Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” These wise words are so true even in aviation photography. The repeated attendance of aviation events based on a list of demonstration teams and performers over an event with great lighting conditions is crazy to me. And let’s face it, we go to events to see and experience living breathing aircraft take flight. Shooting static aircraft is really just a matter of waiting for the right time of day. We don’t get to choose what flies or performs in whatever light we want. But we can choose events with better overall lighting conditions. That we choose light over available subjects.
Such stunning light in the late afternoon
In this episode of “Philosophy about Photography”. I want to talk about choosing an event with purpose over subjects of opportunity. After attending countless aviation events over the past 17 years, I’ve become very critical about what show or event I will attend. Just because there’s an event nearby, doesn’t mean I’m going to it. I have a tried and tested trifecta of reasoning for attending an aviation event. For me, it takes great lighting conditions, multiple shooting locations, and subjects I want to see. And having only one doesn’t cut it.
Light and location go hand in hand. The quality of light at an aviation event is directly proportional to your shooting location, show/crowd line, and the path of the Sun. There are numerous other factors that must be considered. Such as, where’s the show/crowd line? And what direction is it facing? Where’s the Sun now? And where will it be later? Does the event cater to photographers? How late can I stay after the show ends? Also, there are events with good light only for part of the day. Wings over Houston for example, the show faces east and at the start of the show, the light is garbage. The good thing is flying tends to start in the late afternoon. The first few acts are backlit but before you know it and for the rest of the show the sun is at your back. NAS Oceana is the exact opposite. The lighting conditions are good until midday and the Sun crosses overhead and then starts backlighting the event just in time for the Blue Angels.
My reasoning behind having multiple shooting locations is, I feel one cannot capture the feeling or present the experiences of a show from one location. There’s just too much going on to show from one point of view. When you do, all your images have the same perspective and tend to look the same. And you quickly lose the interest of your viewers and they either click away to some other interest or continue scrolling past the rest of your photos. My remedy for this stagnation is to shoot the first half of a show in one location and then the second half in another for one-day events. And for multi-day shows, to switch up locations on different days. The results tend to show a more complete picture of the show and I’m able to tell a more complex story with my images.
How many of my sought-after aircraft are supposed to be at one of these well-lit events? I may get to see two or three per show if I’m lucky. But for me, I’m in it for the long game. And with warbirds being my jam, I tend to gravitate towards the larger warbird events like the Planes of Fame air show in Chino California, EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, and Thunder Over Michigan in Ypsilanti. And even when I make it out to a show with quality light along with the aircraft I want to see, there is still no guarantee that I will add any unique images to my portfolio. Events get canceled, Mother Nature likes to start tripping on show weekends, and unfortunately, accidents happen as well.
Yeah, you can use Lightroom and Photoshop to add filters and layer masks to correct for crappy light. But those images will not be as good as ones shot in superior conditions. And the workflow of processing a set of images from a poorly lit event is tedious and time-consuming. I’ve been there, done that and no thank you. But at least we can pick events that are more in our favor to produce better results.
Thanks for stopping by,