The Lessons behind an Image: Part One

For the past 14 years, I have had a passionate love affair with photography. Like with anything we love doing, we run into problems as we learn and grow. And the more problems we face, work through and learn from them, the better our work will be. I’m a huge fan of the “Try, Fail, Learn, Repeat” Cycle. And I have learned some difficult lessons in photography because of this learning cycle. Normally this series is about the story of an image. But today I’m going to switch it up and call this one “The Lessons behind an Image.” Sharing a valuable lesson, I learned from one of my photos.

Part Five: Lessons learned

2004 was the start of my love affair with photography. Earlier in that year I got my first DSLR camera, Canons Digital Rebel. With a whopping 6.3 megapixels, numerous 7 Auto focus points and that cheap silver plastic body, it was one of the first DSLR you could buy for under $1000. I loved mine and took it everywhere. And that June, it came with me to the Grosse Ile Air Extravaganza for my second airshow of the season. Of the couple of hundred images I shot that day, here’s a series of eight I want to share with you. It’s of this gorgeous P-51 Mustang.

film roll of mustang

Of the eight images, for me only one stands out. As soon as I saw the Mustang, I knew there was an interesting image there. And at the time, I was very new to photography. I really didn’t have an understanding of what I was doing. I knew there was an image of this beautifully polished P-51 with a bunch of crap around it. I remember feeling the struggle and lack of confidence of trying to capture the image in my minds eye with the camera. I had two problems. First, what do I see that is so interesting? Where does it start and stop? And second, how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? You can see in the second image in the series, there is at least 7 cars, a C-130, a row of porta johns in between the canopy and the vertical stabilizer, some tents over the right wing and what the heck are these folks looking at over the left wing!

To overcome my first problem of what do I see that is so interesting. Where does it begin and end? Here is where the beauty of digital photography comes in to play. With a large enough media card, you have the opportunity to shoot far more than if you were to shoot on film. Since I began photography, I have always believed to carry with you more than enough memory cards. I never want to get into a situation where I would run out of memory while out shooting. Two things I remember many photographers telling me at the start of my photographic journey. One, invest in glass and two, get the largest memory card you can afford. It will give you the freedom to shoot all day and never have to worry about how many shots you have left.

So, I shot the mirror like finish Mustang like a machine gun. I shot with more confidence knowing that at the end of the day, I could explore my subjects freely and capture what interest me. This runs into my second issue; how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? How I did it was the easy part. I just positioned myself in a way that the aircraft itself covered up the unwanted clutter. But what I feel is more important is the why. And it is a lesson I have come to learn over the years, but I can still trace it back to this one image.

Knowing where the edges of your images are. To Isolate your subject along with hiding the unwanted and unnecessary clutter. Looking back on the image, when I took the shot, I didn’t know where the edges of that image was. But you can see me searching for them in the series of images. Close, getting closer, spot on, getting cold and then revisiting it. I feel knowing where the edges of your images are an important part of knowing what it is you are trying to show. One thing through the years that has help me define the edges of my images has nothing to do with aviation at all.

It was when I lived in Downtown Detroit and I would frequent the conservatory on Belle isle. There I came up with a system that taught me to slow down and to see what it is I was looking at. Once in the conservatory, I would walk through all the rooms, gear still in my bag, searching for things to shoot and keeping mental notes of subjects of interest. Then after making my way back to the entrance where I began, with my ideas for images, I would then gear up and retraced my steps. When I got to something I wanted to shoot, I would stop, focused in on what is catching my eye. Once I have an idea of what it is, I would set up my tripod, compose the shot, shoot and review. If it is not to my liking, I’ll recomposes and shoot again until I’m happy.

 

FAR_90

It was the complete process of evaluating the location, finding subjects of interest and the slow act of setting up my tripod. All the while, curiously studying my subject and mentally composing the shot. That help me start to discover where my images began and ended. From this one image, I learned two things. One, to keep shooting your subject until you feel you have captured the image that is in your mind’s eye. And Two, knowing where the edges of your images are. It took me many years and thousands of images, before I was conscious of how important these two lessons were to my photography.

EXIF data

Date: June 18, 2004 8:14 am

Model: Canon Digital Rebel

Focal length: 65mm

ISO speed: 100

Exposure time: 1/320th

F stop: F/9

Shot handheld

Aircraft information

Aircraft type: P-51D Mustang

Serial Numbers: 44-74446 N1451D “Checkertail Clan

Unfortunately, the Mustang crashed, killing both the new owner and the instructor on the Fourth of July 2014 shortly after take-off.

Until next post,

Steven

The One and Only

Wings over Houston 2018

Here I am Monday morning sitting downstairs in the hotel having some coffee still energized from how amazing yesterday’s show was. Wings over Houston 2018, the one and only show I attended this year. True be told, as of last week I was more excited about getting out of Michigan and hanging out with my friend Rob Wetterholt then the show itself. I’ve always enjoyed his level of excitement about aviation as well as photography. This would be his first time going to the Houston show and I doubt it will be his last. As for my blog, I had no agenda of any kind for the show. My only plan was to go and have fun. Last week, I was thinking that I would have very little to nothing to write about along with sharing my images from the show. Normally don’t like the idea of writing a play by play post about an airshow. But because of the access we got, and it was a pretty awesome adventure, it’s worth sharing. I know we all have an airshow or some type of aviation event we would love to re-shoot or redo if we had the chance. From the countless shows and events, I’ve been to, hands down Sunday at Wings over Houston 2018 is that show. Holy Shit! It was amazing!

It all started Saturday, the weather was crappy with overcast sky and a very low ceiling. I was amazed that the Blues flew in that soup. Sunday’s weather looked more promising. Like I said earlier, I had no plans other than hanging out with Rob, having fun and maybe take some pictures. Well Rob knows a guy in the Coast Guard, Charlie “The Mayor” Wilson. He in turns knows Chris Ebdon, photographer, aircrew as well as the admin for social media for the Collings Foundation at Ellington field. Rob and Chris had been texting back and forth during show. We finally got to meet face to face after the show. During our convention, he informed us that there was supposed to be a photo flight with the Collings Foundation F-4 and F-100 after the show but the weather pooped out. But it was rescheduled for Sunday morning. We continued to chat it up for a while and then Chris offered us if we wanted to see the Collings Foundation other aircraft in their hangers? Yeah! Who doesn’t want to see that? So, we piled onto Chris’s golf cart and we were off to the Collings hangers! Once there Chris opened their hanger and…. There was their Huey and TA-4J crammed into the hanger. Chris was very knowledgeable and offered us an informative look at the Collings Foundations operations. We also got to climb around their Me-262. Such a wonderful collection of warbirds.

Before we left, Chris informed Rob and I about the morning Photo flight with the foundations F-4 and F-100. Turns out Professional aviation photographer Scott Slocum was heading out over the gulf in an L-39 to photograph them both. Chris offered to take us in the morning to the ramp, so we could shoot them start up and takeoff. We were all aboard! How often do you get a chance to see and shoot a real live F-4 and F-100 taking off in the morning light? Yeah, and it gets better!

So, the plan was to get up at the crack of dawn and head over to the Collings hanger to meet Chris and head over to the hot ramp. We had an issue at the gate that could have shut us down our little adventure. But Rob called Chris, he meets us at the gate and quickly cleared up the issue. We quickly packed up our gear, piled onto Chris’s golf cart and raced over to the hot ramp. Wings over Houston does have a morning photo tour for photographers, but they were restricted access while the aircraft were started. But with Chris being part of the Collings aircrew, we got to stay close and keep shooting.

 

During the startup, Chris contact airport operations to see if someone could take us out to the runway so we could shoot both the F-4 and the F-100 taking off. He got a hold of his contact and soon after, here comes a Ford Expedition with Ellington field operations on the side of it. Yeah, This is going to happen!!! At this time the F-4 was started up and was making its way to the runway. We jumped in the OP’s Expedition and we got dropped off yards away from the western side of the runway. It would had been better if we could had been on the eastern side of the runway with the sun behind us. But I’m grateful for just getting the chance to be out by the runway. 7D MK II along with 500mm F/4.5 in hand, I’m ready for this! In the distance you can hear the two J-79’s roar to life. Here we are in the morning light, next to the active runway where the Collings Foundation F-4 is barreling at us! Excited is an understatement!

The One and Only_291

Personal disclaimer: Wings over Houston was the first show I had shot in about a year. So, my shooting skills were a bit rusty. The image I wanted from this is the burner shots after the aircraft passes us. I got this… sort of. It’s cropped but it works. But more importantly, I’m happy with it. It’s never the one you want but it’s the one I got.

The One and Only_325

After both aircraft took off, I turned to Chris and said “You know I’m buying you dinner! Does not matter where! Whatever you want!” We were hoping to stay put until the both aircraft returned. We knew both aircraft were going to do a few touch and go’s before landing. But soon after all the aircraft involved in the photo flight were airborne, airport operations came and grabbed us up. We thank them for the great opportunity then jumped on Chris’s cart to head for the other end of the runway to catch them land. Chris spotted out a location on flight line in front of the crowd line to shoot them touchdown. The F-4 came back first, did two touch and go’s before landing using its break parachute. Shortly after the F-100 did the same but with the pop of the burner as the power was added for the touch and go!

Again, Rob and I jumped onto Chris’s cart and headed over to the Coast Guard hanger to see if we could shoot them pre-flight and start up before their demo. Rob and Chris both know Charlie Wilson and he is well known at the base in Houston. The Coasties were very welcoming to the idea! As we are there hanging out in front of the hanger waiting for start of their demo, the alarm sounds! The crew must gear up and go to work! The demo bird on the tarmac is now going on a mission and we are going to shoot them gear up and go to work!

The back up bird was pulled from the hanger and placed on the hot ramp. Chris’s plan was to shoot the pre-flight, start up and then head out across the runway where the Demo was to place and shoot with the sun at our backs.  As a seasoned veteran of the show, Chris know actually where the Coast Guard was going to do their demo. We parked, and Rob ask Chris “Is this where we are going to shoot from?” No sooner than that, we look up and there is Debby Rihn-Harvey in her Cap 232 known as the Hurricane 2, nose down and pulls up feet over our head. Chris’s reply was priceless, “Is this good enough for you Rob?”  Right in the middle of the airshow box!

Soon after Phillips 66 Aerostars landed, the Coasties Dolphin was inbound to start their search and rescue demo. First pass was their high-speed pass down the show line. Follow by gear down transition to a hover to lower the rescue swimmer, pretty much right in front of us. Being that close, was very exhilarating. Such an awesome sight and sound! I’m thinking, how much cooler can this get?

Well, during the show Saturday, retired Lt. Col. Jerry “Jive” Kerby flew in a freshly painted A-4 Skyhawks from Draken International and was scheduled to leave during the show Sunday. He was heading out west to do some aggressor work. Shortly after the Coast Guard search and rescue demo was over, Jive taxi Draken lovely scooter to the active runway, gets clearance for takeoff, power comes on and the little A-4 leaps off the runway effortlessly on a downwind takeoff! The gear starts its slow trip to their wheel bays and all the time racing towards us! Yet another amazing opportunity!

Tora! Tora! Tora!!! Has always been one of those acts I felt I never captured well until now. Shooting them from inside the airshow box at tree top level with pyro going off on either side of us was sensory overload! Our location gave us a unique perspective of their act, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Orbit after orbit, I swear they were aiming right for us!

I normally don’t shoot video, but here’s a short video of the action from our location!

After that intense round of shooting, the World War II bombers and fighters made their way to the runway. With a close and unobstructed view their take off roll, I dropped my shutter speed to show a sense of speed and the power of takeoff. Once airborne, we had a great opportunity to caught them flying in front of the dark clouds of smoke from the pyro going off. With the lightning and our location, it made for some visually stunning image capturing.

After all that action on the field, we headed to the crowd line before the Viper demo started. That is where we ran into the pretty eyed Zoe “SIS” Kotnik, next year’s Viper demo pilot and the first female to do so. “You Go Girl!” After the Viper demo, we again hopped on Chris’s cart and wondered about for some food. Our pace slowed down a bit until the Blues started up and we headed back to the show line where we shot the Viper demo.

Having seen the Blues a ton of times, the only shot I wanted to capture was the sneak pass down the show line. From our vantage point, we had a great line of site as his sneaky approaches. Saturday was soggy with tons of humidity, and Sunday was fair skies but dry. The day with no vapor, that’s the day I’m going to nail the sneak pass. Go figure?!

The One and Only_4202

Before the Blues finish up and landed, we head over to the hot ramp to see what maybe leaving after the show. Traffic leaving the show is going to suck, so why not hang out with the Collings Foundation aircrew on the hot ramp. As the sun start to set, we find a spot up on show line to shoot from. With the show day winding down, Blue Angels 1-6 along with two number 7’s starts up and taxi out to the runway to head back home to NAS Pensacola. The Blues departure in some very nice crisp afternoon light. Soon after, we hear the turboprops of Fat Albert come to life. With the Stars and Stripes flying from the top of the cockpit, Fat Albert taxi by us on the way it’s way to the runway.

Now the sun sets and the light is fading fast, we hop on Chris’s cart one last time to head over to the Collings hangers. As we weave our way through statics, we hear the sound of a helicopter running about to take off. As we get closer, we realize it’s the National United States Armed Forces Museum beautiful CH-46! Chris makes a formula one pit stop and we dismount off the cart, frantically bust out the gear one more time and started shooting. What a nice final opportunity with the moon in the background. We finished the long but incredibly awesome day at Pappasito’s Cantina for dinner.

I have to give a huge THANK YOU to all the Houston members of the Collings Foundation, Ellington field airport operations, along with all the volunteers, staff, pilots as well as the performers who makes Wing over Houston possible along with all their welcoming and kind hospitality. I can’t thank Chris Ebdon enough for letting us shadow him during the show, You’re Awesome!

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Until next post,

Steven

EAA AIRVENTURE OSHKOSH

Show 4, Post 2, Part 3: Saturday and Sunday

Day 4 at EAA Oshkosh

Saturday morning in the kitchen and there was Vincent and Chuck eating breakfast, talking about Vincent’s P-51 mustang Ride he got the day before. After a while the rest of the house had woken up and made their way into the kitchen. We all figured out what we were going do for the daily events. It being Saturday that means there is a night show after the daily show. Vincent and Peter were planning on staying for the night show, so they drove over together. Bonnie, Scott and I were planning to meet up with Craig, Gary and Gary in Warbird alley. There we were to try to find some re-enactors to pose for the group around various aircraft. Larry was going drop Scott and I off in warbird alley and we were going to meet back with him later.

Down in Warbird alley, we found Ryan and Steven, two great guys willing to pose for us. After Ryan was all suited up, we made our way over to Eric Hollingsworth’s P-40 Warhawk. It quickly became clear that this was not the first time Ryan, Steven and Gary Daniel has done a photo shoot like this. Ryan and Steven both were great, patience, took suggestions very well and suggested ideas themselves. Gary Daniels too was just as great, he did a wonderful job with Ryan and Steven fine turning their positions as well as asking the group how we felt. Everybody was very respectful of each other and our sounding, we played very well with each other. After we felt we had enough of the P-40, we move on to Jack Larson’s beautiful P-51 “Sierra Sue II”. There we continue the same routine of position, shoot, experiment, shoot, all the while being mindful of others and we were starting to draw a crowd! For me, that shoot was the most memorable during my 2017 trip to Oshkosh!

After that charged shooting sessions, Gary Daniel, Scott Slingsby and I slowed down and got a bit to eat. From there Scott and I made our way over the vintage area to see one of the award-winning aircraft.

Later we met up with Larry at the media center, where he got Scott and I a better shooting location in the VIP area. Which was far less crowded than the rest of the show line.

Saturdays airshow was a special for aviation enthusiasts. We got to see all the iconic WWII bombers we all love. Flying in formations that has been seen in well over 60 years, with Fifi and Doc, the last two flying B-29s. This was Doc’s first time at Airventure after a malicious 16-year restoration. Which was followed by a parade of bomber was next with 2 B-29 Superfortresses, 4 B-25 Mitchells and a B-17.

Then the USAF brought all 3 of its heavy hitters together in a rare formation. Leading the pack was the sleek B-2. On one side was the aging B-52 soldiering on with over 50 years of service. And on the other, was the B-1. Also known as the Bone (B-one), looks like it feared the B-2 by how far out of the formation he was. But oh well….

Each of the bombers performed various passes. It was refreshing to see the B-2 do a photo pass. Here’s a little fact about the B-52 that performed at AirVenture, B-52 number 61-0007 was brought back into service after sitting in the Bone yard for 7 years.

2017 marks the first time the USN Blue Angels flight demonstrate team perform at AirVenture. I have seen the Blues many time and there are always entertaining as well as very photogenic in the afternoon light at Oshkosh.

The finale of the show was again the USAF Heritage flight. The F-35 lead two P-51 Mustangs on its wings and an A-10 Thunderbolt II in the slot position.

OSH17_pt3_7431

With the aircraft in the heritage flight landed marking the end of the daily airshow along with the end of the Blue Angels show line. The strangest thing happened, as if someone said “Ready, Get Set, Go!” Everybody grabbed their chairs and started running full speed to the original closer show line for the night show. I wish I took a picture of it but by the time I had figured out what was going on, it was too late.

Making our way to the media center, I realized just how many people were here. During the week, the crowd was not so big, which is understandable. But come the weekend, everywhere you looked there was a sea of bodies. With the number of people there and how traffic was going to be after the night show along with there were no jets flying in the night show, we decided to head back to the house.

Back at house, time to dump cards, find something to eat and prepare for the morning like we did all week long. But Saturday night was a little different, it was the end of the weekly grind. Most of the members in the house was leaving tomorrow and heading home. Scott packed up, said his good byes to everybody and was off to Milwaukee to catch his flight home in the morning. I think everybody went to bed early, but Peter and Vincent stayed for the night show and returned late.

Sunday, Last day at Oshkosh

Time to put the House the way we got it. Making beds, cleaning dishes as well as packing up our cloths and gear. We all said our good byes and exchanged information. With everybody’s car packed and the house locked up, we took a quick group selfie and we all parted ways. On the drive home, I reflected on my experiences from the past week and begin to process the whole trip. My takeaway from EAA AirVenture is that it’s a photo grind. I mean that in good way. The repetition of each day but still looking to do things differently from the day before. Trying to contain the feeling of being overwhelmed by enormous amount of aviation stuff and yet stay focused on my task. AirVenture is something I know my photography (as least now) cannot do it justice. It is something every aviation and photography nerd must experience as least once in his or her life time.

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Until next time,

Steven

The Story Behind an Image: Part Four

For the past 14 years, I have had a love affair with photography. I love images that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few images that has a story. Here is part four in a series I call “The story behind an Image”

Part 4: Have Fun!

Anyone who ever been to the NAS Oceana airshow knows in the morning you do two things, shoot statics and shop for swag! During the airshow weekend, most of the squadrons based there set up a row of tents and sale tons of goodies. T-shirts, Cruise DVD’s, challenge coins, coffee mugs, photos & prints… Back in 2008 two of my good friends, Shawn Yost and Craig Scaling both attended the show. To save on cost, Shawn and I split a room and Craig crash with us on Sunday. All weekend long we were cracking jokes, quoting “Top Gun” and all around enjoying each other’s company.

Saturday, we got on base, parked the car, geared up,  made our way through security and met up with Craig. We made our way over to the “Squadron Mall” for swag. After spending an untold amount of money, it was time to figure out where in the hell we were going to put all of this great swag. Remember, its still morning. We still have a whole day of shooting ahead. You can’t hold on to all that swag and shoot jets?! You got to pack that shit up! With our hands full of swag, we headed toward to show line to figure out what we are going do and where we want to shoot from. If I remember correctly, Craig wanting to head over to the static to re-shoot something. We paused, Craig took off his backpack to put his DVD’s away. With his hands full, he asks me to hold his camera. He then processes to put his DVD’s into his backpack. With a devilish grin on my face, I nodded to Shawn. He instantly stuck the pose and I quickly framed them both and press the shutter. Craig had his camera set to continuous shooting and it shocked me to hear the shutter blast away. And as quickly as it happened, I lowered Craig’s camera and Shawn recomposed himself. Craig ask for his camera back….” You’re shitting me, Right?!” I said to myself. He didn’t realize what just happened. So, I handed him his camera as if nothing even happened. Trying not to laugh our asses off, Shawn and I were both amazing he didn’t hear the shutter on his camera or pick up on what we did. It was beautiful! Craig went off to shoot statics and Shawn and I were shocked. We shot the show, packed up our gear and headed to the hotel. While there, dump cards, charge batteries, shower, dinner and got ready to do it all over again the next day.

Sunday morning, we woke up, got some breakfast and head back to the base. Again, parked the car, geared up, made our way through security, shot the show and met up with Craig afterwards. I can’t remember why but Craig stayed with us at the hotel on Sunday. I do remember, we headed over to my parent apartment that night for a home cooked meal. On the way over, I figure Craig would had said something to us about Saturday little photo shoot but nothing. At my parent place, we eat, and we laughed. Heck, my Dad even broke out his old cruise books when he served on the Ticonderoga(CV-14) and Saratoga (CV-60). Before long it was time to head back to the hotel. Once there, we chilled, packed up and come Monday, we all head back to our homes.

According to the EXIF data from the image, it was 10 days from the time I shot it to when Craig found it and email it to Shawn and me. He named the image “ShawnandStevearedead”. 

ShawnandStevearedead

What I want you all to come away from this image. First, regardless of what it is you are shooting, Have fun! Even better is to have fun with your friends. And second… Don’t ever let me hold your camera when Shawn is around!

 

EXIF data

Date: 9/20/2008 @ 10:17am

Model: Canon EOS 40D

Focal length:  23mm

ISO speed: 400

Exposure time: 1/200th

F stop: F/10

Shot handheld