Musings of an Aviation Photographer

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Who is this photographer guy?

Britt Dietz with a US Navy Blue AngelSo, I’m sure by reading this text you’re wondering ‘Just who is this Britt guy?’ No? Oh… you clicked on this link by accident? Oh. Well, either way, here’s a little bit of info on just who I am anyway.

Hi, my name is Britt Dietz. I’m a photographer based in Southern California. I’ve been taking photos for over 12 years now (as of 2010). While my photography ranges from headshots, model portfolios, 1940s PinUps, weddings, engagements, conventions, products, and much more, I’m an Aviation Photographer more than anything else. I spend more time shooting and working on aviation images than any other sort of photography. For more info on the other types of photos I take, you can visit my ‘Moments Capture Photography‘ website which showcases everything else!

Over the years many people have said I should write down how I got started in all the various forms of photography I do. So, finally taking the time to write it all out, below is a somewhat brief look at how I got into the various forms of photography from Disney to Aviation and everything in between! So sit back, grab some popcorn, and if you’re still reading this, I thank you for taking the time to read a bit about me!


How I got into all this | From Jets to Propellers | Planes of Fame Air Museum
Air-to-Air Photography | Conventions | 21st Century Toys & Product Photography
Pin-Up Photography and The Petty Project | Disneyland | Headshots
Moments Capture Photography | Airshow Review & Blog | The Future


MCAS El Toro Base and Blue Angel

MCAS El Toro Base & young photographer with Blue Angel #5

I started shooting Airshows at the last MCAS El Toro Airshow (rest in peace!) in the late 1990s. Growing up in the Orange County area, I had gotten used to the sight of US Marine aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet, C-130 Hercules, CH-53 Super Stallion, CH-46 Sea Knight, and more flying around the skies every day. Seeing the USN Blue Angels streak over the house before the El Toro Airshow was an event I looked forward to each year, and it didn’t take long for me to idolize the pilots of those magnificent Blue and Gold painted F/A-18 Hornets. Along with the Military history in my families past, it’s no wonder I was captured by the wonder of flight and fighter jets at an early age!


P-51 Mustang Scene from Saving Private Ryan

A P-51 Mustang flies overhead from the movie 'Saving Private Ryan'

When both MCAS El Toro and MCAS Tustin closed for good in 1998, it was pretty heartbreaking and the skies seemed a bit more lonely. Up until this time, I was a fighter jet sorta guy. I loved jets, and didn’t pay much attention to the history of military aviation, especially the Golden Age of Flight and the amazing aircraft of World War 2. But, one movie would completely change my views on aviation and, unbeknown at the time, change my life. In 1998 a movie titled ‘Saving Private Ryan’ directed by the amazing Steven Spielberg and starring the great actor Tom Hanks was released, and upon seeing this movie my life was introduced to a whole new realm of aviation: World War 2. While the movie itself is a masterpiece and what I’d consider to be one of the best WW2 movies of all time, above all else it was (MOVIE SPOILER ALERT) the scene near the end of the movie when all hope looks lost and as if they were angels descending from the clouds two P-51D Mustangs swoop in and save the day. Their powerful Rolls Royce Merlin engines screaming as they fly overheard. Private Ryan (Matt Damon) and Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) summed it up best:

Private Ryan: “They’re Tank Busters Sir, P-51s.”
Captain Miller: “Angels on our Shoulders.”

And even further, I think this clip from the movie ‘Empire of the Sun’ (also directed by Steven Spielberg) sums up my reaction when I first saw those P-51 Mustangs burst into the frames of ‘Saving Private Ryan’:

It was after that one scene that I instantly wanted to know everything there was to know about World War 2 aviation. It was around this time, as I was taking classes on World War 2 history and studying the aircraft that I got involved with a 2001 Disney ‘Pear Harbor’ movie website. I had the honor of being able to chat with many veterans of Pearl Harbor on the message boards hosted on the website and hear some amazing stories. It was around this time I also started my own photography website, called originally ‘Once, We Rules the Skies’ Aviation Photography. I was showcasing my airshow photography work on this website along with working on the ‘Pearl Harbor’ movie site. One day on the ‘Pearl Harbor’ message boards, a user posted a message saying a museum out in Chino, California was having a ‘Stars of Pearl Harbor’ event where aircraft that was used in the movie would be on display and flown. Naturally, I had to check this out being so close to Chino. This was the start of a long road with the world famous Planes of Fame Air Museum.


Panorama of the Planes of Fame Air Museum

One of the many Hangars in the Planes of Fame Air Museum

After going out to the ‘Stars of Pearl Harbor’ event, I became hooked on this amazing museum. With over 150 aircraft, most of them flyable, this museum has one of the largest collections of vintage military aircraft in the world. The collection of World War 2 aircraft is incredible, most of which fly. And on top of monthly events they hold which have seminars with veterans and flight demos of vintage aircraft, the Planes of Fame Museum hosts a massive airshow each year. I got involved almost right away with Planes of Fame Air Museum and became one of the Museum’s photographers (which I current am today) and the sole webmaster for the Air Museum’s website from 2002-2010. It was around this time I also started to travel to Airshows and Air Events all around the Southern California area and started to expand my travels even further to other states.


Air-to-Air Shot with Two Lockheed P-38 Lightnings

Air-to-Air Shot with Two P-38 Lightnings over Chino

While shooting Airshows is always a thrill and challenging, volunteering at the Air Museum provided me with a new avenue of photography I’d yet to experience: Air-to-Air shoots. Probably the most fun type of photography I’ve ever done, Air-to-Air photography involves shooting out the window/hatch of one airplane as another flies in formation. Not many people get to experience this type of shooting, or the thrill of flying so close to another military aircraft. Since I started doing air-to-air shoots with the Museum a number of years ago, I’ve had the great honor of taking air-to-air photos of many of the museum’s aircraft, and some of the most rare pieces of aviation history in the world.

I now travel to more airshows than ever, and each year expand the range I travel to. Thousands upon thousands of photos are taken, and my work is now published in magazines, books, and several Calendars each year. I had a lot of fun shooting Aviation Photography, and I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences with aircraft and have completed two life goals (Air-to-Air shoot with a F/A-18 Hornet and flight in a P-51D Mustang). 2010 has seen the complete update, overhaul, and renaming of my own Aviation Website to ‘Warbird-Photos Aviation Photography.’ While my aviation photography has taking off (no pun intended), concurrently other forms of photography were presenting themselves to me at an amazing pace!


501st Group Photo

501st Group Photo at Comic Con 2009

Beyond Aviation, I’ve also always been a huge Star Wars fan. In 2001, I got involved with a local Star Wars fan group, the Orange County Star Wars Society, and quickly became the group’s photographer for events. I would go to events the group, and other Star Wars groups, would put on for charity and photography costumed characters. Eventually, I found myself going to the world famous Comic Con Convention in San Diego, CA. It was there I got involved with Lucasfilm and was then introduced to the world-wide 501st Legion group (A world wide organization of Star Wars Fans with incredible screen-accurate costumes) and slowly became well known as a photographer for Star Wars related events in Southern California. Being featured in magazines and books all over with my Star Wars and convention photography, eventually I had the honor of being considered the official photographer for the 501st at all their events I was able to attend. This included the huge Star Wars Celebration Conventions, in which I attended in 2005 (Celebration III in Indianapolis, Indiana) and 2007 (Celebration IV in Los Angeles, California). I had the honor of organizing and taking the two massive 501st Group shots, and have the honor of working with well known Lucasfilm employees such as Steve Sansweet. These two group photos have been featured in numerous Star Wars related publications. Beyond the Celebration conventions, soon I became well known in the costuming world beyond Star Wars as a convention photographer attending Comic Con and taking photos every year. The 501st and Rebel Legion (another Star Wars costume group) have asked for me to shoot their group photos each year of the Comic Con Convention. To this day I still photograph Star Wars and other costumed characters at Conventions, and it was at Comic Con in 2003 that I met 21st Century Toys, and a new form of photography was started for me.


21st Century Toys Tank Playset

21st Century Toys Tank and Building Playset

21st Century Toys had been around for many many years. Until it’s going out of business in 2009/10, the company specialized in small scale high grade military toys and collectibles in many different scales. From full detailed action figures with real clothing 12 inches tall to super detailed World War 2 aircraft just a little bigger than a quarter, 21st Century Toys was at the time the largest military toy making company out there. I’d been a fan of the company since they started their 1:18 scale military aircraft line, mostly from World War 2. 1:18 is the same scale as most GIJoes and Star Wars action figures, so the aircraft were quite big. For example, a P-51 Mustang WW2 fighter had about a two foot wingspan, and almost three foot long fuselage. Some of the aircraft, like their F-104 Starfighter jet aircraft was nearly 4 feet long! Each year at Comic Con in San Diego, the company would showcase their upcoming military toys in all the various scales, and you’d often be able to buy special prerelease aircraft before they were in stores. Through a friend who always volunteered at the 21st Century Toys booth, he made the suggestion to the company that a photo archive of all their products be made. He recommended me because of my love of military and my aviation photography. I met with the company, and a test trial was set up. The idea was to have a full photo archive for the company of all their various lines of military toy products. Essentially, I was entering the field of product photography. I set up a seamless white studio in which I could fit a small motorcycle, and soon upon coming home one evening I saw rather large boxes had arrived. Inside the boxes were a bunch of different aircraft in the 1:18 scale. I took those aircraft and shot them in box, out of box, at various angles, etc. They were thrilled with the images, and the project was given a full go. I was now the 21st Century Toys product archiver. A few times each month I was sent massive amounts of toys (sometimes almost an entire UPS truck worth!) and I’d take photos of each and every item documenting new and old products, and even sometimes prototypes.

Unfortunately, times became tough for the toy industry in late 2007 going into 2008. By 2008 all productions of most companies were scaled back, and many stores stopped carrying military items like they used to for one reason or another. It became evident that many companies would not make it. By 2009, it was clear 21st was not able to continue. But for me, another avenue was opened from the work I did with 21st Century Toys. I was contacted by Blizzard Entertainment, the software giant who created the World of Warcraft series, to do some gift shop product shoots. I ended up shooting several sessions of photos for the company, much of which is currently featured on the Blizzard website. At the same time, another door opened, and the Planes of Fame Museum started an online gift shop. I immediately, with all the experience I had, began work shooting all sorts of clothing on models and toys, gifts, trinkets, etc and currently work on the Gift Shop photos quite regularly. All of this can be traced back to 21st Century Toys, which started my dabble into the product photography field. But that wasn’t the only photography form that they helped start for me.


Pin-Up Photography

1940s PinUp model with 1930s Radio

While volunteering at 21st Century Toy’s booth at Comic Con in 2003, I noticed one of the neighboring booths had what is called ‘booth babes’ (models hired to stand around booths to bring people into the booth and hand out things) and was bringing lots of people into the booth. Jokingly, I mentioned to the 21st Century Toys staff how they should have a model showing off the toys. What started as a joke resonated in the minds of everyone, and by the last day of the convention that year, we were trying to think of ways we could make it work. An idea came to me in which we could combine World War 2 and having models at the booth, and also bring some profit to 21st. I came up with the idea to have a special line of aircraft with custom nose art (40s pinups that were painted on the noses of World War 2 aircraft) that would be shot in the studio, and then feature the models signing their aircraft at the next Comic Con. The company was interested in the idea, and asked me to do research and some test shoots. I spent two months working on researching, fashion, poses, etc for pinup photography, and little did I know how big that type of photography was. Soon as I felt confident enough with my research, props, outfits, etc that I could do a shoot, I went to a modeling website and put a call out for models who’d like to help out for test shoots. My inbox became immediately busy with inquiries from models asking to be a part of it. Carefully selecting a few of the models, I started doing test shoots in a photo studio. The first few sessions came out great, and each time I shot with a different model, it got better and better. I discovered how much fun it is to do pinup/retro studio photos. Once I had photographed enough models, I presented 21st with what I’d shot. Unfortunately, they decided over time to scrap the idea. Well, with all the time and money invested so far, I decided not to stop shooting pinups, not to mention how much fun they are for myself and the models. So I took the occasional shoot when asked doing pinups for fun. It was only here and there I’d do a shoot, less than a handful a year. But I loved the way this photography relates to art and it’s seeming to touch history. I discovered I loved the classic 1940s pinup style, where it’s innocent and fun. I’ve stuck with that style, only sometimes stepping into the early 1950s pinups, but keeping to that classic clean style that adorned many aircraft noses in WW2. This all came together when in 2009 I came up with an idea for several pinup related projects.

The first idea is for a yearly pinup calendar, which I hope to have up and running by the end of 2010 and available online. Because of this future endeavor, I’ve been shooting with many more models and as scheduling many shoots as possible. Now I find myself shooting a pinup shoots quite often each month instead of few each year. Work on the calendar, along with the website showcasing the photography should be up before December of 2010. If all goes well, I hope to offer the calendar to military troops free of charge! If you’d like to help, please let me know here!

The Petty Project

Samples from the Petty Project

Secondly, I’d always had a love for a certain famous artist’s pinup style, George Petty. His ‘Petty Girls,’ as they were known in the 40s, were a stable of classic pinup art, and defined the innocent look of the 1940s. Never revealing, always teasing while always on the phone, the Petty Girl sums up what I feel to be the classic pinup of all time. I’ve modeled most of my pinup shoots around his art style as I feel it captures the feeling of the time perfectly. In 2009 I came up with an idea how I could combine my photography with Petty’s art… recreating his pinups as exactly as possible, but through photography. I called it the ‘Petty Project’, a project which I expect to last many many years. Already well underway at the time of this writing, the object is to recreate as many of Petty’s works as possible through photography and photoshop. An art of it’s own with challenges tougher than most people would think (often times in the classic pinup art, for example, the women would be painted out of proportion to exaggerate certain features). This project is certainly the most amount of work I’ve ever done when it comes to a single photo, where recreating Petty’s art through a photo can literally take 30+ photos and several days of post work. But the end result is something special, and unique in it’s own way. I hope to, once the pinup site comes online later in 2010, have a large part of the site devoted to the Petty Project.

Pinup and retro photography will continue to be a love of mine, combining history with art and photography while working with wonderful models! It’s one avenue I hope to continue to focus on alongside Aviation photography in the coming years! I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working with many models already, and it’s helped that I’ve been involved in the theatrical and entertainment world for the last few years that’s helped me find these amazing models. How I got involved with that, well it all started with a mouse… and a parade.


Disneyland Princesses

Disney Princesses at Disneyland, California

Living in Southern California, of course people just expect that you’ve been to the many theme parks around here. Especially one in particular, Disneyland. Most of the locals have what are called ‘Annual Passes’, basically different yearly passes into the park. I’ve been a Disneyland Annual Passholder for many years now, Disneyland is always a great place to go after a long day of work! Rides, shows, and attractions all in one place, you can’t go wrong! But I’d never thought about taking photos inside Disneyland, until one day a friend asked for my help. She wanted some photos of the parade, which at the time was called ‘Parade of Dreams,’ during the park’s 50th Anniversary. I came in with her one particular day, and took photos of all the characters in the parade. It was something different… while I’d been taking photos of characters for years at conventions, shooting fast motion parades with characters was a completely different style. I rather enjoyed the challenge, and I found myself coming back a few days later to shoot there again. Beyond the parade, I found myself enjoying the various challenges of shooting all over the park. The shows that happen during the day and evenings, the characters roaming around the park, and much more. I started to find myself shooting often at the park, but up until then only really using the photos to show friends and practice new ways of shooting various and ever changing situations with my camera.

Then one day it all happened. I was approached by a Cast Member at Disneyland while shooting, and was asked how they could get ahold of the photos. It didn’t occur to me until that moment, that Cast Members may want to see the photos. So, a few days later when driving to Disneyland, I came up with the idea for a website that would showcase the Disney photography publicly. I decided to call the site Disneyland Cast Magic, and almost immediately the website was a hit. I kept up posting on the site as often as possible, but soon I was shooting at Disneyland more often then I had time to get online. And in the process of shooting there, I met an astonishing amount of people who work behind the scenes at the Happiest Place on Earth, most of which are close friends now. I continued shooting, almost daily, at Disneyland for nearly 5 years, amounting thousands, if not millions of photos. Before I knew it, everyone from Cinderella to Mickey Mouse knew my name. Shooting at Disney, I can say honestly, has changed me as a photographer. It’s been the ultimate merging of myself with my cameras, learning everything there is to know about every possible situation to shoot. The photographer I was before shooting at Disney is a whole different person. Soon, Disneyland even got ahold of me, and started using photos for various purposes throughout the park and behind the scenes. I’ve even been asked to shoot some special Cast Member functions, which was and still is an incredible experience and quite the honor. Shooting at Disney has been quite the blessing, and a lot of fun. I still shoot at Disneyland occasionally to this day, but not nearly as much as I used to. I’ve had some of the best times at the park with characters and various cast members, and in turn that’s given me a host of opportunities in the entertainment and theme park worlds.


Headshot Photography

Professional Headshot Photography

One thing you’ll find, as a photographer and around various entertainment venues, is that one of the most popular photography types requested is headshots. Being so close to Hollywood and so many theme parks, theaters, and other entertainment establishments, actors and models need headshots and portfolio photos for their various auditions and castings. If you’d have asked me many years ago if I’d ever consider doing headshot photography, I would have easily said no, wanting to stay away from taking photos of people and more aviation and military. But, as always, things change over time! The combination of taking photos of conventions, characters, and at Disney played factors in this 180 degree reversal. It was several years ago that a friend asked me if I did headshots. At the time I hadn’t considered it, but since I’m always open to new photography forms, I said I’d give it a go. Taking some time to study headshots, I went out and did a little session with her. The shots weren’t the best compared to what I do now, but it’s all about time and practice! Once word spread that I did headshots, I suddenly found myself taking more and more headshot shoot requests. At it’s peak, I was doing several shoots a week, sometimes multiple ones per day! This repetitious headshot shooting helped refine my headshot technique more and more until I found what I considered to be the classic headshot look that I had been looking for. Headshots are another fun type of photography to shoot, being that the photographer has 2 hours or so to learn the person he/she is shooting, and figure out that person’s personality, best angles, and the best look for them. It’s a great way to study people and the differences each person has. I continue to do headshots regularly when the season comes around that actors/models need them and will hopefully pushing more for headshot sessions and expanding my range of headshot availability to all over LA and Hollywood in the coming years. Because of this, I’ve realized the need to take all these various photography venues and combine them into one source. It was then I decided ‘Moments Capture Photography’ needed to be created.


Moments Capture Photography

Moments Capture Photography

With so many different types of photography, it can be hard to keep track of everything. Knowing eventually I’d need to combine them all into one easy to manage collective, I came up with ‘Moments Capture Photography’, from the idea that photography captures moments in time forever into a single photograph. Moments Capture will feature all the main types of photography: Aviation, Headshots, PinUps, Conventions, Products, Engagements, Portfolios, and more. My goal is to help organize everything a bit better, and take my photography to a new level where it’s not just things here and there but a full on photography company. Moments Capture is the start of all this, and when work completes on the website in the near future, I hope that it can be used as a hub to reach any type of photography from now on that I do. Moments Capture is also a symbol of how far I’ve taken my photography, from just playing around with cameras to full on professional services. And it also will be a starting point for new ideas and projects, like a blog such as this.


Airshow Review Logo

Logo for the Airshow Review Website

In 2009, I came up with an idea for another website, this time for what I felt was missing from the Airshow online world, a website which would offer write-ups on airshows with photo and video examples. A review of sorts, with the best events that took place along with information and tips to refer to the next year. Example, how much was a burger, drink, and fries at previous years show? What was the best time to get to the Airshow in order to see the first act (taking in account for parking times, security checks, and walking distance)? Where’s the best places to see specific parts of the show? When’s a good time to go get food during a busy Airshow? 2009 proved to be a busy year, and I wasn’t able to work on this idea, but 2010 brought along a renewed determination to launch the new site and also the idea for a blog to go with it to post thoughts, photos, and any other special musings that might come to mind. Once the work on Warbird-Photos was completed, work on Airshow Review and the Blog was started.


Aviation and Airshows are not going anywhere, so I don’t foresee myself ever retiring from doing this. I have way too many ideas including applications for mobile devices (Android, iPhone, etc) along with an eventual store I plan to open which will have the ability to buy prints, coffee table books, custom calendars, and much more! And with all the other various forms of photography, I hope to keep expanding and working on all of them to find which ones I can best apply myself to and market. It seems each year presents a new form or changing photography genre that keeps me on my toes and reminds me that I’m always learning about the wide world of photography!

So that’s who this photographer is, the brief version. If you actually read through all of this I applaud you! I hope it wasn’t 15 minutes of your life you won’t get back. Hey, at least you got a little movie clip! Enjoy the websites and Keep ‘Em Flying!

Warbird-Photos Aviation Photography | Airshow Review | Moments Capture Photography | Disney Cast Magic
Musing of an Aviation Photographer Blog