Musings of an Aviation Photographer

Airshows, Aircraft, Photography, and more…
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Space Shuttle Endeavour makes a pass over LAX attached to a NASA SCA 747 Here we are again, the start of a New Year! With the start of 2013, the world has changed a lot in just this one year that was 2012.  Advancements in the world have been overshadowed with devastation, financial crisis, and tragedy this past year.  It’s been a tough time for many struggling to get ahead in the world as it seems to leave them behind.  New rules, major budget cuts, and the unsustainability of many things we’ve come to expect or take for granted have made huge impacts all over the country.  Many programs have ceased to be because of these troubled times, sadly costing the enjoyment of many.  When we reflect on the previous year, like everyone does around this time, we then realize just how much has changed.  For the good or bad, we see the changes we’ve made along the way to adapt to this ever changing world; some for the better, and some for the worse.  With this reflection comes a chance to take charge and start this year off to a start with fresh goals and new outlooks.

For a photographer like myself, I’ve seen photography as a profession shrink as the world finds a way to make high end cameras affordable for everyone. It’s great that the world can take part in this growing fascination with photography, but this year we’ve seen an explosion of new types of photographers: social media photographers. Facebook, Twitter, and many of the other social media platforms have taken photography and turned it almost into a way of life rather than an art form.  You don’t really need to go out and buy a high end DSLR camera anymore if your phone has an 8+ megapixel camera, especially when taking pictures of the taco you’re eating for lunch.  The affordability of entry level DSLRs (which, don’t get me wrong, can take amazing photos just as much as a high end DSLR) and the standard camera features on every phone along with the quality shoved tightly into these devices have forced many photographers to put away the camera and move to another profession.  The world is beginning to see photography a ‘do it yourself’ rather than an art form mastered and relied on by trained photographers.  So how do we combat this ever-growing mindset? Find a style that no one else can do so people will still realize you’re needed as a photographer, show the world why you’re better than the average person who picks up a DSLR from Costco for cheap by showcasing the talents you’ve learned after years of practice, and above all else; keep shooting and don’t stop shooting continuing to learn how you can better your skill.

Other challenges showed themselves this year for me personally in some of my photography and some new strengths in yet others.  As budget cuts hits the airshow industry and fuel costs continue to rise, we see less and less flying and taking part at airshows around the world.  Owners only occasionally fly their aircraft because they cost so much to operate and many airshows can’t afford to include the amount of performers they used to.  Relying heavily on sponsors, we’ve seen many airshows switch to a growing popularity of ‘every other year’ events because they can’t attract the crowds or performers they used to.  The Air Combat Command (ACC) dropped the F-16, F-15, and A-10 demonstration teams from the airshow circuit with only the F-22 Raptor left as the only Air Force demonstration team (excluding the Thunderbirds) that must provide for the entire country rather than a west and east coast team like the other Air Force demos used to have.  Fortunately, this year was one of those ‘every other years’ so a few of the shows that had been absent the last year came back, including the popular March Air Reserve Base Airshow (Thunder over the Valley) for 2012. With aircraft being hangared, shows being cut back, and acts being disbanded I decided to focus quite a lot on aviation photography this year knowing that with each year we may see less as even the military reins in the their aircraft with tight defense budgets and high fuel costs making the priority go to combat operations overseas and training (as it should).  Because of this focus on aviation this year, it didn’t leave a lot of time for me to focus as much on the other aspects of my photography such as my pinup Photography. This list reflects that focus with 11 of the 15 top photographic moments being aviation related.

Looking back over the year, while heavy on the aviation, there were quite a few really incredible photographic moments for me.  Even with the Pinups I’ve found a new style that has skyrocketed in popularity and set me apart from other photographers out there.  As with 2011 and 2010, I decided to continue the tradition (and apparently the only time I update this blog as of late!) of posting the top 15 photography moments of 2012.  While I didn’t shoot as much this year as previous years, aviation being the exception, I did find myself struggling to pick the top moments and having to eliminate some that were very tough to not include.  So without further ado, here are the top photos and moments of 2012, this year starting from #15 counting down to the best!

March ARB Media Ride - Touch & Gos from the Cockpit
Best Photography Moment #15:

March ARB C-17 Media Flight

This isn’t the first time that the C-17 Media flight has appeared on these lists, but this one was special so it had to be included. After a year hiatus from doing airshows, March Air Reserve Base opened its gates for the public to enjoy a rather nice line-up of jets, warbirds, and aerobatic acts. Even with scorching weather, the crowds came out in massive numbers filling the base along with the also impressive line-up of static aircraft on display. The Friday before the two day Airshow (Saturday and Sunday), the base hosted its usual Media Preview event where selected media photographers, journalists, press, and videographers were allowed on base to get photos and footage without the crowds, interviews with pilots and crews, and cover the practice flights that all the aerial displays performed. But above all else, the highlight for even more select chosen media personnel was a ride in the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III. A gigantic cargo lift aircraft measuring over 170 feet long and weighing over 280,000 pounds when empty! There are quite a few C-17s that are based at March ARB providing cross-branch aid with everything from cargo lifts, humanitarian aid, troop deployments, and so much more. To take a ride on this massive beast is quite the thrill! It’s not the same as a fighter, of course, but it can do things that fighters can’t do such as tactical assault landings and take offs in half of the runway many jets would need. I’d had the chance to take the C-17 media flight twice from Riverside Airport during their airshows in previous years, but it’d been a year since my last one. At first I wasn’t one of the selected to go on the flight, but at the last second a few spots opened and I was able to take part. So what makes this flight different than the others?

This time, it wasn’t a simple flight to the coast and back or to Edwards AFB and back like the Riverside Airport media flights. This was a FULL media flight demonstration that would end up lasting just over two hours in length and include everything from rapid altitude decent, evasive maneuvering, tactical banks, tactical takeoff, rapid assault landing (pretty much slamming the plane onto the runway and hitting breaks as soon as possible to stop in a very shot time), and my favorite part: Touch and Go practice out at a rarely seen Naval Air Base off the shore of Southern California on an island. I was fortunate enough to be able to be in the cockpit during the rapid altitude decent (from 8,000 feet to 3,000 feet in a few seconds by reversing the thrusters in mid-air) and being able to watch from the cockpit as we lined up and did our first touch and go of the day. Each media person onboard was able to go up to the cockpit and be a part of a touch and go by the C-17 on this Naval island base. After making some tactical circumference flights around Catalina Island, we headed back to March ARB where we performed a near 90 degree ‘Banana Pass’ (dipping the right wing almost 90 degrees to the ground) at very high speeds before coming around to make the assault landing. It was a long flight, but the BEST C-17 flight I’ve been honored to take a part of. I can’t thank the March ARB Public Affairs Office personnel, the amazing crews of March ARB, and especially the crew of our C-17 from the 452d Air Mobility Wing! Look for the next March ARB Airshow to be March 22-23, 2014 featuring the USN Blue Angels!


Connie Comes Home - EC-121T Super Constellation
Best Photography Moment #14:

Last Constellation Flight

For years this Lockheed EC-121T Constellation sat at Camarillo Airport with the weather and time not doing so well with the aircraft. Owned by Yanks Air Museum out at Chino Airport, California, the Constellation looked like it would live out the rest of its years rotting away at the airport. Going out to the Camarillo Airshow each year, I’d see the Connie sitting out in the distance and always wonder what would become of her. The Connie, having been built in Burbank in 1955, was grounded because of corrosion problems in 2000. Once the Yanks got ahold of the aircraft in 2005, restoration work slowly began at a very slow rate until in 2011 the FAA finally signed off the plans for a single flight from Camarillo Airport to Chino Airport where it’d join the rest of the Yanks Air Museum collection. It wasn’t until a few days before January 14, 2012 that the Connie was finally ready to take to the skies once again. Once January 14th hit, a special crew boarded the Connie and around noon they climbed airborne in the Connie for her first flight in many years.

As had tons of other photographers from around the area and even greater distances, the afternoon of the 14th found Chino airport swarming with photographers, videographers, media, and fans of the Constellation along with a large crowd gathered at Yanks Air Museum for the Connie’s arrival. I found myself parked just outside the fence near the start of the runway with several other photographers after scoping out the best spot with the current overcast lighting conditions and the flight path we knew about. It took a while, but in the distance we saw the unmistakable shape of the lumbering Connie as she approached Chino Airport. Making a quick pass over the airport and banking off to come around for the final landing, we had the perfect view to watch her come in and touch down for what may be her last time. History was made right before our eyes, at least unless the rumors are true of her possibly flying in the airshow circuit someday in the future… But this one overcast afternoon will sure be remembered and easily makes this top 15 list!


MCAS El Toro - Great Park Airshow 2012 - MV-22 Osprey
Best Photography Moment #13:

MCAS El Toro – Great Park Airshow 2012

Since the closure of the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro base in 1998 and the last airshow in 1997, the residents of Orange County and all over Southern California who grew up loving the MCAS El Toro Airshow had to trek down to MCAS Miramar in order to see a show like the ‘great El Toro Airshow.’ As the base has been slowly disappearing over the last 14 years and many failed developments have been stalled, one of the few good things to come about from the base’s transition to civilian hands is the building of a military museum for a section of the base that has been preserved and developed for the public called the GREAT PARK. The Great Park features one of the original El Toro hangars, a vintage carousel, a large balloon that guests can take high into the sky, a large timeline of World War 2 on part of one of the old runways, and several events throughout the year for the public. One event in particular is the annual Great Park Celebration Event, or as many have come to call it, the Great Park/MCAS El Toro Airshow. You can read a lot more about this airshow including full reviews with photos HERE (2011 Airshow) and HERE (2012 Airshow). Being that MCAS El Toro is pretty much in my backyard, I’ve been excited to see this airshow event grow and grow into the size it had reached this past year during the 2012 Airshow.

This year I had the extreme honor and privilege to be on the former base during the day of arrivals (one of the runways still exists and can be used) and the day of the show well before the crowds were allowed in. During these two days, and the main reason this event has made this list of favorite photo moments is because not just what showed up at the event, but where I was when it showed up. The Marines were very gracious this year, not only sending out a Bell AH-1W Super Cobra from Camp Pendleton but also a Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion and Bell MV-22 Osprey both from MCAS Miramar! Most airshows may get one or two of those aircraft, but to send out all three is pretty rare and special! That alone would be enough to make this list, but on top of that I had the best seat in the house to watch these three amazing machines arrive, standing next to the runway. Buried deep in the middle of the base is the old runway that still functions (with a few little plants growing through the cracks here and there) and taking a vehicle out to the runway is the only way to get out there. Being mere feet from a hovering Cobra, landing Osprey, or Super Stallion was quite the thrill and made for some incredible shots! A HUGE thank you to the staff of the upcoming Aviation Museum at the Great Park for their very warm welcome and hospitality, especially Frank for driving me around to get the best shots! Sadly, the city of Irvine has decided to not have an airshow during the 2013 year, but hopefully there will be one in 2014!


Petty Project - #57 - Kayla
Best Moment #12:

The Petty Project

The Petty Project, for those unfamiliar with the ongoing project that I started a few years ago, is an idea I had to honor the well known Pinup artist of the 1940s and 50s named George Petty. Inventor of the famed ‘Petty Girl‘ which was made popular in the 1940 issues & calendars of Esquire magazine and on WW2 military aircraft noses, Petty’s style embodied the classic essence of the pinup and catapulted the art-form into a national sensation and symbol. To honor Petty’s work, the idea came about to recreate the classic Petty Girls through studio photography and computer manipulation to bring new awareness to this forgotten style. This project will take quite a few years to complete with the over 200 different Petty images that I’ve been able to identify. Each Petty Project recreation requires very thorough planning and preparation before the photo shoot. Just one of these recreations can take more than an hour in the studio to shoot. From there it’s pieced together in photoshop like a puzzle that can take over three days worth of hard work before being done. For more on the Petty Project check out the official website location HERE.

While I was only able to get to three of the Petty Project recreations this year, the three were quite complicated with each being more work and tougher challenges than the previous. Two of the three in particular are the reason this made the list this year. You might be asking yourself, why is this a favorite photo moment? Well, this list is a compilation of the best photography related things of this year, and that includes new ideas, styles, and achievements. These two new Petty recreations (shown on the right and below) feature new advancements in techniques that I’ve done to my normal pinups that I experimented with the Petty Project. The outcome of these two in particular represents the CLOSEST I’ve been able to get these recreations to accurately look like the classic Petty airbrushed images. Hours of work and experimentation went into getting these new Pettys to look as close as they are. They make this list because they represent a giant leap in the Petty Project to perfection, and every Petty Project recreation to follow will go through this same process to be as close as ever to honor George Petty’s incredible artwork. The first image to have this new style was image #57 featuring Kayla to the right, and then soon after with Crystal and image #143. Also started was the new VIDEO ‘behind the scenes’ look at how these Petty images were recreated which you can view HERE (#57) and HERE (#143).
Petty Project - #143 - Crystal

Lyon Air Museum - Collings Foundation B-24J Liberator
Best Photography Moment #11:

Lyon Air Museum

Relatively new to the Aviation Museum world is the Lyon Air Museum out at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. While only been open since late 2009, the museum packs a punch with some incredibly well preserved and rare aircraft that are from the collection of Major General William Lyon including a B-17 Flying Fortress, A-26 Invader, C-47 Skytrain, one of Hitler’s parade vehicles, and a lot more. Just about all the docent staff that are on hand at the museum to answer questions and give tours are veterans or highly knowledgeable about the aircraft on hand. And don’t let the location on the airport or the smaller size fool you, they often have large events that include flight demos by these rare aircraft and interviews with many veterans from World War 2.

I’ve been photographing at Lyon for some time now, heading out to their events and shooting their aircraft. Their rare collection is more about quality than quantity, with their rare flying giant aircraft and very rare vehicles. In fact, the Museum appears twice on this list (see #8). This year I spent a lot of time at Lyon, not just for their special events and to photograph their aircraft, but also for visiting aircraft who made the museum their temporary home for a short or extended period of time. The Collings Foundation once again brought out their wonderful Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Nine ‘O Nine,” Consolidated B-24J Liberator “Witchcraft,” and North American TP-51C Mustang “Betty Jane” in mid May. In February and April they had two events dedicated to two of their bombers, the B-17G Flying Fortress “Fuddy Duddy” and B-25J Mitchell “Guardian of Freedom.” Plus in mid August a rare Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk paid an extended stay visit to the museum and two surprise guests, a Lockheed P-38J Lightning and North American P-51D Mustang arrived for short flight demos during an event in September! Lots happened at Lyon this year, and with the backdrop of John Wayne Airport as airliners zip by it offered some truly unique photos this year!


Pinups - Kayla - Army Air Force Pinup
Best Moment #10:

New Pinup Style

Much like the Petty Project and its new style that will forever change the way they are done and look, the Dietz Dolls pinups underwent a similar change which directly influenced the Petty images. It first started in December of last year when I experimented making the pinups look like vintage photographs. Adding rough edges, folds, imperfections, and fading to the images and sometimes adding false backgrounds behind the gals. That was a new look I liked, but it was still missing that real authentic 1940s pinup feel. With so many photographers out there doing pinups these days, mostly Rockabilly, I felt I needed something very unique that no one else was doing. I had started doing my World War 2 Propaganda Poster recreations last year as well (in fact that was on the 2011 best moments list) and going into 2012 I knew I needed something that was more authentic toward the golden age of pinups in the 1940s. Even those photographers who do try to capture that classic era, though rare, still always have the same brightly colored modern look to the images. After spending a few weeks experimenting using what I had already developed for the Petty Project in making those images look old and airbrushed along with what I’d built for these propaganda pinup posters, I started to come up with a new style. Throw in some new templates and methods I developed when making replica covers of famous magazines from the 1940s such as LIFE, I started to see a new type of pinup emerge. At first, in late January, I came up with rather simple designs of just the gals with their backgrounds removed and very lightly turned into artwork looking pinups. This worked well, and I continued with it through the next few months occasionally adding post-built backgrounds behind them. It wasn’t until July that I started to experiment with some new ways of making the gals look painted that the new style was perfect. It was then I created, as well, elaborate backgrounds that would also look painted and the final image style came together. This unique and true to the 1940s style seemed to get very popular and was receiving many comments on how painted they looked. Since then, I’ve tried to release a new airbrushed style pinup photo every week day possible using this new style and its popularity continues to grow! They are not as quick to do as they used to be, taking about an hour to two hours to put together untill you see the final product, but the quality and true vintage 1940s look to them is very unique and not like anything I’ve seen out there before! Once I perfected this process, I started to apply it to the Petty Project (which you’ve already read about) and in turn it created a whole new realism to the George Petty recreations! You can see these daily pinups posted on the Facebook Fan Page.


San Diego Safari Park - Lions
Best Photography Moment #9:

San Diego Safari Park Lions

Sometimes the best moments come from unexpected times when being in the right place at the right time all comes together for an incredible moment. This happened earlier this year at the San Diego Safari Park (used to be known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park) with three Lions. Now I’m not a professional animal photographer by any means. I snap shots of animals at zoos or my cat on occasion, but nothing ever on a safari or camping out for months in exotic locations to secretly document animals. I have, however, grown very interested in Zoo photography since getting an annual pass to both the Safari Park and San Diego Zoo. I’ve seen and heard about the very professional (or maybe just very die hard?) photographers who show up to the Zoos with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment to take photos of the animals which they cannot sell, only post and share (rules of the two parks). I’ve seen photographers with backpacks worth of equipment and super telephoto prime lenses that cost twice as much as the most expensive Canon DSLR camera. I just take with me the same setup I use for airshows, and enjoy getting some really great close up shots of the animals when I can, for fun.

One animal class I’m particularly fond of snapping shots of are the felines, such as Tigers, Jaguars, Cheetahs, and of course Lions. There are Lions both at the Zoo and the Safari Park, but only the Safari Park has three Lions (two females and one male). The Zoo you can get closer to the Lions, but there’s a net around the entire enclosure so unless the Lions are far enough away you’ll get the netting in your shot. The Safari Park Lions have no enclosure walls, but they are further from you because of a large cliff drop off separating you from their very large teeth. So there are pros and cons to both parks. The one thing they do share in common is just feline nature; the Lions always seem to be sleeping. Occasionally one will sit up for a brief moment and I’ll get a decent shot, but overall they are hard to photograph since, like cats that sleep most of their lives, Lions are no different. On this one late afternoon day at the Safari Park I had just gotten off of the Safari Tram and was heading back toward the Lions with only minutes before the park was to close. Of course, with the light starting to fade they were asleep as always, but I decided to wait a moment as usually the animals are more active as the sun sets and the temperatures are cooler. After waiting to no avail or movement of the Lions, I figured it was time to go when suddenly a noise rang out. Two ducks were ‘in season’ (to put it gently) and having some intimate time making quite a lot of noise. This startled the Lions and apparently grabbed their interest as all three Lions woke up and rushed the edge of this drop off, only a mere 20 feet from me looking right next to where I was standing. After those ducks had quieted down, the Lions, instead of returning back to sleep; decided to plop down where they were and be the subject of a wonderful photoshoot with the King and Queens of the jungle. It was easy to get their attention with the sound of my keys making them look at the camera, and they just stared back and at each other for some truly rare photos!


Air to Air Shoot: North American B-25J Mitchell
Best Photography Moment #8:

B-25J Mitchell Photoshoot

Making the list once again is the Lyon Air Museum, this time with their wonderful North American B-25J Mitchell known as “Guardian of Freedom.” Up to the start of 2012, I’d not had the chance to photograph bomber aircraft from World War 2. While I tried hard on several attempts to coordinate a shoot with three different B-17s that visited the area throughout the 2012 year, each one didn’t end up working out because of time restraints, mechanical problems, or airspace restrictions. In early May as the Planes of Fame Airshow out at Chino Airport was rapidly nearing, I started to look and see what aircraft would be heading to the airshow. Some of the great opportunities to catch aircraft in the air are when they are traveling to and from airshows and other aviation events. I found out that the B-25J Mitchell from Lyon Air Museum would be making the trek from John Wayne Airport to Chino Airport to take part in the airshow flying performances. I knew this would be my chance so I contacted several people to arrange a Photo Ship aircraft that I could shoot from (in this case a World War 2 era T-6G/Harvard II Texan) and coordinate a time and place to do the shoot. Everything was approved for a few orbits not far from Irvine Lake in the foothills of Saddleback.

As the day neared, the weather started to look dark and gloomy. On May 3, the day of the shoot, there were dark clouds and only patchy sun in some places. Regardless of my shoot or not, the B-25 would be heading to Chino so this would be my best chance as it’s more difficult to do a shoot like this going from Chino into the commercial airport and highly populated area of Orange County. We all met at Lyon Air Museum (having flown the T-6G/Harvard II over to the airport) and briefed for our flight with the pilots. Taking off about noonish, we launched first heading to the foothills to orbit and wait for the B-25. High winds and dark clouds caused quite a bit of turbulence as we waited, and I started to get a little worried. Thankfully, the chrome polish on the B-25 would reflect well and the aircraft itself would still be okay to shoot, but the contrast of the dark clouds and landscape against the bright shiny B-25 would be a big issue, along with the turbulent skies. To get proper propeller blur you have to slow down your shutter speed, but when you’re bouncing around in an airplane and the subject aircraft is bouncing around as well that can cause a lot of blurry photos. Soon I could make out the B-25 in the distance and within a few minutes it was on our right side. We did several orbits and stayed as tight as we could considering the wind and bumpy ride. My hat is off to both my pilot (Daniel) and the B-25 pilots for doing their best to give a stable photoshoot for me. It was a very difficult shoot for sure, but I was still able to get some fantastic images, and just the sight of the bomber off our wing was quite a sight to behold! After a few orbits, the next part of the shoot was to follow the B-25 as it finished its way into Chino, and something I’ve always wanted to do, stay in formation with the bomber as it landed getting very unique touchdown shots at the airport! It was incredible to watch the landing all the way in right off the wing of this graceful bomber. Despite the challenging shoot with the weather it was a success with some great shots!
Many thanks to all who were involved getting the shoot to happen: Daniel with the Photo Plane, Mark at Lyon Air Museum for setting it all up, and the two Pilots of the B-25: Ray and George.


Air to Air Shoot: North American P-51D Mustang
Best Photography Moment #7:

USS Iowa Tribute Flight

2012 marked a good year for historical additions to the Southern California area. Not only did the California Science Center get one of the NASA Space Shuttles, but Long Beach got its own new museum: the USS Iowa Battleship. Mothballed for years up in San Francisco decaying away in the water and weather, the massive Battleship that was used in World War 2 was acquired by the Pacific Battleship Center organization and work soon began to make her into a floating museum. The Iowa was towed from the mothballed fleet to a large dock where she underwent a retrofit to get her ready to become a museum and have a new lease on life. After she was finished, the USS Iowa was towed by tug boats from San Francisco down to Long Beach during a highly covered event that caused quite a commotion of people wanting to see the Iowa and the first time (and possibly last) a Battleship had gone out to open sea waters in many years. It wasn’t until late June that the Iowa was ready to open for the public in Long Beach.

The opening weekend of the USS Iowa Museum brought out large crowds of people. Because of the location of the Iowa near the very busy and highly secure Long Beach Shipping industry a lot of the big opening day festivities they could have done were scaled back or limited. Any fly overs were limited because of the flight path and flight restrictions because of this massive shipping port nearby. The Planes of Fame Air Museum out at Chino Airport, however, was contacted and worked out to where three of their aircraft were to head from Chino over to the Iowa to perform two fly-by passes on the second day of opening (a Sunday). The selected aircraft were the Air Museum’s North American B-25J Mitchell “Photo Fanny,” North American P-51D Mustang “Wee Willy II,” and Curtiss P-40N Warhawk. It worked out as several Museum Members had purchased member supported flights, so the aircraft would be in the air already. Many of you know I’ve been a volunteer at the Planes of Fame Museum since late 2001 having been one of the volunteer photographers, graphic designers, and for almost 10 years their webmaster. I was able to get onboard in an extra seat on the B-25 bomber for this shoot, in the hopes that I’d be able to get a shot of the two fighter aircraft with the USS Iowa behind them. It was quite a fun trip (any time you ride in a B-25 is a blast!) and the shots turned out incredible, but sadly the strict flight path meant that we weren’t able to bank over the Iowa meaning no shots of the Iowa from my vantage point in the B-25. But the photos of the P-51 and P-40 were some of the best I’ve ever gotten! I can only imagine how cool it must have been for those on the ship to see these three aircraft fly over in tight formation!
Many thanks go out to Brian for arranging me to be a part of it and Jerry for also getting me onboard. Also many thanks to all the pilots of the three aircraft and the gracious Museum Members who purchased the flights for letting me join them!


Victoria - Slave Leia
Best Moment #6:


I suppose it would be a top photo moments list without at least some sort of cosplay/costume related photoshoot making the list! Since I didn’t attend Comic Con this year, there was a lack of these photoshoots in 2012, but I had one very large one planned that I knew would be pretty big. Victoria, also known as ‘Scruffy Rebel‘ in the cosplay world, is one of the most well known cosplayers I’ve ever known. She has a very large fan base who love to see her different costumes that she brings to conventions and events and looks forward to what she next does. She’s very talented at what she does, and her costumes are incredible in detail, work involved, uniqueness, and authenticity. Not only is she rather talented, but she’s a beautiful and wonderful gal with a huge love of the comic/geek/movie/pop culture world. I’m honored to call her a good friend who I’ve known for some time from Comic Con and mutual friend Christy (who as many know is one of the most famous Slave Leias in the convention world and creator of the Sexy Princess Group). Victoria and I have always talked about doing a big pinup and costume shoot for several years, but we never seemed to actually set a date and get the shoot done. I knew this shoot, when it would happen, would be a big one and I had a lot of ideas, especially for Slave Leia. I would consider Victoria to also be one of the best Slave Leias in the entire world, pulling off the brave costume with ease and truly appreciating where the golden bikini comes from being a big Star Wars fan. I’ve always wanted to get a Slave Leia into the studio for a photoshoot, and I was very excited when we finally sat down and scheduled the shoot that she’d be bringing the Slave Leia costume.

The first shoot we did in mid May was an all day shoot lasting many hours and going through many different outfits including Slave Leia, Captain America USO Girl, James Bond Bikini Girl, and a full pinup shoot. Because the shoot was so big, we couldn’t fit everything (or even a quarter of everything) in one shoot so we again got together in late November for a second shoot which included a ‘Geek Girl’ shoot, female Indiana Jones, Supergirl, and lots more! The photos from these two shoots proved to be pretty epic going viral on the web especially the ones from the Slave Leia and Supergirl costumes. The amount of comments, likes, shares, and messages I got about the photos from these two costumes were incredible and number in the hundreds. I wanted to have a very dramatic look to the Slave Leia and Supergirl costumes, so I tried a new lighting style that worked really well and came out even better than I had anticipated! It’s by far the best costume related shoot I’ve done, and will be using these new lighting styles for new shoots coming soon, including a very special Star Wars shoot with the 501st. Also, look for new exciting photoshoot collaborations between Victoria and I coming soon this year!


Fleet Week 2012 - USN Blue Angels
Best Photography Moment #5:

Fleet Week 2012

I’d always wanted to travel out to San Francisco during their world famous Fleet Week Airshow and celebrations for years now. I’ve heard about how cool it was to see the Blue Angels, and many other acts, directly over the San Francisco Bay. There’s no other Airshow where you can get shots like this, and there’s several acts that you won’t see anywhere else. On top of that I’d gotten an incredible invitation if I ever did make it up there to have some very rare opportunities to photograph the aircraft. So when the chance came up in October for me to actually make it to the 2012 Fleet Week Airshow I decided to finally get in the car and do it! After a long 7+ hour drive to San Francisco and getting up super early on the first day of the weekend show, I headed out to the docks at Fort Mason where I was told I’d have the best vantage point to watch and photograph the show over the harbor. Setting up shop at the very end of the pier, you realize this is probably the BEST view you could have for an airshow, with the entire gorgeous San Francisco Bay directly in front of you. The show started with a large boat parade that featured large Destroyers from the US Navy and Canada along with several other military ships. The show itself wasn’t very long, but the amount of acts made it a very nice show with the B-2 Stealth, Marine Aircraft fly-bys, rare flight demo by a United Airlines 747, F/A-18 Super Hornet demo, F-22 Raptor Demo, rare Canadian Hornet demo, Heritage Flight, several aerobatics, Patriots Jet Team, and the headliners of the event every year: the US Navy Blue Angels. While next time I’ll be sure to bring a longer telephoto lens to reach the aircraft (my 100-400 just barely cut it), it was quite the fun experience and a very fun unique airshow!

The second day of the show is where that special invitation came into play where I was able to attend the invitation only United Airlines Family Day at San Francisco Airport. The massive United Airlines maintenance headquarters there was opened with several of their airliners on display along with special warbirds flown out just for this one day event for employees of United along with their families. But the best part of this special event is that graciously United lets all the Fleet Week airshow aircraft park and stage out of their ramp. This includes the F-22 Raptor, F/A-18 Super Hornet, Canadian Hornet, F-16 Viper, and the US Navy Blue Angels. The aircraft would start up on the ramp and take off from San Francisco Airport where they would travel to the bay area for the actual airshow and then return back to United’s ramp afterwards. While that alone is incredibly unique to see, you can actually get really close to these staging aircraft, much closer than just about any airshow! But I was given an opportunity even better as I was given the chance to shoot from the rooftop of one of the United hangars which offered a view of all these aircraft that you just cannot get anywhere else! It made the entire trip worth ever part of the 7+ hour drive to San Francisco and back!
Many many thanks to Clark for the amazing United access and to Crystal for putting up with a weekend of aviation!


Focke-Wulf FW-190 A8-N
Best Photography Moment #4:

FW-190 Photoshoot

Over the years I’ve been honored to be able to do air to air shoots with numerous aircraft, especially the collection at the amazing Planes of Fame Air Museum and Lyon Air Museum. My collection of air to air photography is mostly comprised of World War 2 warbirds that stretch from just about all major countries during the war including many from America, Britain, Japan, and even Russia. But there’s one country’s aircraft I’d not had the chance to shoot: Germany. German aircraft have been pretty sparse on the west coast the past few years with only an occasional aircraft visiting the states then heading back to the east coast. Aside from replica Storch aircraft, the only other option was to go up to Seattle and somehow get a shoot with the Flying Heritage Collection’s Me-109 or newly flying FW-190, which isn’t a feasible task. But a few years ago, a newly built Focke-Wulf FW-190 A8-N built by the Flugwerk company in the EXACT specifications of the original FW-190s from WW2 was brought to Chino and put together by Matt Nightingale. This FW-190 became part of the Planes of Fame’s collection and flies ever so often during the monthly events and annual airshow. I figured this would be my chance to get an iconic German fighter in the air for a shoot. Sadly, it took two years of trying to schedule the right time when the Fw-190 was flying to meet up with it in the air and get a shot.

Finally in late September of 2012 an opportunity came up as the FW-190 would be traveling from Chino Airport to Paso Robles for a weekend airshow along with several other Planes of Fame aircraft. I contacted the museum and finally after working things out it was set that I’d meet up with the FW-190 and several other aircraft as they departed Chino for a quick shoot over Chino Hills. With limited fuel and a long distance to fly, the FW-190 couldn’t stay long but would do a few orbits. I arranged for Daniel to fly me in his new black North American T-6G Texan WW2 trainer which had a canopy that could be opened with no obstructions and rotating seat. Unfortunately at the last minute things were delayed and I found out I’d only be able to shoot with the FW-190, but as that was what I wanted most I was still excited. However, at the last moment a visiting rare North American P-51C Mustang known as “Boise Bee” that was joining the group on their way to Paso Robles decided to also be a part of the shoot. It was a clear beautiful day with some light scattered clouds and when that FW-190 came up on our take it gave me chills thinking of how dreadful this sight would have been to Allied pilots during WW2. Overall it was a very quick but great shoot with both the Mustang and FW-190 and easily making the #4 spot on this list! I hope to one day fly again with the FW-190!
A HUGE thank you to Steve Hinton and John Maloney for making this happen (John was the FW-190 pilot) along with Daniel for being my photo ship pilot and the pilot of the P-51C!


Space Shuttle Endeavour arrives at LAX onto of a NASA SCA 747
Best Photography Moment #3:

Space Shuttle Endeavour

With the ending of the Space Shuttle program and never having seen a Space Shuttle ever in person, when it was first announced that the California Science Center (CSC) was to get the Space Shuttle Endeavour I knew this would be my last chance to get some photos of a Shuttle outside of a Museum building. The only way to transport a Shuttle across the United States from Florida where it current was being stored would be on top of one of NASA’s massive Shuttle Carrying Aircraft (SCA) Boeing 747. This 747 has special mounts on the top of the aircraft that can attach the Shuttle and carry it piggyback across the country. When the official press releases stated that the Shuttle would be arriving into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in late September, everyone made plans to make sure and not miss this historic event. The same type of event had just happened on the East Coast as two other Shuttles were taken to their final destinations with unprecedented press and social media coverage including every person with a phone snapping photos and videos as the Shuttle carrying 747 made passes over famous landmarks before landing at the final destination. It was clear early on that this would be a HUGE event for Southern California. After delays due to weather the date was pushed back, but when it finally cleared up the date for the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s journey all over Orange and LA county passing over many landmarks was set for September 21st.

YOU CAN READ ALL ABOUT THE DAY THE SHUTTLE ARRIVED WITH MORE PHOTOS HERE ON WARBIRD PHOTOS. Because I chronicled the entire journey of the Endeavour that day to LAX in that story, I’ll leave out the details on this list but I will say that nothing will beat the initial view I got of the 747 carrying the Shuttle with the two escorting NASA F/A-18B Hornets as it arose over a hill just beyond LAX after performing a pass. The sheer size and how close the Shuttle was as the 747 banked overhead was incredible and a sight I will never forget. It was truly history right before our eyes, and not just the Shuttle’s arrival but how life nearly stopped for thousands and thousands of people who dropped what they were doing to climb on parking structures, building tops, freeway overpasses, exiting their cars in the middle of the street, standing on fences, and pretty much filling any space available to see the Shuttle. It was like a scene out of an armageddon movie as the whole world stopped for a half hour to see this historical moment. It was an incredible day to see the Shuttle and something that easily makes this list with no questions!


Night shoot with the USN Blue Angels
Best Photography Moment #2:

Blue Angel Night Shoot

Making the second best moment of 2012 is another entry from San Francisco Fleet Week 2012. That special invitation to the United Family Days event I mentioned earlier on this list wasn’t just to see the Airshow aircraft staging up close, or even shooting from the top of the hangar. This special invitation was actually for something else… a special nighttime photoshoot with my favorite aviation team of all time: the United States Navy Blue Angels. After the United Family Day event was over, I stayed around the United ramp and waited untill nightfall where myself and three other photographers were allowed the very special privilege of basically having the USN Blue Angels, Fat Albert, the Canadian CF-18 Hornets, and F-16 Vipers all to ourselves. It was incredible to be right there with the USN Blue Angels and basically only myself and the three other photographers anywhere in this closed of area. It was unlike any other night shoot as I began shooting long 30 second exposures on my tripod with the evening departures of 747s, 777s, and more lifting into the sky breaking the silence overhead. Unfortunately, we didn’t get as long of a time with the Blues as I would have liked, but it was incredible to feel like for a little while the Blue Angels were all yours! A dream come true for me! I’m not sure when I’ll be back to Fleet week again, but I hope when I do I’m able to get this chance again for a bit longer time!
HUGE thanks to Clark for the special access!


NAF El Centro PhotoCall - Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet afterburner Takeoff
Best Photography Moment #1:

El Centro Photocalls

Finally, we have reached the #1 best moment of 2012, which is actually two moments combined into one! Twice this year I was very honored to be chosen to be a part of a incredibly rare event held at a Naval Air Station in the middle of nowhere. Twice a year, Naval Air Facility El Centro hosts what’s known as Photocalls. These photocalls are invitation only to members of four different photography groups on the West Coast. These four groups then pick select members who are then invited to participate. Meeting up in the early afternoon of these special Photocall days, they are allowed into the base after proper ID verification and taken to a meeting area where they are given rules and loaded onto buses. The buses then take the photographers out to the end of the main runway where for several hours they are able to photograph fighter jets and all other random assortments of military aircraft as they take off and land during the day’s missions being supervised by really friendly Naval personnel. The two photocalls are quite different from each other as the earlier photocall toward the beginning of the year includes a special viewing of the US Navy Blue Angels during one of their practice airshows, a month before their actual first show of the year for the public at NAF El Centro.

You can read all about the first Photocall I went to in February in depth here with lots of photos. Being able to be up close to the Blue Angels (once again!) and the incredible power you feel as these massive F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets launch and recover on the runway is nearly indescribable. You get an appreciation for the technology, the pilots, and our military so much more when you’re that close and not only hearing (with ear protection, a MUST!) but FEELING the roar of the twin engines deep inside you. These photocalls are not just for kicks and giggles, but great publicity for the Navy, NAF El Centro, and aviation in general. One may look at NAF El Centro and just see a small air base with not much to it, but its critical mission of training pilots expands so much beyond its look and makes it one of the busiest bases for training. At its peak, you may see several Navy and Marine F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, T-45C Goshawk instructors, C-130 Hercules, every type of Marine Helicopters, and so much more launching and recovering. In the span of a half hour easily you can see 15-20 aircraft moving around the base. And beyond a United States training base, NAF El Centro serves as a temporary training home to several other allied countries throughout the year including the United Kingdom which often has helicopter assets there training in the Afghanistan like deserts near the base. These photocalls easily make the top of the list just because of how unique, rare, and amazing these very special events are. There’s no other place you can get photos such as these without breaking some law and risking getting into serious, and deadly trouble. I look forward to many more photocalls at NAF El Centro and the amazing photos to come! You never know what you might catch!
A MASSIVE thank you to all the staff, pilots, crew, etc of NAF El Centro for their wonderful hospitality during these photocalls. Special thanks to Kris and Michelle for making things happen each year! And finally a big thank you to Keith for my invitations!


So there you have it, the best of 2012! I can’t thank the pilots, crews, models, and everyone behind the scenes who’ve helped me get these incredible opportunities this year! There’s far too many of you all to name, but know I sincerely appreciate everything you’ve done for me to make another year a success! I hope this year is just as fruitful in both aviation and pinups with lots of new opportunities, advancements, and new material!

Here’s to a wonderful New Year to all of you! I hope this 2013 year brings some new light to a darkening world and we’re able to pick up where we are and move on for the better. I’d say once again that one of my Resolutions for this year is to update this blog more, but we saw how that went with the last blog post that I made a year ago… Oops. Well, either way:


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