As an active GA Pilot and Flight Instructor, it's great to have this forum like this. Hope to see it "take off"!
I've found air to air shots to be the most challenging of all aviation photography and would like to start a thread to see what others are doing to get the "perfect" shot. I am fortunate to always have access to an airplane as well as pilots to fly me. I can also get at some great photographic subjects...everything from Luscombe's, to a variety of biplanes, to T34's.
So far, however, I've just not been able to get the kind of pictures I would like. I've gotten some decent shots, but not great. The two below probably represent my best. The Acro Sport actually made the cover of last June's Trade-a-Plane Magazine...I guess because the composition is pretty cool. But, I'm not happy with the lighting and the resultant shadows on the airplane. This was taken with a D200, 80-400VR at 300mm, F/10 and 1/250s from a C182 with the window open in late morning light.
The next picture of the Luscombe is, in my mind, okay. But, I don't really care for the background. This was also taken from a C182, window open, D200, 105 Macro VR, F/4, 1/250 in early morning sun.
So, some of the questions I've had...how does one deal with shadow issues...where to you position the sunlight...what time of day is best for air to air work from a lighting standpoint? I purposely had both aircraft in the Luscombe shot fly towards the sun but positioned so that the light was coming in off the left front of the aircraft. Does this make sense? Could I have gotten better results with different positioning?
What about vibration? I would like to keep the shutter speed lower for prop blur, but just can't get consistent keepers below about 1/250 even with VR. Anybody else have this problem and if so how do you deal with it? I know that there are gyro units that cost a gazillion bucks but I'm not making that investment anytime soon
I have all these questions and more and would love to see some of the more experienced air to air photographers kick in some advise if you feel up to it.
Thanks in advance!
My Aviation Galleries: http://www.pbase.com/mjpastore/aviation
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#1. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 0briantilley Nikonian since 26th Jan 2003Wed 16-Apr-08 01:40 PM
Air-to-air is something I'd love to have the opportunity to try, but so far it's beyond my experience. Hopefully as more members find this new Forum, some more ideas and suggestions will come along...
#2. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 1
#3. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 2sgl308 Registered since 07th Dec 2006Thu 17-Apr-08 08:41 AM
I'm currently in MKE now, but when I lived in the Chicago area, I flew out of PWK quite a bit. What airport do you fly out of?
And I'll post some aviation photos later. Right now, I'm actually getting ready to leave for Madison to get a tour of the 115th fighter wing (F-16's and such).
#10. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 3
#4. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 1
>Air-to-air is something I'd love to have the opportunity to
>try, but so far it's beyond my experience. Hopefully as more
>members find this new Forum, some more ideas and suggestions
>will come along...
Air-to-air is also something I've wanted to try for a long time but all seats are generally taken by the pros. It is one of those Catch-22s -- you have to have experience to get the opportunity. Some of the most wonderful shots I've seen are air-to-air and I would love to have the chance just once in my life to live out my fantasy. Time is running out.
My photography loves right now are shooting WW II planes and BIF (birds in flight). The Gathering of Mustangs and Legens last year hooked me deep. Next month I will be in Chino, CA for their yearly show, then on to Reading where I have booked a flight in a B-17 during their WW II weekend, and finally, off to Michigan for another air show.
Going on a three-day wildlife shoot this weekend with about a dozen other NikonCafe members, who probably reside in Nikonians as well.
Laurel, MD USA
#5. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 0
Mike, I agree that the air to air shots are the most challenging. You have obviously mastered it, and those are some excellent examples of your work.
I had an aerial photography business on the east coast in the late 1990’s, and I hold ATP and Instructor licenses in airplanes and helicopters. About half my work was air to ground, using a Pentax 67 with the 55-105mm zoom. The zoom really helped frame the shots, and I usually worked it around 55 to 75mm. Most of my clients requested lower altitude shots with a wider angle lens, so I was always pushing the 1000 AGL limit over congested areas. Shutter speeds were as fast as possible, usually 1/1000, and the best shooting times were around noon to minimize shadows. However, my favorite pictures were taken either early or late in the day, when the sun is very low, to maximize shadows and add more dimension to the scenes.
For air to air photography, I mostly used a 200mm lens and positioned the target ac by radio commands. Occasionally I would use a 105mm or 165mm lens, or rarely a 300mm lens. To achieve a larger prop blur, I would use speeds around 1/60 and 1/125. I would have the target plane positioned pretty much like your Luscombe shot, in formation with the photo plane. I would try and shoot late in the day, with both planes flying into the sun. In comparison to your Luscombe shot, I would shoot a little more “head on” so I could get the pilot’s image in the main windscreen.
Most of these air to air shots were with the owner / pilot flying the target ac, so it was important to carefully discuss the objectives and altitudes, direction of turns and bank angle before the flight. Generally, I would hold a set course and speed, and let the target ac form up on me. I seldom did out-of-formation shots, like the one of the Acro, because I was dealing with non-professional pilots in the target plane. Too much chance of an accident.
Although it adds significant weight, I found the Kenyon stabilizer indispensable. I never had a chance to test the newer Vibration Reduction lenses, although you mention you find it hard to get below 1/250. But without any form of stabilization, you would need at least 1/500 to get a nice, crisp shot.
The strut-less Cessna aircraft would be nicer, but the great majority of my photography was in a Cessna 172, because of the cost factor. I would sit right seat with the window fully opened, which usually involves removing a small screw from the window support brace, to allow the window to fully open against the underside of the wing.
Of course, all pilots used a headset during the flight, tuned to an air to air freq.
#11. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 5Fri 18-Apr-08 02:53 AM
Thanks for the excellent advice!
I'm pretty lucky in that just about all the guys I fly with are very competent pilots. In the Acro knife edge shot, the guy in the back seat was PIC and he is a senior ATP and great GA pilot as well. The guy in the front is one of the best stick guys I know....the pilot flying me in the 182 is also a CFI and my son-in-law....and so it goes
In particular, I've been thinking that shorter focal lengths and tighter formations are the way to go. Actually, the Luscombe was taken with my 105VR. So, what you say makes a lot of sense. If I shoot my 80-400 VR at 200mm or less, I should be able to get a sharp picture with VR at 1/125s or so. It seems that if I shoot at 300 or 400 mm, I have to jump the speed so high that I stop the prop or otherwise run the risk of bluring the image.
I'll also try out your suggestion to keep the sun a bit more off the front of the aircraft. I think you're right on with that.
Speaking of strutless Cessna's I take it you are suggesting I pick up a 195 or maybe a 210? Sounds like a truly excellent idea to me! I'll speak to my wife about that
Take care, and thanks again.
My Favorites: www.pbase.com/mjpastore/my_favorites
#15. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 11seres Registered since 07th Jan 2008Fri 18-Apr-08 03:41 PM
In reference to those focal lengths I mentioned, remember I'm using a 6x7 camera. So my selection of a 200mm lens would equal 75mm or so on the D200.
Don't go out and buy that 210 just yet, unless you do a lot of air to ground, where the struts and wheels seem to get in the way with wide lenses. For air-to-air, the CE-172 is ideal, for me.
#7. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 0
Mike, like yourself I've been trying to learn more about aviation photography and I found a Fred Miranda forum that had a huge amount of information although you'll have to do quite a bit of reading. http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/600984 There's also a ton of wonderful photos there. Call it inspriation if you will. Where do you fly out of? I'm an Army helicopter pilot and I also do some GA flying when I can. If your ever in the Southern California area let me know and maybe we can work out a shoot and you can add military aircraft to your portfolio.
#13. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 7Fri 18-Apr-08 10:35 AM
That site is very cool indeed. Lots of great shots!
I fly out a small airport near O'Hare, LL10. It's a residential airport, but I don't live on the field...maybe someday!
My fist student is now flying for the Airforce which makes me prouder than heck The weird thing is that the guy that taught me to fly (and I was HIS first student) is a career pilot with the Airforce flying C-17's.
Life has its syncopation!
It would be great to do some airwork with you....hopefully my travels get me out there some day!
Take care, fly safe!
My Favorites: www.pbase.com/mjpastore/my_favorites
#8. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 0
I no longer have my ticket to fly ... let it expire a long time ago.
Your images however are well done and beautiful ... remember the author is often the worst critic of his/her work.
Member of the Nikonian Team
Paddle faster, I hear Banjos!
#9. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 8bitmaker Registered since 13th Mar 2006Thu 17-Apr-08 06:02 PM
Your shots are very nice, Mike. The Luscombe is my choice because the shadow side of the aircraft shows more detail than the Acro-Sport shot. The background isn't "too busy" for me due to the serenity and simplicity it brings to the image. Would have been nice to shoot at a larger aperture to better isolate the subject from background. Certainly sun angle to both aircraft is critical to limiting the lost detail that often happens when large areas of the subject aircraft are in shade (the Acro-Sport shot).
My air-to-air experiences prompts me to agree with much of what member "seres" posted above. I never flew and shot pictures... someone else was driving the camera aircraft while I worked the photo gear. Safety is the primary concern, and shooting air-to-air requires good comms between everybody involved. A pre-flight briefing will enhance safety and efficiency. Of course, you must choose a camera aircraft that can work within performance envelope of the subject aircraft.
Most of my air-to-air shots are of gliders on 35mm chromes working with an F4S and F5, first with the 80-200 and now the 70-200. I do not use the bayonet hood for the 70-200 but rather the screw in hood from a early gen 80-200 (can't remember right off hand Nikon's P/N for it). Both lenses are great choices, as would be the 80-400VR. I've done alot of work from C172's but my favorite camera aircraft is the Super Cub. I quickly learned how to shoot out of the 4 quadrants of the Super Cub, but did not have alot of success shooting forward (forward right or forward left) in any side by side seating aircraft.
With regard to engine vibration I developed over the years some tricks that helped me. The key is to do everything possible to isolate your body and camera from the vibration. I use extra cushions for seat and seat back, and I also throw an old sleeping bag on the floor for my feet. I strive to have no part of my body directly touching any part of the airframe. Finally, the Singh-Ray Vari-ND can be useful for isolating subject aircraft from the background when shooting in bright light and slow shutter speeds. It's not a cheap filter but allows for quick and easy adjustment of light transmission for your choice of SS/Aperture. A CPL can also be used for subject/background isolation, though it won't have as much effect early or late in the day, nor will the CPL offer the EV range adjustment of the Vari-ND.
#12. "RE: Air to Air What are Your Tricks???" | In response to Reply # 9Fri 18-Apr-08 10:25 AM
Thank you Greg for the advice!
I've not used a Vari-ND filter. I have fixed and grad ND's (Singh Ray) but not the Vari. I've started using a CP for my air shots which gives all the usual advantages of a CP plus help allow use of a lower shutter speed as you mentioned. Perhaps, I'll try a ND filter as well.
My Favorites: www.pbase.com/mjpastore/my_favorites