Using up my Bag of Tricks

Show 6, post 1: Northern Illinois Airshow

On September 9th, I drove over to Waukegan for the Northern Illinois airshow. The home show for Warbird Heritage foundation. I meet up with my good friend and fellow photographer, Rob Wetterholt. It was a great little show with a nice line up of performers along with a well laid out static display. I set out to try again to capture a sense of motion while shooting jets. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy skies in the morning and clearing skies as the day went on. By the time things started flying, the sky was clear and blue. I was a little disappointed about not getting the opportunity to try to do some cloud blurring but it’s Mother Nature, what are you going to do? For this show, I rented the Canon 5DSR again and my old friend, the 400mm F/5.6L. Canon’s 400mm F/5.6L is a hidden gem of a lenses. I bought the 100-400mm MKI and the 400 5.6 at the same time. After shooting both lenses, I was turned off by the softness of the 100-400 and sold it. I shoot the 400 5.6 for years and absolutely fell in love with its clarity and sharpness. Before I sold it and got my 500mm F/4.5, I got comfortable shooting it slow. Like 1/80th for takeoff/landing and 1/160th for flying and getting good constant results. The 400 5.6 is not a low light lenses and does not has image stabilization. But what it is, an amazing light weight sunny day lenses that is easy to shoot handheld. In ideal shooting condition, it’s a joy to shoot. I had my 500mm for about 2 years now and still growing into it. But after returning to the 400 5.6, I’m strongly considering getting it again. I had no problem with shooting it slow again.

Which leads me into the title of this post, Using up my Bag of Tricks”. After shooting for some time, I have gathered a few techniques that I like to use to help capture images that I see. These are not anything that I myself have come up with but things I use to try to make my images stand out from others. While shooting at the Northern Illinois Airshow, I got the chance to use all my bag of tricks. Which does not happen too often. This post I’m going to share with you my small but slowly growing bag of tricks.

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Shooting slow to get a sense of motion and speed

This is the hardest of my tricks and I’m still trying to master it. It is my favorite way to isolate a subject. With the background blurred out and the subject tack sharp, the result is an image that shows a great sense of speed and motion. Here’s the thing about panning, it is the same if you’re panning an aircraft in flight, a person riding a bike or a race car on the track. Panning is panning, subject does not matter. What does matter is finding a stance and motion that YOU are comfortable with while panning. It is not the same for everybody, what works well for me may not work for you. This may sound dumb but holding your gear properly is a big factor too. While shooting, you HAVE to be stable and smooth while panning. Shooting a telephoto lenses handheld and at a low shutter speed is not easy but with practice, you can master it. Two important things I want to mention. First, whatever lenses you are using, keep your fingers away from the manual focusing ring while shooting. It does not matter if your using auto focus or any other type of focusing, if you turn the manual focusing ring while shooting, it will override any other focusing type resulting in soft and or out of focus images. And second, use a single auto focus point along with continuous tracking and shooting while panning. Do not use all auto focus points along with continuous tracking and shooting while panning. You’re going to confuse the shit out of your camera and will result in soft and out of focus images.

With the 400 5.6, I shot takeoffs/landings from 1/80th to 1/100th. Shoot flying subject slow depended on the background to show a sense of motion. During the show, the sky was clear blue and was no reason to shoot slow. But one the Hoppers, flying L-39s did do a very low flat pass that on the bottom of the frame has some blurred tree tops. It is not the sharpest image but you get the idea.

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I went down to 1/30th (5DSR/400 5.6) on the Skyraider “Bad News” to get a full ark of the propeller as it taxies back to the hot ramp.

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Shooting Low

Or I like to call it, “Doing the Alligator”. Laying on the ground with the camera at ground level, shooting up at your subject. The main problem I have with doing this technique is have a clean and unclutter background. Which at most airshows and aviation events is hard to come by. I have seen this type of shot done with wide angle lenses but I like using something with a bit more reach. Along with, I like to drop the horizon as low as I can and show very little of the ground. Giving the subject a proud stance and a strong presence in the frame. It’s fun to do on a grass field too, shooting through the weeds. You can also use this technique to shoot under airshow fences like this shot from Plames of Fame. Just be careful and mindful of your surroundings. People can and will walk on top of you and your gear.

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Shooting High

Getting up and shooting down on your subjects is something I would like to do more often. There are many ways to do so. Many shows and events have portable stairs alongside aircraft so you can take a peek inside the cockpit, it’s a great location to shoot surrounding aircraft from up high. Another way to photograph aircraft from a higher location is to use a monopod, live view mode and self-timer. I add this technique to my bag of tricks last year at the Planes of Fame show. With my Canon 70D and 70-200mm, I extended all the sections on my monopod, switch to live viewing so I can see what the camera is looking at on the view screen, angled the tile screen down so when I raise the monopod up I can see what I’m trying to shoot. With the camera auto focus drive switched to self-timer 10 secs and in aperture priority @ F/4 to have a high enough shutter speed to not worry about camera shake when the camera is up in the air. Depress the shutter button to start the timer, holding the bottom of the monopod, quickly raise the camera up where I want to shoot. Looking up at the view screen tiled down, compose the shot, hold everything steady and wait for the timer to end. Lower the camera and check the results. It takes some time getting used to but well worth the effort.

Tiling the frame

This is by far the simplest trick in my bag and probably the most controversial. I have found that other either love it or hate it. I love it. I feel it adds visual interest to the subject and maybe some attitude as well. You can also combine this technique with others for even more visual interest.

Trick no# 4?

My newest trick I added to my bag I really don’t know what to call it. It’s showing an aircraft in a series of images. Each image can stand alone but place side by side, you can visualize the whole aircraft. I unconsciously started doing it at the Selfridge show. Just another way for me look at things differently and to see new images. This is something I’m going play with, nurture and make more my own.

Along with the elements of design and my mind’s eye, I feel confident I can capture images unique to me.

To view larger images, click on thumbnails

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Until next post,

Steven

Fun With Statics

Show 5, post 3: Selfridge ANGB Open house and Airshow

My normal routine when I’m at an airshow once I get in is to look around at static and shoot the images I see. Selfridge had a very good static display and I took advance of it. With a 5DSR (I rented from Lenrental.com) and my 70-200mm F/2.8L I started shooting. Seeing the image, finding the edge of the frame, compose, shoot and chimp (recompose and reshoot if necessary) Strangely enough, my favorite shots from the show are of my static images. Yeah, I had two images from my Selfridge experiment I was happy with but that is about it when it comes to the flying. The shooting conditions was only good for a very short time and was strongly backlit for the most of the show.

Shooting statics can be challenging to isolate your subject from ground cluster and other distractions. As I’m shooting, going through my bag of trick, I added a new trick. It’s showing an aircraft in a series of 3 to 4 images. Each image can stand alone but place side by side, you can visualize the whole aircraft. Here’s two series I’m happy with. The first one is the CAG Bird from VFA-143, the “Pukin Dogs”

And the other is an Selfridge A-10 painted in special marking for the 100th Anniversary of the Red Devils of the 107th Fighter Squadron.

What I like to do while shooting statics, is to walk around the ramp, camera at the ready and my head on a swivel, looking around for images. When I do see something, I find what is drawing me in and where are the edges of the image. I’ll adjust the aperture if needed, compose and shoot. Chimping to check composition, exposure and would reshoot if I’m not happy with the result. If I find something that has a lot of visual instead, I’ll start to open my bag of tricks and shoot until I feel satisfied I have captured the subject the way I wanted.

When it comes to what lenses I use, it depends on the subject and where it is. I don’t want to set any kind limits on what focal length to use while shooting statics nor would I say that can only shoot static with a certain focal length either. There is no right or wrong went it comes down to what your mind’s eye sees. The question is do you have the appropriate amount focal length to capture what your eye sees? I have come to enjoy using my 70-200mm F/2.8 for statics. I love how it flattens out the perspective along with zooming tight to isolating details. Heck, 99% of my Selfridge static images was shot using my 70-200mm.

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While walking along the edge of the “hot” ramp, I saw an interesting image. As soon as I saw it, I know it was a 500mm shot. 70-200mm was not enough to get close in and isolate the Mustang and the 35 without too much clutter. Even at 500mm, I knew there would be some post process work to get the shot I wanted. Here’s how it was shot.

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And after some post processing….

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The elements of design are not set in stone and not by any focal length, they are only limited by your imagination and your knowledge of how to use your gear properly.

Click on thumbnails to view larger image!

Until next post,

Steven

 

EAA Airventure Oshkosh

If you missed Part 1, look >>Here<<

Show 4, Post 2, Part 2: Thursday and Friday

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Thursday: Day 2 at AirVenture Oshkosh

Waking up Thursday morning to find Larry and Scott had got up at ODark-Thirty to catch the Royal Air Force(RAF) Airbus A400M arriving at Oshkosh. The A400M was due to arrive early in the morning and was planning to depart during Thursday daily show. Their plans were to go on the other side of the runway to catch the Airbus landing, having all the parked aircraft in the background showing a sense of location at Oshkosh. But more about that later. I made my way to the kitchen to make some breakfast. Spoke with Peter for a while, packed up and heading over to the field.

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Looked like the Airshow Gods told Mother Nature to get her act together. The weather on Thursday was way better than Wednesday. Walking up Celebration way, Parr Yonemoto, a Canadian aviation photographer, nearly ran me over in his scooter. I’ve been seeing Parr for years at many airshows around the US and he is someone I enjoy talking to every time we meet.

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After talking with Parr, I made my way to the show line to see what happening. It just so happened that N5000A, the first production Cessna 172, was taxiing by. Restored to factory original inside and out. Such a beautiful aircraft.

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Soon after, the RAF’s A400M was on final approach. A few hours later than expected. As it touched down and started to slow, I was hoping it was going to taxi by my location and then back taxi to in front of the show line. But with its 4 massive 17 ft. diameter propeller in reverse pitch, the A400M slow very rapidly and uses very little runway on its landing. To top it off, the pilot turned the Airbus 90 degrees, opened the rear cargo door and with the crews assistance, back the colossal A400M off the runway.

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Scott and Larry catching the A400M arrive!

 

Behind and to the right of the show line was a constant buzz of activity. Come to find out it was where the ultra-lights were flying. So, I made my way over to see what’s going out. While I was there, I happen to find Rob(feeling much better) and his friend Steve. It’s amazing the power and lift those ultra-lights have. We had a blast shooting and watching the action.

Before the daily show, I was approached by Brandon Hess, the son in law of Sean Tucker, he inquired about some images of Tucker for use on social media. I normally do not shoot aerobatic acts but if this gets my images a more exposure, why not.

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I made my way back over to the show line to find a location to shoot the rest of the daily airshow. During the show, Warbirds of America was mainly jet warbirds. A bunch of L-39, 3 F-86 Sabres,  a pair of T-33s, a MiG-17 and that lovely TA-4 Skyhawk in USMC markings! Here’s a few of my favorites.

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Larry being privy to the show schedule, he texted it everyone in the group. Act 12 was a mystery.

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And when the time came, the show stopped(Yeah, AirVenture stopped) and far off to the right there was a private jet on final approach. It lands, turns and stop on to the taxiway at show center and a golf cart with Ironman stop beside it. And of all people to arrive at 2017 Airventure, guess who gets off the private jet… Yeah, Stan Lee! Still haven figure out why he showed to AirVenture but ok.

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The last two performance of Thursday show was the USAF heritage flight and the USN Blue Angels. Thursday heritage flight was a 4-ship formation with F-35 in lead, 2 P-51 Mustangs on its wings and an A-10 Thunderbolt II in the slot position.

In memory of Vlado Lenoch, both the F-35 and A-10 had special markings to honor a great pilot and friend to the airshow community who we tragically lost July 16, 2017.

The Blue Angels were supposed to fly at the end of the show to do their timing check flight. The team started up, taxied by the crowd and then turned into position for takeoff. During his turn, Boss (Blues Angels number 1 and Team leader) took his Hornet off roading. As a safety precaution, the flight was postponed so the maintenance crew could inspect for damage.

Thursday night back at the house was the most memorable part of the day for me, it was where we were all together telling each other our stories of the day, sharing images we had shot on our laptops, eating food prepared and cooked by Vincent, unwinding together as a group. Hell, even Larry laughed a few times. To add to it all, we even had our own airshow! The Blue Angels managed to get their timing flight in. It was something to see that all of us share the same fascination and passion (there’s that word again Larry) with fighter jets maneuvering at low altitudes. I was so caught up with it all, I didn’t get pictures of it all. Like Adam and his wife from Georgia, great southern folks. Along with DeKevin “DK” Thornton and his stories of the “ditch”. But that’s ok. Those moments are special and are for the group to remember. And we will! We had so much fun, we planned to do it again Friday night.

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Friday: Day 3 at AirVenture Oshkosh

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Friday morning the house was quiet. It seems the later it was in the week, the later we all slept in. Peter did get up early to shoot the morning balloon launch. In the kitchen, I got cup of coffee and checking last night’s emails. Bonnie was up early, talking to “DK” who stayed the night and was leaving after today’s show.

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Parr sent me an email, a list of daily activities showing 2 F-22 Raptors was to arrive at 10am and depart Oshkosh on Sunday. There was an Air Guard F-15 Eagle from New Orleans also going to arrive around 1pm. I wanted to catch the Raptors coming in, so I made my way over to the field early. About 9:30am, thinking I have enough time as I’m walking toward the main entrance guess what shows up? Yeah! The pair Raptors beating up the field. Oh well, there is still the F-15 coming in later.

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Once in, I got a text from two of my airshow buddies, Steve Savino and Mark Hrutkay. I met Steve and his wife on a flight from San Francisco to Ontario, California while we were both heading to Chino for the Planes of Fame airshow back in 2015. And Steve introduced me to Mark while attending Wings over Houston the same year. They had a spot picked out where their wanted to shoot from on the new crowd line. Yeah!, the new crowd line. For Fridays and Saturdays airshow, the line was moved back for safety reasons.

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From a photographic stand point you now are farther away from your subjects and you have a couple rows of parked aircraft in between you and the active runway, making take off shots more difficult.

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The line of poles is where the new crowd line is

 

Come lunchtime, Steve and I decide to get something to eat. One of his friends watched our gear while we were getting food. Sure enough, after I placed my order and pay for my food, guess what shows up? Yeah!, the New Orleans F-15! Nice light, clear skies, flying close and not a single frame of it. Oh well, it was cool to watch. I did catch the NASA T-38, not as cool as the Eagle but check out that exhaust!

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I’m a warbirds lover. For me the highlights during the daily show was seeing the flight of 3 P-63 KingCobras, 3 B-25 Mitchells, both B-29s in the air at the same time (it was not a formation), the 3 F-86 Sabres again, along with getting another shot at that USMC TA-4.

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Friday was the first time the Blue Angels performed at AirVenture. The Blues always put on a good show despite the no# 2 was a “Family model”. I myself have lost track on the number of times I’ve seen the Blues but it was enjoyable to photograph them some pleasing light.

And the final act of Fridays show was again the USAF Heritage flight with a Gu-11 and 2 A-10s.

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Ha Ha . The Heritage flight was with a P-51 and 2 A-10s. The F-35 team had a day off.

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Again, my most memorable part of Friday was at the house with the group. Meeting new people, sharing our experiences, eating and laughing. That night Gary Edwards, Craig Swancy and Gary Daniels came over to the house for dinner. I didn’t get a chance to spoke to much with Gary Edward and Craig but Gary Daniel turns out to be a designer, photographer and a grill master! Larry had invited Joseph “Gonzo” Gonzales, who works with Air Education and Training Command(AETC) with planning of the USAF Heritage flights and Demo teams.  Oh man, he had a bunch of wild and funny stories from his travels.

later that evening, part of the group wanted to go over to the WWII re-enactors camp in the morning and see if they could get a few re-enactors to pose around some aircraft in warbird alley. It sounded like a great idea and it turned out to be quite an awesome photo shoot. More about that in part 3!

Steven

My Selfridge Experiment

Show 5, post 1: Pre-show thoughts on Selfridge ANGB Open House & Air Show

During my time at EAA AirVenture, while talking to many aviation photographers, one thing kept popping up in conversations. Prop blur and how getting a full arc was the “Holy Grail”.

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Frozen props looks unnatural. When we look at a propeller driven aircraft with its engine running or in flight, we see the propeller spinning. It’s basic photography, creating an image of what we see i.e. prop blur. But on the flip side of aviation photography, it’s acceptable to totally freeze jet aircraft in flight.

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Why is that? Why don’t we try to show a sense of motion when it comes to shooting jets? Is it because we think it’s hard? It can be done. Here’s two example I shot @1/160th. Both using my 7D MKII but the F/A-18 Hornet was shot with a 200-400mm F/4 with 1.4X extender IS (Image Stabilization) which was off, USM (Ultrasonic Motor). And the F-100 was shot with my 500mm F/4.5L USM, which doesn’t have IS.

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Both you can see a sense of motion but I want to go farther with it. So, Selfridge open house is coming up this weekend and there will be quite a few jets flying there. My personal challenge is to show more motion while shooting jets. This can only work if there are some clouds in the sky to blur. Not too many and not too few. Blurring a clear blue sky is pointless along with straight overcast. I’ll be using a Canon 5DSR from lenRental.com and my 500mm F/4.5L. My plan is to shoot in shutter priority starting @ 1/160th and go down to 1/100th. I may underexposure 1/3th stop to prevent blowing out any highlights. My keeper rate is going to go to shit but all I need is one. The idea of this scares me but I think I can do it if the conditions are right.

Until later,

Steven

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