The Story Behind an Image, Part 6

Ever since 2004, I’ve had a passionate love affair with photography. And come to discover that I have a fondness with photos that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few of them. Here’s the next installment in my “The Story behind an Image” series.

Part 6: The start of a new chapter

This story starts back in 2005 after months of penny-pinching saving, I had finally recovered and upgraded my gear from my break in at my apartment. I acquired at the time Canons new 20D and both their 100-400mm zoom and the 400mm F/5.6 prime lense. But after shooting with both at various events, I felt having them both was redundant. And wanted to narrow it down to one lense I preferred most.

It came down to the classic photographer’s argument of zoom versus prime. What’s more important, versatility or clarity? For me the brighter exposure and its tack sharpness of the 400 5.6 won me over. As well as its image quality was far superior to the zoom and it was an absolute joy to shoot.

Another contributing factor why I got rid of the zoom was during this time in my juvenile love affair with photography, I had a growing concern about the “look” of my images. Specifically, what’s going to set my images apart from others? Especially images from those who attend the same events as I. Since the vast majority of air show photographers prefer using a zoom lense over primes. I chose to shoot strictly prime. But doing so comes with its own issues. The most obvious is its lack of versatility in its inability to zoom. The way I coped with this inability was to concentrate on composition and trying to fill the frame with my subject with little to no negative space.

It’s worth mentioning during this time the highest resolution sensor Canon had was only 16 megapixels with the 1D mk2. Which was totally out of my price range. With such a low megapixel count to today’s standards, tight cropping was very noticeable, and you saw it in the image quality. And my 20D was only 8.2 megapixels and it struggled to shoot 5 frames a second. Without a consistent high frame rate, it made it pretty damn difficult to get a full frame uncropped image of a close flying aircraft successfully.

It was also during this time I discovered I fancied capturing images of warbirds much more than the sleek modern jets. To me, they are like living machines with these old massive engines for hearts. I love the fact that they were painstakingly restored by hand and maintained with great affection. And I sought out aviation events that cater to them. In July I stumbled upon “The Greatest show on Turf”. A warbird show that is held on a grass field in Geneseo, New York. From my apartment in Michigan, it was nearly 6 hours away. If I remember correctly, my plan was to drive to Geneseo on Saturday and stay the night at a hotel. Check out Sunday morning and head down to the show. Then after a day of photographing airplanes in the summer sun, make the grueling six-hour trip back to Michigan so I can go back to work bright and early Monday morning. Looking back now, I was 29 at the time and I know I can’t handle a weekend of that pace these days.

I remember on the drive over being so intoxicated with excitement about the show. I’ve never been to that part of New York before as well as seeing warbirds operate on a grass field. Entertaining all my wild expectations about this virgin show of mine, I drove on into the night. After arriving at the hotel, I found something for dinner and was off to bed.

From the hotel, it was a scenic 30-minute drive to the airfield. And my unexplored airshow questions had a child like rhythm to them in my head during the trip down. The most frequent was, what direction is the crowd line in relationship with the path of the Sun? That has become my main and driving question of what aviation events I will attend. And to my surprise, the event runs southwest to the northeast, with the crowd line facing northwest. Meaning the Sun was to be at are back for most of the day. But come late afternoon, it maybe a bit tricky but nothing that could not be avoided.

I recall flying started early with trainers then worked its way to the fighters. And earlier on in the show the vintage aerial display was interrupted by two New York Air National guard F-16s and performed a couple of spirited passes. I quickly switched over to aperture priority, selected F/5.6, composed my subject and held the shutter down. And as quickly as they showed up, they were heading home. While chimping, I came across the image that is so closely tied to this story.

Since I began shooting aviation events, there is always that one image you want to be razor sharp. You must remember; this was 2005 and the resolution of the LCD screens on the back of cameras were shit. What looked sharp on the rear screen versus what is sharp on your monitor were two different things. The show continued and afterwards I said my goodbyes to sleepy little Geneseo and drove back to Michigan.

After an interminable and exhausting day at work, I finally got to view my images for the past weekend. And to my amazement, the one image I was fixated on was absolutely razor sharp. When viewed full size, you can clearly read the name of the crew chief on the side of the canopy. It’s what this image did for my confidence in my abilities as a photographer and was a turning point in my photographic journey. My mindset changed from “I hope I can” to “I can” capture images with the look I want. Like any creative individual, having the confidence in yourself and your gear is huge. It’s ironic, I went to Geneseo to capture warbird images and unexpectedly gained confidence in an image of a modern fighter.

FAR_71

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The Story Behind an Image, Part 5

For the past 14 years, I have a passionate love affair with photography. And I’ve come to discover that I have a fondness with photos that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few of them. Here’s the next installment in my “The story behind an Image” series.

Part 5: This too shall pass

Despite all of its future importance to me, I couldn’t tell you what clothes I wore, what I did at work or what the weather was like on August 16, 2004. But what I can tell you about that day is that someone broke into my apartment and ripped my newfound passion away from me. Thankfully I was at work when it happened. Looking back, I remember walking up the first flight of stairs, then turning to see the door of my apartment. Which was slightly open but with every progressive step, more of the disturbing scene was revealed to me. The sturdy steel frame of the door was peeled back from the wall like an orange and the door itself looked like it was violently punched in by the Terminator. Absolutely dumbfounded by what I was looking at. I remember saying to myself, “What the hell was someone trying to do to my door?” As soon as I walked through the threshold, it was as though a switch was turned on in my brain and I realized what had happened. I got robbed. And that feeling of safety and security at home was instantly eroded.

Walking through my molested apartment, seemingly in slow motion like from a poorly edited B movie. Of all my possessions that was taken from me, my TV, home theater system, it was what I always kept at the foot of my bed concerned me the most, all of my photo gear. Which included my new Sigma 50-500 mm lense, which I had only used once at the Thunder over Michigan airshow a week before. Along with my first DSLR camera, Canon’s Digital Rebel along with two other lenses. Gone. The thought that a person would carelessly force their way into someone’s apartment or house, someone’s home and selfishly take whatever he or she wants, left me rattled to what seemed like forever. I’ve never endured such a feeling of violation in my life.

Feeling shattered and especially vulnerable, I called the local police. To my youthful ignorance, unless you catch them in the act, most break-ins go unsolved. And the only helpful words of advice for getting any of my beloved gear back, would be to check the local pawn shops. The officer told me that most stolen goods end up there, sold for quick cash. I couldn’t imagine the humiliation of going from shop to shop searching for my stolen gear and dealing with the unknown challenges of proofing ownership. I never had the courage to search for my missing gear. I just wanted to get away for that apartment and to move on with my life. At that time, I felt that my passionate love affair with photography was dead and over.

I never stayed another night at that plundered apartment. Oddly enough, the thieves didn’t touch my computer that stored all my precious photos. And thankfully I was able to find a new place to live fairly quickly. After a few months, I was settled in and got back into my work/life routine. During that time, I feverishly saved up enough money to not only replace but upgrade my gear. At the time, I purchased Canon’s new 20D and the 400mm F/5.6L lense. That body/lense combo vigorously rekindle my love affair with photography. I would go on to shoot some of my most memorable photos with them.

I find it ironic that sunsets can be symbolically viewed as an ending of something along with the passing of time and that the final image I took with my Digital Rebel before it was stolen was a sunset. It was the end of one chapter of my photographic journey and after that dark event, the start of a fresh and newly energized one. The image associated with this story was shot two days before that personally devastating day. This disturbing event in my life showed me that most things that we struggle with, are just moments in time. And that with time and patience, we can come to terms with and cope with our hardships and continue on with our lives hopefully stronger and wiser. Similarly, with what’s going on with the world now, “This too shall pass”.

part 6 image

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The Story Behind an Image, Part Three

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 three in a series I call “The story behind an Image

Part 3: My 11 years and over 16 Airshows/events shot

Ever since I started my love affair with aviation photography, I have  formed a list of images I wanted to capture. One of them is a ¾ front shot of a F/A-18 Super Hornet during its high-speed pass with a full vapor cone in a cloudless blue sky. Not a full cone from side view, but a nice full round vapor cone from ¾ front. And on a cloudless day so you can see the contrast from the white of the vapor cone and the blue of the sky.  This is a shot I chased for 11 years and at 16 different events and airshows.

For those of you who do not know what a vapor cone it is, go and hit up Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vapor_cone

There’s a huge misnomer about the elusive vapor cone. When people see it, their think that the aircraft is breaking the sound barrier. This is not true. A vapor cone can form (if the conditions are right) at transonic speed just before reaching the speed of sound. Demo pilots meticulously rehearsed a precise routine showing off the aircraft performance without breaking the supersonic speed limit set at an airshow and other aviation events.

Now on to just how difficult this shot was for me. 16 different airshows and events in 5 states and one in Canada over 11 years. Yeah! Here’s 3 YouTube videos I found that showing just how quickly the vapor cone forms and disappears during the Super Hornets high speed pass.

https://youtu.be/pES8AKI5kso?t=269

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsqSYX2vb7s

https://youtu.be/Z9GLOcqgv2M?t=287

Pretty amazing right!? Now imagine shooting it with a heavy 400mm or 500mm telephoto lens hand held. Yeah! For me, the trouble was not being able to keep track of the Super Hornet during the high-speed pass or not being able to get images in focus. It was having the right condition for it to happen and for me to be shooting from the right location to be able to capture it the way I want. The main ingredient for a vapor cones and any other forms of condensation is humidity. One of main features of the shot I wanted to capture is having a cloudless blue sky to showing off the full cone of condensation. And having a humid and cloudless blue sky the day of an airshow is a weather oxymoron. Clouds in the background can take away and or make the cone look deformed. Our eyes are very sensitive to circles and can quickly pick up on things that do not appear to be round. Another feature of this image I envision is the position of the Super hornet and the vapor cone. I want to shoot the Super Hornet as it is heading toward me in a ¾ front view so it looks like it is punching through a little cloud. There is no way of knowing where the cone is going to form, if it even happens or not during the high-speed pass. But I do know during the demo,  it does it’s high-speed pass from the right to the left. Knowing that, I want to be farthest left of show center. So, if it forms I can capture it in the position it in that front 3/4 view.

Below are 4 interesting failed attempts at capturing the Super Hornet high speed pass I had shot over the years. Each showing different combination of wrong factors. The images are as they are out of the camera, no skipped images.

The first one is from Battle Creek 2006. The Super Hornet was from VFA-106 known as the “Gladiators” based at NAS Oceana. A nicely painted 206 bird, nice blue sky but no vapor. The night before the show, a front came through and dried the air out.

Battle Creek 2006
Good Position, Good sky but no humidity Link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/battle-creek-2006.jpg

 

The next high-speed is again from VFA-106 performing at the 2008 NAS Oceana airshow. The sky was partly cloudy, blue on one side and cloudy on the other. This pass I was in the wrong location and with not the best weather conditions.

NAS Oceana 08
Poor position, Poor sky but great humidity! Link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/nas-oceana-08.jpg

On to the APPA Gold Cup Hydroplane race on the Detroit river in 2011. VFA-106 came up from NAS Oceana to perform the demo each day of the race. Found a good shooting location on belle isle, an island park on the Detroit river, at the end of a fishing pier that jets out into the river. The pier did not interfere with the event airshow box and it did get me closer to the action. This time I was shooting my trusty 400m F/5.6. Close but not the the shot I was looking for. Poor position, great sky and OK humidity.

APPA Gold Cup Detroit 2011
Poor position, Great sky and OK humidity. Link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/appa-gold-cup-detroit-2011.jpg

And the last of interesting failed high-speed passes is from Cleveland National airshow in 2012. That weekend I had rented Canons new 500mm F/4 MK II from lensesrental.com (amazing service). The whole weekend was overcast and there was a ton of moisture in the air. I had no question that Super was going to cone. The trouble was that it overcast and that there will not be enough contrast in between the cone and the overcast skies. In this series of images,these nine images are a testimony to just how good the cameras auto focus system capabilities are at tracking a gray object traveling near the speed of sound on a gray background. Great position, crappy sky but great humidity.

Cleveland 2012 film strip
Great position, crappy sky but great humidity.  link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/cleveland-2012-film-strip.jpg

Fast forward to late spring 2015 and the Gary South Shore Airshow was approaching. It is a beach show on the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Gary, Indiana. This was first of two beach shows during my 2015 show season. Beach shows has its pluses and minuses. Let start with the good, a very good possibility for vapor. Water evaporating for a body of water into the air equals humidity. And you need a lot of humidity for a good full cone. Also, your background will most likely be uncluttered.

For me, the biggest drawback of a beach show is the location of the airshow box. The air space where aircraft are permitted to perform during a show or aerial event. The show line, a visual reference line to aid pilots with orientation during the performance, runs down the center of the airshow box. At most aerial events, one of the active runways is the show line. FAA rules state that the crowd must be 1500 ft. away from the show line. That does not mean the performers are always 1500 ft from the crowd. So, how do you establish a show line at a beach show? With a ship, of course. At the Gary show, I think it was a US Coast Guard ship. Not 100% sure, but it was a ship. Most of time the water 1500 ft from the shore is not deep enough for a ship. Remember, it must big enough for pilots to easily spot. Like a big white Coast Guard ship. That means the show line is farther away from the shore, which means one needs more focal length. Because of this I stayed away from beach show until I got my 500mm F/4.5.

I had planned on going to the Gary show with the intent of crossing two images off my list. I wanted to get an image of Warbird Heritage Foundation(WHF) Skyhawk during its photo pass. The Gary show give me yet another crack at get my elusive front ¾ cone shot with the Super Hornet. At the time I was living in Naperville, Illinois and the morning of the show it was straight and solid overcast at home and the weather for the show did not look promising. With questionable weather, I was seriously considering not going until my good friend called me to ask if I was going. He told me he was going and he felt that we would be OK weather wise. I was not too thrilled about the weather but I pack up and headed off to the show. If anything, I get to hang out with friend despite the weather.

During the drive over I was hoping for better weather but it wasn’t looking any better.  But as I got closer to Gary, the overcast started to breaking up and had a few patches of blue sky here and there. By the time I reached Marquette Park, where show was being held, I was shocked to see the sky was clear and blue. Now excited about the show, I scrambled to find parking and call my buddy. Who had gotten there before I did and told me where to find him on the beach. He had pick a spot to the left of show center. The show opened with the US Army Golden Knight parachute team jumping in with the flag as the National anthem with being sung. After a few other acts, the WHF A-4 Skyhawk did its demo but due to the where the show line was, the tiny A-4 looked even smaller in view finder during its photo pass.

Up next was the Super Hornet demo. After seeing the Super Hornet demo countless times, the routine become very familiar. The demo starts with the dirty roll. During the roll, the landing gear are retracted followed by a vertical reposition for the next pass. At the bottom the repositioning, there is a hard pitch up and is a good chance to get some vapor coming off the leading-edge extensions. Back to level flight, lite the afterburners for the tight, fast and loud minimal radius turn. Exiting the minimal radius turn, hard nose up and to the tail stand. At he top of the tail stand, the stick is shoved forward and the ass of the Super Hornet abruptly rises and returns to level flight. Exiting right to reposition for the high-speed pass. THIS IS IT! Quickly double check setting, look around to check if there is anything that going to get in the way of the shot. Other photographers, people walking by, anything that could screw up the next 10 seconds. All clear! Lens up, focus on the Super hornet as it rapidly approaches, take a breath, get calm and start shooting. I hate the saying “spray & pray”. For me, mindless shooting away, hoping to capture something is stupid. Instead stay calm, focus on what you are doing and shoot you subject. The funny thing is I did not see the vapor cone form at all. Not a single frame. Remember when shooting, the mirror swings up and blocks the view finder so the sensor can exposure the image.

11years and 16 shows

Here’s 9 frames from the West Coast Super Hornet demo, VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” Based at NAS Lemoore, High-speed pass during the Gary South Shore Airshow.

Great location, Great sky and Great humidity. Link to view full size https://anadventureinawesome.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/gary-south-shore-show-2015.jpg

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The Story Behind an Image, Part four >

The Story behind an Image, Part Two

For the past 13 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 two of a series I call “The Story Behind an Image”.

Part 2: The Bus Stop

Summer of 2008, I was working for a major automotive company in southeast Michigan and the Economic crisis was well under way. The crisis had slowed sell the sale of cars and it was time to save money to get through the rough times ahead and that meant layoffs. The weeks working up to the layoff was some of the worst times I had ever worked anywhere. The level of worry and anxiety seem to be unbearable at times. How many would be let go? Who is safe? Where would go to find work? How long would my money last?

On July 31, 2008, I got the news that I was to be laid off indefinitely. I took some comfort in the fact that the worry and anxiety of it all was over and now it was a matter of figuring out what’s my next step. As an out of work automotive clay sculptor, I knew it was going to be difficult to find work during this time. If cars were not selling, there is no reason to develop new products. And when you’re not developing new product, there is no reason to hire new sculptors. At the time, I did not have a car and relied on public transportation to get back and forth to work, amazingly it worked out well given I lived in Downtown Detroit.

The following days my lay off, I had applied to as many available positions I could find. While not getting feedback from any company I applied to, I was starting to lose hope. Until one day as I was waiting at the bus stop that use to carry me to work. I received a call from what was to become my new job in sunny California. That bus stop is in the image below. On the right side of the image, there is thin sliver of light running down the building. Where that sliver of light hits the ground, there is a light pole which marks the location of my bus stop. The amazing part of the image is that I shot it in April of 2006, over two years before I got the phone call which lead to my next adventure in life. I knew it was a great image but had no idea of the personal importance it had to me and to my future.

the bus stop

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The Story Behind an Image, Part three >