Aesthetics

This is the last part in a series I call “Exploring My Creativity”. An examination of my creativity. Being an inspired individual, this is something I feel I must do to expand my thought process. As long as I can remember, I have been doing creative things. And it seems to grow more complex the older I get. At the start of 2018, I told myself I wanted to embrace the idea of “Concentration and not Validation”. To focus on what drives me to be creative and not seek out the instant gratification of social media. The last part in this series, I want to talk about is my sense of Aesthetics. If you haven’t, be sure to check out parts one and two, Passion along with Inspiration.

What is aesthetics? According to Wikipedia, it’s a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of art, beauty and taste and with the creation or appreciation of beauty. Here’s my simple definition, why things look good, how to create something appealing as well as how to present it. I know it is far more complicated than that. I have always been a bit of a philocalist, a lover of beauty. From images & artwork, music & movies, the human body, and even moments in time. This will not be a post about me explaining my sense of aesthetics. What I do want to share with you all is how my sense of aesthetics effects my everyday life, how it effects the things I create along with how it effects the way I see the world. Be warned, this will be subjective.

My sense of aesthetics is responsible for me having an extremely critical eye. It doesn’t matter what I’m looking at, if it’s an image, a scale model, a surface detail on a vehicle or how light shines on someone’s hair. How is it composed? Are the proportions balanced? Should I Shoot in Landscape or portrait? And that’s just for photography. My eyes and brain are constantly evaluating the aesthetics of things. I’ve learned to put my critical eye to good use. And a good example of this is at work.

I’ve been an automotive clay sculptor for various major companies for the past 20 years. The easiest way to describe my job is, a designer draws an idea, I sculpt that idea out of clay and change it until management is happy with it. First in scale, then full-size making hundreds of changes along the way. As I model, I’m constantly asking myself questions. First, does the model look like the designer’s sketch? Then, if not, what do I have to change to make it look like it? Then I’ll make the necessary changes and ask the same questions again. All the while, being very critical and brutally honest about every surface I create.

Just like my passion, my attention to detail has infiltrated and spread into every part of my life. Over the years, it has become a finely tuned way of seeing the world around me. From how I see images with my photography to sculpting new automotive products at work. It is something I have learn to embrace and use to better my work. Because of it, I know I see things differently than most. I see all the details before I see the whole thing. And if the details are done poorly, I lose interest, move on and don’t see the complete object or picture.

That sharp attention to detail is also a habit that has found its way into my model making. As I build a kit, I treat each part like little models. Putting as much detail into it as possible. I also spend a considerable amount of time addressing how the kit comes together. Hiding the seams and joints to make it appear to be seamless. Even come time to paint, I’ll sometimes spend 30 to 40 minutes masking something off that only takes 2 or 3 minutes to airbrush. All the extra care and attention I put into the build, will make for a more visually appealing model. That ceaseless questioning the aesthetic’s of things along with my attention to details has made me a masterful sculptor and model maker.

Holy Tape Batman

As a photographer, knowing what makes a good image along with being able to see the image before you shoot it heavily influences my sense of aesthetics. When I’m behind my camera, if I’m at an aviation event or on one of my adventures, I’m not looking for subjects to shoot. Instead, I’m searching for some interesting light. “Shoot the light not the subjects” is a fundamental principal of my process to capture images. I feel the light in an image can make or break it. It can set the mood, make it pop, add dimension, and even direct one’s eye.

Fear the BONE

One of my photographic practices I enjoy doing, is to walk through the belle isle conservatory with my camera in hand, but not shooting anything. As I walk from room to room, I’m looking at the light. What is it doing? What direction is it coming from? Is it a reflection? Once I’ve made a complete lap of the conservatory, I then go through again shooting the subjects in the light that stood out to me. I try to keep track of the time of day, weather and sometimes even the season. Maybe the image is an afternoon shot, maybe it would be better on a sunny day or even wait until springtime when everything is in bloom? And yes, I have waited for months to capture a certain image. I have found that I produce better images if I do this walk around first then if I had not. And I did something similar during my trip to Antelope Canyon, by booking two differently timed tours.

We all have a medium of storytelling that we love, mine is cinematic. Some prefer to read; I enjoy watching storytelling. My sense of aesthetics has altered the way I view movies and shows. Some say I’m overly critical when it comes to things I watch. My suspension of disbelief does not tolerate garbage. A poorly conceived story, weak characters, predictable plots, shitty visual and special effects along with crappy cinematography and editing. All contributing to poor storytelling. Which is becoming a dying art form that is increasing due to absurd number of reboots along with the poorly rehashing of established materials.

Even though they are only a few minutes long, there are videos on YouTube that I enjoy far more than those multi-million-dollar Hollywood productions. For example, “Nerdwriter’s” brilliant video essays, to the entertaining maker “This Old Tony”, along with “Sean Tucker’s” personal life-long journey into photography. Regardless of content, they all are clearly passionate about their work. And it’s that noticeable hint of passion I can identify with.

This personal journey of exploring my creativity has been a healthy personal struggle. And through struggles, we grow. It started with a question and took me along an unexpected path that taught me something about myself. And what have I learned? That my creativity is divided into three unique elements. Passion is my fire; Inspiration is my fuel and Aesthetics is my vision. That all three needs to be nurtured and managed with care. My creativity is only one of my numerous fragments that makes me who I am.

Thanks for coming along,

Steven

On a side note, my distaste for social media has slowly eroded with my return to Instagram along with the start of a Flickr account. I’m using Instagram as a creative writing exercise. Sharing a brief story with each image. And Flickr is going to be the place where I show my images. Due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, my March and April adventures had been put on hold until we get through this. Stay safe everybody.

The Pain of Sorting

If you have spent any time photographing airshows, you know just how rapidly you can shoot a 1000 images. After I shoot a two-day event, I can easily have over 8000 images. It can be a bit overwhelming trying to sort through thousands of photos. After years of shooting, sorting, and uploading images, I have come up with a system of sorting image that helps me find the images I want to show and share. They are no right or wrong way to sort your images. This is just what I have learned that works well for me. It may or may not work for you. With that being said, this is how I sort my images I want to share.

To start, it would good have an idea of what you are trying to show? Are you just documenting the event? Showing a series of events. Are you trying a photographic technique like panning? Maybe your following a certain act or performer. Me, I want to show the overall feeling of the TICO show for my blog. I try to limit myself to 50 images per event. Images with vibrant clarity and unique to me. Before I even start my sorting process, I make a duplicate set of images I’m going to be working with. I never play/sort/edit… with the original’s files. In my system, I look at every image I shot during that event. Yes, every last one of them. The truth is, you do not know what you got until to see it. It’s exciting went you stumble upon something unexpected. You also have to understand that this process happens over a couple days and not in one sitting. Personally, I could not imagine taking images and not looking at them. What would the point of capturing images and not looking at them?

cropped-open-show-folder.jpg

Basically, my system is viewing all my images from a show or an event and in a series of rounds, I delete the crap and get to a set number of images that show what I’m trying to tell. I used Window image viewer to view and delete unwanted photos. I find the copied folder(s) and open the first image and start sorting. Hitting the next image button if it’s a keeper or delete it if it’s junk.

window image viewer

The first round of images I delete are the painfully obvious out of focus photos. Along with images that my subject is blocked by something. Hats, heads, antenna, speaker, airshow smoke, other aircraft…Gone. Along with images that parts of the subject is cut off. Missing noses, tails, wings, horizontal stabilizer. The struggle is Real.

Rules can be broken. It could make for something interesting images.

For the TICO show, I shot a tad over 7,900 images over 3 days on 2 bodies. (7DMKII and 70D) After the first round, I’m down to about 3500 images. For the next round of deletions, images that don’t fill the frame as I liked. I enjoy showing aircraft as large as possible with little to no negative space around it. So, all the images I feel are too small must go. You have to find the images that has the spacing that you like.

Also, in this round if there are a few clouds in the sky (not completely overcast but a few here and there) like on Friday and Saturday, those images stayed. But the images with a clear blue background, delete. Aircraft live and play in the sky. For me, it’s pretty boring seeing an aircraft perfectly centered in a clear blue sky.

No clouds

And with!

I love showing clouds, but my new thing is blurring them. It’s difficult to do but it shows a sense of motion along with making your subjects really stand out and pop. Some photographers use image stabilization while panning, I get better results without and don’t use it. This works well for me. You have to use what works well with You.

Another type of image I delete in this round are uninteresting belly shots, images where the wing of the aircraft is covering the canopy along with going away shots. Images where you are looking at the ass end of an aircraft with nothing interesting to see. Like the flames of an afterburner, some dangling vertices or a puff vapor. In general, I feel  most belly shots are boring image. And I don’t want to lose my readers attention with dull images. The proposes of sorting this way is to find the most visual pleasing image possible.

Now, I am down to about 250 images. In this round, it’s time to get rid of the multiples or duplicate images that looks the same but shot on different days. For instants, Sunday’s weather crapped out and very few Sunday images made the cut. Here are two similar  shots, the first one is from Friday’s show and the second is from Sunday’s show. I feel Friday images are much better than Sundays. After this round, my image count should be in the 100 to 120ish range.

Final round. Now, the hard part starts. Weeding it down to 50. This is where it is important to know what your trying to show. To pick the correct images for you. What helps me, is to ask myself a series of questions and being brutally honest with myself.

What makes this image better than the others? Does this image express what it is I’m trying to show? Which has the better uses line, color, composition, symmetry? Which image has the better or cleaner background? Is there something else taking away attention from the subject? Which image has the better exposure?

After this round, it’s post process time. The less time I spend in Lightroom and or Photoshop, the sooner I can upload and post. Now I’m down to 50. This number is not set in stone. Events like AirVenture at Oshkosh are too grand to cover with just 50 images. Again, therefore I feel it is so important to know what it is you are trying to show. My sorting process is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a system. A system that help me weed through the crap and discover my gems. I hope my process can help you with your madness of sorting.

To see my final selection of images, look here https://anadventureinawesome.com/2017/05/27/better-late-than-never/

Until next post,

Steven

The Lessons behind an Image: Part One

For the past 14 years, I have had a passionate love affair with photography. Like with anything we love doing, we run into problems as we learn and grow. And the more problems we face, work through and learn from them, the better our work will be. I’m a huge fan of the “Try, Fail, Learn, Repeat” Cycle. And I have learned some difficult lessons in photography because of this learning cycle. Normally this series is about the story of an image. But today I’m going to switch it up and call this one “The Lessons behind an Image.” Sharing a valuable lesson, I learned from one of my photos.

Part Four: Lessons learned

2004 was the start of my love affair with photography. Earlier in that year I got my first DSLR camera, Canons Digital Rebel. With a whopping 6.3 megapixels, numerous 7 Auto focus points and that cheap silver plastic body, it was one of the first DSLR you could buy for under $1000. I loved mine and took it everywhere. And that June, it came with me to the Grosse Ile Air Extravaganza for my second airshow of the season. Of the couple of hundred images I shot that day, here’s a series of eight I want to share with you. It’s of this gorgeous P-51 Mustang.

film roll of mustang

Of the eight images, for me only one stands out. As soon as I saw the Mustang, I knew there was an interesting image there. And at the time, I was very new to photography. I really didn’t have an understanding of what I was doing. I knew there was an image of this beautifully polished P-51 with a bunch of crap around it. I remember feeling the struggle and lack of confidence of trying to capture the image in my minds eye with the camera. I had two problems. First, what do I see that is so interesting? Where does it start and stop? And second, how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? You can see in the second image in the series, there is at least 7 cars, a C-130, a row of porta johns in between the canopy and the vertical stabilizer, some tents over the right wing and what the heck are these folks looking at over the left wing!

To overcome my first problem of what do I see that is so interesting. Where does it begin and end? Here is where the beauty of digital photography comes in to play. With a large enough media card, you have the opportunity to shoot far more than if you were to shoot on film. Since I began photography, I have always believed to carry with you more than enough memory cards. I never want to get into a situation where I would run out of memory while out shooting. Two things I remember many photographers telling me at the start of my photographic journey. One, invest in glass and two, get the largest memory card you can afford. It will give you the freedom to shoot all day and never have to worry about how many shots you have left.

So, I shot the mirror like finish Mustang like a machine gun. I shot with more confidence knowing that at the end of the day, I could explore my subjects freely and capture what interest me. This runs into my second issue; how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? How I did it was the easy part. I just positioned myself in a way that the aircraft itself covered up the unwanted clutter. But what I feel is more important is the why. And it is a lesson I have come to learn over the years, but I can still trace it back to this one image.

Knowing where the edges of your images are. To Isolate your subject along with hiding the unwanted and unnecessary clutter. Looking back on the image, when I took the shot, I didn’t know where the edges of that image was. But you can see me searching for them in the series of images. Close, getting closer, spot on, getting cold and then revisiting it. I feel knowing where the edges of your images are an important part of knowing what it is you are trying to show. One thing through the years that has help me define the edges of my images has nothing to do with aviation at all.

It was when I lived in Downtown Detroit and I would frequent the conservatory on Belle isle. There I came up with a system that taught me to slow down and to see what it is I was looking at. Once in the conservatory, I would walk through all the rooms, gear still in my bag, searching for things to shoot and keeping mental notes of subjects of interest. Then after making my way back to the entrance where I began, with my ideas for images, I would then gear up and retraced my steps. When I got to something I wanted to shoot, I would stop, focused in on what is catching my eye. Once I have an idea of what it is, I would set up my tripod, compose the shot, shoot and review. If it is not to my liking, I’ll recomposes and shoot again until I’m happy.

 

FAR_90

It was the complete process of evaluating the location, finding subjects of interest and the slow act of setting up my tripod. All the while, curiously studying my subject and mentally composing the shot. That help me start to discover where my images began and ended. From this one image, I learned two things. One, to keep shooting your subject until you feel you have captured the image that is in your mind’s eye. And Two, knowing where the edges of your images are. It took me many years and thousands of images, before I was conscious of how important these two lessons were to my photography.

Be sure to check out

The Story Behind an Image, Part five

The One and Only

Wings over Houston 2018

Here I am Monday morning sitting downstairs in the hotel having some coffee still energized from how amazing yesterday’s show was. Wings over Houston 2018, the one and only show I attended this year. True be told, as of last week I was more excited about getting out of Michigan and hanging out with my friend Rob Wetterholt then the show itself. I’ve always enjoyed his level of excitement about aviation as well as photography. This would be his first time going to the Houston show and I doubt it will be his last. As for my blog, I had no agenda of any kind for the show. My only plan was to go and have fun. Last week, I was thinking that I would have very little to nothing to write about along with sharing my images from the show. Normally don’t like the idea of writing a play by play post about an airshow. But because of the access we got, and it was a pretty awesome adventure, it’s worth sharing. I know we all have an airshow or some type of aviation event we would love to re-shoot or redo if we had the chance. From the countless shows and events, I’ve been to, hands down Sunday at Wings over Houston 2018 is that show. Holy Shit! It was amazing!

It all started Saturday, the weather was crappy with overcast sky and a very low ceiling. I was amazed that the Blues flew in that soup. Sunday’s weather looked more promising. Like I said earlier, I had no plans other than hanging out with Rob, having fun and maybe take some pictures. Well Rob knows a guy in the Coast Guard, Charlie “The Mayor” Wilson. He in turns knows Chris Ebdon, photographer, aircrew as well as the admin for social media for the Collings Foundation at Ellington field. Rob and Chris had been texting back and forth during show. We finally got to meet face to face after the show. During our convention, he informed us that there was supposed to be a photo flight with the Collings Foundation F-4 and F-100 after the show but the weather pooped out. But it was rescheduled for Sunday morning. We continued to chat it up for a while and then Chris offered us if we wanted to see the Collings Foundation other aircraft in their hangers? Yeah! Who doesn’t want to see that? So, we piled onto Chris’s golf cart and we were off to the Collings hangers! Once there Chris opened their hanger and…. There was their Huey and TA-4J crammed into the hanger. Chris was very knowledgeable and offered us an informative look at the Collings Foundations operations. We also got to climb around their Me-262. Such a wonderful collection of warbirds.

Before we left, Chris informed Rob and I about the morning Photo flight with the foundations F-4 and F-100. Turns out Professional aviation photographer Scott Slocum was heading out over the gulf in an L-39 to photograph them both. Chris offered to take us in the morning to the ramp, so we could shoot them start up and takeoff. We were all aboard! How often do you get a chance to see and shoot a real live F-4 and F-100 taking off in the morning light? Yeah, and it gets better!

So, the plan was to get up at the crack of dawn and head over to the Collings hanger to meet Chris and head over to the hot ramp. We had an issue at the gate that could have shut us down our little adventure. But Rob called Chris, he meets us at the gate and quickly cleared up the issue. We quickly packed up our gear, piled onto Chris’s golf cart and raced over to the hot ramp. Wings over Houston does have a morning photo tour for photographers, but they were restricted access while the aircraft were started. But with Chris being part of the Collings aircrew, we got to stay close and keep shooting.

 

During the startup, Chris contact airport operations to see if someone could take us out to the runway so we could shoot both the F-4 and the F-100 taking off. He got a hold of his contact and soon after, here comes a Ford Expedition with Ellington field operations on the side of it. Yeah, This is going to happen!!! At this time the F-4 was started up and was making its way to the runway. We jumped in the OP’s Expedition and we got dropped off yards away from the western side of the runway. It would had been better if we could had been on the eastern side of the runway with the sun behind us. But I’m grateful for just getting the chance to be out by the runway. 7D MK II along with 500mm F/4.5 in hand, I’m ready for this! In the distance you can hear the two J-79’s roar to life. Here we are in the morning light, next to the active runway where the Collings Foundation F-4 is barreling at us! Excited is an understatement!

The One and Only_291

Personal disclaimer: Wings over Houston was the first show I had shot in about a year. So, my shooting skills were a bit rusty. The image I wanted from this is the burner shots after the aircraft passes us. I got this… sort of. It’s cropped but it works. But more importantly, I’m happy with it. It’s never the one you want but it’s the one I got.

The One and Only_325

After both aircraft took off, I turned to Chris and said “You know I’m buying you dinner! Does not matter where! Whatever you want!” We were hoping to stay put until the both aircraft returned. We knew both aircraft were going to do a few touch and go’s before landing. But soon after all the aircraft involved in the photo flight were airborne, airport operations came and grabbed us up. We thank them for the great opportunity then jumped on Chris’s cart to head for the other end of the runway to catch them land. Chris spotted out a location on flight line in front of the crowd line to shoot them touchdown. The F-4 came back first, did two touch and go’s before landing using its break parachute. Shortly after the F-100 did the same but with the pop of the burner as the power was added for the touch and go!

Again, Rob and I jumped onto Chris’s cart and headed over to the Coast Guard hanger to see if we could shoot them pre-flight and start up before their demo. Rob and Chris both know Charlie Wilson and he is well known at the base in Houston. The Coasties were very welcoming to the idea! As we are there hanging out in front of the hanger waiting for start of their demo, the alarm sounds! The crew must gear up and go to work! The demo bird on the tarmac is now going on a mission and we are going to shoot them gear up and go to work!

The back up bird was pulled from the hanger and placed on the hot ramp. Chris’s plan was to shoot the pre-flight, start up and then head out across the runway where the Demo was to place and shoot with the sun at our backs.  As a seasoned veteran of the show, Chris know actually where the Coast Guard was going to do their demo. We parked, and Rob ask Chris “Is this where we are going to shoot from?” No sooner than that, we look up and there is Debby Rihn-Harvey in her Cap 232 known as the Hurricane 2, nose down and pulls up feet over our head. Chris’s reply was priceless, “Is this good enough for you Rob?”  Right in the middle of the airshow box!

Soon after Phillips 66 Aerostars landed, the Coasties Dolphin was inbound to start their search and rescue demo. First pass was their high-speed pass down the show line. Follow by gear down transition to a hover to lower the rescue swimmer, pretty much right in front of us. Being that close, was very exhilarating. Such an awesome sight and sound! I’m thinking, how much cooler can this get?

Well, during the show Saturday, retired Lt. Col. Jerry “Jive” Kerby flew in a freshly painted A-4 Skyhawks from Draken International and was scheduled to leave during the show Sunday. He was heading out west to do some aggressor work. Shortly after the Coast Guard search and rescue demo was over, Jive taxi Draken lovely scooter to the active runway, gets clearance for takeoff, power comes on and the little A-4 leaps off the runway effortlessly on a downwind takeoff! The gear starts its slow trip to their wheel bays and all the time racing towards us! Yet another amazing opportunity!

Tora! Tora! Tora!!! Has always been one of those acts I felt I never captured well until now. Shooting them from inside the airshow box at tree top level with pyro going off on either side of us was sensory overload! Our location gave us a unique perspective of their act, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Orbit after orbit, I swear they were aiming right for us!

I normally don’t shoot video, but here’s a short video of the action from our location!

After that intense round of shooting, the World War II bombers and fighters made their way to the runway. With a close and unobstructed view their take off roll, I dropped my shutter speed to show a sense of speed and the power of takeoff. Once airborne, we had a great opportunity to caught them flying in front of the dark clouds of smoke from the pyro going off. With the lightning and our location, it made for some visually stunning image capturing.

After all that action on the field, we headed to the crowd line before the Viper demo started. That is where we ran into the pretty eyed Zoe “SIS” Kotnik, next year’s Viper demo pilot and the first female to do so. “You Go Girl!” After the Viper demo, we again hopped on Chris’s cart and wondered about for some food. Our pace slowed down a bit until the Blues started up and we headed back to the show line where we shot the Viper demo.

Having seen the Blues a ton of times, the only shot I wanted to capture was the sneak pass down the show line. From our vantage point, we had a great line of site as his sneaky approaches. Saturday was soggy with tons of humidity, and Sunday was fair skies but dry. The day with no vapor, that’s the day I’m going to nail the sneak pass. Go figure?!

The One and Only_4202

Before the Blues finish up and landed, we head over to the hot ramp to see what maybe leaving after the show. Traffic leaving the show is going to suck, so why not hang out with the Collings Foundation aircrew on the hot ramp. As the sun start to set, we find a spot up on show line to shoot from. With the show day winding down, Blue Angels 1-6 along with two number 7’s starts up and taxi out to the runway to head back home to NAS Pensacola. The Blues departure in some very nice crisp afternoon light. Soon after, we hear the turboprops of Fat Albert come to life. With the Stars and Stripes flying from the top of the cockpit, Fat Albert taxi by us on the way it’s way to the runway.

Now the sun sets and the light is fading fast, we hop on Chris’s cart one last time to head over to the Collings hangers. As we weave our way through statics, we hear the sound of a helicopter running about to take off. As we get closer, we realize it’s the National United States Armed Forces Museum beautiful CH-46! Chris makes a formula one pit stop and we dismount off the cart, frantically bust out the gear one more time and started shooting. What a nice final opportunity with the moon in the background. We finished the long but incredibly awesome day at Pappasito’s Cantina for dinner.

I have to give a huge THANK YOU to all the Houston members of the Collings Foundation, Ellington field airport operations, along with all the volunteers, staff, pilots as well as the performers who makes Wing over Houston possible along with all their welcoming and kind hospitality. I can’t thank Chris Ebdon enough for letting us shadow him during the show, You’re Awesome!

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Until next post,

Steven