Reno in Flight

This coming weekend marks the 54th National Championship Air Races. Lots of great planes, great people and great fun which has already started with planes arriving last week getting qualifying done and practice in on the course. For aviation photographers the Air Races provides a unique set of opportunities.

The best part of the races, like most aviation events, is the chance to see your favorite planes flying by multiple times. But how do you go about getting those great shots of your favorite planes? The big one to start with is try to keep your gear clean. It’s really hard to do in the dry environment at Stead Airport combined with all the wind but you’ll thank yourself later if you clean it every night. Dealing with those dust spots in post can drive you crazy. Now this plays true with prop planes more the jets since you need that slow shutter speed to get a prop blur. Slower shutter means greater depth of field, hence more spots. Next is panning. Good panning is crucial but practice helps. The best way to practice here is to photograph the different aircraft classes that might not be as exciting to you so that when the ones that are exciting come up you’re ready to go.

The importance of Shutter Speed in a Stack Up

In the Winter months I often go through and get images processed that I otherwise didn’t have time to go through during the busy Summer months. This past Fall at the Wings Over Houston Airshow we had the great joy of seeing a replica ME262 and a P-51D Mustang fly formation together. While these once nemesis fought each other over the skies of Europe, today they can be seen often together as a tribute to those days. While both were very fast aircraft they had distinct differences. The most obvious of these is a prop driven engine and dual turbo jet engines.


This one difference makes a big difference when photographing the two planes together. While jets have no moving parts to them, you can easily get away with a sharp image with a fast shutter speed, 1/500th or greater. With a prop it has to be slow 1/125 or slower. When the opportunity comes up you have to watch what is going to be flying by while paying attention to the shutter speed so that you don’t end up with frozen props. Now with this particular image, the prop looks frozen because it is directly at it’s side.

How much Foreground is Needed?

Everyone has probably heard of the rule of thirds while learning the basics of photography. When you compose you setup up your shot so that the foreground, middle ground and background each take up one third of your overall photograph. If you do this you will get the strongest photographs. This is an old rule that has been argued both ways for years! It probably always will be. Well my question is how much detail do you really need in the foreground? Take these shots for example.


One could argue that the elements in each shot takes up approximately one third of the overall composition. However the foreground in both shots is almost zilch. That’s because the foreground is black. There isn’t much detail in that area. Why does there need to be? It’s a black tarmac runway, who need to know that except for the fact that it is black! The runway in these shots isn’t the subject so why have detail in that area for the eye to get stuck on? See what I’m saying. If you use the rules that established photography and bend them to get the results that you want for images then you become not only more creative but more personal with your shots.

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

Getting Caught Up From the Races

Every time we go to the races they seem to be over in a blink of the eye. This year was no different. It was a great week with the best news being that no one was hurt. One plane ground looped but other than that the races went without incident. Needless to say everyone was a little tense watching some of these heats, but after the unlimiteds landed on Sunday afternoon one heck of a party started.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]

We had some great planes at the races this year and some of the best came from CAF Camarillo. We hit it off with them the first day we were there, when we met a very nice volunteer named Cherri. Dad and I have a usual routine we get to the races which quite simply is we walk around the first day. The best way to see who is there and what is there is just to walk around. On our walk we ran into the CAF row which consisted of a F8F Bearcat, F6F Hellcat and a MK14 Spitfire. The Cats were part of the Legacy flight that took place later in the week. The Spitfire was only there through Friday so we immediately gravitated towards it. After talking with the pilot we arranged to do one of things we enjoy most at the races, an early morning shoot.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]

Enjoy is a loose term here. It consists of getting up at 530 to get out to the flight line by 6 to get the plane pulled out, or in this case we just pushed it out, by 615 so we can get the plane in position for sunrise. Of course we spend the rest of the day on our feet walking the line and the pits trying to make more happen. It’s all worth the pain in the end because that’s how we get the great morning shots. It wasn’t just us out there either, a gaggle of other photographers joined us for the shoot as well as another plane, the P-51D “Precious Metal” who we were unaware was getting pulled out. It all worked out well for us, they were both beautiful subjects that morning

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, AF-S 24-70 f2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Always need to think beyond the obvious

I love working with planes. It’s so much easier to come up with examples to talk about than it is with wildlife. This shot was taken about two years ago down in Phoenix, AZ. We were in a skyvan with Casey and Robert Odegaard flying our subject planes two P-51D Mustangs. Whenever we go out for an air to air shoot we always pick what to be believed as an ideal spot with little civilization in the background. The buildings never really seem to ad much to the image unless it’s a particular landmark that’s easily recognizable. Sometimes that option doesn’t exist.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]

Of course it’s real easy to remove the buildings in post nowadays but it’s always better to get it right the first time. The one thing i noticed while processing this image and I realized this well after the fact was, captured this image the wrong way. If i was thinking about it at the time, which i do remember quite well, i have shot vertically. Instead i shot horizontally thinking how easy it will be to remove the buildings. Which truly it wasn’t hard but the image just doesn’t have the same attitude if i had tried the other way. That mental block is very important to get past. Even though the option exists to change the background in post it’s not always the best way. A simple repositioning would have worked also.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]
In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Recent Teachings

The more I work with aviation and other photographers, the more I have come to learn that it truly is one community. For those involved it is not only a privilege but also a joy to work with a part of history. It is therefore a goal of mine, as it should be with everyone, to try and give back even with something as simple as knowledge. For the last year I have been a part of ISAP which has been a great way to meet a lot of Aviation enthusiasts. It also provided me with an outlet to share some of the skills I have picked up.

November Issue

December Issue

For the last couple of issues I have been able to write a couple pages about simple techniques that can make a big impact on one’s photography. In general they are rather simple lessons but it is often those simple ones that can yield the greatest results. It may not seem like much, I mean one page and a couple images, nothing getting bought. However, you never know when a simple contribution like this can make a difference to someone else with a question. That’s why implore others to take the time and contribute to those small communities.

What is the Sexiest Plane?

Have you ever wondered what the sexiest airplane is? I know it certainly wasn’t the first thought that I had but apparently to some there’s a bit of controversy over the matter. In one of the current articles on the Plane and Pilot Website is an article recently done on public poll of the sexiest planes in General and Military Aviation. It’s a fun read with some good facts in it.

Last Minutes

There isn’t much to say with this one. After a long day on the feet, carrying gear and shooting whatever comes around, there is nothing better than sitting down while watching the planes go over head. Well on this occasion it was better to go out one last time for a sunset shoot.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]

Image Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Thunder is a Brewing

There are some things we come to expect from the Air Races and one of those things is the lack of clouds. Normally we get lucky and have just one day of good clouds to go with the planes but for some reason this year we had clouds almost every day. Heck the day i drove in it started snowing outside of Sparks! That same night they had an amazing thunder and lightning storm over the field. Sadly they couldn’t find a subject to put with the skies.

[swf], 430, 675[/swf]

Thursday we had another great cloudy day with amazing thunder heads brewing to the east. They never got to Stead nor did we have much overhead but with the combination of the 200-400 and getting low, Voodoo stacked up pretty nicely with the sky. Voodoo was pulled out to do a maintenance warmup, testing the engine making sure it was ready for the next heat.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]

Voodoo is always an interesting photo subject, the paint scheme and team shirts just stick out with every background. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes it doesn’t. The problem i seem to find is that good time to shoot Voodoo when the paint scheme isn’t overpowering to the point that you just can’t look at it. The mid afternoon light works decently here but it still could’ve been better. It was still fun to watch the team do their usual drills as they were getting ready for the next race.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 200-400 VRI, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Unearthly Bound

Over the last few years I, along with the rest of my family, have had the honor of attending the Air Races as part of the Media Ops team. In that short amount of time we have come to consider everyone there as family and graciously my family has been inducted into there’s. Needless to say that attending the races is always a big deal for us, even if that means driving 16 hours from Montana in order for me to attend. The event started as it usually does, a predawn shoot on the tarmac with a plane that was graciously pulled out just for us photogs. It just so happened that the first one we worked with was the Super G Corsair, courtesy of the Odegaards. I’m sure if you have gone to Dad’s blog by now that you realize not only how close we are with them but also how close that plane is with Galloping Ghost. It was a beautiful morning shoot with followed up with a day of walking the pits, talking with the crews, sucking up every bit of information that we could about the planes.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]

Thanks to the friendships Dad had created with the Odegaards and Jimmy, we were able to reunite the Super Corsair and the Ghost for another early morning shoot that will always be remembered. Everyone out there was in awe seeing these historic aircraft together and we gave thanks that we could be part of such an event. However, after the events on Friday, they were the hardest images to look at. It’s the sad truth to aviation that planes go down, and the ones we love we lose. Standing out at Pylon 2 Dad and I finally made the connection that Ghost was flying in that heat, unfortunately only seconds after we made this discovery we saw the cloud of dust come up and the horrible gut wrenching feeling came over us, as we knew exactly who went down.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]

Rushing on to the bus and back to Media Ops we watched the stands hoping that everyone was going to be okay, fearfully knowing that it wasn’t going to be. As soon as we arrived Dad and I were directed to be part of the first response but shortly were turned around being told that they had enough volunteers. We spent the rest of the that horrid day waiting around, helping where ever we could, consoling whoever needed it. We kept busy or at least as distracted as possible to try and keep away the images of what had occurred to come flashing back into the mind. As the day went on volunteers and photogs started to leave, they made the journeys homeward talking with all their loved ones and friends. Mom, Dad and I stayed around we helped until there was nothing left to do that night, including answering phones in the RARA office, talking to those that feared they had lost their family and friends. We spent three hours in that office, Dad and I entered names into the computer and Mom was on the phone. Everyone just wanted to keep busy. We went to bed that night, not sure what the next day would be like or how much worse it would get.

[swf], 585, 435[/swf]

Saturday was the first day that i can remember coming to the races and sleeping in. We always got up early, but this time there was nothing to get up for. No planes to shoot, no crews in the pit to talk to, no sounds whatsoever. It was quiet, it was unnerving. Dad and I walked the pits that morning looking for all those that we knew and could find, trying to talk with anyone to make sure they were okay. The pits which usually have a movement to them in the morning were clam and stark. It was like walking through a ghost town. At times it seemed our voices echoed there was so little going on. NTSB had locked everything down and taken control of the scene within hours of the incident. It still seemed odd that there was no one at these planes. We walked for 2 hours before we came back to Media Ops at which point a security guard stopped us and said “you can’t be in there.” We hung around the trailer and the building helping where ever we could.

The few photographers that were there talked about what had happened, sharing our stories about Jimmy. We laughed when we could, remembered things that Jimmy had said or done. We all tried to get a handle on what had happened, and what was going to happen.

Eventually most people left, leaving only a few volunteers and the family to help break down Media Center. It felt even stranger breaking down the media center on a Saturday. It usually is busy, everyone is moving around getting lists made, flights ready, and photogs in and out so they can shoot the races. There was none of that. The only commotion was getting the place packed up, again keeping us from thinking about what had happened.

There was press conferences that started the day before and continued through the weekend. The News teams yet again proved their rudeness and true lack of interest in the tragic event. They were all trying to get their 5 minutes of fame paying little if any respect to the good man that we lost. It was disgusting for those of us watching that knew Jimmy and knew about the plane. Most of us walked out before the conference even ended. This was the first crash that i had witnessed with such devastating affect, I truly hope it is the last. The reality is that this kind of flying is dangerous, the pilots know this we spectators have a harder time handling it. I realize the little solace there is in these words, knowing full well that it does nothing to bring anyone back nor ease that horrible feeling that we now have. I can only say that this event hurt is all and as a community we’ll have to work together to get past this.

My thanks go out to all those that called, emailed or texted to make sure that me and my family were alright. All your support made a big difference, please show the same support now for those involved with the accident. My hopes and prayers go out to Jimmy’s family, along with all those that had friends and family involved with the tragic accident. May those that we lost always be remembered in our hearts, and pray that they are watching over us in a better place.

error: Content is protected !!