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 any 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 we could not live without. Shawn and Craig both like squadron cruise DVD’s and challenge coins. Me, I enjoy zaps (squadron stickers). After spending an untold amount of money, it was time to figure out where in the hell we were going to put it all. Remember, it is 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 reshoot 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 frames 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, 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 in disbelief found a shooting location. We shot the show, packed up our gear and headed to the hotel. While there, dump cards, charge batteries, shower, dinner and get ready to do it all over again the next day.

Sunday morning, we woke up, got some breakfast and head 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 on Sunday. I do remember, we headed over to my parent house 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. Back in the hotel, we chilled, packed up and come Monday, we all head back to our homes.

According to the EXIF data from the image, it was a full 10 days from the time I shot it to when Craig found it, processed it in Photoshop and email it to Shawn and me. He named the image “ShawnandStevearedead”. Hard to believe that come September, that image will be 10 years old.


What I want you all to away from this image. First, regardless of what it is you are shooting, Have fun! Even better is to have fun with friends. Make moments with friends who make images. 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

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 a list of images I wanted to capture. One of them has been a ¾ front shot of a F/A-18E or F Super Hornet during its high-speed pass with a full vapor cone in a cloudless blue sky. Not a full cone from side view, not on a cloudy day that hides the vapor cone but a nice full round vapor cone from ¾ front. I tried for years, 11 years to be actual and God knows how images. But after 11 years and 16 different events and airshows, I finally did it.

For those of you who do not know what a vapor cone it is, go and hit up Wikipedia.

There’s a huge misnomer about the elusive vapor cone. When people see it, their think that the aircraft is breaking the sound barrier. WRONG! 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. I’ve been to countless shows and seen so many high-speed passes from just about every US fighter and not one of them has ever excessed the speed of sound.

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, Holy Fuck! Here’s 3 YouTube videos I found that showing how quickly the vapor cone forms and disappears during the Super Hornets high speed pass.

Pretty amazing right!? Now imagine shooting it with a 400mm or 500mm 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 wanted. 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. The other feature of this image I envision is the position of the Super hornet with the vapor cone. I have seen many images of aircraft with cones and most of them are profile or side shots along with a few rear shots (I like to call butt cones). 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 it just formed. There is no way of knowing where the vapor cone is going to form, if it even happens or not during the high-speed pass. But I do know during the Super Hornets demo, it does the high-speed pass from the right to the left. If it is possible, I want to be the farthest left of show center. So, if it forms I can capture it in the position I’m looking for.

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. I nicely painted 206 bird, nice blue sky but not 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


The next high-speed is of VFA-106 performing at home at the 2008 NAS Oceana airshow. The sky was partly cloudy, blue on one side of the runway and cloudy on the other. Another pass 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

Next on to the APPA Gold Cup Hydroplane race on the Detroit river 2011. VFA-106 came up from NAS Oceana to perform the demo each day of the race. Had a good shooting location on belle isle, an island park on the Detroit river, at the end of a pier that jetted out into the river. The pier did not interfere with the events airshow box but it did get me closer to the action. That time I was shooting my 400m F/5.6 and that little bit closer helped full the frame. Since the demo was flown over the Detroit River, I chose to shoot from Belle Isle so that the sun was at my back. And being on opposite side of the in which the demo was being flown, the high-speed pass was from the left to the right. Close but not the shot the shot I was looking for. Poor position, great sky and great humidity.

APPA Gold Cup Detroit 2011

Poor position, Great sky and Great humidity. Link to view full size

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 (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 gray, that there will not be enough contrast in between the cone and the background clouds. Here in this last series of images, these nine images (in a row) is a testimony to just how good the cameras autofocus system capabilities are at tracking a gray object traveling near the speed of sound on a gray background. It’s amazing to see how the vapor cone forms, disappears and how quickly it reforms again. Great position, poor sky and great humidity.

Cleveland 2012 film strip

Great position, poor sky and great humidity! link to view full size

Enough about how I struggled with this shot. 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. The second was Milwaukee Air & Water Show 2 weeks after the Gary show. 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 to form. Also, your background most likely will be uncluttered. The horizon and sky makes for a simple and clean background along with shows a sense of location.

For me, the biggest negative 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 1,500ft. away from the show line. That does not mean the performers are always 1.500ft from the crowd. Some maneuvers, are closer than others. But at a beach show, the performers take off and land at a nearby airport. So, how do you have 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. 9 times out of 10, the water 1,500ft 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. So that means the show line farther away from the shore, farther away means one needs more focal length. Because of this I stayed away from beach show until I got my 500mm.

Weeks before the show I had planned on going with the intent of crossing off a few images from my list. The Warbird Heritage Foundations(WHF) A-4 Skyhawk and the US Navy West Coast Super Hornet Demo team from VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” based out of NAS Lemoore were my main reasons for going. I wanted to get an image of WHFs Skyhawk during its photo pass. The Gary show did give me yet another crack at get that front ¾ full cone shot during Super Hornets high-speed pass if conditions were right.

I almost don’t go to this show. At the time, I was living in Naperville, Illinois and the morning of the show it was straight and solid over at home along with the weather for Gary, Indiana 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. Being not too thrilled about the weather, I pack up my gear and headed off to Gary. If anything, I could see and hang out with buddy doing what we both enjoy despite the weather conditions.

The drive over I was hoping for better weather but the farther east I drove but it wasn’t looking any better. And was disappointed with mother nature. Come show day, its overcast time! But as I got closer to Gary, the overcast was breaking up and had patches of blue 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 for the show, I scrambled to find parking and call my buddy. Who had gotten there before I did and told me where to go to find him on the beach. He had pick out a spot to the left of show center to shoot from. The show opened with the US Army Golden Knight parachute team jumping in 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.  Was a little bummed out about the Skyhawk’s photo pass but I did finally cross that shot off my list later in the season at NAS Oceana.

So, after seeing the Super Hornet demo so many times, the routine become familiar. The demo starts with the dirty roll. During the roll, the landing gear is 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 on the leading-edge extensions. Back to level flight, lite the afterburners for the minimal radius turn. Exiting the minimal radius turn, hard pull into the tail stand. Top of the tail stand, the stick is shoved forward and the ass end of the hornet abruptly rises and the aircraft levels out. Exit right to position for high-speed pass. You know what’s coming. So, quickly check setting, looking to check to see if there anything that going to get in the way of the shot. Other photographers, people walking by, anything to screw up the next 10 seconds. Quickly move if needed, lenses up, focus on the Super hornet as it approaches, take a breath, get calm and focused and start shooting. I hate the saying “spray & pray”. For me, its mindless shooting away, hoping to capture something, instead having the mindset and skill to stay calm and shoot you subject when it is suitable. Yes, you have to shoot in continues shooting to capture any fast action and be able to keep the auto focus point on your subject all the while panning. The funny thing is I did not see the vapor cone form at all. None of it, not a single frame. Remember, when shooting the mirror sways up and blocks the view finder so the sensor can exposure the scene.

11years and 16 shows

EXIF data

Date: 7/12/2015 11:35am

Model: Canon 7D Mark II

Len attached:  Canon 500mm F/4.5L USM

Exposure program: Aperture priority

Shooting modes: High-speed continues @ 10FPS with AI Servos

ISO speed: 100

Exposure time: 1/1600th second

F stop: F/4.5

Shot handheld

Here’s the 9 frames from the West Coast Super Hornet demo, VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” Based at NAS Lemoore, High-speed pass at the Gary South Shore Airshow in 2015.

Great location, Great sky and Great humidity. Link to view full size


The Story behind an Image, Part Two

For the past 13 years, I have had a love affair with photography. I love great 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 2008 Economic crisis was well under way. The crisis had slowed sell and it was time to saving 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? All questions that always on my mind and was very hard to escape from.

On July 31, 2008, my boss told me to come with him. We went into a conference room off the studio floor, sat down and was told I was to be laid off indefinitely. We had worked together for years and it was a sad moment for both of us. We weep over the fucked-up nature of this situation. 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 my next step was going to be.

As an out of work automotive clay sculptor, I knew it was going to be difficult to find new work during the crisis. 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 have a large design staff sitting around. During my separation meeting, my boss did tell me that the layoffs were a cost saving measure and that I had not did anything wrong. It effects every pay grade in every part of the company. The company was just adjusting its size due to the failing market. 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 Detroit. Which my manager knew and after saying an emotional goodbye to many coworkers, I packed up my tools and he had a taxi waiting for me to take me home.

The following days after being let go, I had told family and friend about my situation and plans. The weeks leading up to the layoffs, I did manage to save up enough money to last a few months before I would have to apply for unemployment. I had applied to all the available positions I could find but was starting to lose hope when 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. 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 the bus stop.

The amazing part of the image is that I shot it on April 16, 2006, over two years before I got the phone call which lead to my next job and adventure in Life. I remember the day I shot it, was out reshooting locations that I knew had better light on it in the morning than in the evening when I first shot it. On my way back to my loft, I was walking east on West Lafayette Blvd and as I crossed Shelby street I looked to my left and that is what I saw. I shot it in color but I knew it was going to make a great black & white. Funny, I knew it was going to be a great image but had no idea of the personal importance it was going have and to my future at the time.

the bus stop

EXIF data

Date: 4/16/2006 9:36am
Model: Canon 20D
Len attached: 17-85mm
Focal length: 44mm
Exposure program: Aperture priority
ISO speed: 100
Exposure time: 1/500th second
F stop: F/5.0


The Story behind an Image

For the past 13 years, I have had a love affair with photography. I love great images that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few images that has a story. Here is part one of a series I call “The story behind an Image”.

Part 1: The Sprit of Detroit

In the Summer of 2007 I was living in Downtown Detroit and I started a long term project I called “My Detroit“. A collection of images of what I called Detroit. The areas I love as well as images you can only see in Detroit. Detroit is a border city, the Detroit river is the border for the United States and it’s northern neighbor, Canada. Which in Detroit, you have to travel south to get to Canada.

The first week in July, Detroit, and Windsor take part in the International Freedom Festival. It celebrates the United States Forth of July and Canada Day. The multi day festival brings up to 3.5 million Canadians and Americans to both sides Detroit river front. The highlight of the Festival is one of the largest fireworks displays in the midwest. I wanted to photography the fireworks and have a landmark of Detroit in the image. I chose the Renaissance Center to be my Detroit landmark. It is the tallest building in Michigan as well as the World Headquarters for General Motors. I had seen images from past  Freedom fest and the fireworks are launched from barges on the river. All I would need to do is to find a location where I could frame the Renaissance Center and the fireworks in one shot.

On the day of the fireworks with a few shooting locations in mind, I headed out to the river front. As soon as I left my apartment, I was overwhelmed with how many people were out to see the fireworks.

Both the sidewalks and street were full of people walking to the riverfront. Woodward as well as Jefferson avenue were blocked off and was full of people sitting and waiting for the fireworks to start. From the start, I knew that the fireworks were to be launched from three burges. Everything about this shot heavily relied on that there was going to be a burge behind or near to the Renaissance Center.

As the sunset, more, and more people showed up. Jefferson avenue became a sea of chairs, continuing to fill the streets and sidewalks. I managed to find a spot in front of the Renaissance Center. Sitting on the curb, camera, and tripod in front of me hoping that this is going to be the shot in my minds eye. But as soon as the fireworks started, I quickly realized it was not. The burge closest to the Renaissance Center was too far away to frame both in the shot. My first thought of to move to my left to close the gap between the Renaissance Center and the closest burge launching fireworks. But at street level, there was too many obstacles in the shot. Trees, light poles, bunch of junk. With limited time, I tried to make the best of the situation. Relocation to another Detroit landmark and shoot from there. The closest landmark that came to mine was the Joe Louis fist in the middle of Woodward and Jefferson avenue. With the mass of people there that idea was not going to work. There was just too many people between me and the fist as well as all the people already around it. Bummed out that my plans has failed, I decided to pack up and head back home. Walking back on Jefferson, weaving in and out of folks watching the fireworks, I pass the Colman Young building and turn onto Woodward. At the end of the Colman Young building sits the Spirit of Detroit statute. I decide to walk behind the statue instead of in front and get in the way of people watching the fireworks. As I pass behind the spirit of Detroit, I turned one last time to view the crowd and fireworks before returning home after the failed attempt and this is what I saw …

The thought never crossed my mind to shoot in front of the Spirit of Detroit.

Exif data:
Date Time 6/27/2007  10:19:54 PM
Model   Canon EOS 20D
Lens Attached  17-85 mm
Focal Length  28.0
Exposure Program Aperture Priority
ISO Speed  100
Exposure Time  1.3sec
F-Number  9.0