order to get this result, well it really wasn’t much. The biggest change that got the most dramatic result was just getting rid of the color cast from the grey skies. Lighting in ACR and a little sharpening on the plane, to bring out the details in the metal, makes a huge difference in making that plane just pop. It’s little changes like these in your images that make a huge difference and that sets the bar higher for anyone else. The subject matter never changed throughout this process and nor does the accuracy of the plane. It is still the B-17G Sentimental Journey.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Just Having Some Fun

So it’s been one of those good fun weeks, or at least the start of the week and in light of that i thought it only fitting to have a fun Wednesday blog. Now you could say that this was inspired from watching Red Tails but there isn’t much out there that isn’t as much fun as flying with a B17. These big beauties just command the sky. They might not be the fastest or have the elegance as certain other flyers but they have an overwhelming awe to them.

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The one up above is flying of course with his little buddies over the Arizona desert. Interestingly enough both of these photographs are of the same plane, same area outside Phoenix but due to the different months the planes were photographed and the drastic change in weather from clear skies to rain, they look so entirely different. That’s the one thing about photographing polished aluminum planes that still gets me is just how different the plane can look when you start playing with variables. That metal just reflects everything. It makes it fun!

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In the Camera Bag:

Nikon D3, 70-200VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

New to the Blog!

For the past couple of weeks i have been working on remodeling and updating my site. Much of this was due to my good friend RC Concepcion who not only helped with the remodeling process but has taught me a number of things about wordpress. Well with Photoshop world done, which was one great event, i went back to tweaky things. Yesterday I put up a number of galleries showing off some more of my work. I ended working on so many that i actually ran out of space on my site in the ftp page and there’s still more to come! Give them a look see they are all up top, well worth your time.

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Sentimental Journey Flys For Us Again

The big bird at the Air 2 Air workshop is the B17, and it’s obvious as to why. B17’s aren’t common, there are only a handful left flying in the world and the cost to fly them isn’t cheap. The B17’s burns through hundreds of gallons of fuel an hour which makes the 30 minutes of time we spend with it very precious. The afternoon we had with it was quite than the first time. We flew about the same distance off the deck 2500-3000 ft but this time we had an overcast day, strong winds and high clouds. We waited for a while for an opening to appear, there would be no flight in bad weather. Thankfully around 430 we had that break and at 443 we were off.

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We flew in left turn orbit for 30 mins with the B17. The six students and three instructors were in a Shorts Skyvan, which acted as our photo platform. There are many types of planes that could be used for photo ships, Bonanza’s, B25’s, C130, and the Skyvan for a few examples. With the amount of people that we had for this workshop, space was a little tricky to negotiate. The six students were in the far back closest to the door and the B17. The third row consisted of myself, Dad and Richard. Knowing that i would be in the back i tried something a little different this time. Last time i used the 70-200 VRII as my primary with a 24-70 on a second body. It worked great. However being further back i though i might have needed more lens so i used the 70-300 Vr which worked equally as well. I do like the wide shots but in this case closeups were not only better but easier to get having to shoot around people’s heads.

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The guys did an amazing job flying that bird. With the strong wind we had it was apparent that they were working to keep that plane with us. At one point they had that B17 so close the only thing i could see through my lens were there faces. It was right up there in that open door. None of us could believe they would get the plane that close to us. That’s Reed on the right, he was pilot 1 that day. Towards the end of our time with Sentimental Journey the little buddies came in, Cripes O Mighty and Stang. The resident P51’s at the Museum, but you’re gonna have to wait till later to see them.

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The last thing we did with that beautiful bird was to “drag it” along the runway as we pull up from it. By doing this we create that look of speed with the plane which is a big part of why we photograph them. Up in the air it might not look like we are going fast, but it is going 125mph, if not faster. The other great part of shooting along a runway is it gives the plane a sense of realitivity as to where the plane came from. Plus it just looks cool.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, 70-300 Vr, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Air 2 Air CAF Arizona Wing

I have been very fortunate over my years and this past weekend proved to be another sign of that good fortune. This past November Dad and Richard Vandermuelen started the Air2Air workshop with the first location in Phoenix, AZ at the Commemorative Air Force Museum. It was a great event with the climax being the photo shoot with the B17, two mustangs and spitfire. This past weekend we started the second Air2Air workshop. It was great being with the planes and the people again. It was just as exciting this time as it was the first time seeing that beautiful B17 sitting in the tarmac. We arrived very early Friday morning, got a few hours sleep then headed over to the Museum to say hello. Just getting a feel for the place again. Saturday morning kicked off the event and it was one spectacular morning!

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Always love those 5:20 wake ups to go out shooting before sunrise, but that’s what it takes to get those great shots. Saturday morning we had as i said a spectacular sunrise! The skies were just lit up as far as the eye could see. Sentimental Journey was pulled out in front of the hanger shinning like it would never stop. It’s a beautiful bird that CAF does a remarkable job keeping it looking so good. Especially since most of the people at CAF are volunteers who truly love the planes and the history. A little bit later on in the morning, after the drama had subsided a bit, i found myself parked on the tarmac looking up at the B25 that had an interesting cloud and feint glow behind it. Yes that’s right, laying down on that dirty, oily asphalt. Why do this you might ask? Well partly to condense the background and foreground giving a cleaner look which is important when dealing with airports. The other reason is now one is looking up at the plane, not down, making it appear bigger and sexier.

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With the cloud cover we had that morning, once the sun rose it wasn’t able to pop through the clouds. It tried really hard to be seen but there wasn’t much romantic light, it disappeared fast leaving flat light. This wasn’t a bad thing, it’s still workable, the planes just don’t look as good. Light is essential with everything in this business and with planes the light bounces like crazy. The planes are made of aluminum so any light source will bounce of the sides painted or polished. As you can see with the one above and below with overcast skies the light is kinda boring. What seems to work well when that happens is too exaggerate it a bit more than it was to give a gloomy, whats going to happen look. I suppose that’s a personal taste but in a lot cases it works. This plane is the Shrike Commander, a great plane belonging to Bob Odegard who was kind enough to let us photograph it along with a couple other of his planes.

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This plane just a great look. A curved belly, twin engines, and the almost 180 degree tail make for some dynamic shooting. Close up or wide the plane looks good. I have always liked vertical nose to tail shots they remind me of photographing birds of prey when they are starring right at you. Just that same powerful stare. With the skies being what they were at this point i didn’t go vertical, i preferred to eliminate the sky until a whole opened up. Which so happened it did.

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A nice little patch of blue opened up behind the B25 out towards the mountains so it was time to switch focus again to that great bird. This time it was closeups with the 70-200 getting the symmetrical shots of the tails, props and the nose. That’s the great thing about planes symmetry is easily achieved and can really make for great shots. Of course if the ground isn’t level where the plane is parked then you might have to be careful about what degree you’re holding the camera body. Easy thing to fix in post nowadays but i always try to get it right in the camera.

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The morning was winding down, light wasn’t too great at that point and our stomachs were starting to rumble. With a few last pics of the B25 i started to head in. Off to breakfast than back to the hanger for classroom time with the instructors and pilots. Classroom consisted of photographing the planes, compositions and what to look for when doing Air2Air. Richard who has years of experience in this field explained in great detail things to expect and things to try to achieve. Doug Rosendaal our formation pilot went into the safety issues that are presented when doing and Air2Air shoot and what the photographer needs to know in order to help the pilots. It was a great combination of knowledge that was essential for everyone to hear in order to get better and be safe. Whoow my head hurts time to go back to shooting!

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We got our camera gear, harnesses and tethers, then headed back to the hanger for the preflight briefing. I’m gonna stop here because i don’t wanna give away the next part it’s just so good you’re just gonna have to wait till tomorrow to see what happened. I will say that this was the last look back before i got into the Shorts Skyvan ready to fly yet again with that beautiful bomber.

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Images Captured with Nikon D3, 24-70, 70-200 VrII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Sentimental Journey

At last we arrive at the main reason we went to Palm Springs the B17. Sentimental Journey which we saw flying and static at CAF Arizona Wing was there making a grand show, giving tour flights and doing a demo. The best part wasn’t so much seeing it fly but hearing the speakers the flew or worked on the B17. The best speaker was Bob Shoens who is the last surviving member of the 100th bomber group 8th division. His story was short, didn’t want to go into too much detail but he was the last plane of his entire squadron to come back after a mission in Germany. It was a rather sad and powerful story, and is safe to to say that it left the crowd in awe.

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Before and after the speakers we were allowed to walk around and inside Journey. I had to look. The bomb bay was particularly interesting to me, it always seemed bigger ad yet the are itself really wasn’t that huge. Amazing how that section of plane not much bigger than an ordinary bathroom held enough firepower to level a town. It was quite something to see the inside of such a plane, i always thought it was one giant tube but in actuality it has several chambers. There are definitely some more images to be had inside of the plane provided the opportunity to go inside again.

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After the slow start up of the engines the B17 took off. The plane was filled with those wanting a 50min tour, while we waited on the ground to see the demo of it flying by, bomb bay doors open. Waiting, waiting, still waiting. Never happened. Not sure if it was due to all the air traffic that day or if it just wasn’t going to do a flyby but nevertheless it took off and hour later it landed. It would’ve been nice to see a flyby but just seeing the bomber takeoff and land was enough. In the air is the only place these planes belong.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, Nikkor AF-S 24-70 f2.8, Nikkor AF-S 200-400 Vr, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Big guys fly high

Before we did the air to air flight with the B17, the group stood out on the ramp as the B17 and B25 did a fly by for the crowd at CAF in honor of veterans weekend. The B17 went up first and did one fly by. It was big, loud, and shined like nothing else in the sky. One of the best parts was seeing the bomb bay doors open and a guy looking down at us. The B17 flew high so belly shots were all we got, not a problem more was to come.

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The B25, being of considerable smaller size and noise, flew much lower providing for some nice side shots. Back to panning, it’s a lot more fun panning with planes then with gulls. Nothing like Big Bad Bombers.

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Images captured with D3, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The beginning of the air to air workshop

It’s that time of the year again when Dad cooks up another workshop series. The latest one was never expected to happen but out of the turn of events in the past few years isn’t unexpected. Air2Air workshop here in Phoenix Arizona started on Friday with a simple meet and greet, and a couple of presentations. We had some great instructors including, my Dad, Richard Vandermeulen, and Doug Rozendaal. The basics were setup for Saturdays shoot and what a shoot it was.

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The day began in the early am before light came up, one of the best times to be photographing static aircraft. The B25 and B17 were of particular interest. These were two awesome looking aircraft! With the amount of junk in the background, the fence, the buildings, the poles, getting down lower not only helps to minimize some of that but also removes more of the ground adding more sky to the image and thus creating a feeling of openness and flight; which is where these “machines” need to be doing.

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After a good morning shoot, breakfast and debrief, it was back to the airfield for some air too air time. The participants and three instructors, Dad, Richard and myself Doug was flying the plane, got into our sky van that we’re using for the next couple of days, tethered down and harnessed in to make sure our asses went no where. For this shoot we had the B17, two P51 Mustangs and a Spitfire. The plan from the briefing was to go around Red Mountain, which we did and it produced just an amazing background. When the back door of the sky van opened it was like HELLO!, there’s the B17. It was awesome!

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The P51’s were great too, they added more dimension and authentication with the B17. Little Buddies as they were known proved just that. The size comparison when flying is substantial. This one is rather well known, it’s Cripes’a’mighty, a beautiful P51 inside and out. It was also the first one i ever saw that had mirrors on the front which looked a little odd at first and still kinda does to me. We had an hour with the planes, only about 20mins with the B17 from crank to on the ground, which was based solely on the amount affordable for the gas it takes. It was a great 20 mins. With 4000 gallons of gas used up in the shoot and a thousand or so images it was time to come back down. As Doug said a number of times let’s go have a beer, good’ol pilots.

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Images captured with D3, Nikkor AF-S 24-70, Nikkor AF-S 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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