Making Aerospace Art

May 02, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

aviationary 208 B747
_MSB3330
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B747 engine Marana 20150115 25xz

Back in 2015 I wrote about balancing art and commerce in photography and, in that article, focused on the commerce side of the equation. You can revisit that here.

Well, I'm spending a lot of time selecting and preparing images for an exhibition of my work so "art" is on my mind and it's what I'll share today. Not just because I like this work, but because whoever is pressing the shutter button should keep in mind that, sometimes, a solid artsy approach will yield images that spark new opportunities for marketing. And we can all benefit from new opportunities.

What I See/Saw
The image at the top is looking through the empty nacelle on one Boeing 747 to another empty nacelle on another Boeing 747. I spied this while scouting a desert "boneyard" in Arizona for a magazine article. The colors and contrast are amped up, which suits me fine, as they work with the stark composition to grab a viewer's attention. And that's step one.
CH-34 001 20060322 Choctaw Army One
aviationary 044 CH-34
The second image, just above, is from the military boneyard on Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Ariz. This roundel, in quite the state of decay, is on the empennage of a CH-34 Choctaw, and not just any old (very old) Choctaw — this was one that flew as Army One for President Dwight Eisenhower. The paint has weathered, sure, but the airframe is still in pretty good shape, thanks to the desert environment. Maybe one day it will be rejuvenated and displayed in a place of honor. Again, bold colors and contrast but, again, I like the look and it could work in the right application.


So what about reducing the color? This nose-on of a DC-7 has that approach, fading the colors to almost nothing, but not quite. This lets the shape of the plane take on greater importance and, in this composition, there is plenty of nearly blank sky on which to fit copy.
_MSB6618 Here's a detail of a B-52 rendered in muted colors, thus focusing our attention on the details and shapes. The color still plays a part, though, as it sets the emotional stage for the image. aviationary 175 B-52G
aviationary 175 B-52G
The USAF Armement Museum at Eglin AFB.B-52G Eglin AFB 20141023 19xz

I'll wrap things up with a return to bold colors; an F-16 between flights at Edwards AFB. Bold colors, sure, and bumped-up contrast, but there's a different feel to this approach, softer than the first two. It's a detail, not a fuller illustration of the subject yet, while the Choctaw roundel would have been recognized by only the very experienced and eagle-eyed, many would see this exhaust for what it is. Still, unlike a more pedestrian representation, this one makes the viewer stop.

aviationary 072 F-16Edwards AFB 20100303 069xtz Photography should definitely be more than the sum of its parts; more than the photons that pass through the lens. And for that to happen, the photographer should keep their eyes open for opportunities in the field and at their computer — fresh thinking might just be the result.


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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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