WELCOME TO THE JANUARY 2017 ISSUE OF ISNAP! PHAREWELL F-4 PHANTOMS Gary Edwards, Craig Swancy, Andy Smolenski, Steve Zimmermann El Centro Fall 2016 Bob Beresh, Bruce Griffith, Ed Faith, Jason Jorgensen, Jim Wilson, John Ford, Larry Grace, Mark Bennett, Michael Carter, Michael Pliskin, Paul Csizmadia, Scott Germain, Thomas James Ft. Worth Alliance Airshow 2016 Andy Lay, Bob Lionel, David Franks, Edward Wright, Gary Daniels, Jeff Schroeder, Milt Barnum, Bonnie Kratz, Larry Grace, Kevin Hong The Story of Lady Agnes Marc Schultz Norholt Night Shoot Mike Green One-On-One, Air-to-Air: The First A2A Photography School Scott Germain, Michael Doyle Two Turning, Two Burning: Neptune Aviation’s P2VS Scott Slingsby 2016 African Aerospace and Defense (AAD): Testing the Fujifilm X-T2 Dylan Van Graan Shooting Aviation: Making a Friend of Frustration Steve Serdikoff Mystery Plane Silhouettes John Ford FRONT COVER PHOTO: Craig Swancy The last flight of the F-4 Phantom celebrating its long distinguished service in the United States Air Force at Holloman AFB, New Mexico BACK COVER: Kevin Hong Heritage Flight with P-47 Thunderbolt, F-16 Viper, F-35 Lightening II at Wings Over Houston
ISAP’s goal is to bring together our members who share a love of aviation, and want to preserve its history through their images. Through our organization, members can seek to enhance their artistic quality, advance technical knowledge, and improve safety for all areas of aviation photography while fostering professionalism, high ethical standards, and camaraderie. ISAP continues to help our members to better their photography skills, workflow, and set up resources to help with business questions that our members have. Updates are being made to the ISAP website and member portfolio section, and we are showcasing ISAP members’ images and accomplishments on our social media pages. In this issue we are continuing to highlight ISAP members. I’m sure you will enjoy learning how your fellow ISAP members got started, as well as seeing some of their images and learning some tips. Remember that ISnAP is your publication to share your images, stories and tips with other members and the public. We look forward to each member sharing his or her stories with all of us. Enjoy this issue of ISnAP! Sincerely, Larry Grace, President Kevin Hong, ISnAP Editor International Society for Aviation Photography www.aviationphoto.org • www.facebook.com/ISAPorg email@example.com
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Thakur Dalip Singh
The ISnAP is a periodic publication of the International Society for Aviation Photography and is used to communicate news, functions, convention information, and other information of interest on the local, regional, and national scenes. The views and opinions expressed in this magazine are those of the authors and should not be construed as the views or opinions of the International Society for Aviation Photography.
P H O R R A PH L L E W E
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It was quite a run, as lifetimes go for jet fighters. On December 21st, 2016, the US Air Force said goodbye to the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II for the final time - 53 years after the big fighter entered US service. To honor the retirement of the storied jet the 82d Aerial Targets Squadron, the 49th Wing, and Holloman Air Force Base threw a party and invited everyone interested in the F-4 - in Phantom-speak: Phantom Phlyers, Pherrets, Phixers, and Phanatics - to come. Craig Swancy, Andy Smolenski, and I began planning to attend as soon as we heard about it from the F-4 Phantom II Society. When we arrived we were joined by ISAP photographers Mark Bennett, Steve Zimmermann, and Jay Beckman. Once on base we walked out on the ramp owned by Detachment 1 of the 82nd ATS. Around 300 ex-USAF Phantoms were converted to QF-4 drone configuration beginning in the late 90’s. Seventy or so have been destroyed in flight; more have succumbed to airframe life limits and other less violent attrition. As we began shooting here at the end thirteen remained on the Holloman ramp. The Det 1 maintainers had prepped six birds for the day to ensure getting the promised flight of four in the air. Leading up to this day Det 1 CO Lieutenant Colonel Ron “Elvis” King and the three other remaining US F-4 pilots had taken their jets on a nation-wide “Pharewell Tour.” They had flown the QF-4s to a dozen or so air shows and other events in the past year without missing a single commitment or having a single airplane stranded away from home for mechanical failure. That’s quite an accomplishment for a fleet of
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complex jet fighters approaching the age of fifty. As you see in the pictures, many of the QF-4s show their age on the outside, but the maintainers have managed to keep the things that have to work operable. And on this final day, the four primary birds all started up and checked out ready for duty. In the air the Phantoms did their part putting on a within-the-USAF-regulations show of missed approaches, breaks, impressively tight formation work, and ultimately the treat of a medium altitude overhead supersonic run. How long has it been since you’ve heard four sonic booms in sequence? All too soon the jets landed and deployed the big drag chutes. Two of the four pilots were retiring from flight duties and were honored by crossed firehose arcs to taxi through. Elvis taxied his Phantom through a third water cannon salute honoring the Phantom itself. After a brief and heart-felt retirement ceremony inside the hangar the day was over. Phantoms will soldier on for a few countries overseas but there are no more F-4 Phantom II fighters in US service. In a few months the same maintainers who kept these last US airframes flying all these years will cut the wing spars and sever wiring harnesses to de-mill the fighters. Then they will tow them to a final resting place on a bombing range at the North end of White Sands Missile Range. Their duties will be passed on to the QF-16. RIP Phantom II. -Gary Edwards
Today we watched the final flight of the F-4 phantom and its retirement from the US Air Force. While there are Phantoms still operating in a couple of other countries we will never again see that big, fast, smoky jets in the skies over the US flown by Air Force pilots. I had the privilege to traveling from Dallas, TX with Gary Edwards and Craig Swancy to witness the festivities at Holloman AFB and say thanks to all the aircrews and maintainers that brought these jets to life over the last 53 years. It’s been a busy year for Detachment 1 CO Lt. Colonel Ron “Elvis” King. Not only has he had his day job of ensuring his fleet of aerial targets is available for its schedule of testing and training, he also took the QF-4s on a Pharewell Tour. With 12 airshows and a NASCAR flyover he and the other pilots and maintainers weren’t home many weekends. It speaks volumes about the skill and commitment of these dedicated individuals and the engineering of the Phantoms that they did not miss a single event and made it back home without a mechanical breakdown. When it came time for the final flight the 4 primary QF-4s fired up without a hitch, the 2 spares on the flight line would not be needed. Taking off in pairs out over the test range we watched as the last 4 Phantoms to take to the skies put on one last show. With cameras at the ready we waited for the supersonic pass that we knew was
coming. And then we heard the 4 sonic booms as we watched the jets roar by overheard. After many passes in formation and solo it was time to come back to earth. Each of the first 3 jets landed and passed under an arch of water provided by the base fire department in a salute to these planes an all who flew them. With Col. King still in the air he made several more approaches and just when we thought the wheels would touch up the gear went and he accelerated away for another go around. Finally, the wheels touch down and the big yellow drag chute pops out and it’s over. The end of an era. As Col. King taxis through the water arch to the applause of the crowd of service men and women, veterans, photographers, and aircraft enthusiasts of all ages, I’m hoping my memory cards contain an image or 2 that capture this moment. After the flight it was time for the formal retirement ceremony. I learned a few things the speeches. The one that struck me the most was the fact that no US ground solder has been killed by an enemy aircraft since April 15, 1953. The Phantom has played major roles in keeping our men and women on the ground safe, from maintaining air superiority in Vietnam, to knocking our radar sites in Iraq, to testing the next generation of aircraft and weapons systems. It’s a legacy few can match. -Andy Smolenski
Gary Edwards and I made early plans last September to be at the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, the 49th Wing at Holloman AFB to the final flight of the legendary McDonald Douglas F-4 (QF-4) Phantom II. Attending the F-4 Phantom II Society meeting last fall sealed the mission. We had to be there to witness the Phinal Phlight. Along the way Andy Smolenski (ISAP Member) asked to come with us and we agreed another ISAP Photographer would be more fun. Sharing dinner, thoughts, and tentative plans made for a fun evening. I knew that something was different when walking onto the tarmac at the 82nd ATS at Holloman AFB that Wednesday morning. Every Maintainer, Pilot, member of the Security detail, retired pilots, and those directly attached to the 49th Wing had a little extra in their step at that early hour. The maintainers seemed to be taking extra pains to make certain those canopies were spotless. Many previous pilots, maintainers, and F-4 enthusiasts came to send it off with a proper goodbye.
At last, the pilots made their way out to the aircraft and you could see the Maintainers ascend to a different level as the pilots approached. Much like the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels Airshow, this was business and everything was to come off flawlessly. The pilots were: James “Boomer” Schreiner, Eric “Rock” Vold, Braxton “Brick” Eisel, and Ron “Elvis” King. All four aircraft fired off, warmed up, checked and double checked systems and made their way to the staging spot. Each pilot waved, put fists in the air, and gave a thumbs up that this final flight would be one to remember. A throttle up in the staging area and they were off to the runway one behind the other. Liftoff came in pairs as they headed west over the White Sands one last time. A brief flyover and the four ships disappeared to the North. After what seemed a lifetime, the four Phantoms returned at altitude and completed four sequenced Double Sonic Booms (Ba Boom!) as they returned to fly in a four ship echelon formation around the field. Various single ship flyovers offered the photographers a nice variety of turns, angles, and climbs with an occasional afterburner for an extra photo op.
Surely fuel was low, forcing Lt. Col King and his Phantom to the runway. The old tires smoked as the weathered yellow parachute was deployed one final time to slow this old fighter. After some 53 years of test flights, acceptance flights, missions both public and secret, and closing flights as a QF-4 target drone, this famous aircraft gave us all one last flight
to show what it could do. It was both an extremely proud and happy day as well as a sad one. The last USAF F-4 Phantom II has come to its final stop. It’s much like watching Lou Gehrig’s career come to an end. “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” Myself along with several hundred others feel the same way as we witnessed the final flight of the USAF F-4 Phantom II. -Craig Swancy
As the four QF-4’s returned to terra firma in order and received their honors under crossed water streams provided by Holloman AFB Fire Department; we sensed something special with Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and the final Phantom. Gear down on a final approach, either Ron or the trusty Phantom was not ready to return to earth. The gear came up and the throttle eased forward and the Phantom climbed again. This occurred several times until the afterburner was applied and the big ugly ship screamed skyward one last time, The J-79’s leaving that identifiable trail of smoke during the climb. Whether burning fuel to lighten the load, or the fact that neither Elvis or the Phantom were ready to return ran through my mind. And every time “Elvis” lifted the gear and applied the throttle you could see the pleased smiles of everyone on the tarmac.
Where to start? The ISAP Newsletter email announcing a Photo Call at NAF El Centro. Sending a reply to submit your name for consideration. There are a limited number of slots for such an event, you hope and pray for the best. Attending the ISAP Meeting and Fort Worth/Alliance Airshow puts faces with the names. Great folks like Larry Grace, Jim Wilson, Ed, Rich and the list goes on. Sharing stories and experiences from photography to flight it’s all there for an entire weekend. Then a flight home from Dallas and as you turn on your computer to check email at 1:30 am you can hardly believe your eyes as you read the email “Congratulations - Each of you have been selected to represent ISAP at the November 10, 2016 Photo Call at NAF El Centro.” Reading the email you promptly send off an acknowledgement reply. A few hours of sleep and then the planning and travel arrangements begin. This will be my 1st Photo Call and it will be at NAF El Centro. Travel plans are set, now on to the photo gear. My Think Tank Air Commuter bag will be packed and ready to go with the following: Canon 7D Mark II with Tamron 150-600mm for the long shots and really up close Canon 7D with Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 for the wide to mid range Canon 7D with Tamron 18-270mm for everything else ISAP Safety Vest Hearing Protection Plenty of memory cards, battery grips for the bodies and of course batteries Finally the night before the trip arrives. Gear and bags are checked, double checked, and packed. At 6:00 am Tuesday just minutes from the airport the airline notifies you that your flight departure is now rescheduled to noon. You get to the counter, re-book onto a slightly earlier flight at 11:00, all part of the travel game. Finally the adventure gets in gear as we take off and head to a cruising altitude of 39,000 ft.
Looking out the window at a gorgeous blue sky you ponder the adventure ahead. What an opportunity. Photographing Naval Flight Ops at El Centro – a mere 50 ft. from the active runway as F-18’s and T-45’s do their thing. My 1st Photo Call. It’s also my birthday. How great is that. Lots of pondering, thinking of shot angles and spots, the excitement builds. We land, on to the next flight, delays and finally arriving in San Diego at Sunset. Much later than planned, so much for spotting. But that’s ok, El Centro is a mere 2 hrs away and after all it’s the prize in this quest. Early start on Wednesday allows for a couple of hours of spotting before meeting up with Larry and Jim at the Rental Car Center. Bags are loaded and we’re off on the Road to El Centro. Arriving in the mid afternoon we proceed to check out the base perimeter looking for optimal spots outside of the fence. Our efforts are blessed with departing ‘Super Hornets’, returning ‘Goshawks. and ‘Super Hornets’. As the day and flight ops wind down we leave the base and head for the hotel. Along the way we stop a few times to take advantage of some great light and agricultural items. Always a keen eye for photo ops. The schedule for those that have arrived on Wednesday is to meet in the hotel lobby at 6:00 pm for a little ‘Meet and Greet’ and then head to dinner. Stories and experiences fill the air over dinner, then back to the hotel. Larry and I are sharing a room, more stories and talk about gear and photography. Final check of my gear, set my phone alarm for an early start and lights out. Who can sleep with what the next day will bring. Every hour you glimpse at the phone to see if it’s time to get up, finally it’s minutes before the alarm and the day starts. An early breakfast and then the group gathers in the hotel lobby at 8:00 am. To keep cars to a minimum we buddy up and then head to the perimeter fence on the eastern edge of the base. Hornets, Greyhounds, Goshawks and Harriers grace the skies. At 10:30 we meet up at the parking area outside of the base gate. While we wait , ‘Greyhounds’ and
EL CENTRO FALL 2016
Article by Paul Csizmadia
‘Hawkeyes’ are in the pattern overhead. ID’s are checked , van groups are assigned, we board the vans and head onto the base. A quick lunch, a Gracious Welcome and Safety Briefing by the PAO – (Safety is first and foremost. We will have 3,000 ft of runway length and be 50 ft from the runway. Be aware of FOD and keep aware of your surroundings and each other) followed by a Welcome address by the XO.
Pit stops are the order of business before boarding the vans. No facilities or ‘potty breaks’ once you’re out on the line. Then we’re off to the flight line. Off the vans, the photo gear comes out and we jockey
to find our spots. Moving through the day to different vantage points. Our gracious hosts have provided us with the ultimate photo zone 50ft away and 3,000 ft long and we’re bound to use every bit. The day’s flight ops will be filled with Marine ‘Harriers’, a few passing ‘Hercules’, Navy ‘Super Hornets’, ‘Goshawks’ and a ‘Greyhound’ or two. Then all too soon the sun gets low, flight ops for the day are done, the horns sound and you board the vans taking one last look at where you spent the day hoping to return again. Now back to the Base Exchange for pit stops and swag , then off the base and back to the parked cars. Our ISAP group gathers and heads for dinner. Great stories to share, chatting
with friends old and new and good food. Great way to end a super day. The next morning most of us meet and have breakfast, continuing the discussions, exchanging cards and contact info before parting and heading our separate ways. For Jim, Larry and I it’s a quick run by the base for the slim chance that there might be flight ops, but alas it’s Veteran’s Day and the base is closed. A quick swing by the Guard Shack to thank the guards for their service and we’re off to San Diego for our flights back home.
As I close this article I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to ISAP, Larry Grace, and Jim Wilson for their efforts in making the El Centro Photo Call happen and to the US Navy, NAF El Centro, the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer and the Public Affairs Officer for providing the opportunity to observe their mission through our lenses and to share their mission through our photos and videos.
The sound of shutters firing off as everyone readied their gear was like being in a castanet factory. The venerated ISAP membership that had gathered from all over the country played it cool knowing that there was more to come. Experience counts for a lot in aviation photography and I was glad to talk with our members and learn about how they shoot. After our briefing and introduction to the Naval Air Facility El Centro security team who would be helping us out, we headed to the flight line. Staking a claim for the best spot wasn’t on my agenda. I wanted a good vantage point, but really we had all day to get some great shots and there was no need to panic. What was the first thing I learned? There is no better reminder to wear ear protection than a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet going full afterburner about 50 feet from you! The percussive shock to my chest and gut was awesome! Now there’s a rush you don’t get every day. -Bob Beresh
On a personal note: my day at NAF El Centro was high on my bucket list of photo opportunities. The day was made more enjoyable by the wonderful group of ISAP members I shared the experience with. I look forward to many future opportunities with this group. I hope you enjoy the images and challenge you to check out ISAP.
- Ed Faith
We were back about fifty feet from the runway. At that distance the roar of the F/ A-18â€™s was a gut rumbler bordering on the unpleasant. There were about 80 of us spread over a 2000 feet, so there was plenty of room for all of us to get the shot we wanted. Between flights we could talk with each other and get better acquainted.
Everybody was chimping away and showing each other their shots. As the light improved during the day people moved from one spot to another going for that better and better shot. As usual with any great opportunity the time ran out all too quickly. It was back on the buses and back to our cars. Thanks to Kris Haugh NAWAS PAO and ISAP President Larry Grace for the opportunity to attend this photo call. -John Ford
Mid-November in the Imperial Valley and the temperature tops 90 degrees with clear skies and a mild breeze. It’s time for planting — hayage, spinach, broccoli and more — so rows are plowed, seeds sown, fields watered. In the midst of all this agriculture sits a bit of an anomaly: a military air base that is home to no aviation unit. Welcome to Naval Air Facility El Centro. The site was originally intended for the Imperial County Airport, now four miles due east, but during WW II it was, instead, leased by the Navy as a Marine Corps Air Station. After the war the facility was re-established as a Navy installation and given its current name in 1979.
Their Command Vision is to be the Navy’s premier tactical training air installation — providing world-class operations, world-class facilities
and the highest quality of life for their personnel and their families. They focus on excellence in all facets of their operations and it shows, for even without aviation assets permanently based there, the base is often a swarm with trainers, fighters, and support aircraft, taking advantage of the consistently great flying weather and the nearby gunnery and bombing ranges. Though they have no permanently based aviation units, per se, the facility has all the staff it takes to maintain the facilities and support the units that transition through for training. Thanks go out to Kris Haugh, public affairs officer, and the personnel that supported our visit for their hospitality and good humor.
It was dusty. Any vegetation that may have existed next to the runway was plowed up or bulldozed away. There was no place to sit down for almost 5 hours. There was no place to pee. It was LOUD! When you are standing 50 feet from the edge of the runway and an F/A-18 Super Hornet is doing touch-and-go landings and then taking off with full-throttle afterburners on both engines, it doesn’t really matter if you have earplugs in your ears. Your entire body feels like an ear drum about to burst.
But it was FUN! I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and so would the other 70-plus photographers who were invited to Naval Air Facility El Centro for the November Photo call.
Besides having the opportunity to take some great photos, we also had an opportunity to meet and bond with our fellow photographers. Right before sunset, we were driven back to the base commissary and then all departed. Some of us met for burgers and beer afterwards to discuss the day’s events before going our separate ways. And I would do it again tomorrow if given the opportunity. I want to thank Larry Grace, our fearless ISAP leader, for organizing this event and herding all the sheep. Great job, Larry! You are the best! -Michael Pliskin
Goshawk, Ball, Three-Point Five by Scott Germain – Images of Light and Lift
This was my second photo-call at Navy El Centro, and once again we were treated as VIP guests on the base. Our hosts were prime examples of everything that is right with our Navy; professional, polite, concise, and welcoming. NAF El Centro is starting to feel like a second home.
I was hoping for some more varied aircraft than the February, 2016 photo-call. Sometimes it’s busy, and sometimes it’s a bit slow. I wouldn’t say this November was slow, and the first crew out did get a few Harriers right off the bat. But it wasn’t as busy as earlier in the year. We had absolutely no problem shooting the usual T-45C Gosshawks, and legacy/Superbug Hornets. We even had a pass by three Marine C-130s.
For ISAP members contemplating attending one of our photo-calls, I highly recommend it. The first thoughts usually are; what should I bring, and what can I bring? Larry Grace, our head honcho sends out some useful emails, but if you haven’t gone before you may not know how it works. One thing; everybody really means it when they say don’t FOD the runway. Bolt your hat on, and ensure anything you bring stays within your strict control. You really don’t want the bill for a F-414 turbofan. One helpful piece of advice is to put some thought into packing and survival. It’s best to have one camera bag, and anything else you need firmly and snugly attached to it or inside it. This year, my bag included
two bodies, three lenses, and a grab bag with extra cards and batteries. With my advance age of 48 and abused feet, I brought a $7 folding stool for the slow times. This may have been the best decision I made for the entire event. I packed my own lunch, and also brought – and used – sunscreen and a camelback with ice-cold water. I had everything I needed for the five hours we were next to the runway. ISAP photo calls are not only a great chance for perfect access to desirable subjects, it’s a chance to hone your craft and meet new people. I’ve met some quality people and made new friends both times. We’re a friendly bunch and most people enjoy sharing their techniques
and secrets. Other photo groups share the space with us, so it’s nice to branch out your networks and build relationships. My planning made the event very pleasurable and comfortable, and allowed me to focus on my shooting and getting to know some new people. Hopefully we’ll see you at the next event.
This being my first opportunity to meet and shoot with other members of ISAP, I was a little humbled, but at the same time, very excited. Everyone I had the chance to talk with prior to and during our photo call was great. All the members had something amazing to offer and share. I compared the experience to attending Photography school at Brooks Institute. Everyoneâ€™s passion for Photography and Aviation reminded me why I am so happy to have joined the ISAP family. As exciting as it was to stand fifty feet away from an F-18â€™s landing and taking off, I was more taken back by the whole experience of meeting fellow ISAP members and hearing their stories.
ALLIANCE A I R S H O W 2 01 6
All shots in this set have been taken in May 2016. Camera: Sony Alpha 6000 Lenses: Walimex 12mm / F 2.0 Ultra Wide Angle, Manual Focus Walimex 8 mm / F 2.8 Fish-Eye, Manual Focus Zeiss Vario Tessar 16 - 70 mm / F 4, Auto Focus ISO Limits: 100 - 400 Postproduction: Adobe Lightroom 6 DDR-SEG on display at Stölln, the world’s oldest airstrip.
The Story of
Text and Photos by Marc Schultz / www.flugsicht.com Additional Aircraft History Research Courtesy of Frank Jäger, Toulouse
Question: Is it possible to land a 105 ton, 4-engined turbojet Airliner on a 3000 ft grass-strip? Answer: Yes, if you have a skilled and experienced aircrew. Certainly one of the most spectacular landings in Aviation History took place on October 31st, 1989 at the airstrip of Stölln / East-Germany when INTERFLUG Captain Karl-Heinz Kallbach and his Co-Pilot Peter Bley successfully touched down their heavy Ilyushin IL-62 for its final rest on the local airfield. The IL-62 (Construction Number 31303), registered DDR-SEG, had been in service with the East-German State Airline INTERFLUG since May 1973. The ship was phased out of operation some weeks earlier on August 16, 1989. The total INTERFLUG IL-62 fleet consisted of 19 aircraft of which two were initially operated by the National Peoples Army (Nationale Volksarmee - NVA) as Government Aircraft. The first IL-62 DM-SEA was delivered from Ilyushin’s Kazan plant to Berlin-Schönefeld in April 1970. Germany’s worst aviation accident is connected to this specific aircraft since on August 14, 1972 DM-SEA crashed near Königs-Wusterhausen with the loss of all 156 souls on board. The cause of the accident had been a fire in the rear compartment which led to a complete loss of the tail section before impact.
INTERFLUG started its regular IL-62 service in December 1970 on the Berlin - Moscow route. The typical layout consisted of 8 first-class and 160 economy class passengers. INTERFLUG IL-62s had been on world wide services including destinations like Cuba, India, Vietnam and Africa. From 1987 onwards the IL-62 (without suffix) were replaced by the more modern IL-62M variant. At the time of Germany’s reunification in October 1990, INTERFLUG still operated a fleet of nine IL-62M. All of them were consequently transferred to the German Civil Aviation Register. INTERFLUG operations ended on April 30, 1991 with seven remaining IL-62M in their inventory. Final IL-62 operations in Germany were flown by three aircraft from the IV. Staffel of TG (Transportgeschwader) 44 in Marxwalde, all of them still in INTERFLUG livery. The highly sophisticated landing in Stölln was risked in honour of Aviation Pioneer Otto-Lilienthal, who lost his life in a glider accident in Stölln on August 9, 1896. The IL-62 DDR-SEG was named “Lady Agnes“ in remembrance of Lilienthal’s wife. Lady Agnes“ is on display and can be visited by the public. For more information visit www.otto-lilienthal.de.
Despite resting in Stölln since 1989 the IL-62’s Soviet Style cockpit is still in a remarkably good shape.
Captain’s view from the left seat reveals a fair overview - inside and outside the cockpit.
A walk on the wing shows the Ilyushinâ€™s huge dimensions.
The IL-62 was driven by 4 Solowjow or Kuznezow Turbojet engines.
â€œLady Agnesâ€œ is still looking good from the outside. Almost as if she would be airborne again.
The neighboring building houses an exhibition on the history of INTERFLUG, the former East German State Airline.
Northolt Night Shoot by Mike Green
With the 21st and latest Northolt ‘Night shoot’ having taken place on 6th October 2016, RAF Northolt provided us with yet another evening to photograph military aircraft in a rather more unusual setting. Having not attended one of these events for some time I decided to make the short trip to RAF Northolt, which is located just a few kilometers west of central London. The events normally provide an opportunity to photograph military aircraft in a relaxed and congenial manner, along with the chance of something a little more diverse from the usual run of the mill backdrops available to photographers on a daily basis. More to the point, this particular evening promised some unusual and ‘special’ aircraft. At recent events, some of the expected items had failed to turn up, with the 20th Night shoot being of particular note! Of course the biggest issue is that aircraft attendance is subject to availability, and being operational aircraft it can result in last minute cancellations. However Night Shoot #21 proved to be a huge success, with every ‘confirmed’ aircraft turning up and once again putting the event firmly back on the calendar. The proceeds raised from ‘donations’ during these events all go towards the RAF charitable funds in support of the restoration of the base’s World War Two ‘Battle of Britain’ Operations Room, known as Building No.27. The events are well organized by Phil Dawe from start
to finish, and I for one would like to say another big thanks for the effort that he always puts in. As an avid aviation enthusiast and photographer himself, he knows what is required and he and his team go out of their way to get unusual and diverse aircraft types to attend, as well as trying to provide ideal photographic conditions. Unfortunately, Phil does not yet have control over the weather gods! With plenty of refreshments on hand, combined with some memorabilia often available to buy from some of the crews, the events make for very enjoyable evenings. As mentioned before, some of the expected participants do not always materialize, but that’s the chance you take. Those that do attend though are well positioned and there are no issues in finding a variety of spots amongst the not too large attendances; so no pushing and shoving to get the prime locations necessary, as people on the whole are well behaved and courteous to each other. These events are open to all and are run on a fairly regular basis, with a number of overseas visitors often attending. So if you want something a little different, maybe one of RAF Northolt’s Night shoots is just what you need. If you’d like to see a few more images from other Northolt Night Shoots, they can be found at www.jetwashaviationphotos.com
As a guide to helping those who have never shot under these circumstances, here’s a rundown of the equipment & settings I used: • Canon 7D Mk.II camera • Canon 24-105mm F/4 L-series lens • Canon RS-80N3 Remote switch • Slik ‘Cameraman’ Tripod • Camera settings: 1. Av (Aperture Priority exposure) 2. ISO 200 3. F.8 4. ‘Pattern’ metering mode 5. Auto White Balance 6. Image Quality; ‘RAW’ 7. Drive Mode; ‘One shot’ or ‘AI Focus’ (Doesn’t really matter which you use) 8. Mirror Lock-up activated
If Facebook is any indication, everybody is a professional aviation photographer. You have a camera, a ‘company’ name, and you watermark your images. You shoot airshows and static aircraft. Everybody ‘Likes’ your photos, no matter how askew the horizon is or back-lit the subject is. Then you shoot one airplane from another, so now you’re an air-to-air photographer. You are official and legit; you’ve told people as much. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. And no offense is meant to those matching the description above; you have to start somewhere, learn the trade, and hone your skills. It’s part of the game. The top-tier air-to-air photographers have spent years honing their skills, and that’s after earning the opportunities to get access to desirable subject aircraft. Their work is their resumé, and that resumé depends on the ability to get close. Really close. With its popularity rapidly growing, long-time air-to-air photographer Scott Germain identified a need for a school for aspiring air-to-air photogs. “It used to be air-to-air chose you, almost by chance,” Germain said. “You got to ride along and take some photos. If you’re lucky, the pilots ask if you want them to move around. But they do using their skill, not yours. You get whatever you get through no input of your own other than how you take the photos. If you were prepared for the moment, maybe you caught some great images – so you were ‘in.’ You used the opportunity and you produced good work.” With social media providing immediate image communication, people have become interested in air-to-air earlier and are seek out those opportunities. Germain founded One on One / Air-to-Air after identifying a need to educate potential air-to-air photographers on the intricacies of the art. It’s a specialized graduate-level school starting with the basic and progressing through advancing air-to-air techniques. The three-day course encompasses ground-school and three photo flights with associated briefings and debriefings. There are options for ground night shoots, different subject aircraft, and a field trip to local aviation attractions. Depending on photographer background and experience, the curriculum is customizable to meet their specific needs. Putting the photographer in a controlled learning environment, where the instructors simulate a wide variety of scenarios, is a key point. “We let the student exercise control outside of their experience level, but well within ours,” Germain said. “I spend a lot of time teaching the student how formation flying works from the pilot’s perspective. That knowledge is a key pillar for what we do.” Germain got the idea from the Air Force’s Red Flag program. “Their concept is awesome,” he stated. “Red Flag simulates the first ten combat missions for pilots. They have to operate and complete their mission under the stress and confusion of battle in a controlled environment. Obviously air-to-air photography isn’t combat, but the same maxim applies. Get your first three shoots under your belt during controlled conditions in a learning environment, and your survivability goes way up.” Not only that, letting prospective pilots know you’ve had some training will open doors. The first day of school starts in the afternoon, allowing students to fly to Phoenix, Arizona, in the morning. “I teach basic and advanced concepts with Power-Point during a four hour ground school,” Germain said. “It’s a comprehensive look at how to plan and run a photo flight, how formation is flown, and the hundreds of smaller details you’d never know to consider. The student can walk with only their photography skills, and leave ground school ready to run their first training flight.” Which happens the next morning... The student photographer plans and briefs their first photo flight and then acts as the aerial coordinator/photographer.
At the completion of the first training flight, the photographer debriefs the mission with the pilots, then self-evaluates. The session concludes with the instructors reviewing the flight and giving an educational briefback to solidify what went right, and what could have been better. “We want to educate and position the student to control the outcome and direct the flight in a successful manner,” Germain said. “And success can be different things... Conducting a safe flight is always the priority. That goes hand-in-hand with the learning experience. After that, the student will probably judge their success by getting good shots.”
Germain is in a unique position to mix his aviation and photography backgrounds while he instructs the student. His real job is flying an Airbus for American Airlines, but he has a wide range of experience in general aviation, air racing, formation flying, aerobatics, and warbirds. “It’s a unique ability,” he said. “As an instructor flying the subject aircraft, I mix what I know about air-to-air photography, formation flying, and teaching. I can provide immediate feedback and instruction over the radio. As the student runs the shoot, I can do what they tell me, decline the request based on safety, or do something they’re not expecting. It’s designed to maximize training and expose the student to as many scenarios as possible.”
After the morning flight, the student has time to relax, enjoy lunch, and plan the evening photo flight. “The program is paced nicely,” Germain explained. “With two flights on day two, we’re not in a hurry. It’s relaxed. There’s time to breathe, draw out some different ideas, and plan any changes you want to make. We can also secure different subject aircraft if the student desires.” With one photo flight under their belt, the student begins to anticipate the flow of the shoot. “This lets them refine lessons learned, make adjustments, and try out new ideas,’ Germain said. “Communication is a big deal. If you’re not used to speaking with pilots, there can be a learning curve. Things like ‘up’ and ‘higher’ can mean different things based on bank angles or perceptions. We start getting the student used to standard terminology so they can communicate quickly and effectively.” “We fly the second mission just as the student directs us. We let the communication play out, and introduce some planned scenarios they have to act on. It’s a building-block approach,” Germain said. “We also want to introduce including scenic backgrounds into the creative process, as well as dynamic aircraft maneuvering.” After the debrief, the crew can catch dinner together if desired. “I think there’s a lot to be learned - on both sides - outside of the program,” Germain said. “Relaxing over dinner and a few beers gives everyone the ability to get to know each other and widen everybody’s perspectives.”
Germain couldn’t offer this program without his business partner and fellow pilot, Patrick McGarry, whom flies the camera aircraft and provides instruction as well. “In terms of the flying,” Germain said, “he has a better background than I do. Pat’s flown competition aerobatics, has raced at Reno and Phoenix, and has time in many different warbirds. We’ve flown quite a few aerial shoots together, and more importantly, his experience and temperament makes him absolutely the right guy for this.” This means the student is actually learning from two instructors. “I probably should have called the program Two-on-One,” he laughed. “You actually get two instructors.” As far as he knows, there are no other programs to train photographers like this, and obviously none would have this capability. “Our areas of comfort far outweigh the student’s, so we can expose them to situations they will inevitably run across in the future.”
Students can customize their subject aircraft or book something more interesting for a night shoot if they want. “We have some neat options if the student is so inclined. Normally, we use a Cessna 185 with the door removed as the camera aircraft. It’s a great photo platform, and will allow the student to learn about safety harnesses, environmental issues, and aircraft performance. We can obtain a T-6 and a few other aircraft if they’re available, but the general aviation aircraft provide the student with the biggest return on their investment.” The same is true for the subject aircraft. “I’ll normally be in a Cessna 152 or 172. It’s a low-cost choice that helps the student go farther,” Germain said. “It’s also good because high-wing aircraft carry their own limitations when it comes to formation flying and photography. Much like the camera aircraft, we can also schedule something more interesting if the student desires. We have access to Pitts, CJs, T-34s, Lancairs, Stearmans, T-6s, Rockets, Citabrias and T-28s.” There’s also a Mustang, Wildcat, and L-39 option. A night shoot of a specialty aircraft can also be arranged. “We want the student to have a positive learning experience, and a fun one as well. If they want a T-6 on the ramp, all to themselves, we can do that. Maybe they’ve never light-painted before, or shot time-lapse photos. Why not offer that to them?,” Germain said.
Somewhere between a great shoot and herding cats is learning what being terrified means. Has Germain had any close calls? “I’ve been scared a few times and frustrated many times, but the only close call was my own fault. That gets covered in ground school,” he laughed. “But yes, have been times where things haven’t gone as planned. In fact, things rarely go as planned. Most of the time, it’s frustration because a pilot doesn’t have the same approach to professionalism you do, or they can’t maintain a good position. Sometimes you realize a pilot has the wrong attitude by what they do or how they do it. That’s a big part of what I want to teach our students.” At the conclusion of the program, the student will have a solid foundation and a set of tools for future air-to-air shoots.
As day three starts, the student plans and briefs the morning graduation flight. This can be anything from a repeat of an earlier flight with additional scenarios to a specialized mission with multiple aircraft. “Shooting more than one subject aircraft opens up a whole new world, with new problems for the photographer,” Germain said. “Not only are the airplanes in formation, the subject aircraft operate as a separate formation. You absolutely must understand formation flying, how the pilots interact, and what is possible. That’s hard to do without actually doing it. We don’t demand the student opts and pays for this, but we highly recommend it. It’s a great opportunity to experience the hardest part of air-to-air photography.” Ideally, the graduation flight includes the camera aircraft and two or three subject aircraft. “We have a lot of talented people at our local airports, and they have interesting aircraft. The owners and pilots are friends of ours, and we’ve made sure they have the proper skills and training to fly as guest instructors.” Regardless of the subject aircraft, the final training flight allows the student to solidify their skills, anticipate the next move or a developing situation, and manage the operation to a successful completion. “If it’s just me in the subject aircraft, they can plan on something going ‘wrong’ at some point, or having to call knock-it-off. We want to show them where their limits should be. If it’s a formation, that will bring its own challenges and we let it play out. Either way, it’s a busy flight, and we’re going to work the student pretty good.” Germain agrees that his program can’t teach everything to everyone about the art. “It’s impossible,” he said. “This is such a dynamic arena with so many variables. In fact, take the same airplanes and the same pilots on different days, and the outcome will be different. We perform and think differently each day. The people you work with are key to being safe and shooting great photos. You just have to work with the right people. If you do an air-to-air shoot with two pilots you don’t know, and are unsure of their normal flying abilities let alone their formation skills, you should be wary. I’m not saying this hasn’t been done, and I’m not saying you won’t be able to get some good photos. But working with the wrong pilots can get you killed. At the very best, you will get lucky, have a safe shoot, and get some shots. But you don’t know what you don’t know.”
“It’s a difficult, demanding, and dynamic discipline of photography,” Germain stated. “We want photographers to survive – literally - and be successful.” There is another important point Germain mentioned. “Let’s not forget this can be a lot of fun. Your dedication, planning, coordination, and aerial direction is demanding and a lot of work,” Germain said. “When it all comes together, when everybody is doing what they said they’d do, and when you see a high percentage of great photos – there is no other feeling like that. You’ve built a small team of people and worked with them to make those images possible. It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done. When you get positive feedback from people seeing your work, that’s a huge personal return. You’ve created something that’s communicated and stirred something in someone else. It’s awesome.” One-on-One / Air-to-Air is based in Phoenix, Arizona, and is accepting a very limited number of students through May of 2017. For more information, contact Scott Germain at LightAndLift@cox.net, or visit www.LightAndLift.com. Pricing and program customization is available upon request, as well as lodging advice and local attraction information.
TWO TURNING TWO BURNING
N EPTUN E AV IATION â€™S P 2V S by Scott Slingsby
Flying into Missoula, Montana for the first time I couldn’t help noticing the beautiful scenery, however, once on the ground, something else caught my attention, a well preserved P2V Neptune. Owned and operated by Neptune Aviation as a fire bomber, the P2V is not only the company namesake but has also been the backbone of their fleet for many years. Powered by two 18-cylinder Wright R-3350’s rated at 3,700 HP and two Westinghouse J34 turbojets producing 3,250 pounds of thrust, the Neptune has the speed and range to get to a problem area in a hurry. A fully loaded P2V has the capability to drop 2,082 gallons of fire retardant on its target. It can open each of the six doors individually, in sequence or, in an emergency, all at once.
The P2V was originally designed by Lockheed as a land-based patrol bomber towards the end of World War 2. It first took flight in 1945 and was accepted into the Naval inventory in 1947. The Neptune was the primary anti-submarine aircraft through the 50’s and 60’s, utilized in both Korea and Vietnam by the US Navy and Air Force. Its versatility was evident by its ability, depending on the mission, to carry bombs, mines, torpedoes and even underwing rockets. The airplane would later be replaced by another Lockheed product, the P-3 Orion.
“Truculent Turtle”, a P2V-1 Neptune, set a world distance record in 1946 by flying nonstop from Australia to Columbus, Ohio. A total distance of 11,236 miles. Neptune Aviation’s P2V-5 “High Roller” nose art, added to the aircraft by one of their retired captains, gives it the look of a well-manicured warbird rather than a workhorse. Built in 1954, it is one of seven operational models under contract with the U.S. Forrest service. Their airplanes are based in Missoula for the firefighting season and then relocated to Alamorgordo, NM during the winter months for annual inspections, heavy checks and training. A modification Neptune has made to their P2V’s gives them the ability to change how the spoiler system operates. Normally the spoilers operate as roll spoilers to assist the airplane when turning, but with the flip of a switch, the crew can deploy the spoilers as lift/dump devices, thus giving the pilots better speed control and maneuverability in a downhill dive. A notable fact about the Neptune is that Lockheed built the airplane to run both sets of engines on Avgas to reduce the complexity of the fuel system. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and retirement of the Neptune looks to be in the not too distant future, quite possibly 2018. The U.S. Forrest service has mandated that it’s next-gen fire bombers be capable of 3,000 gallons of retardant and flying greater than 300 knots which will more than likely spell the end of the P2V’s firefighting role. COO Dan Snyder told me that they plan on keeping on 1 or 2 P2V’s around for airshows and other events as the company positions itself for the future with the four-engined BAE 146.
2016 African Aerospace and Defense (AAD) TESTING THE FUJIFILM X-T2 by Dylan Van Graan
So it’s actually been two years since my last report on African Aerospace and Defense back in 2014. I can hardly believe it’s been that long. AAD comes around every 2 years and the 2016 edition took place from the 14th to the 18th of September. As in 2014 I was fortunate to gain press accreditation for the event thanks to the support of ISAP President Larry Grace and ISnAP Editor Kevin Hong who kindly provided me with a letter addressed to the media team at AAD requesting leave for me to cover the event on behalf of this publication. Press access granted and credentials in hand, a steady stream of press releases and invites to events started to fill my inbox and served as reminders that the biggest aviation spectacle on the local air show calendar was just days away. Photography being my main interest and purpose during the event some of the news was still quite interesting and very informative. One press release in particular caught my attention and would be worth mentioning before returning to the matter at hand, being photography: A memorandum of understanding signed between Airbus Helicopters and Denel to modernize South Africa’s fleet of Rooivalk attack helicopters, as well as Denel’s plans to build an updated Mk2 as a result of renewed interest in the Rooivalk after its performance during the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. As informative as the news coming out of the media communications were, my main aim was to test the new Fujifilm X-T2 that recently made its appearance on the world stage and that the good folks at Fujifilm South Africa were kind enough to let me play with during the event. I received a preproduction unit about a week before AAD and paired this with the FUJINON XF 100400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR and the vertical booster grip that was released with the camera. I also received the FUJINON 2X teleconverter to test and although it worked a treat for making images of birds in trees and the moon during the week running up to AAD, it slowed the rig down to the point where I removed the converter after the first high speed pass performed by the SAAF Gripen, as soon as I arrived next to the flight line on Friday the 16th. With the converter safely back in the camera bag it was on to the serious business of making images. Friday proved especially tricky both in the prevailing conditions which were especially blustery and hazy as well as getting used to following aircraft through an electronic viewfinder. It soon became obvious that simply transferring my shooting techniques that worked for my current setup was not going to easily translate to the mirrorless system and get me the results I was looking for. It will be this experience that I would like to elaborate on in this article and not necessarily a highly detailed breakdown of image quality provided by the Fuji system. You will find many and more such reviews on the Internet and I can assure you there is no reason to believe that the camera sensor combined with this particular lens is anything but capable of delivering outstanding image quality. I mean look at the wear and tear on the leading edge of the wing of the K-8 displayed by the Zimbabwean Air Force. So how is the Fujifilm setup different? Well, let’s start with my usual setup and that being the Canon 70D and the venerable push/pull version of the Canon 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 L IS USM lens.
The first challenge I faced was getting used to turning the barrel to zoom in or out. With all the myriad disadvantages mentioned in reviews and forums about the push/pull action of the Canon lens, I have always found that the smooth action of moving my hand forwards and backwards while cradling the lens, provided me with a more stable platform for shooting at slow shutter speeds and following the aircraft “in” as they came down the flight line. In the case of the FUJINON I found the zoom action to be quite stiff. Whilst it might help address “zoom creep” in certain use cases it didn’t do me any favors when following a fast jet approaching my position and I found myself losing my subject in the viewfinder as it passed. To be honest, I think the way I shoot might also be partially to blame, as I tend to start firing the shutter with aircraft too far out from my position. I always have to remind myself to wait for the aircraft to fill my viewfinder before shooting. I worked harder at this on Saturday and found the going to be easier by waiting. I did find that the image stabilization on the lens was very effective and was able to shoot helicopters at 1/80 of a second resulting in very nice prop blur, something I’ve never really been able to do with my Canon kit. When checking the LCD screen to assess image sharpness I was a bit worried that my keeper rate at “normal” shutter speeds between 1/125 and 1/200 weren’t as many as I would have expected considering prior reviews of the lens and the mentioned results at 1/80. To conserve battery power, which by the way was a challenge to manage and is a known Achilles’ heel of mirrorless systems, I spent some time Friday using my Canon setup and soon realized that I was having
similar sharpness issues there as well! It turned out that the gusty conditions were to blame and by removing the lens hoods I saw an almost immediate improvement in my keeper rate. Speaking of Achilles’ heels, one of the areas where mirrorless cameras have fallen short in relation to fast moving subject matter has always been focus tracking and one would read one opinion piece after another stating that DSLR’s are still the king of the hill in this regard. In some ways and under certain conditions this might still be the case but boy is the X-T2 a leap forward! With 325 AF points, 91 of which being zone focus, the days where the difference between DSLR and mirrorless are as obvious as night and day are numbered. Would I say that the Fuji is as good as my Canon? It’s not as easy to say as I would have liked. In certain conditions the Canon loses the plot and in others the Fuji does. What I can say is that I found the Fuji to have more options for setting the focus up the way I wanted and the ability to customize the X-T2 to make changes on the fly was certainly very helpful. Added to this, the availability of the joystick to set focus points and areas made the process much more intuitive and quicker. This leads into the next point I would like to cover and that’s the usability of the system. I could almost write this full article expounding on the virtues of the Fuji eco system and how it truly does seem that Fuji actually listens to the users of their equipment and makes gear to suit. After the initial learning curve and setting the camera body up to suit my requirements it was really a pleasure to use, with everything being
where I needed them to be. If anyone from Fuji reads this though there are 2 areas that needs attention, the first being the lack of true back button focus and the second the menu system. One can get some form of back button focus by changing the settings on button functionality but it isn’t as comfortable to use as one would like and the menu system on the Canon is in my opinion more intuitive and easier to use. It took me close on 5 minutes to find the setting to format my SD cards and I found it hidden under user settings. In contrast I had an opportunity to spend some time with a Canon 80D over the weekend and I immediately felt at home in the menus. Before you say that it’s because I’m a Canon user, there are users exclusive to the Fuji system that have voiced similar concerns and I do own an Fujifilm X-T10 and find its menu system easier to use. Physically I would find the X-T2 without the booster grip a bit small and unbalanced with the 100-400mm attached. The grip not only improves the balance through added weight but adds as part of its construction more area to the camera grip which allows the setup to feel less cramped. Turning the camera into the portrait orientation as I sometimes like to do during aerobatic displays, provides almost a full compliment of controls as on the camera body itself, most notably a joystick offering the same functionality as the one found on the body and a handy switch to change the performance of the camera from normal to boost and vice versa. Boost brings with it faster and improved performance including a frame rate of up to 11fps depending on the power levels available in
the batteries which brings us back to Achilles’ heel number one! Unless you have at least two full sets of batteries available (six total), one in camera and two in the grip you might want to become prudent about when 11fps would be necessary or not. I had the set provided by Fuji as well as my own two batteries and I had to be careful to keep an eye on power consumption. One of the major advantages touted for mirrorless systems would be the weight savings they offer but in this case I am sorry to report that the weight of my Canon system and the Fuji kit I tested were very much alike. Granted the Fuji included the battery grip but for the purpose it was tested I wouldn’t have left the house without the power reserve offered by the grip. Possible weight savings shouldn’t even be a consideration when looking at this system for airshow work, at least not when we’re sticking to 100-400mm zoom range. That brings us to image quality and as mentioned earlier the Fujifilm X-T2 and 100-400mm lens do not disappoint and to be honest I never had any doubts that it would. I am fortunate enough to travel and hike with an X-T10 in my bag and I have yet to be disappointed in the image quality from this little gem. In fact the image of the C-17 Globemaster was made using this camera with the very non-standard FUJINON 1855mm zoom attached to the front. Considering that the X-T2 comes with the improved 24 megapixel sensor and all things being equal handling and tracking wise, this is where the Fuji excels, in the quality of the
files it produces both as JPEG and in RAW. Just imagine making minor tweaks to a set of JPEG files after culling a full weekend’s work at 11fps, wouldn’t that be nice? This is a reality when using the X-T2 and the Velvia film simulation resulted in nice images right out of the camera. If need be RAW to JPEG conversions can be done in camera applying the same adjustments as are available in the JPEG output setup. When more heavy lifting is required the RAW files have a surprisingly wide exposure latitude. The image of the L-15 Falcon trainer displayed by the Zambian Air Force was completely dark around the bottom of the fuselage and very contrasted overall. The DNG file converted from the RAW image proved to be very forgiving in the edit and I was able to pull the shadow detail out with hardly any increase in noise. The quality of the files coming out of the X-T2 beats my 70D every time especially when the ISO heads north of 1000. The fact that I have been able to cull, edit and write this piece in record time is testament to the above and this is where the Fuji eco system excites me the most.
Handling wise the system has its quirks and once these are understood and accommodated for there is no reason for the camera and lens not to be a viable airshow kit worthy of consideration by the serious photographer. To be honest I had my doubts after the first day next to the flight line, but after applying what I learned on the next day I must say I would have loved to spend more time using the setup. But alas, it needed to be returned to the guys at Fujifilm, but not before getting them to agree that I would be allowed to have another stab at it once the testing demands have tapered off towards the latter part of the year. This time trying the 50-140mm F2.8 and X1.4 tele which apparently works really well on the X-T2 tracking wise. By the way, it was my wife who reminded me that I was also rather despondent after spending my first day on the flight line with my brand new Canon 70D and it didn’t seem to be all I felt it needed to be and look how far we’ve come since then.
Shooting Aviation: Making A Friend Of Frustration By Steve Serdikoff You know the rule about long lenses, right? Match the shutter speed to the focal length of the lens you’re shooting. Shooting a 500mm lens? The rule says, shoot at 1/500th of a second. Oh and if you want maximum sharpness, always shoot off a tripod on the most stable platform you can find. And what do aviation photographers do? We shoot long glass slow, shoot high resolution cameras without tripods while sitting in airplanes moving all over the sky at other airplanes moving around just as much – and often at exceptionally slow shutter speeds. In other words, aviation photographers are usually forced to abandon every technique most photographers use to ensure tack sharp images. So get used to frustration. Get used to low hit rates – especially when you first start out. But don’t give up. Nailing a tack sharp image of an airplane in flight is amongst the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s worth the time and effort. And make no mistake – it took a lot of both to get any good at all. It’s been a long journey. Along the way, I learned a few things about this frustrating genre of photography. Many I learned the hard way. I’ve distilled these things down to eight guidelines I think might help you if you’d like to become a proficient aviation photographer. So without further ado…. 1) Shutter speed matters, but not as much as you think it does. Let’s bury the discussion of prop arc right away – photography is about creating compelling images. If the photographer matters at all, it’s precisely because he or she is making artistic choices that provide a unique perspective on their subjects. In short, that means any artistic choice can be valid if the artist makes it work. You needn’t have a full prop arc for a photo to be compelling. The standard should be whatever you think looks good. Yeah – but there’s a catch. While you don’t need to get a full prop arc on every shot of a warbird, for example, you never want to have limitations in your technique determine your artistic choices. In other words, don’t say you avoid full prop arcs because you don’t like them, when the reality is you’re just not comfortable shooting that slow. At the same time, we deal in reality here, so likewise, going for a full prop arc when it sacrifices image sharpness can be just as silly. So, yes, shutter speed matters – all camera settings matter – but the key thing is to be constrained as little by your technique and ability as possible. Be comfortable shooting at whatever settings you feel yield the best images. Don’t have your shooting style be shaped by the limits of your ability. Uncomfortable at slow shutter speeds? Practice smooth panning. Acquire as much skill as you can, then decide artistically which ones to bring to bear on an image. 2) Autofocus is not automatic This is a big one. And it’s somewhat tied to (1) above. No matter how many cross focus sensors you have, or how much light, or what your max aperture is, autofocus is still only as good as the person swinging the glass around. Controlling your camera is supremely important. The smoother you are, the more accurate you are at pointing the camera precisely when you bring it to your eye, the more relaxed and stable you are while shooting – all these things will help make your autofocus
system better. If you’re able to put a single autofocus point on a subject and pan smoothly without the point drifting off the subject, it doesn’t much matter how many other autofocus points you have. Better to think of your camera is a sniper rifle than a machine gun. It’s not that “spray and pray” can’t work, it’s just that whether it does or not depends on luck. Help your AF system work by keeping your subject in the frame and stable. 3) Shoot RAW Seriously. I mean seriously. I can’t believe how many people don’t, or how many people don’t fully understand why it is important. I’m not going to go through the specific technical reasons why RAW is better in detail, but suffice it to say, having the tiny microprocessor in your camera convert your sensor data into a JPEG sacrifices image quality for convenience. I understand people who shoot RAW and JPEG, or just shoot JPEG when taking snapshots, but when doing serious shooting, you owe it to yourself to maximize the image quality you worked so hard to get. Think about RAW processing on a powerful desktop computer. It takes several seconds for the image to be rendered on screen. A powerful modern desktop computer is taking seconds to interpret the vast data produced by your image sensor. That’s because it’s a complex process. And a process that’s constantly being improved. RAW processing gets better every year. RAW images I took 10 years ago look better now. The JPEGs from 10 years ago? They might as well be Polaroids in a dusty shoe box in my closet. RAW processing is complex and time consuming. Now think of a JPEG created in camera while you’re shooting. You’re using a tiny little onboard computer in your camera to perform a complex process in just milliseconds, locking in that data forever so it can never be reinterpreted, and converting it to a format that is simply ignoring some data for the sake of space and speed. In the days when memory was at a premium and expensive, we had little choice but to use compressed file formats. Now memory is cheap. You spent thousands to capture millions of pixels of light data as accurately as possible – don’t you want to keep all of it? So even if you do very little post processing on your images, RAW is still the way to go. Which brings me to… 4) Post processing is part of the photoshoot. This one addresses two groups of people. First, to those who think they are “pure” photographers who trust in the unadulterated images they shot: I call bullshit. Ansel Adams spent hours in the darkroom. So did Henri Cartier-Bresson. So did Annie Leibovitz. Yes, you should lavish as much attention on the work before snapping the shutter as possible, but that attention can have limited effect. Think of how granular camera settings are. Even with intermediate stops on modern cameras, you are basically finding the closest setting to the perfect exposure possible and using it, but it simply isn’t possible to have three discrete settings (ISO, Shutter speed, and aperture) always yield the perfect exposure. And even if it is possible, your camera’s sensor simply doesn’t come close to the tonal range our eyes are capable of seeing. So popping the shutter and being happy with whatever you get isn’t so much
preserving the purity of what you saw, but what the camera saw. Especially in harsh lighting situations, no exposure setting is going to produce an image that matches what the human eye saw. Exposure settings get you close; post processing gets you the rest of the way. The second group of people I want to address are those clients who want photographers to send them RAW images. Most photographers balk at that idea. Some will simply refuse. Why is that? As we just said, post processing is part of the image-making process. To demand RAW images is to allow the photographer to do half the work and then assume you can do better with the second half. Well, due respect, but if you hired a photographer, it’s because you liked the images he or she produced. Now suddenly you think you can do better than they can? Go into a Michelin-starred restaurant and ask to take over preparation of your dish just after Mise en Place. Yank an F1 driver out of the car following qualifying and tell them you’ll take over for the race. You hired a photographer because they are better at producing quality images than you are. Good choice. Now let them do their jobs. 5) DPI means nothing for digital photography Cameras shoot pixels. Monitors display pixels. You can’t alter the pixel density. DPI means “dots per inch.” That’s a measure of print quality. When someone wants you to send a file at 300 DPI, you might ask them why. You shot a finite amount of pixels. Do you want all of them or not? You give them all of the pixels and then they can print them as whatever size or print quality is appropriate, but when you’re talking about pixels, those are fixed and finite. Now, how big can you make a 6000 x 4000 image? That depends. If a print is to be of the highest quality, you probably want 300 DPI or better and only high pixel counts will be able to produce large prints at 300 DPI. But once you’ve produce the image, the discussion is over – the resolution is set and unalterable. If the person making the print or publishing the photo cares about quality, send them every last pixel of resolution you shot and that will provide the most flexibility in making a high quality print. If the printed image is to be small, maybe they only need half of the pixels you shot, but no matter what, your pixel density was decided when you bought the camera. Sure, you can resize the image to match the pixel density to the dot density at some given image size, but generally speaking, for large print sizes, that’s the same thing as sending a full-resolution image. I shot 24 MP – you want all of them or not? 6) Anticipate, don’t react I once shot an airshow with a press shooter who’d never been to an airshow before. She was constantly behind the action, often trying to point her camera where the noise came from – a tricky way to shoot machines often moving at close to the speed of sound. I’m sure she was a great shooter, but she missed most of her shots for the simple reason she didn’t have any idea where the action was going to be. I don’t care what kind of reflexes you have, you aren’t going to react quickly enough to do your best work for fast moving subjects. You have to know what’s coming next. Watch a baseball photographer – they train their camera on second base when there is fast runner on first and good pitch count for running. You have to do the same. The more you know about a subject, the better you will be at shooting it. Once you know where the action will be, you can start to see the shot before it happens. That’s how you will know in advance how to set up your camera. And this goes back to what we talked about before with having good technique at the ready: once you assess the shot you plan to take, you can quickly employ whatever technique is necessary to get the shot. You can’t do that if you lack the necessary techniques and you won’t know what techniques are needed unless you know what the shot is going to be. In this sense, much of the work needed to get
a great image happens long before you ever pop the shutter. Again – you can get great shots without that level of preparation, but not consistently and not on demand. 7) Don’t use a tripod, be a tripod Tripods may be essential for wide range of photographic situations, but in my experience, airshows and aviation photography aren’t among them. Tripods work best for fixed scenes or where action occurs on roughly one plane. Pro football shooters can use monopods or tripods because all the action happens at field level. Landscape photographers shoot fixed objects. Airplanes adhere to neither criteria. The only way to have the freedom of movement necessary to shoot airplanes is to be free standing. So, because you lack the benefits of a fixed platform to shoot from, that means you must become that fixed platform. Pay close attention to how you stand and move. Are you balanced? Are you moving smoothly? Are you in a comfortable shooting position when you snap the shutter? Look at golfers – they spend countless hours perfecting their swings. They do so for two reasons: 1) they want the most efficient movement possible and 2) they want to be able to repeat that movement consistently. You want the same things. Apply what any good baseball hitter or golfer knows to your panning. Keep your feet wide enough apart to be stable. Be balanced over your feet. Keep your knees loose so you can maintain balance while you move. Move efficiently and as smoothly as possible. Make you movements as simple as possible so you can replicate them consistently. 8) It’s not your gear’s fault It’s common to blame your camera equipment for poor quality images. Common and usually wrong. Yes, some cameras and lenses are better suited to aviation photography, but all great gear gets you is a slightly higher probability of getting good photos. If you are leaving good shots on the table while shooting with lesser gear, what makes you think you will do better with better gear? Are you consistently sharp and in focus? If not, better gear might help a little, but mostly it’s hiding gaps in your technique. You want great gear because it shows off your technique, not because it hides your flaws. And great glass often will reveal deficiencies in the shooter. When you nail every shot with the gear you have, consider moving up, but if you consistently are blowing shots, it’s almost certainly not the gear. Same key things to remember when assessing your gear and skill level: a) Always remember that autofocus has no idea what you want to be in focus, other than what objects you track in your viewfinder. Track poorly and it will lose focus. Buying a high priced AF system to correct for the fact that you can’t track a subject accurately is throwing good money after bad. b) Exposure meters don’t know what you want your picture to look like: a better camera is not likely to know more than a cheaper one. If you can’t get your exposures right, it is almost certainly your fault. c) High resolution cameras and lenses can only capture what the shooter gives them. Most often, that extra resolution is wasted by poor focusing technique, bad panning, and sloppy camera handling. One glance at an image and it should be clear if you nailed it or not. Don’t confuse motion blur with lens softness. d) Don’t expect high-priced vibration reduction, anti-shake systems, or expensive gyros to bail you out. Most of the movements that cause blurring, especially at slow shutter speeds, are relatively small and quick. No gyroscope is going to move quickly enough to damp out the kind of tiny movements that we all make when we shoot. Reduce them, yes. Eliminate them, no.
e) Make sure the images you post online represent your best work. Be your own editor: don’t “card dump” every image you shot. Pick the best ones. Don’t post pictures with dust spots on them, unintentionally askew horizon lines, out-of-focus subjects, screwed up white balance, halos from over-sharpening, or that are simply way too soft. Look at the images the best shooters post and note carefully what makes them stand out.
thousands – of expensive camera rigs along the flight line. After the show, the number of truly great images I see produced from that same show are exceedingly small. That means there are a lot of shooters out there who spent way too much on camera gear and far too little time on perfecting their technique. As they say: time is money. If you spend the money before you’ve spent the time, I assure you; you’ll have wasted both.
To sum up: always remember -- you are the photographer: you are using the camera to as a tool to show your vision to the world. Your technique is what brings that vision to life. If you lack ability, it will show and no camera will correct it. Most cameras are capable of great things. Only a handful of photographers are. Don’t expect the camera to do your work for you.
I started shooting aviation subjects after having witnessed so many amazing moments over the years yet having nothing but memories to look back on. I didn’t just want to preserve these moments for myself, but to share my passion and enthusiasm for aviation with everyone else. It was obvious immediately just how difficult and time-consuming learning to be a competent aviation photographer would be. But that’s what made it worthwhile. Embrace the frustration – it’s the challenge that makes aviation photography rewarding. And when you get that perfect synergy of technique, artistic eye, the right equipment, a spectacular subject, and amazing light, there are few greater feelings than knowing you preserved that rare and fleeting moment for all to see and enjoy.
Final Thought If everything I just said is a cold splash of water in your face – good, it was meant to be. The wide array of stellar and affordable camera gear on the market presents the illusion that everyone can take world class images. At every airshow I attend I see literally hundreds – maybe even
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