The British Fighters

You can’t beat photographing a Hurricane and a Spitfire in Britain! One of the best parts about my latest trip to England was having the chance to photograph both of these amazing aircraft at Duxford. Thanks to the nice folks at the Historic Aircraft Collection nine participants at Dad’s UK Aviation Workshop got a chance to see these rare pieces of history up close. While I was helping with instruction, I got a chance to work with them too.

The Hurricane is the unsung hero of the RAF. During the Battle of Britain more Hurricanes were used then any other plane and throughout the war in Europe Hurricanes were used in every front. The Hurricane came out in 1937 and was Britain’s frontline fighter for a long time before the Spitfire came out. While not as fast or agile as the Spitfire, the Hurricane was far more rugged with greater armor. The Hurricane was known for getting their pilots back to the airfield. In many ways the Hurricane and Spitfire are like the P-40 Warhawk and P-51 Mustang.

It was a treat to see the Hurricane but to have a chance to have both in one frame was truly unbelievable. When it comes to working with multiple aircraft it helps if you have the ability to position them to a more flattering angle. If you don’t then it’s best to choose subjects that naturally look good together. After that watching the background and getting low to help show more sky helps with the overall image. Throughout the Battle of Britain the skies were dark and cloudy, including that is not only natural for England but also to recreate that bit of history.

Images captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

How Many Subjects Do You Need?

It’s funny some of the questions you get asked when you’re walking around with a camera on your shoulder. Sometimes they are good questions, sometimes they aren’t. It kind of comes with the territory because not everyone knows that much about photography. The one that I hear at airshows often is more of a statement then a question. “I wish there were more planes here.” It’s an understandable one as more planes tend to draw more crowds but when you’re a photographer how many different planes can you really photograph well before your brain gets overloaded?

For me I can honestly say just one. This past weekend was the Montana Antique Aircraft Association’s annual Fly-in held at Three Forks. The event was great with lots of people and many good planes. It doesn’t take much to make me happy and one good subject is all it takes. This 1928 Travel Air 6-B 6000 was one I spent a lot of time with. It certainly is a looker which helps, but besides that it’s just an interesting plane. Many details make this plane unique and that’s what I was focusing on, even if you can’t see them all here. So when you go to an event ask yourself how many subjects are needed to make this event worthwhile? If it’s a lot then are you really pushing yourself with your photography?

Image Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Going Down Under

No I didn’t go to Australia as much as I would like to. In this case I’m referring to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. It’s a really cool place about 2hrs west of Bozeman. It’s a pretty amazing place that was discovered and fought over for years between private ownership and the state.


The caverns are a great place to work on low light situation without a tripod. Since the whole place is close proximity you can’t exactly stop and take a long exposure. But with the great sensor int the D5 and a little help with ACR capturing that detail in the rocks and then bringing it out is a snap. One the key factors is using the shadows to make an interesting composition because this is definitely a scenario where negative space is more important.

The Waco QCF-2

Today I thought I would talk about a classic antique airplane, the Waco. Specifically this is a QCF-2 which is kind of mid range designed between 1927 and the early 1940’s. Most were produced in the 1930’s. The F series was designed to beat the O series and were built by the Waco Aircraft Company. They were a private pilot plane which the company was trying to make available for three people, one pilot and two in tandem. The plane has become so popular that Waco Company is still building the latest version the YMF.


This particular example lives up in Minot, ND at the Dakota Territory Museum. It happens to belong to Warren Pietsch who flies it quite regularly. This past fourth of July it was brought out one morning and then flown later that afternoon. With the great lines and classic look it shines it flat and bright light.

Images Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 f/2.8, 200-400 VR on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Ghost Town Details

One thing there is a lot of in Montana are ghost towns and they are a photographers paradise. It’s a great place to let your imagination run wild as you are transported to another world. While there are many ways to photograph ghost towns and the attributes that make them special, one way that I prefer is going for the details. Trying to encompass everything often doesn’t translate the same feeling as a closeup image of an old piano, old glass, or even the texture on the side of the buildings. In this case these are train cars and it’s the color and texture of the wood that drew me to them.


You might be wondering if I used a macro lens and the answer is no. Something as simple as a 24-70 f/2.8 or 70-200 VRII do great jobs. Now having said that I am tempted to go back with the D5 and 70-180 macro just to see what would happen. The key with the detail shots is to have somewhere for the eye to rest on.

Long Exposure’s with the Lake Lodge

After spending a little time at Oshkosh shooting the fireworks during the night performance, I was intrigued enough to continue trying long exposures at other locations. While up at Flathead Lake the Lakeside Lodge was a perfect subject for just this. This place is so immaculate that it’s hard to believe that it is owned by the Presbyterian church as a kids camp. It looks more like one of those exclusively owned super mansions. At night the place is so light up that even with the half moon behind it the exposures turned out great.


Shooting setup for this was pretty darn simple. The D5, 18-35mm f3.5-4.5, on a tripod. Both of these were 25sec exposures with very minor post processing. The sensor in the D5 is so good that there really wasn’t any clean up even with noise. Granted this place is pushing out a ton of light making pretty much everything light up which was helping me out a lot.

Right Place, Wrong Camera

Have you ever been out shooting on assignment or a project, you get back and you want to go out again so you pack quickly and then as soon as you get to your next destination you realizes you grabbed the wrong gear? This usually doesn’t happen to me but it sure did yesterday. I was up at Flathead attending a friends wedding and shooting video for him and being me I was in one mind state the whole time. Then when I got home I swapped out gear and went fishing for a little while to relax. Well wouldn’t you know I grabbed the wrong camera body.


I ended up shooting with the D4 instead of the D5 which was in no way a life or death situation but I did have to think about what and how I was shooting. If you have been in this situation then you the surprise you get when you first discover your mistake but then you quickly start thinking, okay how do I get done what I need to now? It was a simple answer for me. Knowing what the subject was in this scenario it was a simple matter of adjusting my shooting technique to compensate for the difference. The D5 has better quality and better noise reduction then the D4 so I kept that in mind when I was shooting this spot at sunset and also when I finished the images in post.

The Snowbirds Stole the Show

The Snowbirds have been a favorite of mine for years. This Canadian Jet Team was been performing for years and each time it is done with such precision that it almost doesn’t seem real since they fly with nine aircraft. The CT-114 Tutor while deceptive simple is an impressive aircraft and even with nine airplanes the group is surprisingly quite especially compared to the F-18 Super Hornet or F-16 Falcon.


The Snowbirds performance is an aerial ballet. When one plane has to land for a mechanical the other eight continue on with the same precision. The Snowbirds travel with two spare planes just in case there is an issue. After landing the spare aircraft is brought up and rejoins the group.


This year marked a very special reunion with the Snowbirds and EAA Airventure. The Snowbirds had been absent from Oshkosh for thirty three years and Saturdays performance was the 2,543 show that the group has done. That’s a lot of flying!


Photographically these planes are great. A red and white subject, you can’t go wrong with that. Even with overcast skies they stick out. My choice for photographing them is still the D5 and 200-400 VR. It’s my go to lens combo for ground to air work. Of course if needed there is always high speed crop for those further away shots. One thing I try to do with all my aviation shots is have lead in or lead out space from the subject. With the planes that are moving it’s very important to have that visual element to tell the story.

This Plane Made a Big Splash!

The Martin Mars was without a doubt one of the biggest highlights of EAA Airventure, Oshkosh 2016. I mean that quite literally as the plane is massive! It’s not as big as Howard Hughes’s Hercules seaplane plane, also known as the Spruce Goose, but since that plane only flew once it was never considered operational and thus the Martin Mars became the largest operational flying boat in the world.


The Martin Mars was developed in 1938 and first flew in June 1942. Only seven were built and after the war only four entered private hands as fire bombers. The US Navy contracted Glenn L Martin Company to make the Mars as a long range ocean patrol flying boat. By the time the Mars had reached the Navy the idea of a patrol bomber was obsolete and the Mars became a transport plane. Of the original order of 20 planes only five were delivered by the end of the war and the last was delivered in 1947. Of those five only five survived into the 1950’s. In 1959 the Forest Industries Flying Tankers in Canada purchased the remaining four as dumpers. Of those four, two crashed and the Philippine Mars and Hawaii Mars are the only two left. The Philippine Mars was scheduled to go to the Navy Museum in Pensacola, Fl while the Hawaii Mars is still up or sale.


This plane truly is massive and slow. Photographing it was quite easy because you really didn’t have to pan very fast with the plane and when it was overhead 200mm was actually too much lens. The other great part is that the red and white paint job made it visible from a long ways away.


The Hawaii Mars made it’s debut at Airventure with a splash as it had done for years at other airshows. The impressive display of water being dumped on a controlled fire set off by the pyro team was unbelievable. It is sad to think that this plane’s future is so uncertain but due to it’s size and the amount of maintenance to keep it going it truly is a tough plane to keep in the skies. Thankfully with the help of volunteers and a few individuals there may be a bright future for it yet.

Images Captured with Nikon D5 and 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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