Seventy years ago today, one of the greatest and deadliest military feats of WWII occurred which shaped the rest of the war as we knew it. Over four hundred thousand men took part of the Normandy invasion as part of Operation Overlord. This was the first major offensive that the United States took part in for the liberation of Europe. It was a massive endeavor that required months of training, planning and victories in order to pull off. The biggest was having air superiority over Europe. At the time of the landings the Allies had complete air superiority over the skies to the point where no German fighters appeared over the skies during the invasion. It took years to accomplish this feat and many lives were lost in the process.
The dropping of allied airborne infantry was a major part of the invasion as thousands of men were dropped into occupied territory over miles of landscape. The skies were filled with C-53’s as the chutes opened below. The invasion led the way for every major offensive in the European theatre. Many brave men died in this offensive and many more went on to fight from France to Germany.
The one thing that I see all the time is that photographers only look at the front of the aircraft as they walk around and never go around the whole plane. I never understood why this is because quite often the best background is actually when you’re looking at the tail. The day we were at Fantasy of Flight for Precon we had great skies everywhere we looked. The way the plane was parked we had the brown hangers in the background. Well I don’t like the brown hangers and with those great skies I had to do something about it. By getting low and using the wings as cover most of the hangers disappeared and with a little help in post, the plane now looks like it’s on a English base.
One of the reasons the tail looks so good is because it gives the allusion that the plane is going out somewhere. The last thing anyone sees of a plane as it goes off is the tail. This brings to life the mystery of the mission, where the plane has been, where is it going? All questions that make you scratch your head. The more mystery you bring to your images the more time someone spends looking at them trying to figure them out.
In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70 f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
This past weekend I was up in Missoula looking for a plane that i thought would be in the neighborhood. The B-25J “Maid in the Shade” that stopped Bozeman is still on tour up in the north and made a stop in Helena last week and starting this previous Monday in Missoula. Well being one day early i missed getting a chance to see those guys again but found time to spend at a museum i didn’t know about. The Museum of Mountain Flying located at the Missoula International Airport has some pretty darn cool history too it.
Missoula is known for many things one of which is having the Smoke Jumping Academy which plays a huge role in forest fires throughout the country. The Museum there is partly dedicated to the academy and has a wide collection of planes and history about forest fire management. One of the really cool planes they have is a DC-3 “Mann Gulch” which was used for dropping smoke jumpers into hot spots. It was named after a 1949 jump into a hotspot where 15 men were dropped into Mann Gulch and 12 were killed. Sadly the plane is not flying yet but it is a great piece to the collection of Fire Fighting aircraft. Also is a TBM, part of Johnson’s Flying Circus, also on the way to being air worthy.
I didn’t get a good shot of either aircraft, so in case you were wondering this is a shot of 4 DC-3’s from Oshkosh 2011.
In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
I realize this is a bit belated but it’s amazing the things you remember and the things you don’t. Although I am getting better about important historical dates, there are times when ones escape my little brain. In this case, yesterday was the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the US Allied invasion of Normandy. For some it was the long anticipated day after months of training. For all it was a day that changed thousands of lives. A lot of the brave boys that went that day, jumped out of planes like this one. This is a C-53 Skytrain a modified C-47 for more cargo space and easier access. Hard to imagine jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. We honor their bravery.
Since this past Sunday we have had nothing but grey skies. Normally that’s not bad a thing because it is usually followed with lots of snow. Some days that was true others not so much. However, snow or not, grey skies get can get old real fast. Although nothing forced me to get out the camera, I did get me thinking.
Not the most radical of ideas but the necessity of clouds is instrumental. Take for instance working with any plane in a blue sky, without the clouds it’s just boring as sin. Both of these planes, the top a Tigermoth and the bottom a C-53 Skytrain, have a much more interesting story due to the clouds around them. What that story is depends on how far your imagination goes.
One of the biggest challenges of working at an Airshow is capturing those great static shots. There isn’t always an opportunity to pull a plane out to where you want it, and in the case of this last weekend the background was mostly hangers anyways. A big factor that I found for the Cable Airport was that in the mornings when the sun came up over the hangers, the hangers cast a shadow over the parked planes. This made morning shooting difficult, but not impossible.
This F4F Wildcat from the Comemorative Air Force was one of my favorite subjects to work with. It made a nice subject along with the SBD from planes of Fame. The one thing that still confuses is me, is the paint job. I can’t figure out that scheme.
The Pilatus Porter PC-6 was a very interesting plane. The man flying it was known other than Clay Lacy, a true legend in the field of aviation, with over 50,000 hours under his belt. He had an amazing performance at the show, and that plane of his does a spectacular job. It turns on a dime and takes off in a very short distance. As I said earlier this is about making those static shots shine. Well in all of my shots down the runway there was an annoying set of power lines and building crane. Both of these were quick fixes in CS5. But there was one other tool I used on these planes to make them shine.
Now one of my favorite lenses for working with static planes is the 200-400 VR. Not only does this lens allow me to be far away from the subject so I don’t get in anyone else way but also it compacts the subject and the background. When you got a lot of background clutter you don’t want in your photograph then it’s a good way to go. The Wildcat was shot with a 70-200, much closer, much tighter shot. Now the last element that i used on these shots which makes a big difference is Color Efex Pro’s Detail Extractor. This tool is absolutely amazing when working with planes. It brings out so much detail especially in the shadows under the wing that it’s almost a most. One thing to be careful with is that it does bring up noise, so it’s best to not apply this to the sky.
In the Bag
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, 70-200 VRII, Lexar UDMA Digital Film
It’s been a while since I updated my Gallery with some new aircraft so this week seemed to be a good enough time as any. This one if the Douglas C47 Skytrain. It was developed after the DC-3 Airliner with some improvements for the Allies combat action, including a strengthened floor and a rear door. This aircraft played a huge part of the war effort. Over ten thousand were made for dropping troops, carrying cargo and transferring wounded. Some of its greatest uses came in the naval battle in the Pacific where the need to move as quickly as the Japanese in jungle fronts was essential. The Navy designated the plane R4D where in the European front it was later modified to drop paratroopers then known as the C53 Skytrooper. The men on the ground had another name for it, the Gooney Bird.
This is certainly not a new topic for me but is certainly well worth revisiting. Black and White conversion is always a challenge because the image itself has to be captured in a way that supports that conversion. It’s not like every image looks good in black and white. So the question comes down to what does the image need to be a good black and white. The answer often falls down to the basic “what is the background and how does it affect the subject.”
This is a C47 that i photographed at Oshkosh this past July. It was at the end of the row of B25’s and DC3’s. That particular evening the clouds sucked to the east. They were just grey. To the West the clouds were pretty nice with god beams coming down. But I didn’t want a tail shot so i stuck with the nicely lit front and grey skies. This wasn’t a bad thing in the least. At least not for what i wanted to do. The C47 was a cargo plane, troop carrier and launching platform for paratroopers. There are a lot of historic shots of squadrons of C47’s flying dropping cargo or men. Well all of those great shots are Black and White so this was a great time, knowing what the background was, to shoot with that in mind.
With all this in mind i started shooting. Now with a grey sky, unless you are using flash, it will just be bright. It’s going to be this ugly grey yuck that doesn’t do anything except get darker or lighter in post. The only exposure therefore to achieve is that of the plane. In this particular case the sky had no valuable information to keep so letting it go didn’t matter to me. The information was all in the plane. The blacks and the whites were all there. Now obviously i played around with the angles, composition, and the amount of the plane to keep framed up. The whole time the idea of this being some European base was in the back of my mind. Knowing the subject, knowing its history is crucial.
One last important thing to bring up, is dust. Something i found out that might be useful to you is that when converting to black and white be careful that you got rid of all the dust because if you don’t it will show up. It is easy to miss a dot when working with the image in raw in color. As soon as it is changed it pops out. This can be a very frustrating thing to deal with, especially if you spent lots of time finishing the image in photoshop after going through your raw processor. It may sound like a, “No Duh” scenario but it is seen published more often then most realize. Spend that extra time finishing, it’s all worth it in the end.
Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 200-400 Vr, AF-S 70-300 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
Here are a couple more static’s from CAF headquarters Arizona. I love playing with statics there are so many possibilities. This is a DC-3 and as you can see with the oil drums under the engines it hasn’t been flown for a while.