Photography and Me

In 2004, my love affair with photography began and since then it has become something that I cherish. For the longest time I really didn’t think about what it meant to me. But at the start of the year, I started to challenge myself and question the things I love doing to have a better understanding of my creativity. After putting together my “Passion” piece, I started looking into why I love Photography so much. I think, it’s being able to tell a story with my images is a big factor. All last year, I pushed myself to try to capture images that said something or told a part of a larger story. From Planes of Fame out in California to Wings over Houston down in Texas. If it was the frustration of Goshen, the marathon shooting of Oshkosh or the joy of shooting at Waukegan. I wanted my images to show and say whatever it was I was trying to express.

Photography to me is sharing how I see the world and a way for me to visually show a story or a part of my life. A photographer I greatly admire, Sean Tucker. In his channel trailer, he speaks about having vision. And it is that vision he talks about that I want to focus on and develop my own vision. To Experiment, Fail, Learn, Repeat. Photography without vision, in my mind is an oxymoron and I do not want my photography to fall into that category.

At the beginning of this year while surfing the web, I came across a bunch of “My Best images from 2017” posted on various forums. There was one in particular that caught my eye. Its >>>HERE<<<. There is a lot of things I really like about this set of images. Composition, light, color but mainly the variety of subjects. And looking back on my favorite images of 2017, Its all aviation. Yes, there is a variety of aircraft types, but it is still all aviation. Yeah, I went to Belle Isle a few times, but all my photo trips were aviation related. And that lack of subject diversity bothers me now. It’s not like I can’t go and see other things, it’s that I made no effort to. I want to change that in 2018.

I been toying with the idea of doing some landscape photography this year. Thinking about visiting the Pacific northwest. There is Redwood National Park and Crater Lake that I have always wanted to see. I feel a switch up like this will get me out of my comfort zone for quite some time. It will require me to learning a different set of photographic disciplines. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop shooting aircraft, it’s just I’m going to mix it up a bit. I just want to see and do something different.

Gear wise, I soon will be getting Canons 5DSR along with a 50mm F/1.2L. Ever since I started with my photography endeavors, I love showing clarity of my subjects. It comes from my love of Ansel Adams and his work. I rented the 5DSR many times last year and love the result of shooting full frame and the very large image size shows the smallest of detail. But these are just tools and will not better my photography, only by continuing to develop and focus my vision as Sean calls it will my photography grow.

There is a photographer with amazing and skillful eye for photography, Joshi Daniel. He has a bunch of brilliant and powerful images that I find always inspire me. Joshi has a wonderful project on his site, it is his 28mm Portraits Project. I want to challenge myself along the same lines but with a 50mm and not shooting portraits. I don’t know what my subject matter will be but I’m sure I’ll find something to shoot. I like to idea of using a limited focal length on a particular subject, along with doing something that gets you out of your comfort zone. It will be a good long term project to help nurture my eye.

Here’s a set of images from my archive that I shot from over the years. With a variety of different subjects that come the beginning of 2019 I would like to have in my “Best of 2018” post.

How do you feel about “Your Photography”? Do you feel that you have an “Eye “for images? Feel free to share in the comments below as well as if you like my content, click the “Like” button or even start to follow my blog.

 

Until next post,

Steven

 

 

Knowledge or Gear?

The past two weekends I went down to the conservatory on Belle Isle. To test something, I knew to be true. What is more important, Knowledge or Gear? Does one have to have the latest and greatest gear to capture good images? The question sounds dumb to me. But there are a lot of people starting out in photography who believe this to be true. That you have to have a full frame sensor, you have to shoot RAW, you have to have professional lenses… blah, blah, blah. I feel you do not need any of these things to produce quality images. What you do need is a creative eye and to have an understanding of how to capture them properly with your gear.

I know just because you own a camera, it does not make you a photographer. For some, that maybe a bitter pill to swallow. My opinion, what makes you a photographer is having the ability to see and capture photos properly that speaks to your viewers. And the brand of the camera you use doesn’t matter, if it was shot as a RAW or Jpeg, if it was from a full frame sensor mirror-less body or from a cell phone… All those things are just tools for a photographer to capture images. Yes, gear does help. But like anything, if one does not know how to use it properly, the results will never be as good as someone who knows what he or she is doing. But I will also say bad gear will hurt you.

And to prove my point, I went down to Belle isle on two different weekends. On one weekend, I used only my iPhone 8 plus. And the other, with my 7D MK II with my 17-85 mm. I wanted my images to show three things. One, how cold it was outside using a limited color palette. Two, to show how colorful and alive it was inside the conservatory. And three, have all the images maintain my style of photography. Then in Lightroom, I stripped the EXIF data from all the images. Letting you, the reader, to try to figure out if you could tell what image was shot with what gear. I cannot stress enough how important it is to know how to use YOUR gear properly. Along with developing and nurturing YOUR creative eye.

Until next time,

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…

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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!!!!

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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!

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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.

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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

Using up my Bag of Tricks

Show 6, post 1: Northern Illinois Airshow

On September 9th, I drove over to Waukegan for the Northern Illinois airshow. The home show for Warbird Heritage foundation. I meet up with my good friend and fellow photographer, Rob Wetterholt. It was a great little show with a nice line up of performers along with a well laid out static display. I set out to try again to capture a sense of motion while shooting jets. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy skies in the morning and clearing skies as the day went on. By the time things started flying, the sky was clear and blue. I was a little disappointed about not getting the opportunity to try to do some cloud blurring but it’s Mother Nature, what are you going to do? For this show, I rented the Canon 5DSR again and my old friend, the 400mm F/5.6L. Canon’s 400mm F/5.6L is a hidden gem of a lenses. I bought the 100-400mm MKI and the 400 5.6 at the same time. After shooting both lenses, I was turned off by the softness of the 100-400 and sold it. I shoot the 400 5.6 for years and absolutely fell in love with its clarity and sharpness. Before I sold it and got my 500mm F/4.5, I got comfortable shooting it slow. Like 1/80th for takeoff/landing and 1/160th for flying and getting good constant results. The 400 5.6 is not a low light lenses and does not has image stabilization. But what it is, an amazing light weight sunny day lenses that is easy to shoot handheld. In ideal shooting condition, it’s a joy to shoot. I had my 500mm for about 2 years now and still growing into it. But after returning to the 400 5.6, I’m strongly considering getting it again. I had no problem with shooting it slow again.

Which leads me into the title of this post, Using up my Bag of Tricks”. After shooting for some time, I have gathered a few techniques that I like to use to help capture images that I see. These are not anything that I myself have come up with but things I use to try to make my images stand out from others. While shooting at the Northern Illinois Airshow, I got the chance to use all my bag of tricks. Which does not happen too often. This post I’m going to share with you my small but slowly growing bag of tricks.

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Shooting slow to get a sense of motion and speed

This is the hardest of my tricks and I’m still trying to master it. It is my favorite way to isolate a subject. With the background blurred out and the subject tack sharp, the result is an image that shows a great sense of speed and motion. Here’s the thing about panning, it is the same if you’re panning an aircraft in flight, a person riding a bike or a race car on the track. Panning is panning, subject does not matter. What does matter is finding a stance and motion that YOU are comfortable with while panning. It is not the same for everybody, what works well for me may not work for you. This may sound dumb but holding your gear properly is a big factor too. While shooting, you HAVE to be stable and smooth while panning. Shooting a telephoto lenses handheld and at a low shutter speed is not easy but with practice, you can master it. Two important things I want to mention. First, whatever lenses you are using, keep your fingers away from the manual focusing ring while shooting. It does not matter if your using auto focus or any other type of focusing, if you turn the manual focusing ring while shooting, it will override any other focusing type resulting in soft and or out of focus images. And second, use a single auto focus point along with continuous tracking and shooting while panning. Do not use all auto focus points along with continuous tracking and shooting while panning. You’re going to confuse the shit out of your camera and will result in soft and out of focus images.

With the 400 5.6, I shot takeoffs/landings from 1/80th to 1/100th. Shoot flying subject slow depended on the background to show a sense of motion. During the show, the sky was clear blue and was no reason to shoot slow. But one the Hoppers, flying L-39s did do a very low flat pass that on the bottom of the frame has some blurred tree tops. It is not the sharpest image but you get the idea.

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I went down to 1/30th (5DSR/400 5.6) on the Skyraider “Bad News” to get a full ark of the propeller as it taxies back to the hot ramp.

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Shooting Low

Or I like to call it, “Doing the Alligator”. Laying on the ground with the camera at ground level, shooting up at your subject. The main problem I have with doing this technique is have a clean and unclutter background. Which at most airshows and aviation events is hard to come by. I have seen this type of shot done with wide angle lenses but I like using something with a bit more reach. Along with, I like to drop the horizon as low as I can and show very little of the ground. Giving the subject a proud stance and a strong presence in the frame. It’s fun to do on a grass field too, shooting through the weeds. You can also use this technique to shoot under airshow fences like this shot from Plames of Fame. Just be careful and mindful of your surroundings. People can and will walk on top of you and your gear.

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Shooting High

Getting up and shooting down on your subjects is something I would like to do more often. There are many ways to do so. Many shows and events have portable stairs alongside aircraft so you can take a peek inside the cockpit, it’s a great location to shoot surrounding aircraft from up high. Another way to photograph aircraft from a higher location is to use a monopod, live view mode and self-timer. I add this technique to my bag of tricks last year at the Planes of Fame show. With my Canon 70D and 70-200mm, I extended all the sections on my monopod, switch to live viewing so I can see what the camera is looking at on the view screen, angled the tile screen down so when I raise the monopod up I can see what I’m trying to shoot. With the camera auto focus drive switched to self-timer 10 secs and in aperture priority @ F/4 to have a high enough shutter speed to not worry about camera shake when the camera is up in the air. Depress the shutter button to start the timer, holding the bottom of the monopod, quickly raise the camera up where I want to shoot. Looking up at the view screen tiled down, compose the shot, hold everything steady and wait for the timer to end. Lower the camera and check the results. It takes some time getting used to but well worth the effort.

Tiling the frame

This is by far the simplest trick in my bag and probably the most controversial. I have found that other either love it or hate it. I love it. I feel it adds visual interest to the subject and maybe some attitude as well. You can also combine this technique with others for even more visual interest.

Trick no# 4?

My newest trick I added to my bag I really don’t know what to call it. It’s showing an aircraft in a series of images. Each image can stand alone but place side by side, you can visualize the whole aircraft. I unconsciously started doing it at the Selfridge show. Just another way for me look at things differently and to see new images. This is something I’m going play with, nurture and make more my own.

Along with the elements of design and my mind’s eye, I feel confident I can capture images unique to me.

To view larger images, click on thumbnails

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Until next post,

Steven