Pesky Fences

The hardest part about photography is getting past the mental and physical fences that block our creativity. No matter how hard you try they always seem to be there. The other kind that tend to always be in the way are the ones that are always seen behind an airplane. I don’t know about the rest of you but I have many images where there is a fence in the background. Sometimes there is no way around it and other times you can remove it in post. Out of those two options, I mostly recommend removing them. Why? Because those barriers give the wrong feeling when it comes to aviation.

Aviation is all about freedom of flight and having any sort of mental barrier come about from having an actual barrier in the photograph ruins that mental picture. I put up this image specifically to make that point. I couldn’t remove it here and the image feels grounded as a result. It’s a little thing but those little things do matter.

Honoring the 75th Doolittle Reunion

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. 16 B-25 bombers took off from the carrier USS Hornet on this day to bomb Japan in the first strike after Pearl Harbor. While the mission had minimal strategic value, the moral affect of the mission was everlasting. Of the eighty men who made that journey only, Colonel Dick Cole is left to honor his friends and comrades.

Eleven of the twelve B-25’s flew from Grimes Field in Urban to Wright Patterson Air Force Base at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The planes were arranged as they were onboard on the carrier.

Dick is one of the most spry veterans I’ve ever met. At 101 years old he is still making his rounds around the planes talking with all the crews. When he got to the Sandbar Mitchell crew, Patrick brought out the throttle controls for Dick to rest his hand on.

April 18th is a big day in aviation. It represents the resolve that we as a nation were willing to carry out in a time when it was needed the most. The eighty men that made the treck to Japan did something that had never been done before and thanks to the volunteers and veterans like Cole, it will never be forgotten.

B-25’s Keep Arriving

It’s been five years since I was at Grimes Field, in Urbana, OH and it’s just as good now as it was then. Grimes gathering of B-25’s in honor of the Doolittle Reunion which celebrates its 75th anniversary on Tuesday, is a pretty amazing time. We have 12 B-25’s on the field which is great fun. With B-25’s constantly taking off and landing, it’s like a USAAF medium bomber base here.

God and Country went up a number of times so that the whole crew at Mid American Flight Museum could get a chance to fly in their B-25. This was taken on the return of one of those flights with the D5 and 70-200VRII. One thing to remember when it comes to taxiing aircraft is that they go a lot slower. So if the plane has a prop and you want to blur it then you have to really bring down the shutter speed. This 1/50th a second and it’s not even a full prop blur.

So Many Planes So Hard To Do Air To Air

The two times that I have come to EAA Airventure, Oshkosh I have been fortunate enough to do an air to air photo mission. You would think with the surplus amount of planes that come to the Airshow that it would be easy to do more but in reality it is very difficult to do. First off finding the subject plane is easy. In reality it’s not hard to start talking with a pilot, make a friend, and then want to go flying. Finding a photo platform isn’t that hard either. Since so many people fly in to camp under the wings of their planes, finding the right GA plane like a Bonanza isn’t too hard. The challenges start after that.

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The first major one is getting into the sky. The air space around Oshkosh is very busy with traffic making it difficult to do a scheduled early morning or late evening shoot. Then there is the background. Most of the area is surrounded by houses or towns so getting a clean background without spending lots of time in post is also tough. Now none of this means that it isn’t possible. Every year many articles are published with images taken at Oshkosh. My best advice for doing an air to air at Oshkosh is talk to the pilots. They know more about the ins and outs of what is happening then anyone else. Also study the maps. While most go over the lake that isn’t far from Osh, really know they area nearby so you can plan out your trip thoroughly. Also talk to the tower beforehand. Make sure they know what you are planning so that you can get the go ahead. At the end of the day bear in mind that it’s just a photograph. If you don’t get it the world will keep spinning.

The Afternoon Session

This is something that I see a lot of people struggle. It’s the middle of the afternoon, the light isn’t great, you paid all that money to be out there shooting so you do but you aren’t happy with the results. This is happens a lot. It’s real easy to have happen with planes because the planes are usually always out during the middle of the day but with the bright light and reflective surfaces it’s hard to get a good shot. The answer, go in tight!

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Detail shots are very important but are often overlooked. When you have lines of planes side by side parked on the grass, why do in tight? I can’t blame you on that. But in the middle of the afternoon with all that light you can’t get a great result that way. Especially if there are bald skies. Depending on your style, you may use a longer lens or a wider lens. With a longer lens you can stay further away, control the depth of field better and thus have a better background. The 200-400 VR works great for this. That being said something more versatile like the 24-70 f/2.8 is also a good choice. My personal preference is the D5 and the 70-200 VRII. This is the perfect medium distance that allows me to get the shots I need while staying far enough away that I don’t get in other people’s way. I always try to think about the other photographers being courteous to them as well.

Look To The Skies!

I truly find this to be the hardest area to get good shots of at EAA Airventure, Oshkosh. The great thing about this airshow is that they are lots of performances going on at all times. The downside it is not always easy to get good shots. Between finding a good place to stand, having bald skies or my favorite the row of brown national guard vehicles. Yep we all have those shots with the vehicles in the background, it’s just part of Oshkosh.

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There are a couple of things that you can do to capture better ground to air images. First off, be shooting with a long lens. My personal favorite is the D5 and the 200-400 VR. It’s a good stable platform with a good range depending on whether one plane or multiple planes are flying. The Texas Flying Legends Museum are a perfect example of needing this range because they fly in a six ship and then they break off into dual ship and lastly, single ship formations.

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Next use high speed crop if you’re a Nikon shooter. If you’re using the D5 or even the D4 then the file size is large enough that when you switch to the smaller sensor size you will still have a quality image.

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Then of course there is the background. If you have bald skies and only one cloud find a spot where you can exploit that one cloud. Sometimes one cloud is all it takes.Lastly, get to the fence line early. If you know there is something that you want to shoot show up a little bit early so that you can get a better position. Keep in mind where show center is because that can make a big difference also. These are just a few basic tips that can hopefully help your shooting.

Oshkosh is Here!

Today is the first official day of EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, WI! For many people this airhsow started much earlier as planes arrive early as do the people. When I tell people about Oshkosh, the informal nickname of the airshow, it’s fair to say that it is like no other event. In many ways it is one giant party. Lots of people, lots of events, shops, movies, lectures, speaking engagements, performances and of course planes. It’s just a week of fun afterward you need a vacation.

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This year I am very fortunate to be back with the Texas Flying Legends Museum who have been brought their squadron to Oshkosh for years. This year they return with six aircraft that will be displayed in Warbird Alley. Since this is Oshkosh week it seemed only fitting to talk a little about aviation photography technique especially in regards to what can be found at Oshkosh.

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To start things rather simple, Oshkosh is overwhelming! There are planes everywhere and your senses are easily overloaded as you take it all in. If you have been there before then you know, if you haven’t then here’s a brief taste. Now there are a few ways to stay at Osh, the best way that I have found is to camp at Scholler. The downside is it is a ways away from Warbird Alley which makes it hard to get up for sunrise. But it is so worth it! Since everyday I am out walking I keep gear light. This is year it will be the D5, 18-35 f/3.5, 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR and a flash. This is all on my back so that I can do static and ground to air with ease. It’s tough but walking back and forth is even harder. Now at Oshkosh there is either bald skies or great skies and the general rules apply either way. Get low, shoot up, look for clean backgrounds which can be tough, and make unique captures. Often times there are a lot of the same model aircraft at Oshkosh, like the B-25, so take advantage of that. That sort of stack up doesn’t happen all the time. Keep in mind that lots of people photograph these planes so try and to think out of the box to make a nice capture and then finish in post.

It Blends Right In

I really couldn’t think of a great post today but I was working on some images from a project right and figured I’d share. This is Fagen Fighter’s B-25J “Paper Doll.” This B-25 has switched hands several times over the years before ending up as a fire bomber in 1982. It was delivered to the USAAF in June 1945 but never saw service. It was then transferred all around the country and into Canada for a while. It was the last B-25 fire bomber and was retired in 1992. The B-25 was restored to military specks in 1998 and flew as Sunday Punch for a while before being bought by Fagen Fighters and restored to Paper Doll. One thing I noticed while flying air to air with it last May was how well it blended in with the Virginia background.

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A Different Morning Static

Over the years I have spent a lot of time shooting statics of aircraft and the one thing that I have learned is that you need to be creative and find different shots. Sure it’s great to get the standard head on portraits and tail shots, then there are the side views and detail shots but most of the time they have similar backgrounds. Finding a static image with something a little more unusual is a challenge. Thankfully, mother nature can help with that.

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The one plane that I have certainly spent my fair share of time around is the B-25 Mitchell Bomber. I just love this plane. It has great history and a great look that even when sitting on the ground it looks mean. Well this particular one is the B-25J Betty’s Dream, owned by the Texas Flying Legends Museum and is one that I have photographed numerous times in the past. Well this morning in North Dakota marked a first and that was the smoke filled sky was so thick that the sun was just a red dot all through sunrise. To be fair we were all a little stumped that morning as to what made the best image as the plane really didn’t light up that much and neither did the clouds. One thing that I played with was the exposure compensation. It was one of the ways you could add drama into the scene in the camera. By underexposing -3.0 I was able to get this image with a little help finishing in ACR. The only other technique that helps add more drama was getting down low and shooting up at the plane making the plane seem smaller.

North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber

The B-25 Mitchell Bomber was the little brother of the bombing effort. During the air war of WWII, the bomber campaign was one of the largest endeavors taken on by the Allies. High altitude precision bombing by the British and the United States was daily routine to keep the production capabilities, transportation and moral of the Germans to an absolute low. The B-17, B-24 and Avro Lancaster are three of the most produced and widely used bombers during the precision bombing campaign. The B-25 bomber was never designed for the purpose of high altitude bombing. It was originally designed as an attack bomber headed for England but other planes with better attributes for that role, including the A-20 Havoc.

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The US Army Air Corp liked the plane for a medium bomber and thats where it gained so much traction that it became a mainstay for allied nations. The B-25 was so well designed for it’s role that it was used in every theater of WWII. The greatness of the B-25 can only be measured by the capabilities of North American Aviation. North American was one of the largest producers of planes during WWII, while also the only plant to build trainers, fighter and bombers simultaneously. The AT-6/SNJ Texan, B-25 Mitchell, and the P-51 Mustang all came out of the Inglewood Plant while an additionally 6,608 B-25’s came out of the Kansas City plant. This gives the B-25 a very personally connection to my family as my Grandpa was the plant manager in Kansas City. It was one of those family facts that we didn’t really know more about until we got more involved with aviation.

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The B-25 quickly gained fame as the aircraft used for the Doolittle Raid on April 18th, 1942. Sixteen B-25’s took off from the carrier USS Hornet and bombed Japan. While the target was industrial areas on the island, the overall purpose was to achieve a demoralizing effect on the Japanese, by making them aware that they were able to be reached, while also having a positive moral booster in the US. This was the first strike after the infamous Pearl Harbor attack in December 7th, 1941. The concept originated from Navy Captain Francis Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for anti-submarine warfare, who reported to Admiral Ernest King who convened with President Roosevelt who requested the attack. The plan called for the use of medium bombers launched off carrier and then land in an allied country. Of the sixteen B-25s launched from the Hornet, one landed in the Soviet Union, one crashed on the coast and the rest went down over China. While most of the crew survived the planes were never able to be transferred for use in China, which was a tertiary objective of the plan. The history of the Doolittle Raid is a story in itself that can only be understood by looking at the lives of each man that went on the raid. The official historian and honorary Doolittle Raider, Carroll V. Glines, wrote one of the best books on the mission and I highly recommend the read.

In 2012 I had the great privilege to go to Dayton, OH to be part of the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Reunion. Twenty of the then twenty five flying B-25s in the world were at the reunion. It was the largest gathering of B-25s since WWII. Jimmy Doolittle, who lead the raid and in which the mission was named after, promised his men that they would have a party when they all returned home after the raid was finished. It took many years to fulfill his promise as many of the men didn’t come home right away. Every year since the inaugural celebration in the late 1940’s, a reunion is held with the remaining members. A silver goblet engraved with each of the 80 mens name is brought in a special case. The survivors toast those that are left and those that have passed on. At the time of the 70th Reunion in 2012 there were five remaining raiders. As of today there are only three.

In the above photo, the lead plane is the only B-25H in the world, Barbie III. This particular B-25 is one of the best examples of a ground attack bomber as it houses fourteen .50 caliber machine guns, four of those in the nose and a 75mm cannon in the nose. The force of the cannon was so great that the entire plane vibrated, noise rang inside the fuselage and smoke filled the cabins, after a shell was fired. After a dozen rounds the nose had to be replaced the vibrations were so great. However the low level attacking that the B-25 was doing against bridges, truck convoys, radio installations and anti shipping that the forward arsenal made the B-25 very formidable. This does not include the 3,200lbs of bombs it was capable of carrying.

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The B-25 was crewed by six men; pilot, copilot, bombardier or nose gunner, radio operator or waist gunner, flight engineer or navigator and tail gunner. The plane was equipped with a top turret, waist guns and in later models a nose gun that was operated by the bombardier. The radio operator, navigator and bombardier could switch off positions if needed to the other gun positions. In Chino, CA is Aero Trader, the leading restoration facility for B-25s. Every B-25 that is flying today has at one point or another has been worked on at the facility. Aero Trader owns only one B-25, Pacific Princess which is a J model and has a cabin in front of the pilots for the bombardier and a single .50 caliber machine gun. I had the chance to get inside Pacific Princess a couple years ago to see how much space was really inside a B-25. The main compartment is in the front with the pilot and copilot seat and enough space for a jump seat behind the pilot. The radio operator had to be crammed in right behind the bomb bay to act as waist gunner if needed. One main passageways exist along the top of the bomb bay that links to the rear waist guns and tail gun. A second tunnel exists that leads underneath the main cabin to the front nose gun.

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Being only 5’10 and a 150lbs I can honestly say that getting around inside that plane isn’t easy. Of course I had a camera in my hand but even still, for the young boys that were flying that plane in combat I can’t imagine what it was like. Have flown in the plane several times, including Pacific Princess, Arizona CAF’s B-25J Maid in the Shade and the Texas Flying Legends B-25J Betty’s Dream, I can also say that it was one fun plane to fly in!

There was a time when planes like the B-25 or B-17 could be seen flying in swarms across the sky. Nowadays seeing just one flying is impressive. After the wide usage throughout the war, including the US Army Air Corp, US Navy, and the US Marine Corps, the B-25 kept it’s reputation for being a reliable aircraft. One example of a US Navy versions is being restored in the CAF SoCal Wing. The B-25 went on to fly in several other key positions one of those being as a water dumper It’s ability for low level flying and capacity for 3,200lbs of storage space in the bomb bay made it useful for hauling gallons of water over wildland fires. B-25’s also went on to serve in several other countries including several in South America. Throughout the war the B-25 was used by the British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, Soviet, Chinese, Brazilian and Free French Air Forces. The airmen of these nations as well as our own helped to cement the history of the B-25.

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If your out an an airshow, or have a museum by you, keep your eyes to the sky and ears open for you might just hear its twin Wright R-2600 Engines going by. If you have a true passion for the plane several museums offer rides in the B-25 and from personnal experience, it’s worth the price of admission!

Images Captured with Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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