Can’t be afraid of the Snow

Snow is a great element to work with but is often overlooked in certain fields. While it is most commonly photographed with outdoor sports such as skiing and snowboarding, as well as with landscape photography to which I am guilty, it is also an important aspect when it comes to aviation. Planes don’t stop flying just because of snow. While in some places they are wintered in warmer areas the planes still have to go through general maintenance. Photographing planes in the snow is no different then in the summer time with the emphasis still on safety.

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One of my favorite experiences was when I was first starting out and I went up in a T6 Texan to photograph another T6 Texan. As you can see there was snow in the background. It was cold shooting out of that open cockpit back with the D3 and 24-70 AF-S but the flight started and ended positively which was all that mattered. The photographs are different and snow pictures aren’t seen as often. From a business stand point it makes more sense to shoot now then in the summer. Commercial and GA flights happen regularly, with GA flights more so on nice days. Provided you keep safety in mind at all times, you can make some nice images happen.

Riding in History

The P-40’s were certainly the highlight of Atlanta Warbird Weekend but there were many other planes there to enjoy and some of those planes offered rides. Those that do aviation photography know the joy that comes when doing an air to air shoot. Being able to ride in one plane and photograph another. The same joy can be felt when riding in these old birds. We are lucky in that sense and need to remember that because for others coming to these airshows and events is the only way that they get to enjoy these planes.

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The SNJ here is on taxi about to depart. It was one of several Texans on display and while not the bearer of rides like it’s fellow planes it still put on a good show. The DC-3 on the other hand was busy going up and down selling rides both days. Just like when it comes to showing the people and the details in the hangars, the other planes tell the story too. In this case a video would’ve been better because it was the sound of these planes going up and down all day that told the story more then the image.

Working in the Sun

The sun can be a powerful element when included in a photograph. Some avoid it because it can be too overpowering but when used in the right way it can be an element of intrigue. When I’m working with critters I rarely have the sun directly in my photographs because I want the softer natural light to be on the critter and not seen in the background. With aviation it’s quite different. Due to the natural graphic elements of aircraft the direct sun can be quite interesting. These two images are good examples of that.

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This first image is of a modified T6 Texan part of the Tora! Tora! Tora! performing group as a Zero. What initially caught my attention was the flag waving form the canopy. Now this is obviously a backlit shot and there is a bit of lens flare but with the help of ACR it wasn’t a distraction. The morning I shot this we had some great cloud cover which helped to mask the bright sun so it wasn’t a glaring white ball.

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The second image, a TBM Avenger, has no clouds but more color and it is that color that makes for an interesting sky. Both of those subtle details help to make the sun less overpowering. Now with aviation I said there was a graphic element and there is and in both of these cases it’s the plane’s shadow. It’s not something you generally think about but when you can combine the sun, plane and shadow into a unique composition then you have something truly interesting. When it comes to working the ramps and looking at multiple aircraft and having to work around people, noticing these elements and knowing how to work them is important.

Many were needed for the Flight

The Arsenal of Democracy couldn’t have happened without the support of many people. They said that 56 planes took part of the flyover on May 8th which is a lot when you think about it. Planes and Pilots came from all over the country to be a part of the event and many of those pilots spent time practicing and doing photo flights. There was so much commotion at Culpeper throughout the week but the airport felt rather calm most of the time. Last Wednesday everyone was busy getting planes maintained and cleaned so that they could fly in the practice flight the next day. The T6’s were part of the trainer formation that flew on Friday and they would go up repeatedly to practice. This particular P-51, “Ain’t Misbehaving” was coming back from their practice flight of a four ship of mustangs as well. All of this was shot with a D4 and 70-200 VRII.

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When to go Black and White

When to convert an image to black and white? This has always been a question that I have asked and is often answered during the moment of capture. Sometimes it’s the subject or sometimes it’s the mood of the moment, but something about the moment it clicks that makes you think, “hey that will be a nice black and white.” It’s common in most fields of photography but in aviation it is a lot less. I never quite figured out why. Perhaps it’s because everything we knew about aviation was once captured in black and white and now everything has to be captured in color. It’s the difference between historical images and contemporary images.

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These two examples are ones that I took a while back of a PBY Catalina and a T6 Texan. Both of these images I converted not because of the mood, or the subject, or even the clouds but of the combination of everything. The goal was to recreate the historic images that lead the way in avaition photography. A classic black and white image of a PBY beached at Pearl Harbor with destruction all around has become a staple in military history. As well ha all the images of trainer aircraft flying above the clouds. It’s simple ideas of recreating the past that fuels the projects for the future. Theses ideas spark others and the cycle continues. Black and White photography is not just about the right elements, but about the overall message being conveyed.

The AT-6 Texan

I have decided to add a new section to my blog that talks solely about the history of aviation. I have grown to really enjoy and appreciate the history of airplanes over the last several years and this seemed like the most logical way to consistently bring what knowledge I have learned to others to enjoy. Every Thursday I will be writing some form of review of a different aircraft highlighting everything that I can think of from development, to service, and to todays usage. With that in mind, it took me a while to decide which plane to start with. I have had the great fortune to have photographed so many great aircraft, that many have become favorites of mine. As some of you might recognize this plane, I decided to start with one of the first planes that I photographed and was in fact the first aircraft I ever did an air to air shoot with. This is the North American AT-6 Texan.

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This is the AT-6 Texan, redesignated the T-6 in 1962, one of the most used and collected warbirds that exist today. The T-6 was designed as an advanced trainer aircraft during WWII and was used at some point by almost every serviceman that went through the US Air Corp. After completing basic training on the biplane Boeing Stearman, pilots would go on to advance training where they would learn to fly mono wing planes such as the Vultee BT-13 Variant and AT-6 Texan. Afterward depending on the proven skill set and placement they would go onto either single engine training school or multi engine training, basically separating the class into fighter pilots or bomber pilots. The AT-6 played a pivotal role in training pilots being one of the first training aircraft they flew with metal surfaces, hydraulic flaps, retractable landing gear and .30mm machine guns mounted in the wings for aerial and ground gunnery practice.

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The T-6 was such a popular aircraft that 34 countries signed contracts with North American for planes of their own. 15,495 T-6’s were built to supply the orders from the other countries as well as the US. Throughout it’s service the aircraft has been known under several designations: the USAAC and later the USAAF designated it the AT-6 until 1962, US Navy designated it the SNJ and the British Commonwealth air forces designated it the Harvard, which is its best known name outside the us.

Due to the T-6’s ease of maintenace, low cost and large production, it has become one of the most popular warbirds collected today. Unlike fighters or bombers which had a relatively short lived life expecantcy overseas, the T-6 lasted long past WWII and was used during Korea as a trainer for the US. It never saw front line service as a fighter for the USAAF but it was used by other countries up through the 1970’s as a fighter plane. With its Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasp radial engine, 600 hp (450 kW), the plane was capable of speeds up to 208 mph. This later changed as the planes performance was enhanced for racing. The T6 gave pilots the ability to do rolls, Immelmanns, loops, spins, snaps and vertical rolls which was partly why it made for such a good trainer. This later allowed the plane to be very versatile in aerobatic roles at Airshows.

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Seen here is a row of T-6 trainers at EAA Airventure Oshkosh from 2011. Because they have such a low cost to fly they have become such a staple in airshows that it is actually hard to find an airshow that doesn’t have at least one T-6 around. Amongst the most famous group of Airshow performers is the famed CAF Tora! Tora! Tora! group which uses several replica Zero and Nakajima “Kate” Torpedeo bombers which are all modified T-6 Texans.

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One of the great historical aspects of the T-6 is all the different paint jobs that the plane had from going to so many different countries and being used for so many different squadrons. This particular plane is based out of Honolulu and is owned by a nice man named Bruce Mays. His T-6 is painted in honor of the USS Saratoga. These are the aircraft markings of a plane that would be stationed on that carrier. Back in 2011 I had the great privilege of lying with Bruce and my Dad on an air to air mission with his T-6 over Pearl Harbor. Being such an iconic spot in WWII history, and with such few warbirds actually on the island, this was by far one of the most fun and satisfying air to air shoots that I have ever been on. The only slight challenge to the whole matter was having to fly in a Cessna 172 in the back seat shooting through the plexiglass windows. Nevertheless the images and story were all worth it. Not to mention his T-6 looked absolutely gorgeous in the morning light over Oahu.

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While the T-6 makes a great photo subject, and in my opinion is one of the best warbirds to practice air to air photography with, it is also one of the best photo platforms to use. With a good range in speed, again low cost in fuel consumption, and high rate of availability, the T-6 is one of the most sought after photo platforms, especially those with the reversible rear seat allowing the photographer to shoot straight back.

In 1920 Ralph Pulitzer sponsored the Pulitzer Trophy Race to establish publicity for his newspaper and aviation. The races later moved to Cleveland where they become known as the Cleveland National Air Races, which lasted until 1949. The races were put on hold during WWII but resumed afterward. They initiated a special class after WWII just for the T-6 Texan. That class continued on to the Reno National Championship Air Races, which started in 1964 after the Cleveland races were shut down. Today the T-6 class at Reno is one of the largest classes of competitors, including fan favorites like #6 “Six Cat” owned by Nick Macy with six gold medal wins to his name and #43 “Midnight Miss III” owned by Dennis Buehn with five gold medal wins.

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This here is Dennis flying his beloved Midnight Miss III back in 2013 at Pylon Race School. Dennis was the start of air to air photography for both myself and my Dad and has been a friend of ours ever since. He showed us that not only are the planes really cool but the pilots are a breed of their own. One of the most important lessons they teach is not about history, but that life can be over in a blink of an eye so enjoy every minute of it. Dennis continues to race his team of aircraft, further influencing those in the warbird community. He has owned and rebuilt over seventy T-6’s in his life which makes him one of the true experts on the aircraft.

The T-6 Texan, SNJ or Harvard if you prefer, is one of the main stay aircraft of the warbird community. If ever there was one cornerstone aircraft that all pilots have at one point or another, flown, it was this one. If it were not for this plane many of the brave men who fought in WWII may not have gotten as good of training as they got. Today these planes can be seen all around the world, and is one of the few planes that that can be said about. At museums all across the country visitors can go and see the T-6 and at a price can even go and buy a ride in one. I highly recommend that anyone interested in aviation go and see about a ride. It will get you hooked.

Photos taken with Nikon D3, D4, 70-200 VRII, 70-300 VR, 200-400 VR, 500 f/4 VR

Going through Planes of Fame Images

For the second year in a row the Planes of Fame Airshow did not disappoint! Last year was incredible with 5 of the then 7 flying P-38 lightnings in the world showing up and this year was a real treat to have 4 of the six flying P-47 Thunderbolts in the world. This included the only two flying Razorbacks. Now I spent yesterday going through images, getting them tagged, renamed, filed and started to plan out where what was going where. Well all of that was just from Saturday! I’m still getting through Sunday. It was a great weekend.

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This is a quick click of a T6 Texan that was part of the Korean War re-enactment. There was some nice clouds way high up but the wind helped out to give them some character. There will be more to come.

Is it Better to Go Black and White or Not?

This is a question that I always seem to never have an answer for. There is a subtle seduction to black and white photography no matter the subject, light or image content. Perhaps it goes back to the golden age of photography where everything feels more romantic. I’m not really sure what it is but it is something that I always contemplate when working with aviation. With landscapes it’s a bit easier to see what feels like the right ones to make into black and white but with planes it’s not. I think part of it has to do with which aircraft it is.

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Takes this T6 Texan for example which I was lucky to photograph back in 2010 during my first air to air shoot. This plane at one point belonged to Dennis Bheun who sold it not long after the shoot. You can read more about the plane and the shoot in one of my Dad’s posts. More to the question I raised, it feels to me like the planes today that still feel like they are flying back in the day are the ones that turn into better black and whites. Now that could just be me or the connotation that everything from that era was in black and white but either way it’s fun topic to think about.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-300 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

It Just Takes Great Light

The question I pose this time is how big does the subject have to be if there is great light on it and the background? I bring this up because I often wonder it myself. This T6 seemed like a good example of this. Normally I would pass on a shot like this but because the mountains look so good the plane looks great. The closer the plane comes, the more the mountains disappear breaking the illusion of speed and flight. Having that good background makes all the difference. The one thing I have noticed when working with planes is that whenever you can put ground in the picture, no matter the size it gives the image depth. Planes in the sky by themselves is just boring. It’s a challenge to find those spots where you can get both ground and sky in one frame but when you can it always makes for good images.

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

That’s one Unique looking Texan

We tend to see a lot of strange things at Reno, we never know what will show up. Well this year one of the qualifying planes in the T6 class had a very unusual paint job. At first glance it appeared to be a SBD Dauntless Dive bomber which if the wings were less straight it could pass for one. The couple days that we had clouds, the great clouds showed up before I got there, were good shooting days. The SBD T6 as we lovingly dubbed it was unusual but fun to photograph. There was something catchy about the plane. It certainly stood out surrounded by all the polished aluminum T6’s

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 600f4, TC-17E II, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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