Choosing Light over Available Subjects

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,

Steven

Quick & easy seamless desktop photo backdrop 

Have you ever wondered how people took pictures of their models with a seamless single-color background? The secret is having a curve in whatever material you are using for a background. And I’m going to show you how to make a simple and inexpensive one. You’re going to need a couple of pieces of foam core or cardboard, a straight edge, an X-Acto blade, a pen, a hot glue gun, some double-sided tape and a solid color sheet of paper. The thicker the better. For mine, I used a Letter size sheet of glossy photo paper. Whatever size you choose, you’ll need to hot glue two pieces of foam core or cardboard at 90 degrees. And to support it as well as keep it from falling back, hot glue two support/legs to the rear of the vertical wall of the backdrop. Now place two strips of double-sided tape to the base. One should be on the edge and the other about 24mm(1in) parallel to it. It is crucial that these two pieces of tape are parallel. As the second piece of tape is where the curve is going to start. If this piece of tape is not parallel and if its wiggly, it’s going to bitch up your background curve. To find the location of the third piece on the vertical wall, hold your piece of paper at the edge of the base and gently flex it into shape. Keep in mind you want to have a flat section before the curve. This section is where you will place your photo subjects. Now mark a line on the vertical wall where your piece of paper ends. Making sure it runs high enough so when you are taking pictures, it will fill the frame. Place the double-sided tape, making sure they’re all straight and parallel to one another. The order in which I removed the backing of the tape was, the two on the base then the one on the vertical wall. Now comes the tricky part. Lift the edge of the paper carefully to remove the backing of the last piece of tape. Don’t flex it too much and put a crease in it. You want to have a seamless defect free curve. Now just setup your lights, put your camera on a tripod and shoot away. I made mine this size so it could easily fit on my workbench so I can take some “In Progress” shots and keep working without making a production out of it. This way I didn’t have to stop what I’m doing, relocate to my so-called “shooting area”, set everything up, shoot, then locate back to the workbench to continue working. You can scale it up to any size to meet your needs. If you go larger, I recommend using something stronger like Gator board or Masonite for the base and vertical wall. Along with styrene or some other sheet plastic for the background curve. And to secure it into position with your favorite two-part epoxy. If you struggle with photographing your models, you may want to look into this post, “Photographing Scale Models”. Hope you found this useful and helpful.

Build what brings you joy,

Steven

Knowing Your Gear

After a couple of refreshing conversations with my Aunt and a close friend about various aspects of photography, it has inspired me to start a new series, “Philosophy about Photography”. A series based on my love of wisdom about the art of photography. Along with my thoughts and ideas that I’ve gathered from my time behind my camera. Let’s kick things off with the importance of knowing your gear.

When people around me see my images and realize I’m a photographer, the most frequent asked question, “Is whatever camera/brand any good?”And after a  bit of Q & A, I could steer them in a reasonable path to a camera that should suit their needs. But now… my answer is totally different. If asked the same question today my response would be, “Heck no, that camera is complete garbage!” Lol The fact is all of them are, if one doesn’t know how to use it properly. Gear doesn’t make one a photographer. In my opinion, one must have a firm understanding of exposure, an eye for what makes a stunning image and lastly know the limitations of his or her gear.

Sadly, I had to dust off my gear for this shot.

So, the obvious question is “How does one get to know their gear?” There’s plenty of ways but I want to share two habits I feel strongly about and use myself. I’ve written about both in the past and feel it’s time to revisit them both. First is to sit down and read the manuals of ALL your gear. Discover and experiment what it can and can not do. Then as frequently as you can, put what you learned into action. And not just once a month or only when you go to some event. Bring your camera everywhere you go as much as possible. Take photos of anything and everything. And don’t be afraid to test out those unused functions and features. Try, fail, learn and repeat. There’s no question, you’re going to fuck up some images. But it’s OK, just as long as you learn from your mistakes. The sooner you get rid of the idea that every image you capture is going to be perfectly exposed, razor sharp and beautifully composed the better off you’ll be.

And the second method I want to share is to develop a shooting routine. One that helps you slow down, focus in on what’s catching your eye and aid in how you’re going to capture an image. Talk to photographers that share their thoughts, knowledge and experience of shooting with you. If they have some form of a routine, try theirs. If it works, cool. If not, change what doesn’t. Heck add whatever that helps you and make it your own. Here’s a link to my shooting routine,

Both of these methods can help you get familiar with the controls and functions of your gear. Forming a muscle memory that allows you to change your settings thoughtlessly and effortlessly. The added benefit of knowing your gear is that it is a huge confidence builder. And having that confidence in yourself behind the camera is not only priceless but necessary as well. Time in time again, you will start to rely on your skills as a photographer and not the luck of spray & pray.

My perception of photography is that it is about creating images that gets people to have some form of an emotional response. Gear is only a tool that allows you to do so. And that’s why I feel it is so important to know how to use them properly. Thankfully the more time you spend behind your camera creating images, the better you’ll get at it. I would love to hear about any habits or practices you all have and use when it comes to knowing your gear. Please share them in the comment section below.

Stay safe and thanks for stopping by,

Steven

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