Musings of an Aviation Photographer

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P-38 Lightning Formation - Air to Air - Planes of Fame 2013 Here we are again, a new year. With the close of 2013, and the opening of 2014, the world is rapidly changing. Electronics have advanced to where cell phones are also cameras with 40+ megapixels. Smart glasses and watches seem to be the way of the future. Now you can just tell your phone to take a photo rather than actually take it yourself. Digital cameras are getting more powerful at the cheaper range. High end professional cameras seem to be slowing a little compared to the consumer level cameras which seem to have a new one released every few months. The world is getting more and more high tech, even with serious budget crunches. There’s still a recession, but in some areas you wouldn’t know. This year saw the first time mass amount of airshows and aviation events were either totally cancelled or scaled back to the point they lost money. A sequestration was in affect, and almost overnight modern military aircraft disappeared from every airshow that was able to continue to happen. There were highs and lows, a few historical moments and a few disasters. And now it’s time to wipe the slate clean for a new year, a year where technology is at it’s absolute cutting edge and the money problems of 2013 seem to be already looking a bit better for 2014.

Like the past few years, with the New Year it’s time for another countdown of photo moments for 2013! This year didn’t seem to have as many, mostly because of the budget issues of the country. Because of this I decided to go with a top 10 instead of previous year’s top 15. Still, however, there were some pretty historic moments and some incredible opportunities that I was fortunate enough to take part in. Most ended up being aviation related, ironically, even with the lack of shows and events. However there were a few pinup related moments that ended up turning into something big. It should be mentioned that 2013 I made a switch in cameras (first time in many years) from the Canon 1D Mark III to the brand new Canon 1DX. That was a pretty big milestone all on its own, and almost all of the top 10 moments were taken with the new camera. So without further adieu, here are the top moments of 2013!

Best Photography Moment #10:

Tiger Swim

Animal Kingdom - Tigers - Walt Disney World

Another photography venue to shoot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is the various animals at the Animal Kingdom park. With several ‘trails’ where you can get up close to the animals and numerous shows there’s lots of great opportunities to get some top notch animal shots, even though they are in captivity. One of the things I always look forward to is also just a luck of the draw at the park: the Tiger Trail. Some years the Tigers will be very active and you’ll get some really unique shots, other years they are sound asleep and don’t move the entire trip you’re there. I’ve found that later in the day before the park closes is the best time to go photograph the Tigers, even though the light is fading fast. Keep in mind, these Tigers are basically big cats, so they sleep most of the day and try to stay cool whenever possible. Later in the day its cooler out and the Tigers know it’s almost time for them to eat and go in for the night, so they will pace throughout the enclosure and get right up to the window screens. This year, we lucked out as the Tigers were very active near the end of the day, especially one Tiger who decided it was still too hot and jumped into the water for a nice swim. I’d always wanted to get some shots of the Tigers playing around in the water, but this was way more than I expected as the Tiger swam around for a little bit creating some really nice ripples in the water as the evening light filled the air. This year’s Tiger photography was a success!

Best Photography Moment #9:

Hornet Burner

NAF El Centro - F/A-18C Hornet - VMFAT-101 Sharpshooters

One of the neatest things about Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, is their very personal relationships with local photography groups. Twice a year, select photographers are invited through these groups to come and participate in a photocall. Basically, the photocall entails able to stand on the side of the runway during air operations with fighter jets, helicopters, and more. It’s an incredible experience to be less than 20 feet from a F/A-18 Hornet with full afterburner on takeoff, or to feet the pound as a C-2 Greyhound performs a carrier touch and go on the runway. I’ve been to a few of these wonderful photocalls as this really crucial base (you can read about previous photocalls on the photo essay section of warbird photos: ) and each one is just as incredible as the next. During the February photocall, the participants are given a special treat as the United States Navy Blue Angels reside on the base for their winter training and are given a private practice airshow performance before the rest of the world officially is able to see it at the El Centro Airshow in March. For this February’s photocall, we were treated to a variety of different aircraft including F-18 Hornets, E/A-18G Growler special electronic warfare aircraft, EA-6B Prowlers, and MV-22 Ospreys. But the best shots actually came from the very end of the day as the sun was setting over the Imperial Valley mountains and two F/A-18C Hornets from the VMFAT-101 ‘Sharpshooters’ squadron based at the not too far away MCAS Miramar in San Diego launched to head back home to Miramar. With their afterburners brightly lit, the Hornets roared into the sky making for some really striking photos!

Best Moment #8:

Enchanted Castle

Magic Kingdom - Cinderella's Castle - Walt Disney World

Each year in early November a few friends and I take a trip out to Walt Disney World, Florida. We spend about a week out there enjoying the variety of different Disney parks and getting to see the seasonal change to Christmas time with all the decorations, shows, and parades. Walt Disney World is a photographer’s dream with so many different types of photographic opportunities at the parks that you can really go overboard with photos. From the picturesque themeing of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom to the animals at Animal Kingdom, the World Showcase of EPCOT to the 1940s deco of Hollywood Studios; there’s so much to shoot out there. Probably the only thing more iconic than the massive ‘golf ball’ at EPCOT is Cinderella’s castle in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. It’s hard NOT to get a really spectacular photo of this huge iconic structure and when you first see it as you stroll down Main Street it’s enough to make you stop in your tracks and say ‘wow!’ One of the best photo locations for the castle is actually off to the two sides where you can get the water moat and the reflection of the castle. In particular, the very left of the castle there’s a bridge that takes you over the moat and into Liberty Square where you can look back and get a fantastic photo of the whole castle over the water. Without a wide angle lens or full frame camera over the years, however, I’ve been stuck doing panoramas in order to fit everything into one shot. This year I had the Canon 1DX Full Frame camera with me for the first time, and after several years shooting almost the exact same shots with the same Canon 1D Mark III camera I was excited to get some new angles and photos with the full frame. I found that I was finally able to get the entire castle and reflection with the 1DX in one shot for the first time.

I decided on one particularly scattered cloudy day to do an HDRI image from this vantage point. An HDRI (High Dynamic Range Image) is basically where you take several images at varying exposures (too dark, dark, normal, light, too light for example) and you combine them all together to get a ‘perfectly exposed photo’ with everything in the shot being vibrant and exposed properly for. This also gives the photo a sort of fantasy feel because it almost looks fake. The resulting shot of the castle after I put all the exposures together was pretty spectacular and generated a lot of buzz in the social world!

Best Photography Moment #7:

Aeroscraft Airship

Aeroscraft Airship - Dragon One

Back in late January, I had heard about a massive airship being built at the former MCAS Tustin base in the huge blimp hangars that would change the way of air cargo transport. On the forefront of dirigible airship technology, Aeroscraft had a scale version of what their final airship would be working at the former base. They announced they would have a very limited open house where the public could come see the airship in the hangar and learn about what they were doing. I jumped on this opportunity as I haven’t been able to walk into those huge blimp hangars since the base was still active many many years ago. I contacted them and was personally invited out to take photos for my website and also for them to be able to use on their facebook page. It was great to be back on that base again, especially as the developers slowly eat it away into new housing complexes, schools, and shopping centers eroding the history that’s been there for generations. It’s tough to describe the sheer size of the airship sitting very snugly in this hangar. It only takes half of the hangar (the other half is still used by Goodyear for doing work on their blimps from time to time) but still manages to look like it barely fits. I was able to photograph the airship from many different angles and get a special tour of the cab sitting underneath on the belly. It’s a pretty amazing concept for the future of cargo transfer, even military uses, and complete reboot of the world’s concept of a blimp. I’m very thankfully to have had the opportunity to come and see the ship, and have been currently working on getting back out there to photograph some of the outside hover tests! Hopefully some of those shots will end up making the 2014 top ten next year!

Best Photography Moment #6:

Avenger Bunnies

Avenger Bunnies Group Shot

This year saw the super success of the billion dollar making superhero collaboration film ‘The Avengers.’ As with most years at Comic Con, groups of cosplayers try to take these popular characters and movies and twist them into a unique way that has never been seen before. For a group of rather famous cosplay gals, they decided to take the Avengers and tweak them with a pinup and playboy bunny twist… into the Avenger Bunnies. Each of the Avengers, including the SHIELD agent Coulson and Nick Fury, have been included into this group which got wide spread attention at the 2012 Comic Con in San Diego. I was honored to be asked by the main leaders of the group to do a special photoshoot in the studio with the entire Avenger Bunny group. The shoot would be part Valentine’s Day photoshoot, part Pinup Shoot, and part character shoot for the group. Being that I’ve done work with the Satin Dollz pinup dancers group I’ve had a lot of experience with large groups for photoshoots, and with my pinup work they decided I would be the best person to capture this really unique photoshoot. It was a lot of fun working with them all and coming up with some very funny ways to portray these Avenger characters including interactions between them. From Hulk smashing through a paper heart to Loki piercing a paper heart held by Coulson and a ‘bro-mance’ (or should be it ‘sis-mance’ in this case?) between Hawkeye and the Black Widow… it was a blast!

Best Photography Moment #5:

Paratrooper Pinups

WW2 Military Pinups - Kelsey - Enlist in the 82nd Airborne

Pinup Shoots continued this year and saw some awesome new opportunities including opening the first Dietz Dolls Online Store selling prints, posters, and the 2014 Pinup Calendar. Lots of new outfits, props, and new styles came about this year and advanced the pinups to a whole new level. One particular theme seemed to explode this year with sales of this type of pinup flying off the virtual shelves… Paratroopers. It started with the now somewhat famous shot of Kelsey in a WW2 82nd Airborne uniform that I turned into a recruitment propaganda poster for joining the 82nd. This immediately went viral on Facebook being seen thousands of times and shared hundreds of times. When doing the shoot with Kelsey, I had an 82nd Airborne reenactor there with his authentic uniform to make sure we were getting just about everything (aside from some ‘pinup liberties’) correct. Shortly after that shoot, I continued on with the paratrooper theme shooting with the fan-favorite Kayla and doing a comical look at how a paratrooper should not dress as Kayla loses her pants in mid jump. This pinup also went viral and was shared like crazy. Kelsey and Kayla’s Paratrooper pinups helped inspire me to get the online Dietz Dolls store up and running and to continue with even more new military pinup themes including an upcoming Army Air Force project.

Best Photography Moment #4:

Memphis Belle

B-17F Flying Fortress - 'The Movie Memphis Belle'

Continuing with the aviation moments, 2013 saw the first time that a very special aircraft graced the Southern California skies. There are many foundations and groups out there that operate warbirds that travel from airport to airport giving paid rides and educating people on WW2 aircraft. The Collings Foundation, the Commemorative Air Force, and the Liberty Foundation are just a few of the groups that bring out their heavy bombers and select fighters to different airports all around the United States on a grand circle tour. The Liberty Foundation had been doing that very sort of tour with their B-17 known as ‘Liberty Belle’ when there was an unfortunate accident that caused the B-17 to make an emergency landing in an inaccessible field, and while everyone survived the landing the B-17 caught on fire and was pretty much burned to the ground. The owners of the B-17F Flying Fortress ‘The Movie Memphis Belle’ (A B-17G that was converted to an earlier F model B-17 for the movie ‘Memphis Belle’) graciously let the Liberty Foundation continue on their nationwide tour using their B-17. On the tour stops for this unique aircraft wearing the same paint scheme as the original famous ‘Memphis Belle’ Flying Fortress was Long Beach Airport and Burbank Airport. The aircraft would be doing several rides a day and for those who headed out to these two airports it was a great opportunity to catch this rarely seen airplane in these parts. I’ve always been a big fan of the classic Olive Brown and Grey paint scheme on the early 1943 B-17s, so this was a wonderful opportunity to catch this beautiful bird in the air. A lot of catching her as she flew on those weekends at both airports was a luck shoot, as the Belle had to do the rides with normal airline traffic happening at the airport. So often the runways would be switched as she came in for a landing because an airliner or other airplane had just landed or was in the pattern. This made it tough to figure out where to be to get the best shot as the runways could be changed last second, not giving you enough time to reposition yourself. But all in all, it was a fantastic sight to see and hopefully one that will be back in SoCal in 2014!

Best Photography Moment #3:

Warhawk Lineage

P-40C Warhawk & P-40N Warhawk - Air to Air

From one Planes of Fame Airshow 2013 event making this list to another, I had another great opportunity just two days before the Lightning flight to go up and shoot two other very famous aircraft in formation. On the Wednesday through Friday before the big airshow, often pilots will take up aircraft for quick little short flights just to test the aircraft and make sure everything is perfectly sound. Most of the airplanes will have had special maintenance just before the show and with safety to the pilots and the crowds it’s better to test out the aircraft before the paying customers line the airport. On the Wednesday before the show, I had heard of the two Curtiss P-40 Warhawks at the museum doing a test flight together. The Planes of Fame Museum owns the P-40N Warhawk, which not only is a combat veteran having shot down a Japanese weather balloon (the only confirmed US air-kill on the continental American soil) but is a movie star having appeared in several movies such as Pearl Harbor and Valkyrie. The other P-40 would be a very special early model P-40C Warhawk that was a big surprise at the last airshow when it was towed out for static display. This all chrome and beautifully clean P-40 is not often seen flying at airshows or events, so I knew with both the P-40 N and the P-40C flying it was a great opportunity to capture them both. To make this an even better shoot, the two aircraft would be flown by Steven Hinton (President of Planes of Fame Museum and world famous pilot) and his son Steven Hinton Jr (Reno Air Race Winner).

Myself and another photographer paid for the gas in a small Cessna for this photoshoot, and up we went around sunset during the golden hour for this very quick shoot. Both P-40s looked incredible off our wing, both taking turns being in front of the other so we were able to get top notch shots. I really like the fact that it was the Hinton father and son as this made it an even better shoot with a great story to go with it.

Best Photography Moment #2:


NASA LANDSAT Satellite Launch - February 11, 2013

In early 2013, I saw a post on NASA’s social network page about a special event happening with the launch of the LANDSAT 8 satellite in early February. They had opened a special contest to be part of a ‘NASA Social’ where you’d be able to get some special access to NASA facilities and actually get to view the satellite launch. I signed up, not thinking I’d be selected, but low and behold I received an email saying I had been accepted and I was on the list to go! What an incredible experience it was, and very rare at that! After a 3 and a half hour long drive from Orange County to Lompc, California, the first part of the tour would be to visit the mission control facility NASA has there at Vandenburg Air Force Base for the various launches conducted there and to in the audience for a live TV interview broadcasting with several people who worked on the project. Being in the mission control center was pretty incredible on its own and could have easily made this list, but the day was far from over. From the mission control facility we were bused over to Vandenburg AFB for a special lunch on the base which took us through some special roads that were made for transporting the Space Shuttle. After lunch, we were then taken on an incredible tour journey throughout Vandenburg AFB, something pretty much no one gets to do, to not only the missile silo museum (which houses a massive THOR SM-75 intermediate range ballistic missile) but to also a few of the actual launch platforms for rockets and even the planned, but never used, space shuttle launch pad. To top off the end of the day, we were taken to the actual ATLAS V rocket carrying the LANDSAT Satellite to get an up-close view of it sitting in the launch platform. Seeing that massive rocket right there was pretty incredible, and a once in a life time sort of event!

The next day, we were invited to the special NASA launch party at a nearby park where all the media covering the launch and all the NASA and USGS employees that helped make this rocket and satellite happen would be watching the launch. Even though it was seven miles away, you could clearly see the rocket with your own eyes, and being able to witness a rocket launch into space was one of my bucket list items for my life.

Best Photography Moment #1:

Historic Lightning Formation

P-38 Lightning Formation - Air to Air - Planes of Fame 2013

When the Planes of Fame Air Museum first announced that this year’s theme for the airshow would be ‘Lightning Strikes,’ I knew they were working on something big. Every year they try to pull together something really amazing and unheard of… like mass formations of P-51 Mustangs, or most of the P-47 Thunderbolts that still exist. One of the most popular and widely known warbirds is the P-38 Lightning, a twin engine airplane that was nicknamed the ‘fork tailed devil’ by the Germans. The idea was to gather as many of the Lightnings as possible for the airshow. With only about a dozen currently flying around the world and those in the United States scattered all over, this wouldn’t be an easy feat. But, as the airshow grew near, more and more Lightnings were recruited till there were over 4 scheduled to be in attendance. Some had to make pretty long cross country journeys, but the effort was worth it as when the weekend for the airshow was upon us Lightning after Lightning began to fill the skies over Chino. All in all, five P-38 Lightnings came to the show with a sixth static ‘droop snout’ version P-38 rolled over from the near-by Yanks Air Museum. This would end up being a historic moment as they all flew together, making one of the largest formations of Lightnings since World War 2. After the war, the P-38 wasn’t really needed with the P-51s and the dawn of the jet fighters, so most were scrapped following WW2.

I knew, as did many other photographers at the show, that there would be at some point an air-to-air photo shoot with all of the flyable Lightnings, we just didn’t know when. Naturally, everyone wanted to be onboard whatever aircraft they could when this historic formation was airborne, so come Saturday night after the airshow it was no wonder the pre-briefing for the photo flight was saturated with photographers trying to do whatever they could to be a part of it. I was one of the very fortunate photographers that were selected to be a part of the Planes of Fame Air Museum’s own group shooting with world famous aviation photographer Paul Bowen. We launched in the museum’s B-25 Mitchell bomber so several museum related photographers could go as well. With the day getting later and later, we were finally met, one at a time, with the entire formation and what a sight it was being able to see all 5 of these Lightnings in formation. This easily makes the TOP of the list for this year for very obvious reasons! A big thanks to the Planes of Fame Air Museum for making this all happen!

Honorable Mention:

Big and Small

LAX - AirFrance Airbus A380 & Alaska Airlines Boeing 737

And finally, in honorable mention is a fun photo that really stood out to me this year. This list isn’t just special once in a lifetime moments, but also special photos that really stood out throughout the year. Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine the sheer size of the aircraft that take to the skies above planet earth. Some are so massive, you can’t comprehend how they can fly when gravity is pushing on them so much. Even when you see them it can be tough to gauge just how big these aircraft are unless you’re right underneath them. I snapped this shot in early February as a small Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 was being followed by a massive Airfrance Airbus A380, the largest airliner in service currently. This really gives you sense of scale at just how large the Airbus is when you think about that little Boeing 737 is the most common airliner in service. You’ve probably flown on a 737… everyone from Southwest to United uses the versatile airliner. So think about how big that airplane seemed to you, and then look at this photo again and think about just how large that Airbus is. That’s huge.

So there you have it, 10 Best Photos Moments with a special Honorable Mention. Another year has finished, and it’s time to create some new memories and photographs to share with the world. As always, I’d say one of my New Years resolutions is to update this blog again aside from this yearly best photo moments post, but I know a year from now I’ll be saying the same thing. Regardless of the blog, keep an eye on Warbird Photos and Dietz Dolls for a lot of exciting new features and directions this year! So here’s to 2014 and all the new possibilities it can hold!


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