In this follow-up to my most recent article — about getting good images of a flying aircraft when you and your camera are on the ground — I look at what you might do to get interesting, useful images when you and the aircraft are on the ground.
Timing, Lenses and Angles
Although I and this Sikorsky S-333 were on the same ramp, and I would be flying with it later in the day, I still wanted to make images that could support marketing and advertising efforts by the client. I used a range of techniques to accomplish that.
First, was the time of day. The image above was made pre-dawn and, being in the heart of summer, that means pretty dang early. But the light is beautiful at that hour, so an Oh-dark-thirty wake-up it was. The result? The pre-dawn sky is raking the side of the aircraft, highlighting the textures and forms, and painting a background sky with gorgeous pastel colors. They had launched the aircraft from its towed platform to position it for our flight later in the morning, but for now I took advantage of the turning rotors and flashing lights to show a little life.
A bit later, with the sun up, I approached the aircraft for a formal, side-view, portrait. Here's what that looked like. Okay. Clean enough, I suppose. But there's something missing… or, rather, there's too much of something. Too much of what's not the aircraft! Too much asphalt with cracks in the foreground. A diagonal stroke of sunlight across the foreground. Too much bright grass, that building, the mountains intersecting with the outline of the aircraft. But that's what's there, right? How can I improve things? I go low.
Look how much more focused we are on the aircraft by my lying on the ground with my camera. The asphalt in the foreground still occupies the same amount of space in the image, but by visually compressing even more of that asphalt into the same space, the previously noticeable textures are, effectively, disappeared. The slash of sunlight barely registers. The golden grass is now but a narrow band and the mountains are lowered to intersect the fuselage at only two points.
(In the previous image, the mountains go into the windscreen, then through the cockpit, they poke above the tail boom, then go below the tail boom, then run into the lower vertical stabilizer, then past the stabilizer into the tail rotor blade. It's subtle, perhaps, but that's a lot of interference and it will register in our brains even if our eyes don't really notice. It's messy.)
The two images are separated by about five feet of vertical distance and 40 seconds in time, but a world of difference in effectiveness.
Here's another angle, literally and figuratively. I'm on the ground but shooting from the front quarter. I'm instead using a wide-angle lens instead of the narrow-angle lens (AKA as a "long" lens) of the side views. This would be considered a "hero" shot — chest out, shoulders back, chin thrust to the sky. And, again, a low position, the camera pointed up at the aircraft, which minimizes the noticeability of the foreground and background both, letting the shape and, because of that beautiful sunrise sky, the details and livery shine.
Later, I came back to the same location on the ramp, but lifted my camera into the air to get this top-down view. It has some things going for it, but the asphalt is a little distracting and the background calls too much attention to itself. It could be better, is what I'm saying, but if the client later asked, "hey, do you have any pictures looking down on the aircraft?" I could at least say, "yes I do."
Finally, an example of picking out details and making good choices to make a good image. From aft of the aircraft, I highlight the tail rotor (gearbox, actuators, blades, etc.) by getting up close. The challenge is showing off those details in the context of the rest of the aircraft without letting the background draw too much attention. It may be difficult to discern, in the smallness of the image as presented here, but by using an appropriate setting on the camera (a wide aperture, for those keeping score), I am able to keep the near objects in focus while pushing the far objects out of focus.
Over the course of two days of flying, I brought back nearly 1,700 frames of air-to-air with this turbine-powered Sikorsky, but by not ignoring the opportunities on the ground, I provided a more complete collection of useful imagery. You can do the same by keeping your eyes open and your camera handy.