Low Flying in 2019

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Saturday, Jan 5, 2019

Flight Plan, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2

Welcome to 2019!  I guess now would be the proper time to say that I haven’t shot anything since last year, feel free to insert a bit of laughter at this point.  OK, now that the cheese is done, let’s get on to business.  I’ve been having a lot of fun with the camera here in the last few weeks and have captured some really great images.  Not wanting to change that flow, I was wanting to get out again this weekend, but looking at the weather it was not looking to be very promising.  There were bright sunny days forecasted for both days that I would be off.  The only sliver of hope was early Saturday morning which was supposed to have a good many mid level clouds to work with.  I was only going to have about an hour, maybe an hour and a half after sunrise to work with these clouds so the trick was going to be what to shoot?  I needed it to be something close since there wasn’t going to be much time available to shoot before the sky went boring.  I was thinking about doing some work at a restoration shop near the house, but the last time that I went by there, not much had changed in terms of what was there.  I thought about a barn, but I really didn’t want to shoot the particular barn that I was thinking about.  One thing that I had thought about was an old Douglas cargo plane that has recently returned to Smith Reynolds Airport which I shot about a year ago. This plane has always been one of those subjects that captures my attention.  It is just full of character and history.  More importantly though, it is easily accessible for me and the camera.

I have been considering how I wanted to shoot it since it returned a few weeks ago.  My desire was to have some fast moving clouds in the sky and to get up close with a wide angle lens and a 10 or 15-Stop ND filter to allow the clouds to move across the sky.  With the forecast for Saturday morning having some good cloud cover and some wind, there was a decent chance that I was going to be able to capture just that situation with the possibility of some color in the clouds.  It was close by, the weather would work, I wouldn’t have to hunt anything in the limited time I had, so this was my best bet for a morning shoot.

Toni and I woke up a little before 6am to get to the airport before the sun came up.  My goal was to use the blue hour to capture some light painting possibly.  However, while we were heading that way, I was looking at the sky.  It was pretty much clear which was in direct opposition to what the forecast was calling for.  In fact, there was supposed to be a little drizzle coming through the area as we would be arriving.  I guess the lack of rain was a nice surprise, but I was really wanting clouds.  When we arrived, the plane was there as expected and there was actually some nice color developing in the sky to the East.  I drove around the plane and saw that there was a possibility of capturing the sunrise as a backdrop to the plane.  I parked, and we got out.

Wheels Up At Dawn, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2

I had to move quick since the sun was already coming up and the sky was showing some nice color.  I picked out my composition and built the camera with the 24-70mm lens so I could have a little flexibility with my compositions.  I got down low and framed the nose of the aircraft with a puddle in the lower right.  That puddle captured some of the details of the plane and grabbed some of the color from the sky.  It was a simple composition, and nothing like what I was expecting to shoot today.  But, as a photographer, we get used to changing plans in the middle of the day.  I had gotten my first shot out of the way which is always the hardest.  From there, I started looking for other images that might have a little more creative feel.  Something I have found that I enjoy is working with the landing gear, so I moved to the nose and started to see what I could do there.  The trees on the other side of the road were silhouetted against the sky very nicely, so I considered using that as a background.  I worked a couple of compositions with the nose gear and finally found one that I liked shot vertically.  It had a nice color balance due to the tow bar that was attached to the gear which matched the sky.  There were several diagonal elements present that really helped add some drama as well.  It wasn’t the overly dramatic image that I had hoped for, but it was not bad at all.

Two Trees, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2

I was moving around and trying to find another composition to get, but wasn’t finding anything that I particularly liked.  I was getting a little frustrated and knew that I liked the trees on the other side of the road, so decided to just shoot those.  I swapped out to my 70-200mm lens for the reach I needed and framed up a nice tight shot of two of the trees with a long cloud behind them.  The color was really nice, and the silhouettes made the image interesting.  At this point, I was just trying to find my groove with this scene.  If nothing else, I had a sunrise landscape in the books.  With the long lens attached, I was able to start looking for isolations in the warm morning sun.  I found myself going right back to the landing gear, but this time, I was looking at the main gear under the wing.

Strutting, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2

This time, I wasn’t looking to use the gear as a foreground interest for the sky, I was wanting to take advantage of the light that was falling on the gear with the hint of warm tones with the wheel chocks and the reflected sunlight.  I worked out a composition that balanced the gear both near and far along with the struts.  There were powerful geometric designs present here and I really liked the lines and how they all seemed to frame the actual wheel and tire.  I found that a very nice shot worked well here.  I thought about adding a polarizer, but I decided that the water glare on the tarmac actually added to the image with some visual interest.  In fact, I never put on a single filter for the course of this shoot.  That is odd for me, but it just didn’t seem like it was needed.  There was plenty of saturation in the morning light, and the reflections were actually helping the images. Sometimes, I just feel like shooting nekked…I wished it was warmer though.  Speaking of the temperature, it was getting rather cold out here in the wind.  Toni resorted to walking laps around the parking lot to stay warm.  I just cursed my fingers for going numb which made operating the camera a bit difficult.

I was trying to get other compositions that focused on isolated elements but was finding that nothing else was really working.  It was about this point that I saw that the sky was starting to get pretty with a few passing clouds catching the color of sunrise.  I started to frame up some compositions on the tail of the plane but didn’t like how it was looking at 70mm.  I ran back over to my bag and swapped out to my 16-35mm lens to give me a better ability to capture the sky as it was developing.  There still wasn’t enough movement to justify a long exposure like what I was wanting, but I was getting my color which was good enough for me.

Morning Props, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2

With the wide angle lens, my world quite literally broadened right in front of my eyes.  I got in close to the puddle once again and framed up a shot really quick as the color was changing.  I fired off the first shot and saw that there was a leaf in the puddle right where the nose was.  By the time I realized that, the color was fading and I had lost my moment so I didn’t bother retrieving the leaf.  At least I got a shot off in time.  I was seeing a lot more color developing to the West which was a nice surprise since the best lighting on the plane was on the East side.  I quickly moved over to that side and started to look for compositions.  This was a bit easier as I have worked this side before.  What I had to focus on was incorporating the colorful clouds behind the plane.  That took a bit of work because I was trying to get the shape of the clouds to mimic the shape of the plane as best I could.

Air Worthy, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2

One thing that I don’t like about this location is the power lines and all of the city clutter in the background.  But, what I have learned is that the distractions are minimized by filling the frame with the plane and going really wide to soften the background and keep it from being too prominent.  I was happy that there was another puddle on the tarmac that I could use to grab some color and some background detail as well.  The colors in the sky were starting to pop in this direction and I thought that they really set off the plane.  I was starting to get excited about this shoot finally!  I thought again about adding a polarizer, but decided against it since I was shooting so wide.  Polarizers have a tendency to make the sky look strange used with a very wide angle lens.  You can see that there is a section here on the right half that is a bit darker, and that would have been very accentuated with the polarizer.  That effect didn’t appeal to me for this image and I just wanted it to appear natural.

Early Glow, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2

Shooting with a wide angle lens doesn’t mean that you are restricted to just wide shots.  Oh no, you can get in very close and really take advantage of the perspective distortions afforded by the wide angle.  That is just what I did when I got in close to the nose.  I had been watching the light adding a beautiful warm glow to the fuselage which I wanted to capture against the sky.  I got off center a bit and used the tow bar to lead the eyes into the frame which placed the gear doors in a complimenting position to add another diagonal from the top left.  The red striping on the side added yet another diagonal, all of which brought your eyes in, and actually helped to frame the clouds on the left side of the frame. The perspective distortion added so much drama, and the lighting was just fantastic.  I don’t think that there is any doubt in my mind that this is my favorite image of the day.  It came close to capturing what I was hoping for this morning, but without the long exposure part of the equation.

Having been at the location for about an hour or so, I had shot 70 images which actually surprised me.  I was expecting a good deal less.  After I got done processing, I found seven that I liked enough to keep which again surprised me.  I was really expecting no more than four to turn out.  It was a decent morning, I was really hoping that the clouds had been here like they were supposed to be, but I really can’t argue with the results.