My 2017 Season Review

Before I start my 2017 season review, there are a few things I want to share with you all about pass years. During the last few years, I have been slowly growing tired of seeing and shooting the same group of aircraft and acts along with going to the same aviation events. So, at the end of my 2016 season, I told myself in 2017 I’m going to new shows and events I have not attended and seek out aircraft I had not seen. Along with there were some shows I flat out was not going to attend to stop that cycle.

Over the years of shooting, my view of my photography has changed from going to airshows and other aviation events and thoughtlessly shooting aircraft to trying to capture images that can tell a story as well as speaks to my viewers. Building a collection of images unique to me over the course of my lifetime. In order for me to do so, I have to start seeing and shooting things differently from others. I didn’t want to shoot the same images as everybody else at any event. I wanted my images to more than just snapshots and in 2017 I was going to do something about it.

All throughout 2017, I’ve been trying to capture images that tells a story and or is unique to me. The way I went about this was to get out of comfort zone. I did not do it at every show or event I went to but when I could, I did. Like if I was going to a new show for the first time, doing something to get out of my comfort zone would not be a smart idea. It is already challenging enough shooting in unfamiliar location. But on the second day or other days of an event, then I would challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone. Once out of my comfort zone, I’m forced to see things differently and when I do, the images I produce are far superior to if I played it safe. I’ve found that these images are some of my favorites.

 I have definitely changed the way I approach shooting an airshow from my first show of the season to the last. From what gear I use, seeking out better light, paying attention to what the light is doing, to what I want to show and share on my blog. At the beginning of the season I wanted to get a zoom lenses because I felt I was missing shots. So, at the TICO show I rented Canons 200-400mm F/4 as my primary lenses. But the images I was able to produce with it, had the clarity but not the look that I like. Full frame with little to no negative space around the subject which I got use to while shooting 500mm prime. After TICO, I felt I had to stay true to how I wanted to shoot. That is my 500mm is my primary lenses and a zoom as my secondary.

While at the Planes of Fame show, I noticed the very large number of photographers all shooting the same subject with basically the same gear. Prime time to be different. For the longest time I shied away from shooting people. With Saturdays weather being gray and overcast, I started working on my ground game and founded I enjoyed searching out new images with people.

And there was the frustration of Goshen, but the evening light was well worth it. Shoot the light and not the subject!

From Goshen, I headed off to Oshkosh for my longest aviation event to date. I was told many time from many people, if you love shooting aircraft, you must go to Oshkosh. And I hesitated for years but with what was attending this year’s AirVenture, I had to go. So many great images along with such great memories. What I remember most from Oshkosh is the time I spent with other photographers. As well as the feeling of being surrounded with all things aviation related and being around other aviation nerds!

Photographically shooting at Oshkosh, it’s a target rich environment. I enjoyed just wondering into the sea of aircraft and finding hidden gems. The daily afternoon airshow offers a diverse mix of old and new. Facing east and in the the afternoon, the light is great. The only negative thing of this year AirVenture photographic, was the moving of the show line due to the USN Blue Angels. But seeing Doc and Fifi together in formation was priceless. The USAF bomber formation with the B-1, B-2 and B-52 was pretty cool too.

Selfridge open house was a disappointment flying wise, but the static display was far better. It was there where I started my personal challenge to show a sense of motion with jets. I did manage to capture two but felt I could do better. It was at Selfridge where I started a newest technique. With 3 to 4 images that could stand alone but when placed side by side, you can visualize the whole aircraft. Adding one more way to look at things differently.

At the northern illinois airshow, I continued my challenge of showing a sense of motion with jet. I also went back to some of my roots so to speak at Waukegan, I shot with Canons 400mm F/5.6. Which I shot for years until I purchase my 500mm F/4.5. I love the 400 5.6, I cannot say anything negative about it. Its tack sharp and easy to shoot slow.

The show had a great little line up, two F-86 Sabres, two AD-1 Skyraiders, a MiG-17, a TBM, a T-33, A-4 and a civilian F-5 that tore up the pattern a bit. That show was a real treat for me shooting wise, I got to use up all my “bag of tricks”. I think the Waukegan show was the only show this season I went to that it didn’t rain!

Wings over Houston was my final show of the 2017 season. A solid and strong show to end my season. Mother Nature tried hard to make a mess, but she played nice and the show went on without any hiccups. The atmosphere was amazing all weekend, the clouds and the light together made for a dramatic back drop.

What was most memorable for me during my stay in Houston was the time I spent with friends. Having dinner with Steve-O and his bunch. Running into Wil Ward and catching up with him. And a happen chance of Ken Cheung parking right next to me on Sunday morning. It’s really great hanging out with others that enjoy aviation and photography as much as I do. The sharing and making memories.

So, what to come in 2018? I want to continue to get out of comfort zone and keep trying to see things differently that results in producing images unique to me. I also desire to continue to create images that speak to viewers along with tells a story. To keep growing and nurturing my passion for photography. I feel it is crucial for me to shoot the images I want and not the images anyone can shoot. I’m going to continue to seek out aircraft I have not seen and try to shoot them in great light.

As for shows and aviation events, this winter I want to get my passport so next year I want to travel to Europe. Going to Duxford and Mach loop is on my bucket list. If not 2018, then 2019. I like to return to Florida and go to the TICO show again just due to lighting there. After this years AirVenture, I want to spend time the whole week there next year. I think those two shows will be my only repeat shows from 2017. The rest of the 2018 season, I want to find new shows and events that I have never been to. Nothing is set in stone as of now, just ideas.

Let’s talk about future gear. Planning on getting a Canon 5DSR soon. I rented one for quite a few shows this year and enjoy the higher resolution and creative cropping ability. I love showing off details of things and with 50 megapixels, it really brings out every little detail. I have been toying with the idea with getting a small mirror-less camera to increase my capacities to capture my adventures. I have found a DSLR is too big or too much camera for some situations. I have been using my iPhone more and more as a fill in the gap to help tell the stories of my travels. But it is very limiting in terms of control. Some photographers like the idea that cellphone cameras have no controls and it forces them to use what they know to capture an image. I like that idea, but I want minimum controls. As well as being able to shoot less conspicuously than with a larger DSLR. So, I have been eyeing up Fujifilm X-T20. But I just upgraded my phone to an iPhone 8 plus. Which has a better camera than my older iPhone 6. Before I go out and buy a new camera, I’m going put the new phone through it paces and see how it fairs.

During the winter, I’m going to get a new camera backpack. I have out grown my current backpack. My main complaint about it is it can not hold my laptop. It would make traveling easier if I can put my laptop in my camera backpack, so I do not have to carry an extra bag. And having my laptop with me while I’m out one of my adventures will give me the option to dump/clear my cards and not have to worry about having enough space for next day of shooting. I feel the MindShift Gear BackLight 36L Backpack will suit my needs. Size wise it is larger then my current pack and has dedicated compartments for a 10” tablet and 15” laptop.

I have found that my phone is a powerful tool when it comes to blogging. I can upload and process images in Adobe Lightroom along with write post in Microsoft word. Both apps are synced to my accounts. So, whatever I do on my phone, I can save and continue on my work station and vice versa. Being able to work anywhere with an internet connection will hopefully speed up my postings process. I do love the ability to write anywhere at anytime. I also pick up a Philips digital voice recorder. I feel it will be another helpful tool while I’m traveling. I feel confident I will continue to capture images that tells a story, speakers my views and are unique to me.

 

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.

Selfridge_028

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.

Selfridge_099 uncropped

And after some post processing….

Selfridge_099

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

 

My Selfridge Experiment, part 2

Show 5, Post 2: Result of my experiment

So, I was restless the night before the show. Wondering and hoping that there would be the right amount of clouds to try my experiment. As soon as I woke up, I got out of bed, made my way to a window to check out the sky…straight overcast.

selfridge17_4

 But the forecast said it was going to break up as the day went on. But to what degree? There can’t be too many cloudy to block the light from the sun and too little does not work either. Trying to blur blue sky is pointless. Having the right mixing of blue sky and clouds is key. But I will come to find it is much more to it. Plus, if there were no clouds or if it stayed overcast all day, I had no back plan for how I was going to shoot the show differently.

The show had a great line up of jets to try my “sense of motion” idea on. Dean Cutshall’s F-100, Paul Keppler’s F-86, Randy Ball’s MiG-17 and Greg Colyer’s T-33. The Colling Foundation F-4D was a no show. First off, this was a bad show to try this on. Selfridge show line faces west, Flying doesn’t start until 11am. Meaning the sun crosses the show line early on during flying and then become backlit. The cloud cover did help break the back lighting but for only a short period of time. Another reason is how far the aircraft flew from the show line. Oh My God! Even with a 500mm, most of the fighter size aircraft looked like they were shot with a 70-200mm. They looked very small in the viewfinder. Good thing I was shooting with the 50-megapixel 5DSR, can crop in post process. The last factor was the wind, there was a 10 to 15 knot wind toward the show line. If you ever shot any large glass, you know how much you love shooting on windy days. I love shooting my 500mm but when it is windy, it seems like that auto focus(AF) point gets much smaller as I struggle to keep it on my subject.

selfridge17_3

I got to be honest, shooting at 1/160th to 1/125th most of the day was unnerving. You shoot long enough, you get uses to hearing a certain speed of your shutter that you know is fast enough to capture what you’re shooting. Not me today, 1/160th to 1/125th sounded wrong for jets. I would shoot a pass, chimp, shoot another pass, chimp. And I knew beforehand my keeper rate was going to go to shit, but damn! I was starting to think that this was a bad idea (I got scared) and dialed the shutter up to 1/200th.

Even in the crappy shooting conditions I did manage these two images of jet that show motion that I’m happy with. The image of Greg Colyer’s T-33 was shot at 1/160th and the Hornet image was at 1/200th.  I know I wanted to go slower but I did not have to nerve to do it. Will I try it again? You better believe it!

 

Here’s what I learned and was the point of this experiment. As always, you need good light on your subjects. It just makes it easier went you’re not struggle with the sun. Next, you must be 100% comfortable knowing your keeper rate is going to shit. You’re going miss a bunch of shots. Per pass, my keeper rate averages about 60 to 70%. Today, it was maybe 8 or 9%. Had lots of junk. I think I would had done better if the flying was closer, making the subjects larger in the frame and having a larger area to put my AF point on. Along with it not being so windy. You must be able to keep the AF point on the subject while panning. For my blogging skills, this show I carried along a notepad and took notes thought out the day. So, come time to write it too was not a struggle and recalling events was much easier.

My reason for trying this was twofold. The first reason is fairly obvious, to show a sense of motion while capturing jets. Which I do and have done for takeoff and landing shots but not while flying. With all the talk about prop blur while at Oshkosh, I started questioning the way I shoot jet aircraft and how it is acceptable to freeze jets but not props. Finally, to continue to challenge myself and to nurture my passion for aviation photography even more. It maybe be cliché to so but I feel it to be true, “If you’re not learning, you’re not growing!” For me to grow, I must get outside of my comfort zone, try something new and struggle with it. Find out what works well for me to get the results I was looking for. It’s ok to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes. When thing get easy, it time to chance it up. This was a great way to make shooting jet hard for me again. It was too easy to set my 7D MKII in aperture priority @ F/4.5 with AI servo and high speed continuous shooting mode, I could show jet all day long and have a keeper rate damn near 95%. Check out my Super Hornet high speed pass images from Gary South shore airshow. For me, easy is not challenging. And not being challenged, leaves little to no room to learn and grow. Conceptualize an image, try to capture it in your “mind’s eye”, struggle with it and learn!

Thanks for stopping by and until later,

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”.

full arc with Doc

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.

stopped raptor

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.

slow hornetslow hun

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