Send In The Clouds

April 01, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

02090109 A-4 blue sky crop-v
NA001072

I wrote a few months ago about shooting in less-than-clement weather and how broken clouds can contribute to more-than-usual images. (You can revisit that here.) Today I'll put the clouds into the picture because that can be a good thing too! 

Clouds as Background

Whereas my earlier piece was how cloudy weather can lead to interesting lighting, here I'll look at clouds as the actual backdrop or accent to the subject. Clouds bring their own energy and eye-catchingness, but with a softness that doesn't compete with the typical crisp details of an aerospace subject.

Here's an A-10 Thunderbolt II against mid-summer clouds. The aircraft is littered with contrast and edges and details; the clouds are not. Sure, the composition would work against blue sky, but the clouds are a more suitable canvas on which to showcase those details. A-10 Thunderbolt II Fort Huachuca 20050816 037

Clouds can play a more active role, accentuating the drama of a composition. This C-130J slipped into NAF El Centro as the sun was dipping behind the horizon and storm clouds scudded overhead. I've beefed up the contrast and colors and textures with quite a striking result.

C-130J NAF El Centro 20140227 14oa
Near or on Naval Air Facility El Centro.
You might have to squint to see the Boeing 737 against the cumulus cloud, below, but it's coming our way and, in the video from which this frame is grabbed, the result is 25 seconds of gentle aviation cinematography. Despite the scale of the aircraft against the towering clouds, it is still that object that commands our attention. The clouds are billowing and shifting in the winds, but their graceful dance is easily overshadowed by this tiny metal tube racing through the sky. storm clouds brewing Arizona 20160815 8 Lastly, a storm rolled through Williams Gateway Airport (now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway) as I waited to photograph a Western Airlines Boeing 737 on its inaugural flight into the airport. The bad weather didn't deter me from bringing back some very nice images in the golden light. Allow me to set the scene.

This first image shows the weather — rain on the ramp, reflecting the tower, and a rainbow rising into the roiling clouds. WGA rainy day 20070119 56o
Williams Gateway Airport
Then, helped by my switching to a "longer" lens, a Citation X rose to the sky and I took this parting shot. (Fine. She was the one parting, so only she could take a parting shot, per se, but still…) It's not Photoshop, folks, as some have suggested — it's good timing and keeping my eyes open. WGA rainy day 20070119 33o
Williams Gateway Airport
With cooperative weather, even if it might not seem cooperative, you can bring back more than a plain ol' picture of a plane. Bold colors, subtle colors. Near or far. The energy of the weather can add energy to your images.


(The particularly sharp-eyed may have noticed a Piper departing WGA, in the far upper left corner of the wide shot. It is particularly tiny in this article, so I figured I'd not mention it. Extra points to you if you did notice.)


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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