From the numerous years I’ve been relentlessly capturing images, I’ve never had such an elevated level of anticipation for sharing a collection of photos like the ones from this year. Browsing through them, each of them instantly takes me back to the precious moment when I captured them. Rekindling my abundance of childish excitement along with my unique sense of aesthetics. This year’s adventures started with a twofold trip back home to Virginia. Finally got to spend time with my loved ones since the beginning of the pandemic. Along with getting back into Aviation photography after a lengthy 5-year hiatus. Next, I visited Miami for the first time and added another well-lit airshow to my seasoned inventory. From there I headed out to LA where I had my first flight in a helicopter. And did two incredible photo missions over LAX. I then had the rare opportunity to photograph a flying MiG-23 at Thunder over Michigan. Unfortunately, it was at that event that it suffered an in-flight emergency, forcing the crew to eject and destroying the rare MiG in the crash. Amazingly, both pilots along with no one on the ground were injured. Following that, I had my third helicopter photo flight. This time I got to orbit the Space Needle in Seattle, along with photographing a handful of major attractions in and around the surrounding area. And let’s not forget about the intense Seaplane spotting adventure on Union Lake. Also while there, I overcame my gripping fears of street photography in Pike Place Market and produced some of my most captivating photos to date. And then there was my unforgettable adventure down in Texas trying to capture the annual solar eclipse. Finally, I attended an all-helicopter event in the Los Angeles area with the instructor pilot from my first helicopter flight over LAX and one of his potential students. Throughout 2023 I’ve managed to get reunited with or stumbled upon a bunch of genuinely kind, passionate, and like-minded individuals. My foremost takeaway from 2023 is that if one wants to have a unique and memorable experience, one must spend money to make it happen. And I foresee myself in 2024 spending a shit ton to will some to fruition.
I heard Texas calling and felt the need to revisit Houston. So, I gladly answered its call. Even though it was late in the season, this was my first event with my upgraded kit. I switched my second body (5DSR) with another 90D. Along with a middle-sized messenger bag to carry extras such as extra lenses and bottle waters. Because of Saturday’s Solar Eclipse Adventure, I attended the show just on Sunday.
Click or tap (on mobile) thumbnail to view larger image.
Canon EOS 90D DSLR (2X)
Canon EF-S 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 IS STM
Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8L USM
Canon EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
Canon EF 500mm F/4.5L USM
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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!
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.
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?!
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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Before I start my 2017 season review, there are a few things I want to share with you all about pass years. During the last few years, I have been slowly growing tired of seeing and shooting the same group of aircraft and acts along with going to the same aviation events. So, at the end of my 2016 season, I told myself in 2017 I’m going to new shows and events I have not attended and seek out aircraft I had not seen. Along with there were some shows I flat out was not going to attend to stop that cycle.
Over the years of shooting, my view of my photography has changed from going to airshows and other aviation events and thoughtlessly shooting aircraft to trying to capture images that can tell a story as well as speaks to my viewers. Building a collection of images unique to me over the course of my lifetime. In order for me to do so, I have to start seeing and shooting things differently from others. I didn’t want to shoot the same images as everybody else at any event. I wanted my images to more than just snapshots and in 2017 I was going to do something about it.
All throughout 2017, I’ve been trying to capture images that tells a story and or is unique to me. The way I went about this was to get out of comfort zone. I did not do it at every show or event I went to but when I could, I did. Like if I was going to a new show for the first time, doing something to get out of my comfort zone would not be a smart idea. It is already challenging enough shooting in unfamiliar location. But on the second day or other days of an event, then I would challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone. Once out of my comfort zone, I’m forced to see things differently and when I do, the images I produce are far superior to if I played it safe. I’ve found that these images are some of my favorites.
I have definitely changed the way I approach shooting an airshow from my first show of the season to the last. From what gear I use, seeking out better light, paying attention to what the light is doing, to what I want to show and share on my blog. At the beginning of the season I wanted to get a zoom lenses because I felt I was missing shots. So, at the TICO show I rented Canons 200-400mm F/4 as my primary lenses. But the images I was able to produce with it, had the clarity but not the look that I like. Full frame with little to no negative space around the subject which I got use to while shooting 500mm prime. After TICO, I felt I had to stay true to how I wanted to shoot. That is my 500mm is my primary lenses and a zoom as my secondary.
While at the Planes of Fame show, I noticed the very large number of photographers all shooting the same subject with basically the same gear. Prime time to be different. For the longest time I shied away from shooting people. With Saturdays weather being gray and overcast, I started working on my ground game and founded I enjoyed searching out new images with people.
And there was the frustration of Goshen, but the evening light was well worth it. Shoot the light and not the subject!
Shot out of my sunroof with my iPhone
From Goshen, I headed off to Oshkosh for my longest aviation event to date. I was told many time from many people, if you love shooting aircraft, you must go to Oshkosh. And I hesitated for years but with what was attending this year’s AirVenture, I had to go. So many great images along with such great memories. What I remember most from Oshkosh is the time I spent with other photographers. As well as the feeling of being surrounded with all things aviation related and being around other aviation nerds!
Photographically shooting at Oshkosh, it’s a target rich environment. I enjoyed just wondering into the sea of aircraft and finding hidden gems. The daily afternoon airshow offers a diverse mix of old and new. Facing east and in the the afternoon, the light is great. The only negative thing of this year AirVenture photographic, was the moving of the show line due to the USN Blue Angels. But seeing Doc and Fifi together in formation was priceless. The USAF bomber formation with the B-1, B-2 and B-52 was pretty cool too.
Selfridge open house was a disappointment flying wise, but the static display was far better. It was there where I started my personal challenge to show a sense of motion with jets. I did manage to capture two but felt I could do better. It was at Selfridge where I started a newest technique. With 3 to 4 images that could stand alone but when placed side by side, you can visualize the whole aircraft. Adding one more way to look at things differently.
At the northern illinois airshow, I continued my challenge of showing a sense of motion with jet. I also went back to some of my roots so to speak at Waukegan, I shot with Canons 400mm F/5.6. Which I shot for years until I purchase my 500mm F/4.5. I love the 400 5.6, I cannot say anything negative about it. Its tack sharp and easy to shoot slow.
The show had a great little line up, two F-86 Sabres, two AD-1 Skyraiders, a MiG-17, a TBM, a T-33, A-4 and a civilian F-5 that tore up the pattern a bit. That show was a real treat for me shooting wise, I got to use up all my “bag of tricks”. I think the Waukegan show was the only show this season I went to that it didn’t rain!
Wings over Houston was my final show of the 2017 season. A solid and strong show to end my season. Mother Nature tried hard to make a mess, but she played nice and the show went on without any hiccups. The atmosphere was amazing all weekend, the clouds and the light together made for a dramatic back drop.
What was most memorable for me during my stay in Houston was the time I spent with friends. Having dinner with Steve-O and his bunch. Running into Wil Ward and catching up with him. And a happen chance of Ken Cheung parking right next to me on Sunday morning. It’s really great hanging out with others that enjoy aviation and photography as much as I do. The sharing and making memories.
So, what to come in 2018? I want to continue to get out of comfort zone and keep trying to see things differently that results in producing images unique to me. I also desire to continue to create images that speak to viewers along with tells a story. To keep growing and nurturing my passion for photography. I feel it is crucial for me to shoot the images I want and not the images anyone can shoot. I’m going to continue to seek out aircraft I have not seen and try to shoot them in great light.
As for shows and aviation events, this winter I want to get my passport so next year I want to travel to Europe. Going to Duxford and Mach loop is on my bucket list. If not 2018, then 2019. I like to return to Florida and go to the TICO show again just due to lighting there. After this years AirVenture, I want to spend time the whole week there next year. I think those two shows will be my only repeat shows from 2017. The rest of the 2018 season, I want to find new shows and events that I have never been to. Nothing is set in stone as of now, just ideas.
Let’s talk about future gear. Planning on getting a Canon 5DSR soon. I rented one for quite a few shows this year and enjoy the higher resolution and creative cropping ability. I love showing off details of things and with 50 megapixels, it really brings out every little detail. I have been toying with the idea with getting a small mirror-less camera to increase my capacities to capture my adventures. I have found a DSLR is too big or too much camera for some situations. I have been using my iPhone more and more as a fill in the gap to help tell the stories of my travels. But it is very limiting in terms of control. Some photographers like the idea that cellphone cameras have no controls and it forces them to use what they know to capture an image. I like that idea, but I want minimum controls. As well as being able to shoot less conspicuously than with a larger DSLR. So, I have been eyeing up Fujifilm X-T20. But I just upgraded my phone to an iPhone 8 plus. Which has a better camera than my older iPhone 6. Before I go out and buy a new camera, I’m going put the new phone through it paces and see how it fairs.
During the winter, I’m going to get a new camera backpack. I have out grown my current backpack. My main complaint about it is it can not hold my laptop. It would make traveling easier if I can put my laptop in my camera backpack, so I do not have to carry an extra bag. And having my laptop with me while I’m out one of my adventures will give me the option to dump/clear my cards and not have to worry about having enough space for next day of shooting. I feel the MindShift Gear BackLight 36L Backpack will suit my needs. Size wise it is larger then my current pack and has dedicated compartments for a 10” tablet and 15” laptop.
I have found that my phone is a powerful tool when it comes to blogging. I can upload and process images in Adobe Lightroom along with write post in Microsoft word. Both apps are synced to my accounts. So, whatever I do on my phone, I can save and continue on my work station and vice versa. Being able to work anywhere with an internet connection will hopefully speed up my postings process. I do love the ability to write anywhere at anytime. I also pick up a Philips digital voice recorder. I feel it will be another helpful tool while I’m traveling. I feel confident I will continue to capture images that tells a story, speakers my views and are unique to me.