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Best Photo Moments of 2016

It’s that time of the year again. We’re already a few days into January and steaming forward into 2018! 2017 went by faster than ever it seemed, and suddenly it’s time to take the annual look back into the top photo moments of 2017. As usual, this blog serves as my look back to the previous year showcasing 10 of the top photo moments with an honorable mention.

This year was chalk full of aviation with so many airshows, air to air shoots, and other aviation related adventures that at times it was a bit overwhelming. October was the busiest month of the year with back to back major three-day airshows that kept me very busy. 2017 was also the second year of shooting all RAW instead of JPG which pushed the amount of space needed for the very large RAW files. By the end of November, the 4TB hard drive I was using to back up images from just 2017 was 97% full! At this rate, I might have to look into even larger hard drives for future years as I shoot more. There are still major pros and cons to shooting RAW, so I’m going to stick with it for this coming year. 2017 also saw some new ways of shooting airshows I’ve shot for many years, resulting in new angles I’ve not gotten yet. It was a pretty exciting year to have a lot of new material!

2017 didn’t see any new additions to my DSLR work horses. I currently still shoot with my primary Canon 1DX camera. Two supporting cameras, the 5D Mark II and 1D Mark III, completed my gear setup. This year I also shot heavily with my 500mm lens, and I’m still impressed by the quality and reach this massive lens achieves.

As usual, it was tough to limit down all the great photo moments to just the top 10. I originally started with 20 moments and had to painfully limit them down. So without any more introduction… here’s the TOP 10 COUNTDOWN of 2017!

Honorable Mention:

P-51D Mustang ‘Blondie’

P-51D Mustang 'Blondie'

Of course, every year I add an ‘honorable mention’ (which is really #11 on the list to start it off…), and for this year it’s a special air to air shoot with one of the coolest looking Nose Art on a P-51 Mustang (in my opinion)… the P-51d Mustang ‘Blondie’. Formerly called ‘Sparky’ (and covered with Jelly Belly beans), the P-51 went through a repaint removing the Jelly Belly sponsor and adding the paint scheme of Lt. Marvin Aurthur from the 334th Fighter Squadron with a special pinup nose art. As most people know, I also shoot vintage pinups done up in the style of the classic pinups from the 1940s by artists like George Petty and Alberto Vargas. While I’ve seen my share of pinup nose art over the years, this one (modified slightly from the original WW2 work for a more lingerie style and painted by Victory Girl) is one of the best 1940s looking pinups I’ve seen. Most of the modern pinups on WW2 aircraft have an issue with looking too modern, missing that classic 1940s pinup style. Nose Art pinups were heavily influenced (if not direct copies) of the pinups of the time, and finding that true Petty/Vargas looking pinup on nose art has become a bit of a rarity. Many kudos to Brant Seghetti/Jerri from Victory Girls for making this nose art perfect!

I’d seen ‘Blondie’ at the 2016 Planes of Fame Airshow for the first time with the new pinup artwork and I knew I had to do an air to air shoot with that airplane one of these days. The opportunity came up in May after the 2017 show to catch Brant Seghetti, owner of the Mustang, as he departed Chino Airport and headed back home. The Mustang had an extra week’s stay at the airport which made it perfect to do a quick air to air hop on the way out. It took a bit of work finding a photoship pilot, but John Maloney from the POF museum jumped in last second and we were off over Lake Matthews waiting for Brant. It was a relatively quick shoot so the lighting wasn’t the best (mid-afternoon harsh sunlight), but I was happy with how the shots came out and finally got some air to air photos with this beautiful Mustang!

Best Photography Moment #10:

Planes of Fame Airshow 2017

Planes of Fame Airshow 2017 - AD-4N Skyraider

I’ve been a volunteer and photographer for the Planes of Fame Museum for nearly 17 years now, having first joined around 2001. I’ve photographed every show since then, mostly sticking around the VIP/Media area to take photos. For 2017, I decided to try somewhere new… shooting between the runways. Being with the museum, I was given the opportunity to go out there on the second day of the airshow. I was interested in getting something different, as after 17 years of airshow shots the images start to look the same. Being between the runways would give me a more unique head on view of the aircraft as they made the race-track patterns during the various themed demos. Unfortunately, it was also the most cloudy and (at the very end) rainy day of the airshow that Sunday, but I decided to make the best of it as this would be something different.

Boarding a truck with Dan Stijovich and Frank Mormillo, we quickly traveled out to a spot next to the cross diagonal runway for the first half of the airshow. It’s a pretty unique place to be seeing the airshow from a different angle, not to mention being mere feet from the runway as all the various warbirds take off. There’s also this incredible peaceful feeling out there as you’re away from the music/sounds of the airshow and all you hear is the roar of various piston and radial engines as they pass directly over your head. After the intermission half way through the show, we relocated to a different location between the two long parallel runways to catch the later demos including the F-35 Lightning. The resulting images were pretty spectacular and very much different than any previous show I’ve shot. I’m looking forward to hopefully trying it out once again this year with blue skies instead of dark rain clouds!

Best Photography Moment #9:

Nellis AFB Airshow 2017

Nellis AFB Airshow 2017 - F-15 Eagles

Each year, Nellis Air Force Base puts on a heck of an airshow showcasing the modern air power of the US Air Force. As one of the largest USAF fighter bases and home of ‘the Fighter pilot’, Nellis holds several Red Flag mass training scenario events each year at the base. These Red Flag events include fighter and bomber aircraft in a huge mock battle that also includes other world nations allied with the USA. Because of this, it’s no surprise that the annual Nellis AFB Airshow gives us a brief glimpse into the Red Flag world with the always impressive ‘USAF Air Power Demo’.

This year’s demo had two firsts for the show: one being the inclusion of the F-35A Lightning for the first time ever, and two, having a Russian MI-24 Hind attack helicopter! The demo also included two F-16 Vipers in ‘aggressor’ (bad guy) paint jobs, two F-15 Eagles, two A-10A Thunderbolts, and two HH-60G Pave Hawks with the two F-35 Lightnings and the Hind helicopter. The demo was impressive with many passes by each aircraft including some passes right above the crowd. Another awesome feature added to the Air Power demo a few years ago is the use of flares from the aircraft and for the 2017 airshow the Vipers, Eagles and Lightnings all used flares during their flights. The F-16s and F-15s chased each other in mock dogfight while the A-10s provided close ground support with their gatling guns. The F-35s provided mock bomb deployments with large pyro explosions. The HH-60 helicopters provided close rescue support to evacuate wounded group troops. It was the best USAF Air Power demo I’ve seen at Nellis; something I very much look forward to seeing again in 2018!

Another side note to mention was the very special F-16 Viper painted with #vegasstrong decals dedicating the show to those who lost their lives in the October 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting. The F-16 opened the show with a few passes showing off the special livery while dedicating the show to the victims.

Best Photography Moment #8:

USAF Heritage Flight Photoshoot

US Air Force Heritage Flight

Another first for this year was the USAF F-35A Lightning at the 2017 Planes of Fame Airshow. While the F-35 did not perform a full demo, it participated in the usual US Air Force Heritage Flight near the end of the show, and made some quick passes before and after. I was given the opportunity to go up in the museum’s B-25J Mitchell to shoot the special Heritage Flight on the Friday practice show. This shoot had two P-51D Mustangs (Wee Willy II and Spam Can/Dolly) along with the P-38J Lightning ’23 Skidoo’ and the F-35 Lightning. It was pretty awesome to see the two Lightnings, nearly 77 years apart in initial production, grace the air together. The flight itself was quick, but along with the 2016 and 2015 USAF Heritage Flight air to air photoshoots (see #8 – with the F-22 Raptor, these shoots are incredible to see firsthand. I’ve seen the Heritage Flight more times than I can count at airshows, but the view from the air is something rare and unique to behold!

Best Photography Moment #7:

Huntington Beach Airshow Vapor

Huntington Beach Airshow 2017 - F-16C Viper

Just the second year of the Huntington Beach Airshow’s existence, and it’s already gaining on my top airshows of the year. Each year brings new performers, top name headliners and incredible photo opportunities. For 2017 the headliners were the US Navy Blue Angels, the F-16 Viper demo, and the USAF Heritage Flight with the F-35, F-16, and P-51 Mustang. The airshow, typically lasting three days with Friday being the practice show day, had a bit of a weather hiccup this year with Friday being completely fogged out and the airshow unable to be put on. Saturday and Sunday fared much better leading to why this airshow made the list this year…

VAPOR! With the moisture in the air (especially considering the socked in fog on Friday) made for spectacular vapor forming on the different jets. The Blue Angels pulled vapor several times, and even some of the aerobatic performers had little puffs of vapor. But the king of vapor for the weekend was the F-16 Viper piloted by John ‘Rain’ Waters. The moisture in the air on Saturday made for some incredible vapor on the Viper’s wings, including some rainbow effects from the water molecules bending light from the sun. All photographers who shoot this show always cross their fingers for good vapor, especially over the ocean, and this year we got it on Saturday!

Best Photography Moment #6:

Wonder Woman Shoot

Wonder Woman - Natalie

If you’re a comic book fan at all, you probably saw DC Comics smash hit (finally!) movie Wonder Woman with actress Gal Gadot. It was a pretty good movie, and inspired  me and my girlfriend Crystal to do a Wonder Woman themed photoshoot. I decided I’d like to try and shoot her in the style of ‘dramatic light’ that I did for Victoria and her Slave Leia costume back in 2012 (See #6 – Initially, it was a question of how we would find or make a costume for the shoot, but after seeing someone dressed in a store bought Wonder Woman at Disneyland during Halloween we decided to look into the Halloween store versions. There were several different kinds, and each had their pros/cons to them, but we decided on one that looked better overall. We also picked up a replica toy Wonder Woman sword and shield at a Halloween store to complete the outfit. I figured it would be a challenge to make the costume look good when there were several flaws in the store bought costume…as would be expected from a costume like this. At the time, my close friend Natalie, who I often shoot with in the studio, also expressed interest to shoot in the costume. Crystal and Natalie are about as different as you can get height-wise, so it would be another challenge to make the costume look good on both of them.

I wanted to make this shoot epic, and it so happened that another way I could help mask some of the costume’s imperfections was to add fog to the shoot. I’ve always wanted to use fog in a photoshoot with a cosplay character, and this was the first chance I’d get to try it out. Once we got into the studio, both gals did incredible modeling Gal Gadot’s various poses from the movie, and the lighting plus the fog really made the costume pop for both of them. Each of them brought their own style and look to the costume which resulted in both gals having very different photos. I loved how they turned out, so this shoot easily makes the top 10 list. The next step is to custom build a much better costume from scratch and shoot this again in the studio – something I hope will make my best of 2018 list!

Best Photography Moment #5:

Planes of Fame Air to Air

Air to Air - P-51D Mustang & P-40N Warhawk

The Planes of Fame Air Museum makes the list again with another air to air shoot – this time with several of the museum’s aircraft. POF was scheduled to make the journey out to the first major airshow of the year at Naval Air Facility El Centro in March. The museum brought a P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk, P-38 Lightning, and B-25 Mitchell. I was able to fly to the airshow on the museum’s B-25, which also gave me a chance to do some air to air work with the fighters. After a very wet and rainy season the two months prior, Southern California had turned uncharacteristically green with lush vegetation. This made for some really nice backdrops during our sunset flight to the naval base. All three aircraft formed up just prior to landing for some formation photos and an overhead break over the airfield. The resulting images came out really nice with a nice break from the usual Chino/Corona mountains. It also was the first time I’d had a chance to shoot Spam Can/Dolly in some solo air to air shots since the newer paint job was added.

Best Photography Moment #4:

Collings Foundation Night Shoot

Collings Foundation - B-25J Mitchell 'Tondelayo'

An idea came up between me and the Collings Foundation tour ride coordinator Jamie Mitchell that it would be really fun to do a night shoot with one or more of the Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour aircraft when they were at their Lyon Air Museum (John Wayne Airport, CA) tour stop. After talking with Jamie and main pilot Rob Pinksten, we set up a date with Lyon Air Museum staff to have a small group of photographers come out after dark and Rob would start up the aircraft at night out on the ramp. Myself and three other photographers brought out LED work lights to help illuminate the aircraft along with tripods and remote release controllers for our cameras so we could do long exposures of one minute or more. The goal was to get the ‘blue flame’ from rich engine run-ups to come out of the aircraft exhaust stacks/ports .

Arriving that evening after Lyon Air Museum closed for the day, we positioned the aircraft to get different angles of the airport in the background and also include the large lighted Lyon Air Museum signage. We ended up having an awesome evening with all the tour aircraft being fired up (B-17G Flying Fortress, B-25J Mitchell, TF-51D Mustang, and B-24J Liberator), making some truly spectacular images of the aircraft at night! Rob and Nicholas Coutches were awesome. They were willing to do whatever we asked of them that evening so this easily makes the top five for 2017! We’re hoping to open this up to more photographers as a paid night photography class for 2018.

Best Photography Moment #3:

Canyon Fire

Canyon Fire - S-64F Skycrane

This one isn’t necessarily a happy moment of 2017, but nonetheless it was pretty spectacular and out of the blue. As most people know, the end of 2017 brought crazy hot temperatures and as a result most of California caught on fire. One of the first large fires to break out in Southern California was the ‘Canyon Fire’ in Corona on September 25. This was a very rapid moving fire that consumed 2,662 acres of dry brush. Heavy rains earlier in the year brought lush vegetation to the mountain hills, which then died during the very hot summer. Heavy winds and more heat didn’t help firefighters to contain the fire, but they still managed to kick it down within a week of the initial blaze. The cause of the fire appears to be Cal Trans road workers using flares along the side of the freeway during the windy afternoon, which igniting brush on the side of the road. My home was very close to the fire and while I didn’t have to evacuate, people who lived in houses very close to me were ordered to leave. I packed suitcases just in case I was told to leave in a moments notice. You could see the flames easily from the front yard of my house throughout the evening and the smell of smoke was everywhere.

What makes this appear as my #3 top moment is what happened the day after the fire started…a mini airshow in my front and back yard. All of the major fire agencies (Cal Fire, US Forestry Service, local fire departments, law enforcement, etc.) sent out their entire arsenal of rotor and fixed wing aircraft. On September 26 most of the roads were closed around my house, so I decided to take the day off work and stay at home just in case I had to evacuate. I realized in the morning that all sorts of aircraft were flying over the house making water/retardant drops within clear view from my front and back yard. I grabbed my camera and 500mm lens and spent most of the day documenting the various drops by the massive DC-10 Air Tanker, several Skycrane helicopters, a Chinook helicopter, a C-130 Hercules, brand new BAe-146 Air Tankers, and much more. It was an incredible airshow to watch from my own house and the resulting photos look like they are in the thick of the fire action… but in reality I was standing on the grass outside my house!

Best Photography Moment #2:

JFTB Los Alamitos Night Shoot

JFTB Los Alamitos - USN Blue Angels

A second night shoot made the list for this year, and this one made it a little higher on the list due to both the subject matter in the photos and being a bit of a rarity. I was called up by a fellow photographer a few days before the Huntington Beach Airshow and asked if I would be interested in joining a very small group of photographers to go out to the Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos airfield to do a night shoot with the military performers for the airshow. Most of the big military acts were stationed there since it was one of the closest airfields and (conveniently) a military base so the aircraft could be easily guarded. The aircraft included the F-35 Lightning aircraft, the F-16 Viper demo aircraft, the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, and finally my favorite… the US Navy Blue Angels. We had to have an escort during our time on the ramp, but otherwise we had free reign to walk anywhere we wanted and photograph the aircraft right after darkness fell.

We met on base after going through security, then met up with our escort and were let onto the ramp with all the aircraft. It was nearly dark with only the last bit of light left and we all quickly went to work setting up our tripods and remote capture controls. First up were the Blue Angels and all EIGHT of their aircraft (the six demo aircraft and two spare jets just in case there was an issue) which was such a sight to behold. It was very quiet with minimal noise and a nice stillness on the ramp making us feel like we had the ramp to ourselves (which we mostly did). From there we switched to the F-16 Viper and the nearby F-35 Lightnings which were guarded by military police since they are technically stealth aircraft and still somewhat classified. We ended on the Canadian Snowbirds and more Blue Angel shots before we had to call it a night. We were only out there for a few hours, but the rare photos came out pretty awesome making this #2 on the top moments list!

Best Photography Moment #1:

Collings Foundation Fleet & Magazine Cover

Collings Foundation - Wings of Freedom Tour Fleet

If you follow my work and adventures throughout the year, it should be no surprise what made the #1 spot for 2017. Actually, it’s the second year in a row the Collings Foundation has made the top moment of the year. This one, however, will be VERY hard to top as it was one of the coolest photo flights I’ve EVER been a part of. As 2017 began to roll around, and the success of the 2016 photoshoot with the Collings B-17 and B-25 in mind, I set out to put together another air to air shoot to capture the remaining bomber, the B-24 Liberator, and perhaps the brand new TF-51D Mustang that had just joined the tour fleet replacing the P-51B Mustang. I worked with Jamie Mitchell and Rob Pinksten with logistics on catching the aircraft along with my photo pilot Daniel Wotring. It was around this time that Air and Space magazine contacted me about getting a few photos of the Collings Foundation for an upcoming issue and story. They were interested in my air to air shots with the B-17/B-25 from 2016. As I was in discussion with them, I mentioned that I was in the process of setting up some air to air shoots with the Foundation, and they immediately were interested in those shoots. This actually changed the dynamic of what we had planned, and now we were shooting for the cover of the upcoming issue. We worked it out to do two separate shoots (with backups in case something came up) with the first being for Air and Space and the second being something very special.

First up was the flight with the B-24J Liberator over Lake Matthews. This shoot would be for me to catch the B-24 and also the TF-51D Mustang. This one in particular, due to a time crunch with Air and Space magazine, was the most important at the time to shoot. They specifically wanted a vertical shot that they could use for the cover of the magazine. It was a pretty bumpy day due to heavy winds, and it made for a very turbulent photoshoot. Not to mention that it’s tough to have three different aircraft with different flight characteristics/engine power all in formation as we orbit around the lake. Overall, everyone did a fantastic job and I was able to get the shot Air and Space wanted for their cover and also the photos I wanted to get of the B-24 Liberator. We followed the B-24 from Lake Matthews to Brackett Field and even stayed with the B-24 as she landed for some great touch down shots.

We did the next shoot about a month later. It was the most special for me and one of the most epic photoshoots I’ve ever been a part of. Not long before the shoot, and idea came up to do a special rare photoshoot with the entire Wings of Freedom Tour fleet. It’s not a simple task. Getting three bombers and a fighter all in the air at the same time is quite the feat, not to mention getting them all to line up in formation. This included single engine, dual engine and four engine aircraft all at different characteristics of flight having to line up, which takes a bit of planning and time in the air. Meeting with the Collings Foundation tour pilots Rob Pinksten, Jim Goolsby, Will Dismukes, and David Vopat at Torrance Airport, we briefed and decided to have the B-24 lead the formation with the B-17 forming up next, then the B-25, and finally the TF-51 on the inside so it would appear teeny tiny at the top of the formation. After launching out of Torrance, we slowly joined up for a few miles off the coast over the Pacific Ocean, but soon all the aircraft found their form up slots and the rare sight of the tour fleet in formation appeared. Since it had taken a bit of time to form up, it was a quick shoot before they had to break off which left us with the B-17 for an extended shoot over the water as she made her way to Ramona Airport following the rest of the tour aircraft. Flying back to Cable Airport, where Daniel Wotring (my photoship pilot) and I launched out of, I looked through my camera at the shots I’d just gotten with excitement and awe at just how incredible this shoot was. It’s going to be VERY hard to top this photoshoot so it’ll be my #1 overall for probably many years to come!

So there we go, the top 10 photo moments of 2017! 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.

• Brant Seghetti for delaying his departure from Chino Airport so I could photograph his beautiful P-51 Mustang ‘Blondie’. And thank you to John Maloney for piloting the photoship last second (Honorable Mention).

• Dan Stijovich, Jerry Wilkins, and Frank Mormillo for access between the runways at the 2017 Planes of Fame Airshow (#10). –

• Steve Hinton, Kristen Maloney, and the USAF F-35 Heritage Flight team for the air to air shoot (#8).

• Natalie Duarte and Crystal Nettles for the awesome Wonder Woman shoot (#6).

• Steve Hinton, John Maloney, and Kristen Maloney for the El Centro air to air shoot photo op (#5).

• Robert Pinksten, Nicholas Coutches, Jamie Mitchell, Mark Foster, and the Lyon Air Museum staff for the awesome Collings Foundation night shoot (#4).

• Jack Green for letting us photographers out on the Los Al ramp at night and Ricky Schol for the opportunity (#2).

• Jamie Mitchell, Hunter Chaney, Robert Pinksten (B-17 Pilot), Jim Goolsby (B-24 Pilot), David Vopat (TF-51 Pilot), and Will Dismukes (B-25 Pilot) for all their support in making the Collings Foundation fleet air to air shoot happen… Robert Pinksten (B-24 Pilot) with Roxanne Parker (B-24 Co-Pilot), and David Vopat (TF-51 Pilot) for the awesome B-24 and TF-51 formation shoot for the cover of Air and Space… and of course a big thank you to Daniel Wotring (T-6 photoship pilot) and Aviator’s Club for the awesome T-6 photoship used on both shoots! -

And that’s a wrap! 2017 was a pretty great year of photography with some pretty epic air to air shoots and special photo opportunities. I’ve worked with some incredible people who’ve come together to create some really lasting images. It’s going to be tough to top all that’s happened in 2017 now that 2018 has begun, but there’s already some exciting opportunities brewing on the horizon! Airshows are still going pretty strong, and new US Military acts have been reactivated to appear in this year’s airshows such as the A-10, US Navy Legacy Flight, and more. So here’s to a great 2018 and I can’t wait until this time next year when I can look back at all the fun photos 2018 brought! I’ll see you in January 2019 when the best photo moments of 2018 are posted!


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