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!

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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.

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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?!

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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

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.

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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

EAA Airventure Oshkosh

If you missed Part 1, look >>Here<<

Show 4, Post 2, Part 2: Thursday and Friday

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Thursday: Day 2 at AirVenture Oshkosh

Waking up Thursday morning to find Larry and Scott had got up at ODark-Thirty to catch the Royal Air Force(RAF) Airbus A400M arriving at Oshkosh. The A400M was due to arrive early in the morning and was planning to depart during Thursday daily show. Their plans were to go on the other side of the runway to catch the Airbus landing, having all the parked aircraft in the background showing a sense of location at Oshkosh. But more about that later. I made my way to the kitchen to make some breakfast. Spoke with Peter for a while, packed up and heading over to the field.

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Looked like the Airshow Gods told Mother Nature to get her act together. The weather on Thursday was way better than Wednesday. Walking up Celebration way, Parr Yonemoto, a Canadian aviation photographer, nearly ran me over in his scooter. I’ve been seeing Parr for years at many airshows around the US and he is someone I enjoy talking to every time we meet.

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After talking with Parr, I made my way to the show line to see what happening. It just so happened that N5000A, the first production Cessna 172, was taxiing by. Restored to factory original inside and out. Such a beautiful aircraft.

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Soon after, the RAF’s A400M was on final approach. A few hours later than expected. As it touched down and started to slow, I was hoping it was going to taxi by my location and then back taxi to in front of the show line. But with its 4 massive 17 ft. diameter propeller in reverse pitch, the A400M slow very rapidly and uses very little runway on its landing. To top it off, the pilot turned the Airbus 90 degrees, opened the rear cargo door and with the crews assistance, back the colossal A400M off the runway.

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Scott and Larry catching the A400M arrive!

 

Behind and to the right of the show line was a constant buzz of activity. Come to find out it was where the ultra-lights were flying. So, I made my way over to see what’s going out. While I was there, I happen to find Rob(feeling much better) and his friend Steve. It’s amazing the power and lift those ultra-lights have. We had a blast shooting and watching the action.

Before the daily show, I was approached by Brandon Hess, the son in law of Sean Tucker, he inquired about some images of Tucker for use on social media. I normally do not shoot aerobatic acts but if this gets my images a more exposure, why not.

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I made my way back over to the show line to find a location to shoot the rest of the daily airshow. During the show, Warbirds of America was mainly jet warbirds. A bunch of L-39, 3 F-86 Sabres,  a pair of T-33s, a MiG-17 and that lovely TA-4 Skyhawk in USMC markings! Here’s a few of my favorites.

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Larry being privy to the show schedule, he texted it everyone in the group. Act 12 was a mystery.

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And when the time came, the show stopped(Yeah, AirVenture stopped) and far off to the right there was a private jet on final approach. It lands, turns and stop on to the taxiway at show center and a golf cart with Ironman stop beside it. And of all people to arrive at 2017 Airventure, guess who gets off the private jet… Yeah, Stan Lee! Still haven figure out why he showed to AirVenture but ok.

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The last two performance of Thursday show was the USAF heritage flight and the USN Blue Angels. Thursday heritage flight was a 4-ship formation with F-35 in lead, 2 P-51 Mustangs on its wings and an A-10 Thunderbolt II in the slot position.

In memory of Vlado Lenoch, both the F-35 and A-10 had special markings to honor a great pilot and friend to the airshow community who we tragically lost July 16, 2017.

The Blue Angels were supposed to fly at the end of the show to do their timing check flight. The team started up, taxied by the crowd and then turned into position for takeoff. During his turn, Boss (Blues Angels number 1 and Team leader) took his Hornet off roading. As a safety precaution, the flight was postponed so the maintenance crew could inspect for damage.

Thursday night back at the house was the most memorable part of the day for me, it was where we were all together telling each other our stories of the day, sharing images we had shot on our laptops, eating food prepared and cooked by Vincent, unwinding together as a group. Hell, even Larry laughed a few times. To add to it all, we even had our own airshow! The Blue Angels managed to get their timing flight in. It was something to see that all of us share the same fascination and passion (there’s that word again Larry) with fighter jets maneuvering at low altitudes. I was so caught up with it all, I didn’t get pictures of it all. Like Adam and his wife from Georgia, great southern folks. Along with DeKevin “DK” Thornton and his stories of the “ditch”. But that’s ok. Those moments are special and are for the group to remember. And we will! We had so much fun, we planned to do it again Friday night.

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Friday: Day 3 at AirVenture Oshkosh

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Friday morning the house was quiet. It seems the later it was in the week, the later we all slept in. Peter did get up early to shoot the morning balloon launch. In the kitchen, I got cup of coffee and checking last night’s emails. Bonnie was up early, talking to “DK” who stayed the night and was leaving after today’s show.

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Parr sent me an email, a list of daily activities showing 2 F-22 Raptors was to arrive at 10am and depart Oshkosh on Sunday. There was an Air Guard F-15 Eagle from New Orleans also going to arrive around 1pm. I wanted to catch the Raptors coming in, so I made my way over to the field early. About 9:30am, thinking I have enough time as I’m walking toward the main entrance guess what shows up? Yeah! The pair Raptors beating up the field. Oh well, there is still the F-15 coming in later.

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Once in, I got a text from two of my airshow buddies, Steve Savino and Mark Hrutkay. I met Steve and his wife on a flight from San Francisco to Ontario, California while we were both heading to Chino for the Planes of Fame airshow back in 2015. And Steve introduced me to Mark while attending Wings over Houston the same year. They had a spot picked out where their wanted to shoot from on the new crowd line. Yeah!, the new crowd line. For Fridays and Saturdays airshow, the line was moved back for safety reasons.

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From a photographic stand point you now are farther away from your subjects and you have a couple rows of parked aircraft in between you and the active runway, making take off shots more difficult.

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The line of poles is where the new crowd line is

 

Come lunchtime, Steve and I decide to get something to eat. One of his friends watched our gear while we were getting food. Sure enough, after I placed my order and pay for my food, guess what shows up? Yeah!, the New Orleans F-15! Nice light, clear skies, flying close and not a single frame of it. Oh well, it was cool to watch. I did catch the NASA T-38, not as cool as the Eagle but check out that exhaust!

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I’m a warbirds lover. For me the highlights during the daily show was seeing the flight of 3 P-63 KingCobras, 3 B-25 Mitchells, both B-29s in the air at the same time (it was not a formation), the 3 F-86 Sabres again, along with getting another shot at that USMC TA-4.

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Friday was the first time the Blue Angels performed at AirVenture. The Blues always put on a good show despite the no# 2 was a “Family model”. I myself have lost track on the number of times I’ve seen the Blues but it was enjoyable to photograph them some pleasing light.

And the final act of Fridays show was again the USAF Heritage flight with a Gu-11 and 2 A-10s.

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Ha Ha . The Heritage flight was with a P-51 and 2 A-10s. The F-35 team had a day off.

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Again, my most memorable part of Friday was at the house with the group. Meeting new people, sharing our experiences, eating and laughing. That night Gary Edwards, Craig Swancy and Gary Daniels came over to the house for dinner. I didn’t get a chance to spoke to much with Gary Edward and Craig but Gary Daniel turns out to be a designer, photographer and a grill master! Larry had invited Joseph “Gonzo” Gonzales, who works with Air Education and Training Command(AETC) with planning of the USAF Heritage flights and Demo teams.  Oh man, he had a bunch of wild and funny stories from his travels.

later that evening, part of the group wanted to go over to the WWII re-enactors camp in the morning and see if they could get a few re-enactors to pose around some aircraft in warbird alley. It sounded like a great idea and it turned out to be quite an awesome photo shoot. More about that in part 3!

Steven

2017 Planes of Fame Airshow Post Show comments

 

Show 2, Post 2: Holy Photographers, Batman!

The Planes of Fame airshow draws two things, warbirds and photographers. Since I been coming out to Chino, it seems there are more and more people shooting the show. Canon, Nikon, Sony, DSLR’s, point and shoot and a bunch of iPhones along with iPads, out and about shooting away. It’s a wonderful show for any type of photographer to hone their eye as well as skills shooting aircraft. From WWII reenactors to pilots and crew, and you got to love the all-day photo passes! You’re in a target rich environment,  so shoot away!

 

One of this year’s personal challenges was to shoot the with Canon 5DSR which is more for landscape photography and studio work. With a max frame rate of 5fps and the buffer speed, shooting the fast pace of an airshow is asking a lot from the 5DSR. But with 50.6 megapixels, along with the clarity of my 500mm F/4.5, the potential for some breathtaking images are high. I again shot slow, Sunday’s weather was perfect for some cloud blurring. I pretty much shot everything in shutter priority from 1/160th to 1/200th second. I wanted to show a sense of motion and not an aircraft frozen in the sky.

 

My other personal challenge was to photograph people of the show, reenactors, veterans, pilots as well as other photographer. It is something I shy away from and feel I’m not good at. Plus, I’m really picky when it comes to images of people. I dislike images of people looking straight into the camera, the candid snap shot with no thought or care of the scene. So, I got out of my comfort zone and started seeing other things more interesting than the warbirds buzzing around the circuit. In fact, I’m more excited about my images with people than the one without.

I think of all the images I shot that weekend, this one is my favorite. It is not as sharp as I like it but I feel it still works. The big and proud reenactor, the happiness of the little boy and the Dad (I guess) giving the “thumbs up”.

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Until next post,

Steven