Well, This is Something Different

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

On the Tarmac

I really had no plans to go out this weekend with the camera.  It was going to be a restful weekend at home for a change.  However, the clouds kept tempting me to go out and shoot a cargo plane that was apparently in for repairs at Smith Reynolds Airport.  I’ve been watching this plane for several weeks now and have been trying to figure out the best time and way to shoot it.  I had pretty much settled on a long exposure set either in the blue hour with a good bit of light painting, or during a windy day with the clouds moving across the sky.  I was trying not to shoot it in the typical fashion during the day.

The problem was, the clouds were never cooperating with me.  They weren’t right in the blue hour to get the right kind of definition in the sky with the long exposure.  They weren’t moving quick enough to work for a long exposure shot during the day.  I was really starting to question if my ideas would work at all before the plane moved.  I’m not sure how long it stays, but remember that it does come about once a year or so, and stays for a bit.  With it being 3-4 weeks already, I was working on borrowed time.

Something that I know about my photography is that once I get the idea to shoot something and start really planning it out, I can’t focus on anything else until I get some compositions under my belt of the particular subject.  That was quickly becoming the case with this plane unfortunately.  I was just not interested in shooting anything else since I had been thinking about it for quite some time now (plus the previous year when I thought about it).

American Insignia

The plan had been to possibly wake up around 5am to get to Smith Reynolds well before sunrise.  Both mornings the clouds were supposed to be pretty decent for what I was looking for.  When I woke up both mornings, the forecast had changed and the clouds were just not right for my ideas.  Saturday had some great clouds, and for about 15 minutes they would have been perfect for what I wanted, but I wasn’t there to take advantage of it.  When Sunday morning rolled around, I was watching the clouds start to break up around 10am or so.  This was getting dangerously close to the middle of the day when I try not to do much photography.

I was really starting to look at the chances of everything really lining up to fit my previsualization on this aircraft.  It was looking like a long shot which was probably not going to happen.  I weighed that against the fact that this would be the first plane that I have photographed which would be cool all by itself.  There were things that I could do with this subject that would be different without the need for the light painting or long exposure.  With Toni’s help, I decided to head out to see if I could get something to work with the plane…with hopes that it was still there.

Nose Gear

As I approached the hanger where the plane was located, I didn’t see it at first.  I was really figuring that my luck had struck again and I missed it by thaaaaat much.  But I just had the wrong angle, as I got closer, I could see the wing.  It was still there, and nothing was parked near it.  I pulled in and grabbed my gear.  The sky had some very interesting clouds that would be fantastic with a long exposure.  I started to get excited until I found a fixed object and watched.  The clouds were not moving fast enough to really make a long exposure shot worth the effort.  I started to look at things differently to see what I could do to make the images stand out.

With the size of what I was looking at, I really wanted to emphasize that aspect in my compositions.  The best way of doing that was to go wide with my lens choice.  I opted to go for broke and fit my 16-35mm lens with a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to make the sky pop and remove extra glare from the aircraft.  I started working on compositions and was immediately happy with my lens choice.  It was perfect for the compositions that I was wanting.

Berlin Airlift

The more I worked around the plane, the more I started to learn about it.  There was an insignia on the fuselage that indicated that it was part of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, honoring “Operation Vittles” from 1948-49.  There were other insignias on the side referencing “Berlin Airlift” and “Spirit of Freedom”.  It was obviously a post WWII aircraft that was set to bring supplies to the divided Berlin at the beginning of the Cold War.  I imagine that this plane has been restored and is being used as an homage to that part of history.

History aside, there were a few things that really drew me to this aircraft photographically.  First of all, it was accessible.  I didn’t have to get any special permission to get close to it, and there wasn’t too much clutter to worry with around it.  Second, the red design on the side was quite eye catching on the pale gray paint.  When mixed with the blue sky, the red stripe provided a great color balance to the scene.  Speaking of color balance, the tow bar on the nose gear was a bright yellow as were the chocks.  It was just a few more splashes of warm color that helped to make the image really jump off of the page.

Aged Intake

The main thing that really drew me in was it was something completely different from anything that I had shot before.  I’ve always had a love for aircraft, but they just don’t pop up that often in the open where I can photograph them.  Sure I could go to airshows, but there is just so much of an exhibit feel to that setting.  This was a lot more organic, and fit with my themes in photography.  It was in a natural setting, and I was able to shoot it as I found it.  I was also able to get in to shoot some isolations which I thought were pretty cool.

Tow Bar

Color is a strong consideration in photography, and if used correctly, can really define the image.  An example of that is the picture above.  The subject matter is the landing gear of the plane.  All by itself, not all that interesting.  However, when you add the strong leading line of the bright yellow tow bar, balanced with the yellow chocks and brake ring; the image comes alive.  There are also two other aspects which make this image .  The strong diagonal lines of the pavement that compliment the tow bar help draw your eyes though the frame.  The landing lights on the nose strut gives your eyes an upper boundary to keep them from wandering out of the frame.  It also gives the picture a little bit of personality as the dual lights anthropomorphize the subject.

I found myself working the plane in two distinct processes.  While I started with my super wide angle lens, I also spent time using my 70-200mm lens for some of the isolations as well as trying to compress aspects of the compositions.  In the end, I found that I liked the larger shots with the perspective distortion better than the compressed compositions.  They were much more dramatic as I had thought that they would be.  The long lens did give me the ability to shoot a lot of different compositions that captured bits and pieces of the story.

Spirit of Freedom

While I was working the plane, I was looking for some black and white compositions since that is one of my favorite things to do with clouds like this.  The intention was there, but when I started to process the images, I just couldn’t bare the thought of losing the red, yellow, and blue that gave the image life.  I had shot it well as a monochrome, but it just fell flat in the final presentation.  The way that the colors all worked together in these images was just too important to the compositions.  I especially liked how the pavement was looking with the parallel lines from age.

Prop Maker

The longer I was out there, the more and more I was getting excited about this subject.  It is good to go out every so often and work outside of your comfort zone for a bit.  I’ve been pondering how to shoot this plane for about a year now, and have come up with all sorts of ways.  Of course, my plans haven’t quite worked out, but I don’t care.  The hour or so that I spent out there shooting this aircraft in the late morning has been completely energizing to me.  I’ve finally taken my chance to work this subject and now I feel like I can move on to something else.  I’ve also learned a little bit more about who I am as a photographer, and what I am capable of.  These are all really good things.

Awaiting Flight

One thing that I really love about photography is that once you get the foundations on what makes a good picture, you can apply they to all sorts of different subjects.  As I do with all of my subjects, I stopped and listened to how it wanted to be photographed.  It took a while to hear because I wasn’t sure how anything would turn out.  When I reduced it all down to color balance, dynamic compositions, and perspective, it just became about photography once again.  I am really glad that I took the chance to photograph this old bird today.  It was well worth my time.  The problem is, I want to shoot more planes now.  It was just that much fun!