It’s that time of the year again! Well, the end of a year and the start of another… and with the end of 2015 coming and going like it was a distance memory (it pretty much does feel like that now being it’s already a week after the start of 2016!) it’s time to reflect on the best of 2015 and look forward to what’s to come this new year! 2015 was a pretty normal year as far as aviation goes, with some new shows here and there and the military appearing a bit more now almost fully recovered from the sequestrations that brought many airshows to a halt. It’s been a rather quiet year for photography overall, especially Canon in the upper levels of their SLR line like the Canon 1DX. The incredible 50 megapixel Canon 5DS was announced, but otherwise it’s been quiet.
That all being said, this was the first full year of having a Canon 500mm myself, and the first year where finally I wouldn’t be getting the same photos I get every year from these airshows. With the 500mm and the 1.4 extender, I was able to reach up to 700mm with the full frame 1Dx camera! This meant angles and shots like I’ve never been able to get before. It’s been quite the learning experience with this lens, especially hand holding the really heavy weight! Even though it was like relearning how to pan and having to think creatively as at times the 700mm or even 500mm was too close to get everything… so you’d have to think artistically and see how you can frame something that close and make it a great photo.
The top photo moments of 2015 is heavy on the aviation side, as usual, but for good reason. 2015 saw the most air to air shoots I’ve been done in many years, with many of them having incredible subjects. As it stands right now, three photos from three different events on this list are actually now hanging on walls in the house, giving you an idea of how much I loved the shots I was able to get this year! I decided to keep the list to 10 moments again, but could have easily filled the top 15 moments with other things that were awesome but just couldn’t make the top 10. So let’s get on with the show!
Starting off with honorable mention this year, I had to include this ‘end of an era’ with the last time I’d be able to photograph the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World, Orlando Florida. Each year, a few friends and I make an annual trek out to the Walt Disney World right around the start of November. At that time we get to see the end of the Halloween festivities in the parks and see the start of the Christmas holiday celebration there. If you’ve never been to Walt Disney World during Christmas time, there’s a LOT to see! Sadly, however, this year of our trip marked the end of one of our favorite things to see… the Osborne Lights. “The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights was a display of Christmas lights and decorations at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. Initially constructed by an Arkansas businessman as a gift for his six-year-old daughter, the display became one of the most popular attractions during the park’s holiday season.” (Wikipedia) With over ten miles of lights strands and over five million lights adorning the New York backlot, this incredible light show was programmed to dim on and off to different Christmas songs every few minutes. It was incredible to see in person and one of the best ways to kick off the Christmas season. Sadly, while this display had been running for 20 years, this would be the last season as the whole backlot area of Hollywood Studios would be removed to make way for the new Star Wars land. We made sure to catch the lights just about every night of our trip and I made sure to photograph and take videos of every angle possible for one last time!
Best Photography Moment #10:
Dietz Dolls Pinups
Kicking off this year’s list was actually two different shoots that I’m combining into one! 2015 didn’t see as many 1940s style pinup photoshoots in the studio as previous years, but two gals that came in made up for that with incredible shoots that I’m still very happy about! Actually, both gals had their shoots on opposite sides of the year, in fact, but were the two longest sessions of the year shooting about 10-15 different looks in one shoot each! They were quite the troopers with a very long day of holding poses that would normally not be something you’d do in everyday life. Both shoots were equally epic, and I look forward to posting more shots from their shoots in the coming months!
First up I had the pleasure of doing a shoot with beautiful Shauna, who I’d wanted to shoot a proper shoot with after a hurried on a few years ago. Themes for her included tropical, pirate, recreating classic pinup artwork, western, vintage lingerie, vintage swimwear, WW2 Army Air Force and much more! Shauna was game for any theme/style/outfit I wanted to try out which made the whole process go really smooth and allowed some experimenting with new ideas!
Then, I had a special shoot with beautiful Cristina, who flew all the way down from Colorado to the studio to do a marathon session of photos ranging from vintage swimwear, holiday (Christmas, 4th of July, New Years), vintage dresses, Cavegirl, WW2 Army Air Force and Army Infantry, and lots more. Cristina was a model pinup during the shoot really taking direction well and making some really spot on pinup shots!
Below are some RAW studio shots from both their shoots along with some finished ‘1940s processed’ examples.
Best Photography Moment #9:
MCAS Yuma Airshow
2015 was the first year I was able to catch the 1-day MCAS Yuma, Arizona airshow. Typically, the airshow always seemed to fall on the same weekend/day of the NAF El Centro Airshow which always had precedence because of the USN Blue Angels being based there for the winter. But, in a miracle, Yuma set their airshow date to the weekend after El Centro. While it was a pretty long trek, it was a unique airshow and at an airbase I had yet to visit. With beautiful weather and great lighting, this US Marine Corps Air Station is also half a civilian airport (Yuma International). The proximity to the runway and taxiways were fantastic, allowing some really up close shots of the Marine Corps aircraft in a time when most airshow aircraft are being pushed further away. The MV-22 Osprey put on a wonderful demo, but the highlights of the show for me was the F-5 Tiger II aggressor demonstration (something you don’t see at other Airshows on the west coast) and some rather up close and personal shots with the brand new F-35B Lightning II which, up till that time, was the best lighting and closest I’ve been able to shoot one. My spot at the show was head on with one of the main taxiways giving me a head on shot of most of the flying aircraft, including the active military ones, throughout the show. This was only the second military airshow I had been able to use my Canon 500mm L lens on, and I’m very pleased of the shots I was able to get. It’s a shame that there’s no MCAS Yuma Airshow 2016 this year, but already looking forward to the 2017 Airshow!
Best Photography Moment #8:
USAF Heritage Flight
The first of FIVE air-to-air shoots to make the list this year (which is still leaving out two other air to air shoots!) was courtesy of the Planes of Fame Airshow 2015. Every year the Planes of Fame Air Museum out at Chino, California, puts together a world famous airshow that draws aviation fans from all over the world to the otherwise quiet airport. Every year they try to collect some of the rarest aircraft in the world and the latest and greatest fighter jets to showcase at the airshow, and this year was no different. The F-22 Raptor returned to Chino in a very rare second year in a row performance which also meant the return of the USAF Heritage Flight. Last year, I had been able to go up in the museum’s B-25 Mitchell to shoot the USAF Heritage practice with a P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt, P-38 Lightning, and F-22 Raptor. Unfortunately, that shoot didn’t turn out well due to various positioning issues and the shots were very limited. This year, it was decided to try the shoot again, this time with a bit more briefing on aircraft formations and positioning with the B-25 photoship. So on the Friday practice show, I loaded back up into the B-25 Mitchell and went airborne for another attempt. The aircraft for this attempt would be a P-51A Mustang ‘Miss Virginia,’ P-51C Mustang ‘Boise Bee,’ P-51D Mustang ‘Spam Can,’ and the F-22 Raptor. This time, the aircraft were positioned perfectly but intense winds made for an incredibly turbulent flight. It was hard to keep the camera steady as we hit pockets of wind sheer throwing us around in the B-25. This also caused the otherwise solid formation to be blown around making it very difficult for them to stay tight and where they needed to be. But through all the bumps and rattles, I still managed to get some really awesome keepers of the Mustang/Raptor formation! Had this not been the second attempt at this air to air shoot, this would have easily been much higher on this year’s list!
Best Photography Moment #7:
2015 also ushered in something new for me, a new house! Purchasing a new house in the Corona area gave me an incredible view in the backyard that overlooks everything from the Prado wetlands through Chino and beyond Ontario/Pomona into the foothills of Mount Baldy. In mid-October, a good sized storm rolled through the Riverside area and through the Cajon pass. Once it reached the Riverside and Ontario area, lightning began to appear in, at times, what seemed like 5 second intervals from 3-4 different locations throughout the region. From the backyard, I had quite the light show for several hours, but it wasn’t until the storm hit the Cajon pass that the bolts of lightning got larger and more intense. I immediately ran for my 100-400 lens and set the camera up for 30 second long exposures on a remote timer. Pointing the camera to the right location at the right time and I managed to get some of the most dramatic lightning shots I’ve ever gotten! I should backpedal a bit and mention that seeing lightning around the Orange County area where I used to live was almost as rare as getting hail… maybe every 5-6 years you’d get a tiny lightning storm that would last a few minutes and only produce a handful of bolts with long periods of time between flashes… So to see lightning that intense and from my own backyard was quite the treat! With El Nino set to hit Southern California for the next few months, there might be more opportunities for shots like this!
Best Photography Moment #6:
NAF El Centro Photocalls 2015
This has to be a record as the NAF El Centro Photocalls have made this list for a FOURTH time now in a row! After four times making the list, you might wonder how I could possibly get something new that’s worth making the overall top 10 photo moments of 2015… well, it’s due to some special opportunities at the photocall and mostly because it was the first time I was able to shoot the US Navy Blue Angels with my newly purchased Canon 500mm L lens! I had always dreamed of getting a large fixed lens, and finally everything aligned in late 2014 for me to finally purchase one. Unfortunately, however, I got it after the 2014 airshow season had ended, so I would have to wait till 2015 to really try it out. El Centro was the first military base I was able to lug the lens out to in 2015 and the first time I’d be able to get shots/angles of the Blue Angels that I’d never gotten before with just the 100-400 lens. Keep in mind, with the Canon 1DX, a 1.4 converter, and the 500mm lens I was shooting 700mm!
One image, however, stood out during the two photocalls this year and was actually subject to some controversy… the above US Navy Blue Angel ‘stack’ went semi-viral on Facebook and other social media platforms with people sharing this unusual angle of the Blues. About two days after I had posted it, I got an email from a former Blue Angel alumni (along with some other people) who said my photo was causing a lot of talk about how it has to be photoshopped because the numbering on the Blue Angel jets were all wrong (instead of 1, 2, 3, 4 it’s 4, 2, 3, 4). Actually, the image is just how they flew that particular practice show day. It was originally 1, 2, 3, and 5 as there was some issue with the #4 jet as it was sitting in the hangar (there were actually two #4 jets), so he took the #5 one since the #5 jet was using a two-seat #7. (still with me?) So now it was 1, 2, 3, and 5. On take-off, #1 had an engine flameout on takeoff and immediately landed and jumped into the spare #4 aircraft that wasn’t in the hangar. He launched and joined up with the diamond to complete the practice demonstration with this unusual numbering of aircraft, and one of my now favorite Blue Angel shots!
Best Photography Moment #5:
Apple Valley Airshow Flights
In mid October each year, the Apple Valley Airport hosts their annual airshow. With a picturesque backdrop of the desert hills and mountains, it’s a nice little airshow to attend! The Planes of Fame Air Museum has been a part of the show for some time, sending some of their warbirds out to the show. I wasn’t able to head out with the Planes of Fame group last year, but this year I got a call and was able to hitch a ride there and back on the museum’s B-25 Mitchell bomber. These sort of trips are perfect to get some air to air photography in as the aircraft all try and leave in a big gaggle. We loaded up on a Friday afternoon and launched from Chino Airport in the B-25 with a F4U Corsair, two P-51D Mustangs (including Palm Springs Air Museum’s Tuskegee P-51 ‘Bunny’), and the Russian Yak-3. Due to some delays, we weren’t able to get out of the airport on our way to very late in the day, so the light was nearly depleted when we were airborne. This mean bumping up the ISO on the camera and working with the settings to expose for ever darkening skies. The results, with the last bits of orange glow, came out really great! The pilots moved around the formation and gave myself and the other photographer onboard some great photo ops as we flew. As we touched down at the Apple Valley airport the light was almost completely gone and darkness had almost set in.
The next day, we loaded back up into the B-25 to head home about 70% of the way through the airshow. Most of the other aircraft had already departed for home earlier after their demonstrations for the show. The Yak-3, P-51D Mustang ‘Wee Willy II’, and the P-40 Warhawk were the only ones left to fly home with us. The Yak and Mustang went on ahead, so the entire way home we got the P-40 to form up with us for quite the shoot over mountainous terrain, a lake, and the desert floor. All in all a really great impromptu air to air session both days (not to mention it’s always fun to fly in a B-25!)
Best Photography Moment #4:
Aviator Flight Training Epic Shoot
A lot of my air to air shoots throughout the last few years couldn’t have been done without the help of Aviator Flight Training and their leader Daniel Wotring. This wonderful group helps pilots learn how to fly almost anything with a propeller. With an ever growing fleet of aircraft, this company has expanded into quite the aviation service for new pilots. We had long talked about having a ‘epic air to air shoot’ with Aviator Flight Training’s entire aircraft fleet. This would be no small task, as the aircraft range from a rather slow PT-17 biplane to a rather fast T-6 Texan and several different modern aircraft in between. Flying a Stearman and Texan together isn’t impossible, just difficult and requires quite the skilled pilots. After a few months of talking about it, we finally put the plan in motion in late January and decided to do the shoot on Valentine’s Day (Feb 14). Many safety meetings and briefings followed as the sheer amount of aircraft (six aircraft in formation, one ‘eye in the sky’ aircraft to keep in contact with various air traffic controls for the whole group so the other pilots could concentrate on the formations, and our photo plane) required a lot of pre-planning and visualization of where we’d be flying.
Getting up at the crack of dawn and arriving at Fullerton Airport (AFT is now located at Cable Airport), I boarded a Helio Courier H-295 sea plane which would be the photoship for myself and fellow photographer Glen Tagami. We launched one at a time and formed up as we traversed through Orange County on the way to the beaches just as the sun began to peak above the mountains. After making several orbits in several different formations over the beach, we travelled back inland and headed to the La Habra area where we orbited and split the formation into individual aircraft for solo photoshoots. After returning back to Fullerton Airport, we went back up again to shoot two more aircraft including the sea plane which we actually flew in. It was quite the day of flying and photographing and one of the best Air to Air shoots of the year! So many people were involved in getting this shoot off the ground… and each one of them was vital to the success of the shoot!
For the shoot, we had a Boeing PT-17 Stearman, Great Lakes 2T-1A-2 Biplane, American Champion Citabria, Cessna 170, Cessna 172, and North American T-6G Texan as the subject aircraft. The second shoot we had the a Helio Courier H-295 sea plane and a Grumman AG5B TIGER.
Best Photography Moment #3:
Bunny and Polly
Ever since I first saw Palm Springs Air Museum’s newly restored and repainted P-51D Mustang ‘Bunny’ in Tuskegee Airmen colors, I knew I had to get a shoot with the Mustang at some point. With some new management in the form of Mike Nightingale at the Palm Springs Museum, the museum’s aircraft were finally starting to show up again very active at airshows. With the great collection the PSAM has, it’s really wonderful to see the aircraft back in the air. I had mentioned to a pilot that I’d love to have the chance to shoot Bunny while it traversed to an airshow sometime in the near future, as that’s often the best way to catch warbirds in the air. I got a message a few weeks later saying that Bunny would be flying with the museum’s P-63A Kingcobra ‘Pretty Polly’ and their T-28C Trojan to do a fly-over of a wedding in Temecula. There was an opportunity to get some shots as they flew from the museum and orbited waiting for the que to come in for the fly-over. I jumped at the chance to work with the pilots and in early September I drove to Palm Springs on a Sunday afternoon. Arriving at the airport, I found out I’d be in the backseat of the T-28 Trojan (and aircraft I’d always wanted to try shooting from and had never been in before)!
We loaded into the Vietnam War era Trojan and launched out of Palm Springs Airport with the P-63 and P-51 launching separately. We met up over the San Gorgonio Pass and headed to Temecula to orbit. It was during this time I was able to get some shots of Bunny and the Pretty Polly, both separate and in different formations. Due to the wedding vows going a little long, I was able to get quite a lot of shooting in with all the different orbits we did while waiting. After the fly-over, we headed up back Palm Springs were I was able to get even more shots before finally breaking off and landing at the airport. All in all, it was a wonderful shoot and a pleasure working with the PSAM Staff! It had also been many many years (like over 15-18 years!) since I’d been to the Palm Springs Air Museum, so it was great to walk around and see all the new displays they have. It’s a wonderful museum to visit if you’re in the area!
Best Photography Moment #2:
Blue Angel Departure/MCAS Miramar 2015
This best moment is two-parts, but from the same airshow. After purchasing my Canon 500mm lens, I was really excited to finally be able to use it at the MCAS Miramar Airshow. Next to the Planes of Fame Airshow, the MCAS Miramar Airshow is my all time favorite military base airshow as it reminds me of the MCAS El Toro Airshows that I grew up with. Miramar will always have a special place for me because of that. This three day Airshow in San Diego draws more than half a million people during the three days of the show. With the latest and greatest aircraft, this show headlines the Blue Angels and pretty much the military air power currently used by the Marines.
1) The first great moment happened actually after the airshow was over. One of the things to do is not leave early at the Miramar show. You never know what you might catch after the show is over all three days. On the last day, often many (if not most) of the aircraft will depart to head home, and as a photographer this is a great chance to get some flying shots of the aircraft that were static throughout the show. I had waited till the very end of the last day of the show. It had been raining off and on throughout the day, but the show still went on with most acts being just delayed. After the show was over, a gorgeous sunset appeared with the scattered clouds, and since crowds were already very light because of the rain most people had left right after the Blue Angels had flown. I was one of the last ones to leave the base after the Marines pushed us out, and I decided to hang out at my car in the parking lot (which is actually the parking ramp for the CH-53 Super Stallions and MV-22 Ospreys) and see if I could catch any of the late in the day departures as they would often bank right next to that ramp area when airborne. It was just before 5pm, which was about two hours after the show had ended, when suddenly all six Blue Angels plus one two seat #7 Blue Angel and the Blue Angel’s C-130 Hercules ‘Fat Albert’ all fired up. It looked like they wanted to beat the weather and head to their next airshow which would be Fleet Week in San Francisco landing at Oakland, CA airport. After taxiing to the end of the runway, the four diamond aircraft took off from the right runway while the two solos took off from the left runway. In a super ‘right time, right place, right angle’ moment, I was able to catch all six aircraft launching at the same time. I’ve never gotten a shot like this before with all the Blues launching at one time (the above photo). Right after the 6 aircraft took off into a picturesque sunset; the #7 jet launched and joined the group. And just a few minutes after that, ‘Fat Albert’ took off and made a spectacular bank into the sunset light right next to the parking ramp! This is where it pays to be one of the very last ones out!
2) Now armed with the 500mm, I was excited to get angles and shots I’d never been able to get before with the 100-400mm lens. Keep in mind, I’ve been using the 1.4 extender giving me 700mm on the Canon 1DX camera, that’s nearly twice the focal length! Add in the heavy moisture in the air during the Saturday night show and the entire show on Sunday, and the vapor was pretty intense! It was a great show to really showcase what the 500mm can do! These are some of my all time favorite MCAS Miramar shots now! I’ve always enjoyed cloudy skies as it makes for diffused soft lighting, when it’d otherwise be very back-lit at MCAS Miramar causing dark airplanes against a bright sky. Additionally, on the Saturday twilight show during the night F-18 Hornet afterburner passes, I managed to capture a series of shots where the Hornet made a vapor cone illuminated by the burners. These cones only last for milliseconds as they appear and vanish as the airplane hits pockets of moist air while going near supersonic. Putting the sequence of photos together, I made an animated GIF (above) of the pass with the vapor which was shared over 100 times on facebook! Overall I was very happy with this year’s Miramar Airshow photos, and can’t wait till the 2016 show!
Best Photography Moment #1:
Taking the #1 spot this year was an air to air shoot that went from inception to landing after having finished the shoot in a bit over 16 hours. The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) based in Texas is one of the largest warbird organizations operating some of the most rare an exotic aircraft on nation-wide tours each year. The most rare and famous aircraft in their fleet has to be the last currently flying Boeing B-29 Superfortress known as ‘Fifi.’ Fifi has been flying since 1974 and until the newly restored ‘Doc’ takes to the skies will remain the only flying B-29 in the world. Fifi tours the nation each year as part of the ‘Air Power Tour’ which often favors the mid-eastern side of the United States. Ever so often, however, Fifi will head to the West Coast on a tour to different airports all across California. Up until this past year, I’d actually never seen any B-29 actually fly. In fact, the first time I’d seen Fifi was in 2013, and due to some engine issues I wasn’t able to see her fly from Burbank airport. Fifi hadn’t come back on a West Coast tour since that year, so I was looking forward to her return when I found out she’d be heading through Southern California during a quick tour. Two of those stops would be Camarillo Airport and from there to Palm Springs Airport. It was a Sunday night when I got word of the date and time that Fifi would be travelling from Camarillo to Palm Springs, which would be the very next day. An idea came to my mind that this might be one of the only times to catch Fifi from the air. It’s pretty rare getting an air to air shoot with Fifi… it’s not only very expensive to fly the aircraft (I’ve heard Fifi consumes 400 gallons of fuel per hour) but often the crew are in a bit of a hurry to get to the next airport as there might be rides waiting and you can’t have any sort of shoot with ride passengers aboard. I figured, however, that it was worth a shot to see if there was any chance of catching up with Fifi. I contacted the PAO for the CAF and also contacted my air to air pilot Daniel Wotring of Aviator Flight Training as well. It would be a total shot in the dark as the transition flight would be the very next day, and according to the schedule it was to arrive in Palm Springs at about Noon… just about 14 hours from that time! So after sending the two messages, I waited…
I first heard back from my pilot Daniel, who said he’d work the flight in (I mean, who wouldn’t want to fly alongside the ONLY flying B-29 Superfortress?!), so now it was just waiting the yes or no from the CAF group. I was half expecting a no, if only due to the less than 24 hour request but I wasn’t even sure if the CAF knew my air to air work over the years. It was about 5am in the morning when I got an email reply from Kim Pardon, who said she’d put me in touch with Fifi’s pilots and see if we couldn’t get something worked out! It was a fantastic email to get and I couldn’t wait to hopefully get this to work, but there were still a bunch of hurdles to work out… location logistics, formation speeds to work out between a one engine Texan and a four engine bomber, the time, and even how to do the briefing before the shoot since they were in Camarillo and we were at Fullerton Airport. Not to mention the pilot for Fifi was flying in to another airport and would have to drive up to Camarillo… which meant he couldn’t be reached via phone until he landed and was on his way to Camarillo. The good news, however, was that Daniel would be able to get me pretty close to Fifi as he was formation certified and has worked with the CAF many times. After finally getting ahold of the pilot and having a phone briefing, we worked out a location, rough time, and what type of orbit we’d do. I’d get one 360 race track turn, and then they’d have to head to Palm Springs. One obit turn might not seem like a lot, but with Fifi, even a half turn orbit photoshoot would be worth it! After some more delays in their launch from Camarillo, we were soon airborne about 1:30pm waiting for the massive bomber to appear on the horizon. It is amazing, however, how when you get into the air how small things become. Even something as big as a huge B-29 seems small and actually took a bit of time before we could make it out against ground as we were higher than the B-29 so we could dive down and get some speed on the T-6 to keep up with the faster B-29 a bit better. As we formed up with her, it was pretty amazing to think that my first time seeing a flying B-29 was while flying next to her… something I’ll never forget. But, it was time to get to work with the limited time we had, and I immediately started shooting away. The one downside to the day was the incredibly hazy skies below us, so hazy it wouldn’t really look good for photos. So we decided to stay a bit lower than Fifi and get more of the blue skies above her. It was a very quick shoot, but one I won’t forget! Perhaps one day I’ll get another chance to photograph her when the skies are a bit better, but this easily makes my #1 best photo moment of 2015… the time where I got to fly with the world’s only flying B-29 Superfortress!
So there you go, the top ten photo moments of 2015 plus an extra honorable mention. There are so many people I need to thank for these opportunities, which without them I wouldn’t have been able to have many of these special moments.
• Thank you to Shauna and Cristina for their wonderful work during their pinup shoots and being troopers through very long hours! http://www.dietzdolls.com
With that, another year ends and a new year is well into swing! With the first airshow of the year kicking off tomorrow at Cable Airport, who knows what new photo moments I’ll make this year! Here’s to many more opportunities and new experiences. 2015 was an incredible year of aviation, and I hope I can top it this year with even more. With new airshows popping up for this year and old airshows that had been since dormant showing up on the yearly schedule, there’s a lot in store for 2016! As always, I say I’d love to update this blog more than just the start of the year, but let’s be honest at this point… I’ll see you in January 2017 when the best photo moments of 2016 is posted!
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!
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