Detroit’s island Getaway

Due to the growing global COVID-19 pandemic, my traveling plans are put on hold for while. And like many other travel bloggers, we are going on a virtual trip. I want to show you a place that is very near and dear to my heart, the island park of Belle Isle. If someone told me, I had to pick one place to take photos for the rest of my life, Belle Isle would be a strong contender. Even though I strongly dislike Michigan, I do have an infinity for Downtown Detroit. The best way I can express my feelings, is with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross amazing quote about beautiful people. I just substitute places for people.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

And within this beautiful city, hides a twinkling gem out shining its surroundings. The island park known as Belle isle. The always Photogenic Anna Scripps Conservatory, the soothing sounds of the James Scott Fountain along with the proud standing Nancy Brown Peace Carillon are a few of the attractions on Belle Isle. I’m not going to bore you with some long-winded narrative explaining the history of the island. But what I do want to share, is what Belle Isle means to me, a few of my projects and images that I have captured there along how I use Belle Isle as my photographic classroom.

Map of Belle Isle

Belle Isle has always been a place of peace and serenity for me. A haven where I could go and forget about all the madness and endless complications of the world. And when life shows up with a grin on its face and deals me a hand of shitty cards, I have found that going to Belle Isle offers me a form of mental sanctuary that I have not found anywhere else. Even though the island is technically connected via the MacArthur Bridge, I’ve always felt by going there I could get away from Michigan. Even during my darkest and trying times, Belle Isle has away been the needed distraction to help me cope with life on life’s terms.

Detroit’s island gateway has been home to a few of my blog projects. Off the top of my head, I can name at least 4, if you include this one.

  • Race Cars on water. A little adventure about trying to capture a shot of a racing hydroplane that I had envisioned for years, along with practicing my hand-held panning technique.
  • Knowledge or gear. My experience driven post that ask a simple question; “What’s more important, having knowledge of photography or having Professional gear?”
  • Passion. The post that started my “Exploring My Creativity” My personal journey into what makes me creative.

During my lifelong journey into photography, I’ve visited Belle Isle countless times over the pass 16 years. And has captured some of my favorite and unforgettable images. In late May, Belle Isle is transformed from my loved getaway island, to a world class race track to host the Grand Prix of Detroit. During the weekend it’s held, Friday is the day to go. It’s a day of testing and practice for all the car classes. As well as you can venture to various grandstands and the paddock for free.

The racing of the Unlimited Hydroplanes during the APBA Gold Cup is always brimming over with fast paced action. The Belle Isle side of the river offers a bunch of exclusive shooting locations to catch the intense pace of the race. From up on the MacArthur bridge to the down low perspective of the fishing pier, it’s always exhilarating to see the untamed power and speed of the hydroplane.

Many years the Gold Cup manages to get the Navy to bring one of their Super Hornet demonstration team to perform during the race weekend. It’s unique venue to see the Super Hornet get run through its paces. The is flown much close than normal due to the tight confines of the city. Where the sound of the twin General Electric F414s are noticeably much louder.

I can’t remember how I found out about Belle Isle, but I do remember my first time there. After months of saving up, I was finally able to purchase my first DSLR, Canons Digital Rebel. Those days I was so excited about photography, I try to shoot the whole 900-acre island in a half hour. As I grew as a photographer, I learn to use Belle Isle as my testing grounds for new gear. It’s a place I can go that has a consistent setting. I know what’s there and there’s no surprises. As well as going to the conservatory, I know I’m going have a ton of colorful subjects without worry of Mother Nature being nasty.

The conservatory is my classroom, it’s where I developed and continue to nurture my creative eye. It was there that I discovered my walk through then shoot technique. Were I would go through the conservatory, gear still packed up. Walk from room to room, looking at the light and how it hits things. And all the while asking myself “What is the light doing? What do I want to show?” Portrait or landscape? Once I’ve made a complete lap, I then go through again and shoot the subjects that stood out to me.

There were days that I would give myself photo assignments. For example, concentrating on color, focusing on texture & light, and playing with depth of field. There are assignments I still want to do, like portrait format only along with shoot just one color. Both should be challenging and fun. As a result of my assignments, it had taught me many things, such as to focus in and appreciate the tiniest of details, to celebrate color and to know what to emphasize.

Belle Isle, my little getaway island, my project place and my inspiring classroom. After all this is over, I can’t wait to return to see what I’ll stumble upon next.

Stay safe and busy,

Steven

Wings Over Houston 2017

Show 7, Post 1: Season Finale!

So, here we are at my final show of the 2017 season. Wings Over Houston. This will be my third time attending and its good end the season with a show that offers a good mix of warbirds and modern aircraft. To continue to get out of my comfort zone, I changed the way I’m going to write this post. I started writing more in the moment and at the end of the day verses waiting until I got home. While the day’s events are still fresh in my head and making it easier and faster to post my adventures. But being busy at work and at home, still delayed this post. I’m still trying to figure out what work well for me when it comes to this. Here goes…

Friday

After a long and exhausting week at work, I get to be a photographer again if only for a short time. After work, I raced home, showered, finished packing and it was off to Detroit Metro Airport to catch my flights down to Houston. Afternoon traffic was slow and a bit frustrating. But I took comfort in the fact I get to get out of Michigan and do what I love.

Through the TSA, which is more a pain in the ass than anything else. Sitting at my gate, writing and watching the sunset. The trip just started but still have a long was to go to get to Houston. Got a layover in Dallas/Fort Worth. Never been there and should there for about an hour. Just enough time to find my gate and look for a bite to eat.

I started watching the weather down in Houston on Thursday. As of now, Friday at 6:41pm looks like the rain has stopped and Saturday looks like the better day of the two days of the show. There is chance of rain Sunday morning but just going to play it by ear. Hoping to get some low puffy clouds this weekend so I can shoot slow and add some drama to the background. My attraction to Wings Over Houston(WOH) is for years now I wanted to see a USAF Heritage flight with a P-47 Thunderbolt and an A-10 Thunderbolt II, a Thunderbolt heritage flight. Well this year at WOH, it is scheduled to happen. I am also looking forward to seeing the Colling Foundation F-4D Phantom II, the world’s only privately owned and operated Phantom. It has been down for a few years due to various reasons. It is supposed to take part in the Vietnam reenactment portion of the show along with the Collings F-100F Super Sabra and TA-4J Skyhawk. I again rented the Canon 5DSR as my primary body and the 100-400 MKII for formation work from Len Rental.com. Time to board…

WOH17_1

While on the flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, I had some time to unwind and clear my thoughts. There are few things in my life I can’t explain why I love them so much. One of them is listening to music and staring out the window of an airplane. It brings me a level of peace and clarity I rarely find that clears my mind, body and soul. Looking down on our planet and up to the endless sky, how small I feel. Very humbling feeling.

Oh Yeah! while in Dallas/Fort Worth, I saw the B-17 “Sally B” and a third B-29!

Well, after 8 hours at work, 6 and half hours of traveling over 1300 miles on 2 flights, I made it safe, sound and tired to Houston. Time to sleep!!!!

WOH17_4

Saturday

Woke up refreshed after a long Friday. Straight to the window to see what Mother Nature is doing. Blues skies along with a few clouds. With Sunday s weather being questionable, I’ll shoot more in my “safe zone” to ensure getting good captures. And Sunday if the weather gets better, I’ll shoot slower. But the forecast for Sunday morning is thunderstorms and clearing by mid-afternoon.

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At the show, I run into one of airshow buddies, Steve Savino. It happens to be front of his favorite type of WWII fighter, the P-47 Thunderbolt. I meet Steve on a flight from San Francisco to Ontario, California on my way to the Planes of Fame airshow back in 2015. We talked and walked about the ramp, shooting as we go. We made plans for the gang to go to dinner after the show. He was shooting from the “Photo pit” and I like to be mobile, so we parted and would meet up later.

The show had it’s “The good, The bad and The ugly”.

The Good

The light! The light! Omg, the light! Yeah, it sucks in the morning but once the sun crosses the runway, it just gets better and better. Let’s not forget about the clouds as well. I love having clouds in the background. The Colling Foundation F-4D along with they’re F-100F in the hot ramp. The Vietnam War Flight Museum MiG-21 and their A-26 that I had never seen before, silver with black accent on the engine nacelles as well as the on the wings. There was one of Jerry Conley de Havilland DH-115 Vampires on the ramp too. There was a pair of F-15 Eagles from the 159th Fighter Wing, the “Bayou Militia”. They came over on Saturday and tore up the pattern before heading home. I also ran into Will Ward, pilot and MiG owner who I had not seen in years. Was good to see and talk to him. Very cool guy!

The Bad

For Saturdays show, the MiG-21 or the Colling F-100F did not fly in the show for whatever reasons. Along with anything from Texas Flying Legends. Even thou I enjoy them and this only from a photographic point of view, but Tora! Tora! Tora! And their Pyro! HOLY SMOKES! It’s an entertaining act but once the siren goes off and the bombing starts, the show line gets absolutely smoked out from the airshow smoke and from the endless pyro shots.

The ugly

The $40 ticket price at the gate! And the muddy parking lots. Luckily, they had a Jeep running around pulling cars and truck out of the mud.

 

After the show, I was making my way through the crowd to the gate. When I saw a brightly polished metal finished P-51 with a flat black tail. “Can it be? Is It?” I asked myself. And as I quickly walked closer and closer to it, I found my answer. It is Texas Flying Legends newly restored P-51C named “Lope’s Hope 3rd. I saw over on the Warbird Information Exchange forum (WIX) that it had made its first flight last week but had no idea that it was here in Houston. AirCorps Aviation did an absolutely amazing job on the restoration. I can’t wait to see more of this Mustang in the years to come.

That night, the plan was to meet up at Twin Peaks for dinner with Steve-O gang. We enjoyed looking at all the eye candy and talked photography as well as airshows. Good times

 Sunday

Woke up to fair skies but Mother Nature had something else in store. What’s the staying, “They do everything bigger in Texas”. Mother Nature decided to live up to that Sunday morning with a line of Thunderstorms!

WOH17_7

WOH17_8

Gate open at 8am but flying does not start until 11am. So, I figure I stay in the hotel until the storm lightens up and then pack up the rental to head over to Ellington field. Besides, I already got rain qualified a few times this season. As the storm passes, I wait until the down pour turns to light rain and head over to the field. I figure, I’ll be better off sitting in the car at the airport when rain ends then in my hotel room.

WOH17_9

On my way to the field I stop off at Jack in the Box for some breakfast. I order some food to go and drive over to the field, park and eat while I wait for the weather to clear up. As I’m eating, a car parks next to me on the driver side and I glance over at the car and the driver look familiar. As the weather clear up the drive next to me get out the car, goes to the trunk and starts to gear up. I open the door to my rental and ask the driver, “Are you Ken Cheung?” He replies Yes, I am. I have not seen Ken since way back in the day of Oceana 05 or 06? Ken was a regular on Fence Check. What are odds of him parking beside me? We talked for a good 25 to 30 minutes until Mother Nature started acting up again. So, we retreated into our rental cars. The gates soon opened, we geared up and went in. I gave him one of my cards and he made his way down to the photo pit.

With the show starting late, as everyone was coming in and finding a place to watch the show from, the Coast Guard demo was up and flying. There were a few patchy showers here and there but off to the north, the sky was blue with small puffy clouds. As the coasties demo lands, I felt a disturbance in the Force. It was a squad from 501st Legion. And you know I had to get a photo was them!

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Sunday show had its good points and its low points. Here’s a few of the good points, the passing storm was for some great back drops with the sun was out. The light was sharp and clean along with the low puffy clouds…Awesome. The morning weather add more moisture to the atmosphere. Which means more vapor for Super Hornet. Here’s my images from the Super Hornet high speed pass with vapor cone.

WOH17 Super Hornet high speed pass film strip

Here’s a link to see it full size

 

As the show when on, the sun and clouds were continuous playing hide and seek. And I found myself shooting subjects with no light on them. While chimping, it was clear that the subjects shot in shadow were going to be junked. Yes, the shadow detail can be popped out in post process, but they don’t even come close the others shot in nature light. There is no substitute for nature light! So, those aircraft that was flying while the sun was hiding, I am not going to show. I’m not a documentary photography when it comes to airshows. Meaning I’m not trying to get images of everything that was there and what flew and it what order. I’m trying to shoot images unique to me that I can add to my collection over a point of a lifetime.

Sometime during the show Ken text me and wanted to know if I wanted to get dinner after the show. We plan to meet back up at our cars after the show and go from there. Show over and back at the cars, we decide to head off to Outback Steak house. There we reminisced about the “Good old days” of now gone Fence Check. How it was the site to visit to see what other aviation photographer were shooting and where. I had a good time with Ken at dinner and hopefully I run into him sometime during the 2018 season.

Wing Over Houston was a great show for my 2017 Season Finale. It was great seeing and talking to some of my old airshow buddies. Despite the weekends wet weather, I’m really happy with my images. The troubled sky made for a dramatic back drop during the show. Of all the images I shot at Wings over Houston, there are three images that stand out and tells the story of the weekend. I love the sense of location along with the low horizons showing off the vivid background. Each has their own different play with light and shadow. In all three images, each one draws your eyes in, so you can explore all the details and light in the screen. With each of them, I saw the image before I shot it. Heck, I shot one with my iPhone! Three more images to add to my portfolio.

My next post will be my “Best of 2017 Show season” post. Showing all my favorite images from the season along with some thoughts looking back as well as some going forward.

 

Until next post,

Steven