Nesting Birds in the Spring

Over the last couple of months I have slowly discovered new areas to go shooting certain species. One of the benefits of spending lots of time fishing is you tend to find a lot of bird species. A couple of weeks back I found a very accessible Osprey nest with both adults consistently diving and feeding on bass and perch from the local pond. Knowing it was there and best of all front lit in the afternoon I made sure to go back.

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Over the past two months I have been shooting with the D5. It’s certainly a great camera but it does take some getting used too. It’s new auto focus system is just amazing and working with subjects, like Osprey’s flying, being able to track that movement and get a sharp image is important. I was shooting with the 600f4 and TC-17E II with occasionally going into high speed crop. One thing I did notice because of that setup and my older lens is I lost Auto Area AF mode. That’s one of the realities with older and newer equipment. Wasn’t a problem since I could go into group which worked just fine. This is all part of the learning curve that’s important to test before the next big job comes up.

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Well it was quite fun watching the parents come in and out of the nest and junior here get up and move around. He’s wast quite active watching both parents and occasionally me. The parents came in and out a couple of times with branches to improve the nest. Now I’m not sure but the way the female kept laying down in the back it sure seemed like there was another chick in the nest but never did get glass on that one. Great thing about nesting birds is once you find them, it’s easy to go back. The important thing to remember is to do your homework beforehand that way you know if it’s safe to be close to the nest without disturbing the process. The photograph isn’t worth sacrificing the welfare of the offspring.

The Other Subject on the River

Down the river only a mile from my Bald Eagle friend was another of the local inhabitants, the Osprey. It must’ve been a decent day to be out fishing but I didn’t get that memo. It was a similar setup to the eagle . This one was perched on a great branch across from a pullout. The lighting hadn’t changed but got worse as it was almost sunset. Same photo rig, D4, 600f4, TC-17E II and high speed crop. Yes it was a ways away and I couldn’t do much the way it was but the head gesture was all I needed. I got one burst in before it flew off making that high pitched shrill as it flew. This one shot was sharp and it was the one that I wanted because it said everything there was to say in a simple gesture. “Nope, you aren’t taking my picture.”

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The Osprey

There are some bizarre aircraft that have built over the years, some of them have been triumphant successes while others have been monumental failures. The V-22 Osprey is one of those designs that you wouldn’t believe is that efficient until you see it fly and then it becomes clear why they spent nearly thirty years building it. The design was originally started in 1981 but it wasn’t put into the field until 2007 for the Marines and 2009 for the Air Force. It’s tilt rotor design made it extremely difficult to complete. This aircraft is capable of landing and taking off vertically while still able to fly at speeds of 300mph. Since I’ve always been a fan of prop planes, needless to say that this is one of my favorites.

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The Romance of Flight

What is flight? Flight is the world between heaven and earth that houses many beautiful creatures that soar around looking down on the world. Birds naturally start flying at an early age, instinctively as their biology tells them to. For humans that were never designed to fly, physically or mentally, it has been one of the greatest challenges to overcome in the past hundred years. For some flight is just a way to travel from one destination to another, but for others it is a way of life. A life that many consider to be truly free. A last reach to the stars. Our jobs as photographers has always and will always be to capture stories, so that there will always be a record of what happened. There is no easy path in any field of photography but when it comes to machines that have no smile, no eyes and no voice, bringing out the life in each plane can be a real challenge. It’s the challenge of bringing Romance to Flight.

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No matter what plane it is the core elements are always there. The fuselage, the nose, the wings and the tail. Each plane has one of these things, if not more, and often the story comes down to how the details in each of these areas makes the plane what it is. In a way every plane has its own characteristics which make it unique. Sometimes with a flashy paint job or a colorful past, but no matter what it is none of it matters if it doesn’t come out in the photograph. Take this AT-17 Bobcat/ T-50 for instance, or otherwise known as a Bamboo Bomber, photographed down at CAF Mesa with a 24-70 f/2.8. This uncommon plane was first built in 1939 as a military trainer to help students get used to a multi engine aircraft. It later branched into the commercial world as the T-50. Over 5,400 of these planes were built and although it’s not a rare plane it certainly isn’t common either. With it’s rounded wings and bulbous nose getting low and shooting up against the Arizona sunrise brings out the radiance of the yellow paint job as well as the structural simplicity.

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Being old isn’t the only way to have character, although more and more character does seem to come out as one gets older. It can be something as simple as the destination that tells the story, and we all know that the best destination is seen in the background. This Piper Turbo Prop is flying into this frozen airport at my home town at Mammoth Lakes. Dad and I raced down there one evening before dinner. Armed with a 200-400 VRII and D3 we waited along an old stretch of highway as the plane came in. Thankfully since we had no sunset, and the plane was late, we had a low fog come through to give an eerie wintery mountains feel to the scene. What that family was planning to do that weekend I don’t know but imagine ski’s were involved.

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I’m often reminded of how easy it feels to bring out the “majesty” of these vintage planes and how much harder it is with more modern aircraft. The only reason it feels that way is because most of these old planes already have a history to them, it’s just a matter of bringing that back to life. For newer planes where the history isn’t written yet it’s about finding ways of showing how technology has progressed. Like these V-22 Osprey’s down at Miramar. There was at least a half dozen lined up going over this little hill, all looking the exact same. The one on the end kept coming and going on maneuvers as it was scheduled. Probably one of the most amazing technological achievements, this tiltrotor airplane breaks the laws of physics letting us not only fly but hover in the air.

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On the rare ocasions when there isn’t just one aircraft out front but a whole line of planes as far as the eye can see, that’s when the pixels must really fly. There is nothing like having a squadron at the ready.

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Sometimes that squadron is a dozen warbirds from various collections and museums, and other times its a line of racers getting ready to go out for that last race of the year. With a 70-200 VRII and lots of depth of field, bringing out that first plane can be just as important as that last one. It’s all about the story and finding those shots where you can see down that line of planes and it’s perfect, are far and few!

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It doesn’t take long before you realize that there is more to this whole plane thing then just the planes. As I’ve talked about before it’s about the people behind the planes. It is amazing how much aviation touches our daily lives and how few people know about it. Then again it’s also amazing how some people dedicate their lives to making sure that everyone has the opportunity to learn about these aircraft. Taking the Texas Flying Legends out of Houston, TX. Their mission is to educate while honoring all veterans and preserving their stories. Their credo says it all, sacrifice above self. Their beliefs don’t just extend in what they do on the ground but in the air as well, as they are constantly preforming, critiquing and improving their aerial demonstration.

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Back on the ground it’s right back to whats really important, the vets. It’s important not just for today’s pilots but for everyone to get involved and talk with veterans. They’re stories are unbelievable and most are willing to share those stories if you just sit and talk with them. When they know you aren’t just there for an autograph and that you truly care, the world can open up.

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It doesn’t just end with the vets. The pilots, the volunteers, the mechanics, the staff even the reenactors they all have their stories to tell and enjoy just being around the planes. For most it’s not about the money it’s about shear enjoyment. It truly is a great feeling to just spend a day under the wing of a plane and watch the world go by. Even for some greased up mechanics working on a C-53 after a long flight, under that blue sky and on top of that green grass, everything is at peace.

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It’s about the people and just showing an interest that great things can happen. Well if that’s not a reward enough it can lead to great things like flying over Galveston Bay with millions of dollars of warbirds. This P-40 Warhawk, Aleutian Tiger, is a great example of just this. Dad and I got to work with the Texas Legends for one reason, we talked, we showed up and we kept our promises to help. That was all. Always remember that last part.

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I know everyone wants to hear some super secret awesome way to get marvelous shots of airplanes no matter what the subject, what the background is and what the light is, but the truth is there is no secret. Everything still comes down to the basic fundamentals of photography. Good light, interesting background or with planes a clean background, good panning, and the subject needs to be sharp. The only trick, if that is what you want to call it, is applying the physics of the rotating prop to an appropriate shutter speed. Slower shutter speed shows more blur in the props, it’s best to shoot in shutter priority to get this result. How far down you go is up to your panning abilities but that’s all it takes. After that the rest comes down to your own personal taste and creativity. Post processing falls into both of those last two categories. I will say watch out for dust, it’s a pain in the butt.

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In the end it all comes down to what’s pleasing to the eye. Making these machines into individuals with their own characteristics makes the best shots. Every pilot knows when they step into a plane that each one has it’s own quarks, we just need to show that in our images. Flight began as a romantic notion of touching the stars and proving that man can do anything that he sets his mind to, even defying our physiological nature. As long as that notion is in your heart when you photograph these planes then it will show in your photographs.

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