Musings of an Aviation Photographer

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Lake Ontario, New York, Sunset - June 15, 2010As the 2010 year ends and we usher in 2011, it’s time for many people around the world to reflect on 2010 and all the many events that have filled those 365 days.  Regrets, fond memories, the best and the worst, all those memories flood the world during this New Year’s Eve.  For myself, it’s a time to look back at all the adventures and fun moments of 2010, and while not forgetting the bad moments, trying to learn from them and see how they can improve in the next year.  Especially for myself, I favor looking at the fun times, the great moments that define the year for me.  As a photographer, some of the best moments were captured on camera, spanning all over the United States.  I’ve had some incredible moments this year, many topping my charts as epic moments.  Many where random happenstances where I was in the right place at the right time, and some came along expected but still incredible moments.

I decided to put together a list of the top 15 photography moments of 2010, which sounds easier than it really is.  Starting with over 30 events, I slowly got down to 18, where things got really tough.  Continuing to really dwell on what was really the best moments, I was able to get it down to 16.  Not exactly 15, but when you get that close it’s almost like trying to figure out which photo albums to save when the house is on fire.  I just couldn’t pick.  So this is the top 15 moments with one honorable mention (yes, I cheated)!  If you have read a lot of the photo showcase posts on this blog, you may recognize many of these already featured on here.  So let’s get started!

The USN Blue Angels at NAF El Centro - March 11, 2010

Best Photography Moment #1:

Blue Angel Buzz

How close have you been to a flying Blue Angel?  Have you had a supersonic F/A-18C Hornet buzz you at a mere 20 feet?  Topping the list for the 2010 year is my favorite demonstration team, and a group that holds a special place for me having growing up next to the former MCAS El Toro base.  The United States Navy Blue Angel’s first airshow of the year is held at NAF El Centro, California, in the first quarter of the year.  Taking the journey out there is pretty long from Orange County, but always more than worth the drive to stay several days in El Centro.  The days before the airshow usually are a buzz of activity as aircraft arrive for the show and the performers put on practice shows.  The Blue Angels perform practice shows both days before the Airshow, being their first show of the year, putting in as much time as possible.  Many photographers show up to shoot the Blues from outside the base as they perform these practice shows all throughout their winter practice season.  But the biggest thrill is a special little location known to some photographers for how close the Blue Angels get upon landing.  Two days before the airshow, I was at this location photographing the Blues’s practice show.  Throughout the demonstration they would get very close to our location, almost buzzing us on take-off.  But it was when they landed that was most thrilling, as they’d get a mere 30 feet above our heads as they went past.  The moment of all moments and the reason it made #1 on this list is when the #3 Blue Angel dropped lower than the rest, buzzing directly over my head at an estimated 20 feet  by those who were around me. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to the Blue Angels, and the closest to a flying fighter jet!

HMM-163 Squadron arrives at MCAS Miramar - October 1, 2010

Best Photography Moment #2:

Arrival of a Squadron

The first in one of those ‘right place at the right time’ moments of 2010, this event was featured here on one of the photo showcases, which you can read the entire story with video and photos here.  At the end of the MCAS Miramar Practice airshow on October 1, 2010, I was walking back to my car very late after the airshow with several fellow photographers when we happened to be at the right place as an entire squadron of aircraft returned from a few days of drills at NBVC Point Mugu.  Had we leave the airshow any earlier, or stayed even a few minutes more back at the static aircraft at the show we would have missed this amazing event.  It also just so happened that we parked in this particular parking lot, of the many others on the base.  With only a handful of people left in the parking lot this late in the day, we had a front row seat as what seemed like something out of a Michael Bay movie took place right before our eyes.  Snapping like mad men, everyone with any sort of picture taking device was capturing whatever they possibly could as the helicopters came in for a landing literally next to the parking lot.  You couldn’t plan for a more amazing sight to bestow, and the photos only partially give justice to the power and incredible noise of these amazing machines.  The few of us who were there to see and document this were on a high for the rest of the weekend airshow, always talking about how lucky we were to be at the right place at the right time.

F-22A Raptor Smoke Sunset at Nellis AFB - November 14, 2010

Best Photography Moment #3:

Raptor Sunset

Another image that was featured on this blog, which you can view the whole story with photos here.  At the end of the second day of the Nellis AFB Airshow in Nevada, Las Vegas, a lot of the aircraft head home taking off which there’s still a little bit of light.  With the gorgeous Vegas sunsets each year, usually you can get some spectacular photos with the ‘liquid’ light on the aircraft.  I was taking photos of this Lockheed F-22A Raptor when one of the aerobatic performs let off some ‘goodbye’ smoke as they took off.  With a little bit of wind blowing, at first I though the smoke would muck up the shot, but it did the opposite and created this foggy atmosphere that only momentarily turned what was just a F-22 Raptor with sunset light into a moody and incredible capture.  It only lasted a few seconds, but the shot I was able to get stands out as one of the best of 2010.  Another right place at the right time moment!

C-17 Globemaster III Media Flight at Riverside Airport - March 26, 2010

Best Photography Moment #4:

C-17 Media Flight

Yet again, another story that was posted here on the blog, you can find the entire flight story here. Up until this year, I’d yet to fly in a modern military aircraft.  When I got word that I was able to get a media flight ride in a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, I jumped at the chance, and it didn’t disappoint.  There wasn’t a particular photo that I liked over the others from this trip, but it was the whole experience of being on a C-17 that made this one of the top 5 moments of the year. The flight itself seemed like a blur thinking back at it now, but lasted quite some time as we flew out to the pacific ocean, over Catalina Island off the Orange County, California, coast and then returning passing over Los Angeles and Hollywood.  It was the landing that probably had the best memorable experience as we came in for a ‘tactical landing’ where basically the C-17 slams into the runway and almost immediately applies reverse thrusters stopping in only a fraction of the runway length.  It was a thrill to be onboard with such a professional crew, and getting to see a glimpse into the US Air Force C-17 life.

Petty Project - Kayla's WitchBest Photography Moment #5:

Petty Witch

I started the Petty Project (website) this year, doing my first Petty shoot in the first month and then doing a few more the months after.  Last year it was just an idea, and now it’s in full gear with models lined up to recreate many of Petty’s works.  But there’s been one Petty recreation in particular that’s gotten the most press and attention.  It was the famous Witch pinup that Petty did for the Esquire and TRUE Magazines.  The model was Kayla, who put in a lot of work trying to help make this recreation one of the best ones of yet even modifying shoes to match the original witch ones.  It took a lot of post work, but when the finish product was printed as a 20×30, all the hard work of Kayla and myself to get that Petty piece recreated became all worth it.  It took several days of post work, and a lot of tweaking, but the shot is as close as you can get with a photo and photoshop.  It’s become the symbol of the Petty project, and ushered in a new determination to get the recreations as close as possible to the original.  You can view more on this pinup on both the blog post here on this blog or at the Petty Project website located here.

P-51 Mustangs lined up at Chino Airport - May 12-14, 2010

Best Photography Moment #6:

Mustang Gaggle

The world famous Planes of Fame Air Museum Airshow is held in May of each year.  Drawing thousands upon thousands of people to the show, the Museum always tries to ‘one up’ the previous show with something you can only see at the Planes of Fame show.  The themes for the show differ each year, and they attract warbirds from all around the world.  For the 2010 Airshow, the theme was based on the famous P-51 Mustang World War 2 fighter.  Calling on P-51 Mustangs from all around the United States to come to the show, an impressive gaggle of Mustangs formed.  From an incredibly rare A-36 Apache original first model of the P-51 Mustang to the more common P-51D model Mustangs, it nearly spanned the entire lineage of Mustangs.  Being my favorite WW2 fighter, I was excited for all the Mustang activity at the show this year, but wasn’t prepared for how amazing it’d be to really see them all together, a massive grouping of Mustangs.  But what really made the Airshow was the opening flight of 10 P-51 Mustangs that filled the skies.  No matter who you were, you stopped what you were doing at the airshow to watch as these beautiful birds swooped through the air with that unmistakable  sound of Merlin engines.  One of the most widely viewed and commented on photos was the above shot two days before the airshow when all the Mustangs that had arrived were lined up as the sun set.  Taking the opportunity without any people in the shot, I ran over to capture this nose photo doing down the flight line of all the Mustangs together.  It’s a classic photo of a very amazing airshow featuring my favorite aircraft!

The Satin Dollz - October 20, 2010

Best Photography Moment #7:

The Satin Dollz

The Satin Dollz, which I featured in a blog post recently, are a talented group of gals who perform the classic music of the 1940s both in singing and dance in various styles of pinup outfits.  Touring all around Los Angeles and even recently a special mini tour in the UK, these gals are not only amazing to hear and see but also some of the kindest people you could meet.  I had the wonderful honor of being able to do two photoshoots with these great gals, and it’s been an absolute blast.  Everything from classic 1930s Hollywood glamor style shots to recreating the vintage Coca Cola posters during the war years in the 1940s, these wonderful and very beautiful gals embody the term pinups in all the best ways.  Each one of the gals have their own style that they bring to the pinup world, and are professional in every way.  I had a blast shooting with them in 2010, and can’t wait to do many more shoots with this lovely group.  Keep an eye out for some exciting projects featuring the Dollz in 2011!

C-53D Skytrooper 'D-Day Doll' at Gillespie Field - June 5, 2010

Best Photography Moment #8:

D-Day Doll

Yet another showcase image featured here on this blog, this photo wasn’t just neat, but had an incredible story behind it with significant meaning. This C-53D Skytooper named ‘D-Day Doll’ is a very special aircraft.  Having taken part in the paratrooper drops over Normandy during World War 2 just before the massive invasion of D-Day, this Skytrooper carried members of the 101st Airborne or 82nd Airborne into the fight of England.  Seen here basking in the sunset of Gillespie Field Airport in San Diego, California, she quietly sits after having performed in the airshow earlier in the day.  But the real story is what day this was taken, along with her history.  As the sun set on the day and time this photo was taken in 1944, she was being loaded up preparing to head over the English channel to drop her precious paratrooper cargo.  This photo was taken on June 5th, 2010… the night before the 66th anniversary of D-Day.  Knowing that, it makes this photo have such a story, more so than just a neat aircraft in front of a wonderful gradient sunset.

Lake Ontario, New York, Sunset - June 15, 2010

Best Photography Moment #9:

A Seagull Sunset

Yes, two sunset photos in a row!  This was a really fun moment to see, not only photograph.  And while it looks like this is a HDRI image, it’s a one shot image, just like it looked.  On a business trip to upstate New York, I had a chance (on my birthday ironically) to get some sightseeing in.  Taking the opportunity, having been the first time to the upper East Coast, to visit some of the amazing sights around the area that weren’t too far, I went to the shores of one of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario.  The sun was setting, and it was late in the day.  Shooting along the fresh water shore, I noticed a sea of Seagulls sitting on the sand.  While the sunset itself was a dramatic shot on it’s own, I wanted something really unique.  So, having a coworker who was shooting with me run right into the middle of this huge Seagull party, they all took flight headed out to the water.  Snapping photos like crazy, I was able to capture this chaotic yet beautiful shot of a sunset sky full of Seagulls.  It was probably the best photo I took during that trip to New York, and one of my favorites for this year.

C-5A Galaxy bank at March ARB - April 30, 2010

Best Photography Moment #10:

C-5 Go-Around

If you go to a lot of big airshows, you’ve probably seen a C-5 Galaxy.  Being the largest aircraft the US Air Force has, it towers above a small human and looks like a monster.  I haven’t met anyone who’s looked at a C-5 and not wondered how that gigantic of a plane can even fly.  With a cargo hold so large they have to lower the airplane on it’s own landing gear to get things into, and a nose able to lift up into the air to load everything from tanks, helicopters, aircraft, and even smaller submarines; this plane truly is a versatile aircraft for the Air Mobility Command.  Up until the end of April this year, I’d only ever seen a C-5 Galaxy in flight once, many many years ago and from a distance.  I’ve always wanted to see a C-5 come in for a landing, and make a pass over the sky.  The day before the March ARB Airshow in Riverside, California, it was announced that a C-5 would be coming in sometime in the morning.  With delays and who knows what ever else, the C-5 didn’t make it till the afternoon.  By this time, the practice airshow was fully under way, and the sky was full of aircraft trying to make it into the show and performers practicing their acts.  I was shooting photos, along with other photographers, from the nearby March Field Museum which is directly across from the base.  When we heard the C-5 was incoming, I was very excited.  Unfortunately, they denied the overheard pass, and told the C-5 to come straight in.  But then there was a change in plans, as the C-5 was nearing the point of landing, they waved it off because of a slower moving aircraft taking too much time getting off the runway.  Well, you can’t just turn that C-5 out of the pattern that quickly, so they have the C-5 shift over next to the runway and bank half way down… which was right over where we were standing.  Suddenly, this giant beast was pointing right at us, getting larger and larger by the second.  It started it’s massive bank right before it reached us, reaching the peak of the turn directly overhead as it’s four engines screamed loudly.  Incredibly low, you could feel the rumble in your body, and it seemed like something passed over the sun taking all the light away.  I can only imagine what the drivers in the cars on the nearby freeway were thinking as this giant grey aircraft suddenly streaked right over them incredibly low.  It was a memory I’ll always remember.

Tiger at the Animal Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World - November 5, 2010Best Photography Moment #11:

Hello Tiger

Another right place at the right time sort of moment, this one from November 2010 in the far away land of Walt Disney World, Florida.  While visiting the Animal Kingdom park, one of the many parks at the WDW Resort, one of my favorite things to do there is take the little walking trails that have animal exhibits.  With my 100-400mm telephoto lens, I can usually get some really great shots of the various animals.  The animals range from exotic to the really common, and the exhibits for the animals are pretty large.  It’s basically an oversized themed zoo, Disney style.  One of the best places to get photos is the Tiger exhibit, having multiple viewing points to see the Tigers on multiple sides.  Typically the Tigers are either lying down asleep or roaming around, playing occasionally in the water.  Well, as I was photographing some far away Tigers in one part of the exhibit as they paced near some bushes, a friend who was with me on this trip called me to say she’d gone up ahead a bit and that I needed to get over there ASAP.  So, I ran over to where she was, and low and behind a Tiger was sitting right in front of one of the large windows staring at the people watching.  Being a mere 10 feet with just glass between you and these giant cats is a pretty amazing feeling.  The Tiger stared at me and my big lens as I snapped tons of photos, including catching it yawn.  It’s bar far some of the best animal shots I’ve gotten, and had I not still had a lot of the park to see, I could have stayed there all day capturing these amazing cats.  It was by far the best animal experience of 2010.

USAF Thunderbirds Formation Vapor at NBVC Point Mugu - August 7, 2010Best Photography Moment #12:

Thunderbird Vapor

Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Point Mugu Air Station has always been known as ‘Vapor Fest’ to airshow photographers.  Since a few years ago when the F-22A Raptor nearly disappeared into it’s own vapor for it’s entire demo airshow photographers have been eager to catch those beautiful ‘money shots’ as the vapor appears.  Vapor, instantaneous condensation of water molecules caused by disruptions and shockwaves which are generated by the fast moving aircraft’s surfaces.  What?  Basically, the airplanes move so fast that it disrupts the air, making instant clouds to form.  And it’s very instant, sometimes only lasting a millisecond and vanishing as they hit a pocket of hotter or less dense air.  You can read up and view more about vapor on the showcase image located here. For the 2010 Point Mugu Airshow, all eyes were on the various demo teams including the USAF Thunderbirds for some incredible vapor.  Overall, there wasn’t as much moisture in the air as previous years, but there was on spectacular moment during the first day of the airshow when during the 6 aircraft ‘delta’ formation all 6 Thunderbirds pulled vapor on a high G climb, hitting the sun just right to make a beautiful rainbow effect.  It lasted less than a second, then vanished, but for the rare few who caught it with their cameras ready, the photo is astonishing. One other thing that made the photo even more impressive is the sun angle, creating shadows from the tails of the aircraft.  It was a pretty awesome sight to see in person, and for me a great excitement to realize I had caught that precious moment!

Sherman Tank HDRI Sunset - LA Air Raid Event - February 2010 Best Photography Moment #13:

Fort Mac Sunset

Every year in February, the Fort MacArthur museum in San Pedro, California, puts on a recreation of a 1942 air raid event that actually took place.  The event is attended by many people dressed in 1940s military and civilian uniforms, with military vehicles and equipment on display along with swing dancing to big band music and the eventual air raid reenactment in the evening.  It’s one of the best 1940s events in all the United States.  To top off all that excitement and fun, the sunsets out at sea are spectacular, and the high cliff tops of San Pedro offers some beautiful spots to take photos as the sun slips the sky bringing darkness. This year, the Planes of Fame Air Museum had sent their World War 2 era M1 Sherman Tank to put on a demo, and as the sun was setting the Sherman was parked with the beautiful sunset in the distance.  Not wanting to waste this rare opportunity, I started snapping some HDRI photos of both the Sherman and the sunset, knowing how rare it was to see the Sherman in this setting.  The result was pretty spectacular.

LA Union Station - December 4, 2010 Best Photography Moment #14:

Pearl Harbor Train

Another retro event put on each year called the ‘Pearl Harbor Troop Train’ brings veterans and civilians alike on board two 40s and 50s era passenger cars that are attached to a modern AMTRACK engine.  The trip takes passengers who pay tickets for this amazing experience from the Los Angeles Union Station to San Diego Union Station, and back… and then back down to San Diego finishing at Los Angeles once again.  On board the two cars, the ticketed passengers on this special trip are entertained by reenactors, singers, retro comedians, and stories from various veterans.  It’s an incredible experience to be on this train, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to come on board the train as a reenactor going up and giving War Bond and Defense Stamp speeches during the two trips.  Naturally, I brought my out of place modern camera with me as I didn’t want to miss the great shots that would be plentiful on this trip.  While being on board the train and snapping shots while also talking with veterans and interacting with the guests with mileage rationing skits was a lot of fun, it was actually the stop at the Los Angeles Union Station after the first trip to San Diego and back that really presented me with many photo ops.  The beautiful Los Angeles Union Station is as vintage as it gets, and it wasn’t very hard to snap photos that look like were taken 60 years ago during the war.

Fog rolls into Disneyland in California - December 13, 2010Best Photography Moment #15:

Foggy Main Street

It’s not too uncommon to see fog in Orange County, California, but to see really thick fog isn’t as easy to find.  Occasionally we’ll have the very hot days that lead into the very cold nights, and a thick layer of fog will roll almost instantly into the area.  Such is what happened on the night of December 13, 2010.  That evening at Disneyland park in Anaheim, California, was a special Christmas Cast Party for all the cast members and their families.  The park had closed down early, and once cleared out only the Cast Members and their one person they could bring would be allowed in.  Staying till the very end of the party had it’s advantages, like non-existent lines on the rides and attractions.  To end the long night, I always enjoy sitting on the Train Station at the entrance to Main Street and watch the people leave as the beautiful Christmas music plays.  I was up there that night with a friend, just listening to the music play as we played with our phones enjoying the time to relax as the people leaving was growing thinner and thinner.  Soon, the park was nearly empty with only the die hards left, those who were still buying things on Main Street.  I had been looking down at my phone for about 10 or so minutes, playing the popular Angry Birds game for the Android phones, when I happened to take a second to look up down Main Street by the massive Christmas Tree.  To my amazement and surprise, a thick fog had enveloped the park, out of what seemed like no where since when just 10 minutes before when I was looking up there was no fog in sight.  With my camera right next to me, I sprang into work heading down the Train Station to Main Street snapping photos of the area with this thick fog that seemed to catch and spread the light from the various shops and the distant castle.  The photos were pretty amazing, and show just how thick the fog was getting.  The long exposures, unfortunately, captured more light than our eyes could see as at one point you could barely make out the castle in the distance.  But even with more light coming in, the shots were pretty fantastic and along with the rather empty Main Street making for some very rare and stunning shots!

Sexy Princess Group at Comic Con - July 23, 2010Honorable Mention:

Comic Con Princess Shoot

Unable to eliminate this moment since it was still a great photo of 2010, I decided to make it Honorable Mention for the sole reason I shot with these wonderful gals last year at Comic Con as well.  But this year, the ‘Sexy Princess Group’ (as they are known all over) shot with me in a more professional way, a portable studio setup in the hotel room.  Rooming with a few of the gals in the group, the day of the Con that they decided to walk around as your not so usual Princess group they all came to the hotel room to get ready.  Knowing this in advance and setting it up with the gals, we decided to do photoshoots of each gal as they finished getting ready in the hotel room.  A make shift studio was put together with professional studio lights, backdrop, and more with what little space we were able to clear out.  Shooting with each of the gals one at a time was a lot of fun, and some really great shots were taken.  But of all the shots, the most requested and viewed one was a recreation of Disney artist Brianna Garcia’s famous ‘Silly Princess Faces’ photo in the hotel room.  This art recreation had been attempted before, but not in a studio setting, even if it was a mini studio.  The resulting photo was pretty spot on, and something the gals all loved.  I was very honored to be able to follow the gals around documenting their appearance at Comic Con as their photographer, and what a hit they were causing massive crowds to form to take photos of and with them.  Later in the evening as the sun was setting, I continued the tradition I had started the year before with the gals in taking them back behind the San Diego convention center and shooting them with the rich sunset light.  It was a delight to work with these beautiful gals, and something I hope to continue in 2011, which makes them included in this top moments of 2010 list!

So there you have it, a pretty epic journey of events for the 2010 year.  It’s been a blast, but I can’t wait to see what 2011 has in store.  New websites, amazing photo ops, incredible opportunities, and more… here’s to a NEW YEAR!  And it should be said that one of my resolutions for 2011 is to update this blog more frequently with the photo adventures I take part in throughout the year.

Have a WONDERFUL New Year everyone!

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