How do you get those shots?

One of the responses I get a lot are compliments on my static aviation images. Which i deeply appreciate. Afterwards the inevitable question comes out, “how did you get those shots?” It’s a fair question. If you have ever spent time at an airport, which at this point in life about 80% of people in this country have been to an airport at least once, then you know that most airports aren’t that attractive. They are surrounded by homes, power lines, highways, cars, other buildings, you name it. So how then do these shots occur? Well it comes from planning, friends and coffee.


The planning part is pretty simple. You find a place you like, wait till there is an event going on there and then go. These days a lot of that information can be found out online. There are places where it’s easier to get those great scenic looking shots with planes. For instance Reno Stead Airport. For the places where you can’t do much about, well in comes Photoshop. The second part is harder. Making friends never is but with time and just talking it happens. Pilots are a lot like car guys in the respect that they both like to talk about their machines! You go up and start talking about their plane, ask questions and they open right up. The third part is, well, tough. You have to get up really early. I mean before the sun comes up, pull the plane out to position it and shoot. To my knowledge that is some of the best light and that is often when there is less people. Coffee helps afterwards. It may sound tough at first and it is, but the rewards are unbelievable. Best part, besides the images, you meet a lot of good people this way.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Getting Low

Something that i always try to encourage is to look for the shots that not everyone else sees. This is actually very important in aviation because when you work at an airshow everyone is shooting level with the planes. There is nothing wrong with this but it’s not always the most interesting. When you have the time and the subject is not moving then why not play around with the angles? Here’s an example.


Again I refer to the P-51C Mustang, “Ina the Macon Bale” as my example. Two different angles same plane, one difference. The image above is eye level with my camera. Now the one thing i look for in my static work is a clean background. This is as clean as it gets, and it’s green! That’s always a plus. Problem is the clouds disappeared so there is only bright blue sky above the plane if I were to get low. You can see some patches on the top. Well that just wouldn’t work. What you can also see is all that detail in the foreground that isn’t so great. But it’s better than black tarmac.


So here is the same plane from the other side, now the clouds are back. By getting low, and I mean laying on the ground, I get that nice sky in the background and less detail in the foreground. It’s a just a green blur and that’s sweet. It’s a little bit different, it’s a little cleaner and it’s less for the mind to get stuck on. The eyes go to the plane. It’s those little details that make your images stick out more when you do a submission to an editor. One tip though, if you do get low and blur out the foreground make sure to put a gradient on it so that the eye doesn’t get stuck there and goes to the subject.

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

Can’t get enough of those Mustangs

Probably the most iconic of all WWII warbirds is of course the P-51 Mustang. Although this aircraft was not the most produced aircraft during the war, it did serve one very important purpose. In the early years bombers flew unescorted to many long range objectives. After a staggering number of loses of bomb crews, B-17 crews being 10 and later nine as one waist gunner was removed, a single plane lost was a high price. In 1944 the Mustang was added to the arsenal. Equipped with wing tanks the mustang could fly with the bombers to Berlin and back, this one feat made the mustang famous.


One of the best features of the mustang is it’s aluminum body. The aluminum body of the aircraft reflects everything, including light. This makes the plane much easier to photograph in most light conditions. It also can be really cool when there are great clouds in the sky. The clouds change the reflective surface of the aircraft so there are patches of blue and white along the fuselage. There’s also a catch, if the plane is next to another plane or people those reflections will be seen as well. It’s those little details that are important to remember when shooting and finishing.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

What’s the Right Paper

This past week I was working on a couple sets of prints to go out and ran into an interesting dilemma. Another photographer, who happens to be a good friend, asked me if I could make him a couple of prints of his images. I said sure. Two different images very different subject matter. I usually print my images on Ultra Smooth Fine Art because it is good, heavy matte paper that lasts a long time. Well the one challenge that I ran into was with the reds. The reds were so rich in the image that no matter what i adjusted it just wasn’t lining up. Nothing looked quite right. If you’re like me and spend the time to get the image right in the camera, then spend time in post fine tuning, then you also want the print to look the best.


I posted up here an image with the exact same issue. This is a P-51C Mustang photographed down at Fantasy of Flight. As you can probably tell it has a dark rich red rudder and nose. It so happens to be painted in honor of Lee Archer, a WWII ace part of the Redtail Squadron, known for their planes tails to be red and for being the only all African American Air Unit. This photograph I have also printed on Ultra Smooth Fine Art and the reds wouldn’t match up. They faded, still red but not the same richness. A trick my Dad taught me which is really simple is to just switch paper. Simply switching from a matte to a gloss paper keeps all those rich colors. It’s little tricks like that, that keep us out shooting and not bashing our heads against the keyboard.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Mustang Friday?

I know what you’re thinking, Mustang Friday doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Mustang Mondays does. For some reason I woke up today and have just been thinking about Mustangs. Now I’m not much of a car or horse photographer so this shot of a P-51C “Red Tail” Mustang will have to do.

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This was taken last April down at Fantasy of Flight, part of Kermit Weeks collection of rare and vintage aircraft. This was always one of my favorite shoots just because the aircraft is so darn cool!

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Wishing the plane was there

Here in Bozeman we get some very weird weather. It’s amazing how often we get rain, snow and sunshine, at the same time. The way the Bridger Mountains and the Gallatin Mountains are shaped, Bozeman sits at basically a bottle neck between them. The weather then goes through this long valley to get here and then through the pass it gets narrow. Well yesterday we had an odd day.

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It started out with snow on Saturday and it finally looked like we were going to have some snow for a while. Yea right. It all melted. It warmed up yesterday, all melted. It went from sunny and blue skies to overcast in the afternoon. Well right around 4 o clock i was thinking about going out for a quick sunset shoot but with the low clouds to the west the sky wasn’t going to light up. Instead this thick layer of fog came in and immediately i thought of this shoot down in Florida from this past April when we had amazing fog. I was so longing to have a plane to go photograph right then. Nice thing is that fog will be back.

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

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