AeroMark Images: Blog en-us Unless marked otherwise, all images are copyright (C) by Mark Bennett, all rights reserved. (AeroMark Images) Mon, 27 Dec 2021 20:02:00 GMT Mon, 27 Dec 2021 20:02:00 GMT AeroMark Images: Blog 92 120 The Long and Short of It My previous article, and even the one before that, extolls the virtues of wide-angle lenses for capturing images that capture more of the story and put the viewer closer to the action. That's all well and good, but how about narrower-angle (AKA "long") lenses? Are they good for aviation photography?

Why, of course they are. That's why a photographer needs a variety of lenses. And more than owning them, a photographer should use them for all they're worth. Let's see how.

By the way, all of the images in this article were made in service of a photo essay I was producing for the December 2021 issue of ROTOR magazine, though none of these particular images will appear therein.

Some Numbers

It will help if I lay out some very superficial specifications of lenses. Fear not — I will be brief.

What is considered standard equipment for a professional photographer, one who deals with what I'll call everyday subjects, is a set of three zoom lenses. Each lens covers a not-particularly wide range of what are called focal lengths, are usually built very sturdily, are sealed against light applications of rain and dust, and are considered optically good.

The three lenses cover the focal lengths of 14–24 mm, 24–70 mm, and 70–200 mm, each allowing the same maximum amount of light as the others, denoted by an aperture setting of f/2.8. Their other similarity is price, as they are each somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000.

Let me be clear that owning this trio is not requisite to being considered a professional, nor even to be a good photographer. It just plays out that many professionals find the combination of qualities in these lenses make for a solid set of tools. Your mileage is entirely free to vary.

Xtra Wide

Many of the images in "Move Close and Say Aaah," that most recent article, were made with a lens capable of forming an image with a field of view of 114° — if you put the camera in the corner of a room and shoot toward the middle of that room, the image will include the walls that make up that corner. It's a great capability when you're very close to your subject, or want to put the subject in the wide world, or if the subject is a broad landscape.

I won't show a bunch of those xtra-wide-angle images, since I covered them so recently, but here are some examples to get us started:

It is a 14 mm lens that captures that 114° field of view. In this instance I'm not jammed into a corner of a room, but sitting half out of an MD 530F, piloted by Wilson Construction's Darin Sturdevant, over the desert east of Apple Valley, California. Like the convex rear-view mirror on the side opposite the driver of a car, with a wide-angle lens objects are typically nearer than they appear. Meaning, we're probably 30 feet from the lineman, if that, though based on his "size," he would appear to be twice that distance.

In this case, that wide view puts an awful lot in one frame: a part of the cabin floor on which I'm (half) sitting, the pilot, the skid (with an actual convex mirror!), the transmission tower and lineman, and a wide swath of the rising terrain in the near distance.

This is looking out from a Bell 429 owned by Salt River Project, a public utility in Arizona. They were hunting for a fault in one of their transmission lines, and I tagged along hunting for an image I needed. Gaze in wonder at how much of the interior I was able to put in one shot, from the audio system at the bottom to the rotor brake at top, from SRP Senior Engineer Daryl Chipman, on the left, to Senior Pilot Nick Quevedo, well, the back of Nick's head, on the right. That plus the beautiful scenery, of course.

In the back of the 429, where I was sitting, EHV Inspector Mike Deubler would be looking for the fault through the open door, though it's closed while we are en route to the requisite segment. This focal length, while not super wide, allowed for a pleasant portrait of Mike that includes both the aircraft and the scenery.


The previous three images were shot with my 14-24 mm lens. Next we'll see images from my 24–70, all capturing scenes related to helisawing, starting with this one.

Using a 24 mm lens allowed me to both show the landing zone, with its variety of equipment and vehicles, and to connect the business end of the helisaw with the aircraft that would loft it, an MD 500D, seen here idling during its fuel stop.

Notice the anti-collision light illuminated on the belly of the aircraft? It is not an accident that I have images with that light visible — by pressing the shutter release when I know the light will be on, I help the viewer notice the aircraft and visually connect it to the saw. That was especially helpful in this image, since the aircraft is small in the frame, out of focus, and doesn't particularly stand out against those trees.

The more aviation-savvy among you will also understand that the collision light being "on" means the aircraft is, at least to some degree, powered up. And though it's not clear that the blades are turning, it is fairly clear that they're not sitting still, either. Otherwise, we'd see them as lines drooping from the rotor head.

Those small details add energy to the scene because without them, nothing in the scene is in motion. It would be a still life with jagged teeth: a slight breeze, maybe birds chirping? But knowing the helicopter is powered up means activity; blades are whirring, gears are meshing, the smell of jet fuel exhaust is in the air — something is happening!

Soon enough, the aircraft picks up the 27-foot-long helisaw on the end of a 90-foot-long cable/conduit, which presents a lot of action and a lot of length to keep in the frame.

At my 24 mm focal length, the image spans 84° of height. I would have preferred an even wider lens, but this was as wide as I had mounted on this camera (with an even narrower-angle lens on my other camera). I judge it plenty good enough, and the right compromise. To add some "air," at the top or bottom of the image, I would have needed to be farther from the action, or closer. Moving in either direction would have taken too much time — things were happening fast — so I made the best of it, with the gear in my hands.

That's helicopter operator Rotor Blade's Jeremy D'Hondt manhandling the helisaw from the MD 500D, by the way.

Notice the difference between the image of the blue helicopter, lifting off with the saw, and this white-and-yellow one: the anti-collision light adds just a bit of energy, of liveliness, to what is an otherwise perfectly good photo, except now it's perfectly better! This MD 500D is owned by Aerial Solutions, and hacking away at the powerline right-of-way is pilot Andrew Hansen.

That Aerial Solutions aircraft was busy moving back and forth, trimming and trimming some more. That allowed me time to move around and capture different compositions, despite my being stuck to the ground. At first glance this image and the one just prior are quite similar (down to the anti-collision light, I'll note), containing the same basic building blocks of: aircraft, helisaw, the connection between them, trees, and the power lines for which the helisaw is doing its thing.

Yes, the helisaw is a smidgen truncated in this image, but it's clear what's going on. Notice, though, how by using a focal length that is twice as long we see the aircraft much larger in the frame. Not frame-filling, but larger. This doesn't make the second photo better, in and of itself, since that comparative requires an answer to the question, "better for what?" But same aircraft in the same setting, yet different photos by dint of turning the zoom ring on the lens — which means more options to apply those photos as you might need.

With the aircraft working much farther away from me, I stretch to the long end of the 24–70 mm lens and necessarily include more of the environment. I had to carefully time my shot to frame the 500D, and the saw, against the sky. If I had captured them against the trees, as small as they are in the frame, they would have been quickly swallowed up by the visual clutter.

Back to the Rotor Blade ship, now air-to-air. To witness the action from a bit above it, I again face a cluster of clutter, so timing is again crucial. In this case, I was alert for views that let me frame the aircraft against smoother, lower-contrast, ground. And since I don't have direct control of the aircraft in which I'm riding, and the helisawing aircraft is doing its thing, to come home with this one, I shot a lot in the brief time that this swath of open ground was available — 8 shots in 11 seconds.

(FYI: I'm not one to set the camera to shoot-shoot-shoot, in a continuous mode. I bring home enough raw images as it is without, perhaps, trebling that number by selecting 10-frames-per-second (or higher, depending on the camera), then holding down the shutter button. Some shooters do shoot in continuous mode, and if that's what works for them, or for you, have at it.)

Going Long

One image I hoped to bring home, though, would include a "larger" aircraft along with the helisaw. And that means getting more on-top of the action; tough to do as the helisaw-slinging aircraft was constantly in motion.

Here's one! And you'll note I opted for a really slow shutter speed (the subject of yet another recent article), to help separate the aircraft from the visually busy background, which definitely works by putting a smooth, circular element among what are otherwise angular mechanical or random natural ones.

With this one done, I asked my pilot to get us ahead of the other aircraft's nose, and even more directly above it.

He got me where I asked, but, dang it! We got so much on top that I picked up our own skid in the frame. I would have preferred to have been half-out-sitting, like I was doing near Apple Valley, since that allowed me to lean out away from the landing gear, but due to circumstances, I was riding shotgun in the front of another MD 500D, strapped in tight.

(Could the pilot have leaned our aircraft over a bit, to roll the skid away from the view? Unfortunately not. A fixed-wing aircraft can fly straight while not being level, flying out of trim in a roll, but a rotary-winged one can't do that — the direction it leans is the direction it goes!)

When Rotor Blade groundsman Travis Warren entered the scene, I switched to my other camera, the one with the longer lens, and put together this shot. The long lens compressed the elements of the scene, still tying together the saw and the aircraft, while simplifying the composition with none of that wider collection of machinery and vehicles.

The focus, both literal and figurative, is on Travis, which was obviously my intent. Our eyes might start with the red can, then switch to the in-focus Travis when we realize the fuel can is not the main point of the image. Then our gaze slides up to the aircraft, follows the cable/conduit down to the saw, which by running off the bottom of the image might lead us to leave, but we lose interest in following that path since the nearest saw blade's teeth are severely out of focus, and our attention jumps back to Travis.

There had been many opportunities to have made this shot earlier, but I just wasn't drawn to doing so when it was just "helicopter against trees." But now, stretching my zoom out to nearly the limit on this lens, I have found a reason to feature the helicopter: something was happening over there.

In addition to having a person in the frame, there are subtleties that give it a boost: the aircraft is crisp against the blurry background and viewed rather formally from the nose; Travis' arm calls attention to his action; the cable/conduit gives us a clue to the mission without distracting us with actual saw blades, and the dark shady trees to the left, with the ground shadows cast by other, out-of-frame, trees, form a dark triangle that points to the groundsman and the aircraft.

Do I claim to have "seen" all those elements at the moment I was pressing the shutter button? Honestly, no, but that doesn't mean I didn't "feel" the goodness of the composition. I'll call it intuition, which is nothing magic — it comes from doing a thing so much that we understand and react to situations seemingly faster than we could have perceived all of the conditions on which we drew a conclusion or took some action. For a working photographer, a composition is captured with adjustments to camera and lens settings, plus the timing of the shutter release, such that good things are, indeed, captured without the benefit of point-by-point evaluation.

Back to the photography!

Perhaps a bit paradoxically, I'm using the longest end of that 70–200 mm lens to create a wide view of the mission. Putting the subject aircraft against the sky, rather than against those visually busy trees, means there's no competition for distinguishing it. The cable/conduit points straight down to the saw, so even that isn't lost against the foliage, and the activity is in place along the right-of-way through the forest among the mountains of northeastern Georgia, USA. We see a complete story and get a view of the world as seen by a helisaw pilot.

Or, using the same focal length but capturing the other helisawing operation, from the ground, and this one is (almost) all about the aircraft. "Almost" because we see Andrew Hansen peering down toward the saw, and we see the growth he is tasked with trimming. So, while this is not as complete a story as the preceding image, it is much more than "photo of helicopter against sky."

Pulling Out the Really Long One

I usually bring along another lens when the project will have me photographing from the ground. It picks up where the longest of the standard three leaves off — 200–500 mm. It is larger, of course, than the other lenses (basically, it looks like a chunkier version of the 70–200), so it's less handy to use, but it comes in, well, okay, it comes in handy when I need to really reach out.

The result, here, is indeed "helicopter against sky," though it shows off the framework for the helisaw carriage. Lots of good detail, actually, including of Jeremy D'Hondt eying his work in progress.

And for our final image, at the very end of the long-lens focal length, we again see Andrew watching what he's doing with 27 feet of angry, whirling saw blades. (And I got the red light on the tail!)

Really, though, I include this shot mostly for completeness: I would have preferred the aircraft not be visually tangled in the trees — "just a little bit higher" I was probably yelling in my head — but I brought it home anyway, 'cuz you never know when an image will have value. Maybe the value here is purely educational, but it's something…

The Wrap

I know there was some jumping back and forth between operators and timeframes, but I wanted to keep the flow of focal lengths going in order, so you could see the variety of applications. The lesson here is that focal lengths are not always tied to what might seem their obvious applications: wide-angle lenses used only for nearby subjects, and long-focal-length lenses to bring far things visually close. The lenses do work in those situations, but can also be wide-angle shots of far-away subjects and long-focal-length shots that show a wide vista.

In short, you should not only choose wisely, but choose widely, using a variety of lenses and zooming in or out to bring back more options for yourself or for your client.

Thank You

Thanks to the many operators, and the fine people working for them, that generously allowed me to visit and photograph their ops in action. Again and more specifically, from the top, I thank Ron Stewart of Wilson Construction, Mark Wegele at Salt River Project, Rotor Blade's Ashley D'Attilio, and Cleve Cox from Aerial Solutions. Everyone was kind and accommodating, and I couldn't visually tell these stories without their cooperation.

And a big thank-you to Gina Kvitkovich at Helicopter Association International for again entrusting me to show the rotorcraft world the important work done by the people and companies in this industry.

Fun Fact!

Not including this last paragraph, the above article runs a bit over 2,900 words. The photo essay that resulted from the above, plus the other photography I produced for it, has only 798 words. Even including photo captions it is only 1,200 — how fun is that?!

(AeroMark Images) aerial solutions aerospace air-to-air angle of view Apple Valley: California composition context environment framing helicopter helisaw lens lenses Arizona aviation Bell 429 Bell Flight composition Georgia helicopter Helicopters" MD MDHI photography power line powerline rotor blade Salt River Project SRP story technique wide-angle zoom Mon, 27 Dec 2021 04:57:56 GMT
Move Close and Say Aaah My previous article was about photographing mosquito control helicopters in Florida. My current efforts have me crisscrossing the country in search of powerline helicopters — the action is more varied than battling mosquitos, and carried out at slower speeds, which combine for more opportunities in a variety of activities and locations.

Actually, at this moment, I have been to but a single location, near Belen, New Mexico, and there flew with the company Rotor Power, but I'll soon be off to wherever else I can capture the stories and images needed for my upcoming photo essay in ROTOR magazine.

But enough about the the future — what about the (very recent) past?

Setting the Stage

If you're selling a widget, photos of widgets sitting on a table would be a bare minimum, and a widget in action is even better. Of course, sometimes the widget is inside other widgets when the action is happening.

If your widget works inside of, or applied from, a helicopter, and especially if you're selling helicopters, it's definitely best to show the helicopter in action. The above shows a lineman installing vibration dampeners on a combination fiber-optic/static line. Nothing wrong with this shot, and it might make it into the essay (though there are still thousands of shots for me to take!).

For a photo essay — or for a longer marketing piece like a brochure or as part of a web presentation — you need a story, and stories work better if there is a setting for the action. One plus (among several) for the above photo is it tells a story by including the objects and the action, and also the setting, near (towers) and far (plains and mountains). To accomplish this, I relied on a nimble aircraft, good piloting, an idea of what I wanted to show, and the appropriate camera gear — namely, a wide-angle* lens.

* Another term for "wide-angle" is "short focal length." I will use the former, but the meaning is the same.

Let's see how a wide-angle lens helped tell this story.

hangar Rotor Blade Belen 20211007 01hangar Rotor Blade Belen 20211007 01

When I arrived at the Belen Regional Airport about an hour before sunrise, one of the pilots had already opened the hangar door and, seeing an interesting scene, made a photo of it. He had just finished that when I got out of my car. He showed me the photo and I, being no fool (well, not as much of a fool as I could be), wanted such a shot of my own. Down to the ground I went, where I composed and made this long-exposure shot with my iPhone.

As you're aware, smartphones have wide-angle lenses, which was good because I was up against a wall of hangars and, thus, a narrow-angle lens could not have captured the full scene.

We flew to the landing zone for the day's work before the sun was up, and a bit later I captured that location, including the reason we were there (transmission towers) and the general setting of expansive plains with mountains on the horizon. Those clouds and contrails were a nice touch, too.

I made this image with a wide-angle lens which, because I aimed it slightly above the horizon — to include more of the helicopter's vertical/horizontal stabilizer — resulted in vertical features (that vertical stabilizer, the towers on the far left) leaning in toward the center of the frame. See how the towers in the middle point straight up? That's because they are already in the center.

You can "fix" the distortion with software, but doing so crops out some of the scene. Like this:

I prefer the leaning one, at least in this case. Your mileage may differ.

Wide Angle Action

One of the benefits of spending time with helicopter crews who are doing their thing is capturing them doing their thing on the ground or in the air.

Sure, in the above image the "thing" they are doing is just chatting, but people do that, and by including the interior of this helicopter, with gloves and D-ring lying there, we see more than either "people chating" or "aircraft with stuff in it." It's all part of the story of the work they do. (That D-ring was removed to put, instead, the more usual step on that side of the cabin — I would soon be sitting with my legs out that door, one foot on that step, the other on the step protruding from the rear strut.)

Using the same basic compositional elements, there's a little more action happening in this image: a lineman loading those vibration dampeners, mentioned at the top, into the cabin.

In each case, the sense we get in those two photos is that you, the viewer, are standing right there. In the scene. You can put your hand down on the floor of the helicopter and touch that bare spot; or reach out and feel those dampeners, like springy PVC cup-o'-noodles noodles! The same is true of the image from the tail end of the aircraft; you can almost reach out and grab that fin.

This immediacy is not commonly present when a longer lens is used because the narrower view of the longer lens is usually chosen when the subject is farther from the camera.

How about in the air? What does going wide do up there? 

Flying Wide

In the air, shooting wide is more about including a broader view of the action in its setting, though in the case of human external cargo operations, it can be about just getting the aircraft and the "cargo" in the same shot.

Shooting tall with a wide-angle lens led to a portrait of just another day on the job, right? Frankly, for some of these men and women, it pretty much is.

Or, go wide when shooting wide to show more of the location, more of the project. This morning they were pulling rope across eight spans, so I included some of the expanse of the scenery and the work.

Here's a wide-angle shot aimed to connect the aircraft more directly to the structure — I like how the tower reaches up toward the aircraft, and how the shadow of the tower reaches diagonally toward the shadow of the aircraft. (Sharp-eyed viewers will note the needle hanging from the tower crossarm, in the midst of it being repositioned to thread the rope through that central, suspended, traveler.)

Because of the distance from the camera to the subject(s), these images lose the immediacy of those on-the-ground shots. Some immediacy can be reclaimed while in the air, if the situation supports it.

Back to early in the day when the sun was on the far mountains but not, yet, on the landing zone. By thrusting my camera outside the cabin and pointing it, blindly, toward the front of the ship, I capture both us (a bit), them, the landing zone, and the entire landscape to the southwest of us. Immediacy preserved.

Back on the Ground

A couple of dramatic ground-based images that, again, rely on a wide view of this world for their effectiveness. 

I've been known to crawl on the ground to grab a really low angle, looking thus up at the world. Then again, I'm not as young as I used to be and, unlike the hangar shot, the ground here is dusty, dirty, and full of prickly plants, so I merely held the camera on the ground, tilted its gaze up, and used the aircraft's shadow to assure a dramatic composition. Shoot once, check the result on the camera's screen, down to the ground again for another shot. The aircraft is nearly silhouetted, but not entirely, while the crew works on the side-pull rigging. And those contrails? Spectacular, right? You can't ask for 'em in advance, but you can certainly use 'em!

This lineman is headed out to check the rope pulls and, just as he was being whisked off his feet and into the clear air, I snagged a frame capturing obvious action and dramatic lighting.

(Note: you don't have to be afraid of including the sun in your shots, though perhaps don't keep your camera, especially a mirrorless one, pointed aimlessly at it. I expect the lens would act like a magnifying lens burning ants — but instead might be burning sensors.)

The Wrap

We use wide-angle lenses to encompass more area, more width or height, in a shot. Landscape photos are often made with wide-angle lenses for that reason. But working around helicopters, with their spinning blades, whipping winds, and dusting dirts (dirtying dusts?), the photographer is often at a distance from the machinery. It is one of the benefits of working with crews, like these, that are used to operating in close proximity to people, structures, and to each other. Being close allows wide-angle lenses to bring both broad vistas and the immediacy of putting the viewer closer to the action.

So, if you have the opportunity to work this close, or can provide that opportunity to a photographer, make sure you or they bring along a wide-angle eye and a wide-angle lens to go with it.

Tech Notes

Glancing at the metadata for these images, the behind-the-scenes information about the camera and lens and their settings, here are some relevant facts to consider for future work:

The two cameras I shot have sensors the same physical dimensions as traditional 35 mm film; they are termed full-frame sensors.

I used two zoom lenses, each covering a different zoom range; one from 14 to 24 mm, the other from 24 to 70 mm. On a full-frame sensor, 50 mm is considered to yield an image that nearly matches what a human would perceive with their eyeballs.

Almost all of the images, above, were made with focal lengths from 14 to 28 mm, with a single 36 mm example, and one (the HEC image with the lineman reaching out to a traveler) at 48 mm. Even that, though, is comparatively wide-angle for an air-to-air shot.

Thank You

I had the great pleasure of being the guest of Phillip Smith and his Rotor Power crews. Everyone was enthusiastic and accommodating of my intrusions, and it shows in the range of great photos I came back with. I'll be shooting in Georgia in a few days, where two operators will be slinging around some of the most exciting bits of machinery every attached to a helicopter — helisaws!

(AeroMark Images) aerospace air-to-air aviation composition context environment framing helicopter MD Helicopters MDHI New Mexico photography Rotor Blade Rotor Power story technique Tue, 26 Oct 2021 23:10:11 GMT
Shoot Small to Make Big I recently spent a week driving across much of the state of Florida in order to fly with a passel of governmental mosquito control organizations. I've whittled down the thousands of frames I shot to just 18 that will appear in a photo essay I wrote and laid out for the trade magazine ROTOR. Let me add that it was well worth the effort.

Those thousands of images also provide me the opportunity to share a lesson or two about aviation photography. In this article, that lesson is about shooting small to tell a bigger story.

Big is Big

You know what makes a great photo? How about big, bold, right-in-your-face, lots of color and action? That'll work, right?

Absolutely that'll work. And if you're needing to grab some attention, that is a good way to do it.

There's something kinda small about filling the frame with aircraft, though. In making the aircraft so large, the story — the application, the environment, the world — are made unimportant. Or just plain absent.

So, How is Small Big?

Grabbing attention is not the only function of photography, so coming back from an air-to-air mission with only right-in-your-face photos leaves some functions out of the running. Sometimes, you need to show the subject small so you can tell the bigger story.

By widening the view, we're seeing more in this shot, but it's not quite doing all it should. Yes, we see more of the aircraft and more of the sky, but we're not seeing more of the story. The first image was "aircraft against sky." This second image is "aircraft against (more) sky." Not much different.

Ah! Here's more of the story.

Don't get me wrong — the first two photos are good, and can have their place depending on how they are used. But adhering to the adage of, "a picture is worth a thousand words," I could argue the first two won't measure up to that math. This third image, essentially, adds more words: "aircraft against sky, over woods and smoke and towers."

Here's a coincidentally convenient example of how showing the ground (or, in this case, the bay) provides useful context; I photographed the green Bell 206B barely an hour before photographing the orange-and-black AStar. The difference in context is provided by the ground/bay, with the Pasco County AStar flying over a wooded wilderness area 30 miles north of where the Hillsborough County Jet Ranger is banking over Tampa Bay before beginning its next run over MacDill AFB.

Much is similar between the two photos, but the differences are obvious and meaningful.

(A little behind-the-scenes credit where it is due: I was in the orange-and-black Pasco County helo when photographing the green Hillsborough County ship. The folks from these adjoining counties very kindly worked together so I could get these images.)

An example with ground and sky, but reversing their respective proportions compared to the previous examples. The aircraft, Volusia County's Bell 206L-4, is clearly delineated against the water; water that can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, thus water the aircraft could be tasked to treat if an inspector, previously delivered by the aircraft, determines such a need. The scale of their responsibilities starts making sense when the aircraft is framed against the expanse of the territory.

Another shot that's mostly ground, this time of a Lee County H125 coming around for another run at an island (out of frame). The white aircraft stands out well against the dark band of foliage, which is just one of several bands of color or brightness — sky, far horizon, mid-ground, bright foliage foreground, water foreground. So much going on; so much to look at.

Showing just helicopter and sky, like the second photo way at the top, is a rather thin story, since there are clouds and sky everywhere in the world. But showing just helicopter and ground is not so thin; the viewer gets a sense of the environment. This Anastasia Mosquito Control Jet Ranger is calibrating its liquid spray system over a swampy woodland (using mineral oil rather than the pesticide they would use to actually fight mosquitoes). The slow shutter speed allows for a lot of rotor blur, and also blurs the passing trees, both blurrinesses bringing plenty of attention to the aircraft, despite it being relatively small in the frame. The blurry treetops can also better provide a background for text.

And since I made both types of images, here's what it looks like without all that buttery blurriness. It tells the same story, but tells it with a different character.

Still, you have to be careful with the background. See the aircraft in the above shot? Takes you a second or two to find it. There are too many details to grab your attention, and the mostly white Collier County Bell 407 is positioned against the nearly white standing water. In this instance, the environment overwhelmed the aircraft.

Much better! I'll admit — I mean, I just showed it to you — I'll admit that I made that first shot, even though I probably foresaw its uselessness as a photo. It works as an example for this article, so there's that, but I probably made that shot mostly for getting the composition going, the autofocus going, and tracking where the aircraft was going.

In reviewing those two photos, I noticed the first one seemed to be against a background that nearly, very nearly, abutted the background of the second one. Because I'm a curious guy, I opened them both in the computer and created this composite shot, with the grayish band between them showing a made-up swath to span the slight gap between the actual shots. The two frames were shot 6 seconds apart and, in that time, the aircraft's path described a lazy S nearer the ground before pulling up. Perhaps it's an overstatement, but I'll go ahead and quote Spock: "Fascinating."

Like most of Florida, Flagler County is a mix of water, wetlands, and (if you ask me) always-moist ground. The East Flagler Bell 206B-3 shows off well in blue metallic against the yellows, greens, and browns of water and wetlands common in the eastern part of the county, near the Atlantic Ocean. It is a beautiful aircraft, and I photographed it to put that beauty in its milieu.

(Another acknowledgement: my camera ship for photographing East Flagler was Volusia County's 206L-4, and my camera ship for Volusia was East Flagler's. Their cooperation is much appreciated.)

More water, but I took advantage of our flying directly over it to make use of its reflective qualities. We're looking down at the Charlotte County mosquito control Huey and the terrain, but thanks to the potentially mosquito-infested standing water, we're also seeing the clouds in the sky. Nice! (Plus, something just splashed or dunked or plopped, as evidenced by the rings in the water just to the right of center. I, myself, was looking for a 'gator…)

Finally, a truly gorgeous (if I do say so) scene, captured mere minutes after sunrise: mists clinging among the lowlands and trees, broad swaths of pastels filling the frame. Yet our eyes are drawn to the helicopter. Its colors are bluer, its details are crisper, its contrast is greater. It is tiny in the composition but big in our minds. We scan the mist, we peer through the trees, we gaze at the far horizon, but we keep coming back to that aircraft.

And by looking wide and then focusing small, back and forth, we see the bigger picture.

The Wrap

If helicopter porn is the goal, then filling the frame with nothing but stressed skin and whirling blades, crisp rivets and jutting antennae, bare metal and glossy paint is absolutely the way to go. The approach to take. The images to make. Fill the frame and background be damned. (The same holds true for subsets of aircraft — visible features or details or options.)

But for people who are making buying decisions, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the true beauty of an aircraft or its accessories is in seeing them in the world, doing the thing they do. It is natural to want to pack the aircraft tightly into the composition, but take care when making the photos, or instructing the photographer, to also make the aircraft small. It's a big world out there.

(Thanks go out to the dozens of people who worked with me to make these images possible. To recap, from the top, with their units' full names: Pasco County Mosquito Control District; Hillsborough County Mosquito Management; Volusia County Mosquito Control; Lee County Mosquito Control District; Anastasia Mosquito Control District of St. Johns County; Collier Mosquito Control District; East Flagler Mosquito Control District; Charlotte County Mosquito and Aquatic Weed Control; and above the morning mist, an MD 500D with, again, Collier Mosquito Control District.)

(AeroMark Images) aerospace Airbus air-to-air aviation Bell composition context environment Eurocop Florida framing helicopter MD Helicopters MDHI mosquito control photography story ter Sun, 05 Sep 2021 14:41:50 GMT
The Magical, Mystical, Full-Rotor-Disk Shot One of the toughest shots to make in air-to-air photography, when the subject is an airplane with propellers, or a helicopter, is capturing the aircraft's propulsive components such that they visually form an unbroken disk. Prop-driven airplanes and helicopters share the same issues and challenges in this mystical quest, but my specialty is helicopters, so I'll use them to illustrate the why and how of full-disk photography.

(If your eyes start fluttering closed in the middle of the forthcoming, there is a TL;DR near the end — feel free to jump ahead.)

Helicopters are magic, as evidenced by this MD Explorer cruising through Monument Valley, in northern Arizona, on a thin disk of spinning composites. This particular aspect of the magic was revealed with a shutter speed of 1/30 second.

Why Full-Disk Photos?

One reason for creating full-disk photos of helicopters or airplanes is: it looks pretty. Define "pretty?" I'd say it's pretty because a circle is a complete shape, a simple one that doesn't require our brains to figure things out. They are easy to look at and we understand instinctively what the circle represents.

It can imbue a photo of a machine, one that is in actuality madly beating the air into submission, with a sense of calm. In our minds, the "sound" of a rotor system that is forming a smooth disk is a smooth sound. If individual blades are seen, sweeping through just a part of their circular path around the hub, we feel those blades clawing through the air. There's a whomp or growl to seeing individual blades, and that's fine. With a complete disk, there's a whoosh.

Images of aircraft with full-disk rotors, thus, convey a different character to the action, a different emotion. Other elements of an image, that are brought along with the techniques required to achieve these effects, might also be desired, and I'll touch on those later.

Another reason might be: such images are less common because they are more difficult to achieve. Being less common, viewers are less accustomed to seeing them, thus are more interested in seeing them and, as always, keeping a viewer's attention is part of good communications.

Feel Free to Skip the Math

Several factors figure into capturing an image in which the rotor blades are rendered as an unbroken disk. In terms of the aircraft, those factors are the number of blades and how quickly the blades are spinning. Fortunately, an image showing a full disk doesn't require each blade to make an entire revolution — from the moment the camera shutter is opened to the moment it closes, each blade must merely spin far enough to reach the position where the next blade was when the shutter opened.

In general, that means an aircraft with more blades (prop or rotary) is typically easier to capture, full-disk-ish, than one with fewer blades. I've prepared a totally uninspired illustration of the requisite rotational angles for your viewing pleasure. (Note: I am not aware of any helicopter with nine blades, but MT-Propeller is working on a nine-bladed prop for possible electric propulsion aircraft, so you never know…)

This handy illustration would have to be combined with additional data to calculate a shutter speed that would yield full-disk photos. That additional data is: how fast is the rotor system turning? Should you perform those calculations? Um, not really, unless you've got a hankering.

The MD Explorer has a five-blade main rotor, while this Sikorsky S-92 has but four. Notice the slight gaps in the disk occasioned by the blades not having moved quite far enough during the exposure to visually blend into a single circular shape. My camera was set to expose for a third-again longer here than for the Explorer photo, 1/20 second, but even that wasn't quite slow enough.

Different helicopter models spin their rotor heads at different speeds, different revolutions per minute (RPM), but no matter which helicopter model you look at, they each spin so the tips of their blades are moving at a speed that is similar to other helicopters. It's an aerodynamics thing that is affected, in large part, by the diameter of the rotor system — the larger the diameter, the slower it must rotate in order to keep the tips at their optimum speed.

Therefore (don't you just hate hearing that word? It's so stuffy), while having more blades in a system would, all other factors being equal, allow higher shutter speeds in rendering a full disk, the helicopters with a larger number of blades also tend to be the ones with larger rotor diameters, which means they turn more slowly. It's like aeronautical engineers are conspiring against us.

To figure out the shutter speed needed to render a full disk for any helicopter, all you have to do is take the rotational speed of the main rotor system, calculate how many degrees of rotation the blades are sweeping per second, then account for the blade-to-blade angle, based on the number of blades (see the uninspired illustration), and … sheesh … I've run out of energy just typing that!

Fortunately, while this number stuff might actually be straightforward, it's not required if you're shooting digitally and can review images on the fly. (Get it? On the fly?) I've not photographed every model of helicopter out there (yet), but if you're zipping along with a helo or prop-driven airplane in your sights, dial your shutter speed down pretty low and pop off a few shots. Review, and adjust your speed accordingly.

That's all there is to it!

Sort of.

A Guimbal Cabri G2 hovering above the ramp at Middle Georgia State University's Eastman Campus allows a simple example of how shutter speed affects the visible sweep of a rotor system.

Why Can't We All Just Get Along … Slowly?

First up, in the challenges, is: slow shutter speeds require a steady camera during the length of time the shutter is open. A venerated rule of thumb for non-blurry photos, when hand-holding a camera, is to shoot no slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens. To wit, in the photos of the Cabri, above, since I am definitely hand-holding the camera, the shutter speeds indicated would pair nicely with a 40 millimeter lens for the image on the left, and with a 13 millimeter lens on the right. However, my zoom lens was not set at those focal lengths. On the left, the lens was at 135 millimeters, on the right it was 165. That venerated rule suggests I should have left the shutter open for less than a tenth of the time I did.

(My article "Shootin' Steady" details how best to keep your camera steady.)

Fortunately, of course, many camera/lens systems have built-in stabilization features. Unfortunately, those systems are optimized for hand-holding a camera on otherwise solid ground, not for countering the ups and downs and buzzes and jiggles of a helicopter in flight. That's why I attach my camera/lens to a hefty, high-power gyroscopic stabilizer, and even that is no guarantee of sharp images at these lackadaisical shutter speeds with long lenses. Why not? Because sometimes the failure is not at my end of the image-making.

Here's a close-up of the full-disk Cabri photo. Notice how the front of the helicopter is reasonably sharp. Now, look at that tail — horrid. Why? Because the aircraft was yawing during the 1/13 of a second that I was making this image. Not my fault, man!

For this segment of the air-to-air mission with the Cabri, I was aided by having both the target aircraft and the chase merely hovering. When both aircraft are pushing along at cruising speeds, there's more airflow over and into the chase aircraft, which makes for more vibrations and perturbations, and that makes capturing full-disk shots much less likely. The solution? Shoot a lot.

How much "a lot?" A lot, a lot!

28 frames, shown as shot, with a single frame (highlighted in blue) yielding a definitely sharp image of an MD Helicopters MD 530F with its high-visibility rotor blades in full disk mode.

Air-to-air images of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Police Department helicopter, in and around Mesa, Arizona.

And here's that winning image. Why so few good ones for all that shooting? If you'll look at that full disk, you can actually see the blades are not just meeting, but are overlapping themselves. My shutter speed, I see in the image metadata, was 1/15 second, yet this aircraft can display a full disk at 1/40. By going even slower, shutter-speed-wise, the aircraft is not just the only sharp thing in the image, the background is not just a little blurry, but very blurry with motion, adding energy and interest to the shot.

Also, in defense of one-out-of-twenty-eight, we were moving along at, probably, 60 knots, and speed always lends itself to more speed bumps, if you catch my meaning. More burbles and jiggles, which cuts down on the success rate. Thus — shoot a lot, a lot.

This Airbus EC135 doesn't have high-viz rotor blades, but they are white with yellow tips, so we can see the disk. Again, shot at 1/15 second, so a little overlap of the blades and a very motion-blurred background.

What Could Go Wrong?

One oddity I noticed in a recent shoot, with another MD 530F, is visible in the following image.

Rather, perhaps I should characterize the oddity as what is not visible: the rotor disk! Some combination of blade color (black?), lighting, and the background have conspired to render all but their roots invisible.

See? I knew it wasn't zipping along on just rotorblade roots — we can see the yellow tips arcing against the water (though only barely against that bit of land on the right). I saw the (in)visible problem in that first photo when I checked what I was capturing while we were flying along, so I didn't bother further pursuing the full disk against that background.

What that lesson teaches is: sometimes it doesn't work out.

Another issue that can arise, in the confluence of camera and background, is dirt. What dirt, you ask? Camera dirt, I reply.

On the left is a screen shot of the image as I was converting it from its RAW state to a TIFF. Each arrowhead is pointing to a speck of dirt that had to be cleaned off the image. On the right is the cleaned version.

I was shooting at 1/50 second so, even though this Airbus AS350 doesn't exhibit a full rotor disk, to achieve the proper exposure my camera constricted the iris in the lens to f/22. Also called the aperture, a setting of f/22 is great for putting as much of a scene as possible, from near to far, in focus. Cool.

Not cool is how a tiny aperture (f/22 is tiny) also brings into visibility the tiny flecks of dirt that can end up on the sensor inside your digital camera. And if the image contains areas of little detail, like a blank sky or snow or a smooth lake, those areas are prone to show the need for a little housecleaning.

To forestall collecting such flecks, you would avoid swapping lenses — say, from a wide-angle to a long zoom, then to some intermediate lens, perhaps to an extra-long one, then back to the wide-angle — especially in environments that might have swirling dust. Or smoke. Or ash. This photo, however, was made near the end of a week of traveling the western United States, capturing images of aircraft involved in firefighting. I shot thousands of frames using a variety of lenses, swapped on and off 3 different cameras, which offered numerous opportunities for dust/smoke/ash to wander into the sensor area.

Even if you start with a clean sensor, swapping lenses in a helicopter can expose the sensor to new flecks, and it's not unusual to be swapping lenses during air-to-air missions, in the quest for a variety of compositions. High shutter speeds are matched with large apertures, where sensor dirt might be unnoticeable. But when you slow the shutter speed on a camera, for proper exposure the aperture must constrict, and when it constricts … well, fleck happens.

In and around Rotors of the Rockies of Broomfield, just outside Denver.

Another consequence of a small aperture enabling things near and far to be in focus, is seeing things in focus, near and far.

Wait! Is that a bad thing? It can, at least, be a less-than-great thing.

In this shot of a Schweizer 300C, I got the full disk (thanks to the white tips), but the background is also a bit distractingly in focus, especially along the right half of the image. It's not terrible, but whereas the photo of the blue MD 530F zipping over the green field has motion blur helping visually separate the aircraft from the scenery, this 300C is much farther from its scenery, and we are viewing the aircraft more from its nose, so that scenery isn't so much zipping by as it is, kinda, just sitting there in reasonable focus.

That doesn't preclude this from being a useful image, but just know that not all full-disk photos are the same. In this image, I can almost imagine the Schweizer is resting its left skid on the rocky ridge.

Enough with the lecture. Let's wrap this thing up!

What We Learned (AKA TL;DR)

Images of aircraft with full disks, whether of an airplane's or a helicopter's, are possible when the shutter speed of the camera is slow enough such that the propeller/rotor blades move far enough during the exposure time that each blade visually merges with the next.

The maximum shutter speed at which that occurs depends on the number of blades and the speed at which the blade system is turning.

Rotor systems with more blades tend to allow faster shutter speeds while still forming a single, visual, disk. Rotor systems that are larger in diameter tend to turn more slowly, requiring slower shutter speeds. Simple math can be used to calculate the required shutter speed for each model of helicopter or airplane.

My experience with helicopters, so far, shows shutter speeds of between 1/10 second and 1/40 second are required to achieve a full disk. Skip the math and start in that range, check the results, adjust as necessary, and shoot a lot, a lot.

Practice good shootmanship regarding keeping a stable camera, as the slow shutter speeds easily produce images blurred by camera motion (and sometimes even subject motion, though there's basically nothing you can do about the latter).

Bonus Images

C-2A(R) at El CentroC-2A(R) at El CentroPhoto call at NAF El Centro

I figured I'd throw in one image that shows both an airplane and a helicopter, so I can at least send any prop-driven-airplane photographers on the right path. The shutter speed for this image is 1/80 second. As would be expected from all of the writing up above, the main rotor blades of the Bell AH-1Z in the background are blurred, but still distinctively, individually, visible. The Grumman C-2A(R) Greyhound in the foreground shows blades that are easily overlapping other blades.

My point is, shooting airplanes with full-disk can be accomplished with much higher shutter speeds. Just look at this next shot:

T-45C on or above NAF El CentroT-45C on or above NAF El CentroPhoto call at NAF El Centro

That same Greyhound, landing at Naval Air Facility El Centro (you can see the burned-rubber smoke where his main gear touched down), and my shutter speed was 1/160 second. That is my go-to shutter speed for photographing helicopters such that their main rotor blades are obviously in motion; for this C-2, the blades have made a delightful disk o' gray.

An Airbus H145 at 1/160 second. Plenty of blade blur, but nowhere near filling out a full disk.

'Nuf said.

(AeroMark Images) action aerospace Airbus aviation blades disk Eurocopter Grumman Guimbal helicopter Kaman MD Helicopters MDHI photography propeller rotor Schweizer shutter speed Sikorsky technique Thu, 01 Jul 2021 23:40:37 GMT
Into the Woods In my article Looking Up, the topic was ground-to-air photography and the location was Las Vegas; the aircraft was a Kaman K-MAX operated by ROTAK Helicopter Services. I recently traveled to Idaho for the same client (ROTAK), where the general mission was the same — move stuff by picking it up from one place and putting it down in a different place — but the stuff was no longer large exhaust fans carried from parking lot to rooftop, but felled trees, from where they were bundled to where they'd be trucked out.

The difference in location and mission particulars made for a few differences in the photography, so I figured I'd revisit the general topic on how to make good use of both what is available and what is in the way.

The Same-old Same-old

Aircraft configured to carry things on a line present a photographic challenge: how to show the aircraft and the load when their combined dimensions are two-hundred-and-fifty feet tall, but only forty* wide. The compositional choices revolve around how much, or how little, to show in a single image. Those choices might be restricted by the environment or safety considerations, so I'll share a usable, if suboptimal, approach right up front.

This approach has merit, composed with the energy of the aircraft angling across the frame, and a taut line signaling the viewer that there's something at the other end. Then again, while that something might be hewn tree trunks, it could be a crash-landed airplane or a worker with a tool belt around their waist and a breeze in their hair. The viewer can't tell, so this doesn't tell much of a story.

Indeed, it was safety considerations that prevented me from being nearer the airborne load and, thus, looking up at both the load and the aircraft in the same frame — the tree trunks shed branches and bark, they flop around like a loosely-tied bundle of mismatched chopsticks, and you never know when a major chunk might break free, or a choker cable break. A two-thousand-pound hunk of the forest falling on me would definitely trigger a call to my insurance company, at least to replace a camera, and perhaps to replace a husband.

If we want to see the aircraft and the trees, we need to rearrange things.

Getting Away From It All

To see it all, aircraft and load, you must either move farther away or equip your camera with a wider-angle lens. Or both, as needed.

In this case I drove away from the area where the aircraft was depositing its loads, an area called the "landing," to catch the action using a long (narrow-angle) lens. Those intervening trees posed the challenge of photographing the aircraft as it played hide-and-seek through them, but they also lent a useful sense of context. On the left, above, notice how confining the environment feels — representative of the standing trees out of which the pilot must pluck each load — compared to my (for illustrative purposes only) sloppily prepared version of the same photo, sans nearby trees, on the right.

The client also needs horizontal, landscape-oriented, images, so from this distant vantage point I zoomed out a bit to keep aircraft-and-load within the smaller vertical dimension.

Notice, though, how small the aircraft is in these shots. To see it all means to see it small. (I just totally made up that rhyme!) Fortunately, the forest that separates me from the aircraft can be used to suggest the operations without showing the aircraft and its load in the same frame, which allowed me to switch to an even longer, zoomier, lens. 

The aircraft still doesn't fill the frame, but we see it two-and-a-half times larger than in the previous shot.

Going Wide

That was the longer-distance, narrow-angle lens, approach; here's the wider-angle lens one.

Being close to the action means more opportunities to adjust the composition, using the other objects and people. 

At the landing, my movement was restricted by safety concerns beyond the helicopter and its load. There are large machines twisting and grasping and tracking back and forth. There are 33-foot tree trunks, indelicately placed one atop the other by operators of those machines, which result in massive stacks that are not necessarily stable. Everyone has a job to do, and watching out for a wandering photographer is not one they want added to their list.

The above is one of my first shots at that location, and it certainly shows the action. It is also a bit bland. Yes, there's a machine (the Caterpillar), and yes there's a stack of logs, but I was mostly trying to shoot around them to get a clean view of my intended target. I got ertainly I can do better, right?

Of course I can! I did that by widening the view of my lens, thus including more of the logs on the right (more context) and taking advantage of the Caterpillar articulating its grabber/stripper thing (more action), and including the logs laid out in front of me to point at the helicopter (more pointy). The aircraft appears smaller, due to the wider lens, but the overall effect is greater.

This wide shot includes even more of the foreground, incorporating even more context and action in the scene.

It took a little wrangling (addressing safety issues), but on the second day of flying I was able to move to a different location of the landing, to gain a different view of the action. The lighting is from behind me, rather than from from the right, and we see the aircraft from the side as it drags the timber toward its release.

Landscape orientation? Check. We've also regained a view of the ground machines plus a different stack o' logs, and by backing up I've included the choker chasers. These men run out to the logs that have just been released by the aircraft to disconnect and collect the cables, the chokers, that had fastened the logs to the cargo line.

As we saw when I was shooting through the trees, the landscape orientation, especially, reduces the apparent size of the aircraft. Also as before, using a longer lens while including appropriate environmental elements can increase emphasis on the helicopter while still implying the specific activities.

There are plenty (plenty!) more images for ROTAK to choose from, to fit the story they need to tell, the space they need to fill — or fit in — whether it's a calendar, a catalog, an ad, or a social media posting. And because the people are critical to every mission…

…I always keep an eye out for them doing their thing. Thanks, guys.

What We Learned

Unlike the Las Vegas job, my views of the action were restricted by the presence of logs and machinery, and my movements constrained by the dangers they presented. In Vegas I often had eyes on the aircraft from the parking lot, where it was picking up the fans, all the way to gently lowering those fans into place. In Idaho, well, it was a forest, so there were trees, like, everywhere — standing or in big piles. Thus, the aircraft would often spring into view, dump its load, and speed off again, with little warning that it was coming and little chance to catch it as it left. The pace was also quicker for the helicopter than it was in Vegas, with less time spent picking and dropping, which gave me less time to capture interesting, descriptive, images of the action.

When that's the situation, figure out your most advantageous locations, move as much as you can to include more or less of the environment, vary your lens and exposure settings to provide a range of visual approaches, and work your camera quickly and surely. That last part can't be stressed enough — know your camera; what it can do and how you make it do it!

Bonus Image

I mentioned, above, "the second day of flying," by which I really mean "the second day of flying while I was there to photograph things." I mentioned this because the first and second days of flying were separated by a day of waiting for a tiny part to arrive. The mechanic had discovered a failed component on flying-day 1, so the aircraft was grounded until the following day when the replacement part arrived and was installed in the early afternoon. It was decided to forego operations that day, after the install, but that didn't mean I couldn't photograph activity, and the aircraft, at their landing zone (not to be confused with the landing, where the logs were dropped off).

I had plenty of room to move about the LZ, so for this photo I positioned myself about 100 feet away from the K-MAX, equipped my camera with a relatively long lens, and climbed into the back of a pickup truck for a higher angle on the aircraft to create this stylish image. A clean aircraft (they keep it that way all the time), beautiful lighting, the long lens doing for the aircraft what it does for portraits of people (not prone to emphasizing the nose), and depth of focus carefully controlled so the subject is crisply rendered but the background foliage is not.

* Depending on the viewing angle of the aircraft, and the nature and viewing angle of the load, excepting the main rotor disk, the width of the subject might be as few as six feet!

Thanks go, of course, to ROTAK Helicopter Services of Anchorage, for trusting me to capture the action (and more).

(AeroMark Images) action aerospace aviation composition forest forestry helicopter helilogging heli-logging Idaho Kaman KMAX K-MAX lighting logging lumber photography ROTAK technique Wed, 16 Jun 2021 18:14:39 GMT
Where's The Horizon? Landscape photography is often concerned with placement of the horizon in a composition. Aerospace photography might not seem much akin to landscapes, but horizons are an important compositional element even there, so let's look at some of the "where" and "why" of horizons in aerospace imagery.

(I'll mostly use terms like photo or image, but the same observations apply in videography, though with the addition of motion, including horizons that can move, change their orientation, or appear/disappear.)

What The Horizon Does

In its simplest role, the horizon divides the ground from the sky and, as it does in life, so it does in photography, giving the image an up and down. That distinction seems so obvious we don't really think about it, but how and where the horizon appears in an image affects how we relate to to the subject, and how the subject relates to the world.

Standing on an offshore platform, I've neatly cut the scene into sea and sky, each of equal importance which, in the world of offshore helicopter operations, seems about right. "What about the rule of thirds?" some of you are yelling at your computer monitor. To which I say, "tough luck, rule of thirds."

Or, actually, the rule of thirds is still at play, just not in the position of the horizon. The S-92 is one-third of the frame down from the top and (roughly) one third in from the left. The crew on the platform are one-third up and one-third from the right. Thus, the two subjects (aircraft and crew) form a diagonal of activity, emphasized by the standing crewmember looking toward the helicopter, and accented by the slanting sunlight, to capture the environment and the activity. In this case, the horizon's role is to set the stage yet stay out of the way.

Staying with the offshore platform location, this scene is more about the aircraft and its place in the sky, so I've minimized the foreground — without excising it completely — to create this formal portrait of helicopter, hoisting crewmember, to platform. Three elements, clearly delineated, but shot from a low position to emphasize each appropriately. The horizon is still separating the sky from, well, not obviously the sea, but from the surface, and placed to put the emphasis on sky.

If my camera had been at standing height, I would have needed to make the shot while the crewmember was nearer the aircraft in order to show them against only sky, as the platform would have consumed more of the foreground. The result would have been less dramatic and, thus, less effective.

Got it? I slid the horizon through the middle when that suited the scene, and pushed it quite low in the composition when that was the right thing to do.

What if the Horizon is Missing?

Showing a horizon is, of course, not required. Plenty of great photographs have been created with nary a ground/sky divider in sight. For example:

Beautiful, right? The background colors are a mostly muted greens with pale stripes of tree trunks, which let the vibrant and crisp H130 pop off the page. Our reward for having our attention grabbed is, the pleasure of seeing a beautiful aircraft above beautiful nature, beautifully shot. Our attention is definitely on the aircraft.

By widening the view and including a horizon, the message expands with the scenery.

While the landscape in the first H130 photo was beautiful, this second image places the aircraft amid the grandeur of mountains. Cruising 'neath snow-capped peaks. Each image is good, each can play a role; but they are definitely different and should be shot and chosen accordingly. Showing the horizon is part of how the second one works the way it does, and by framing the aircraft against the ground, the image is communicating "aircraft among the mountains." It is almost part of the scenery.

The reason I emphasized "aircraft among the mountains" is to contrast it with this image of the H130. In neither image is the horizon a flat line, dissecting the composition, but they are the same in how the mountains divvy up image. What's different is, by framing the aircraft against the sky, this image communicates, "aircraft over the mountains." It is not part of the scenery, it is taking it in. Commanding the heights.

The horizon didn't move, but where the aircraft appeared, against which of the two parts of the background, made a meaningful difference in the character of the scene; in how we perceive the role of the helicopter in the world.

The Skewed Horizon

If you want some energy in a scene, showing the aircraft in a bank is a useful technique.

The horizon is not really visible, beyond this H145 over the Gulf of Mexico coast, but we perceive it is back there, nice and level (about a third of the way down from the top of the frame, so, yay rule-of-thirds?). The point is, the aircraft is canted over, which adds a bit of energy to the composition. I kinda wish it had more energy …

… so I rolled my camera to the right and let the horizon roll left. We're not head-on, and the aircraft is actually more level to that invisible horizon than it was in the previous image, but there's definitely more energy here.

And even if the aircraft is adding visual energy on its own, a tilt of the camera — even when it visibly tilts the horizon — can be a powerful, additive, technique.

Super Skew!

I wrote an article, in late 2019, about a feature I create for each issue of ROTOR magazine, called FlyOver, wherein I shoot through the cockpit to include both the interior and the environment (which you can read here). As one element of those images is apropos to today's topic, I will add an image from a more recent such flight (though not the image that appeared in the magazine).

We are in a Bell 505 over the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, California, where I kept my camera level with the helicopter and had the pilot bank the aircraft. I just love the feeling of "we are really cranking this sucker around" that is induced by the level instrument panel contrasting with the tilted horizon.

I see two two-component elements in this image: the people and the cockpit, the ground and the horizon. Each of these is interesting in its own way, and by drawing the viewer's eye around the image, inside to outside and back again and again, that viewer spends quality time with the image. That's a good thing.

The Photography Lessons

Sometimes the horizon is there to give stability. Sometimes it, instead, adds energy. So, what's a photographer to do with a horizon? The best advice is: put it where it makes sense in the image. Put it where it best conveys the relationship of the subject to the environment, and of the viewer to the subject. Place it where it best supports the message that is intended.

Bonus Metaphysical Rambling

The funny thing about the horizon, that divider between land and sky, is that, as a “thing,” it doesn’t exist. Similar to how a hole is defined as a lack of earth in the ground (the hole, itself, is not a manifest object), a horizon is the mere visual connection between the ground and the sky, not some collection of atoms that can be poked or stroked. And unless you are standing in a hole, where the edge of that hole is where your view of the sky meets your view of the ground, you can never actually reach the horizon. For a thing that doesn't exist, it can be pretty darn important.


Thanks go out to, from the top, Bristow Group, Cirque Lodge, PHI, and Bell Flight, for their cooperation in the making of these images.

(AeroMark Images) aerospace aviation Bell Bell Flight Bristow Bristow Group Cirque Cirque Lodge composition helicopter horizon horizontal landscape PHI photography technique Wed, 28 Apr 2021 15:41:55 GMT
Shootin' Steady The number one challenge in making great images during air-to-air photography is stability of the camera during that split second the photons are being recorded onto the sensor (or imprinting the latent image onto film if that's your preference). There are interrelated issues and unrelated ones, and thus multiple techniques toward attaining that steady moment.

An MD 530F from my first air-to-air mission; shot on film during a very short flight that I snagged rather than wait for the next day. Good thing, too, because when I called the next day to confirm the time for the longer photo mission, I was told, "oh, that aircraft's being packed up to ship to Canada."

Let me excuse from this lesson photographers who photograph military jets from other military jets, or practically anyone who shoots any jets from whatever platform works for them. Jets don't have the slowly revolving motive elements of propeller-driven airplanes or helicopters. Jets streak through the sky and, usually, the faster the shutter speed of the camera, the sharper the results. Yay! But when shooting prop planes and rotorcraft, which is what the following is about, attractive photography (vis-à-vis, recording the motion of those whirling blades) requires slow shutter speeds, and that's where our troubles begin.

(C) Chris J Price

As a reminder of the importance of slow shutter speeds for prop-powered airplanes & helicopters, the F-16D on the left was captured at 1/4000 second, as was the AS350 on the right. On the left? Looks good. On the right? Looks like the Coyote just after he ran off the cliff chasing the Roadrunner, poised mid-air, before the inevitable plummet. (The helo photo is not mine, and you can read my article in which it features here.) 

Let me also acknowledge there are issues of safety and of comfort that I am not addressing in this article. Air-to-air photo work is not the most dangerous flying, but it has a few less-common risks that should be addressed. And, frankly, I find that whatever discomfort arises is hardly noticed when the shooting starts. Still, fly safe and dress and secure yourself as comfortably as you can.

With those out of the way…

If you are photographing propeller-driven aircraft or helicopters, and need to improve your good-vs-bad image ratio, read on.

The Challenges

Most blurred images are the result of unintentional camera movement. The causes of such movement start with the aircraft you are in. Most air-to-air shooting is done from relatively small aircraft, which are more subject to the vagaries of the air through which they are flying. A little burst of crosswind on a Antonov AN-124? "Так, я хотів би трохи бубліка та квасу." ("Yes, I would love some bublik and kvass.")

Crosswind gust on a Robinson R22? "Dang it! How long before we can get back to where we were?" Typically, though, the problems related to air movements are less about the large displacements than the small burbles and slips, the slight bumps and jiggles, caused by a pocket of turbulence.

The AN-124 could carry 375 empty R22 helicopters, at least weight-wise.

Another potential source of camera movement is the machinery of the aircraft itself. There's an engine running, gears meshing and, the air-to-air photography of prop- and rotary-powered aircraft is accomplished from prop- and rotary-powered aircraft, so you have the chase aircraft's propellers or rotors (main and, usually, tail) spinning in that not-always-smooth air. Each of those elements of propulsion can add its own little buzz or rumble or thump.

Third is the air rushing past the aircraft, just outside the open window or the removed-for-the-flight door. Also, some of the air rushing past might enter the aircraft, some distance back from the leading edge of that aperture. The moving air can impinge on the photographer, their restraints or, most commonly, the lens pointed out toward the target.

The Solutions

Blurry images happen. That's a fact. One way to bring home sharp ones is to shoot a lot. Blurry, blurry, blurry, sharp, blurry, blurry, blurry, sharp. What's the matter with that?

Shooting more means coming back with more; just look at these two images, made a mere one second apart. Good thing I pressed the shutter release a lot, right? Yes, but …

… even the image on the right is not sharp. I think I was having to sneak out into slipstream because of the distance and angle between the two aircraft. I was definitely capturing more blurry shots than steady ones, but I knew that was the situation, so I shot a lot. Not ideal, but I got what I needed.

 See? Nice and sharp. How sharp?

Sharp enough to read the words around the door handles ("EXIT. LIFT HANDLE TO OPEN.")

Well, pixels are free, so you can just keep on shooting and shooting. It's a valid approach, but while pixels might be free, aircraft (at least two for air-to-air, of course) are not, so making more usable images in the time you have is the efficient thing to do. Plus, capturing fewer blurry images not only saves time in the air, but sorting out those blurry ones back at your computer is also time you can't get back. Do what you must, but be as efficient as you can.

You Are Your First Line of Defense

To counter the vagaries of the craft moving through the air, start by holding your camera on a large shock absorber, namely the shock absorber that is as much of your anatomy as can be applied in that role. From your buttocks to your wrists, hold the camera as still as you can, as though it is floating stationary in the air, absorbing the perturbations of your shooting platform with your body. Core muscles (abdominals and lower back) come into play, as do your shoulders and elbows.

If you can be on your knees, use them too, though you might need some padding since aircraft floors are usually hard surfaces. Or, if you are shooting out the back of a cargo plane, and are standing, go ahead and substitute "from your buttocks" with "from your toes" in the above. Feet, ankles, knees, hips — use 'em all.

Of course, the advice to use all of those musculoskeletal elements is tempered if you are fastened in a seat and your safety restraints take, typically, your lower body out of play. Often, though, a pilot-approved loosening of an upper-body restraint can help bring more muscles and joints to the task.

Here's a tip about reducing the effect of aircraft motions: if possible, interior-wise and seeing-the-target-wise, position yourself nearer the center of the cabin to reduce the magnitude of some of those motions. If the entire aircraft lurches up, well, up you go. But for slight rolls or pitches or yaws, which are rotations about an axis, being nearer the center of that axis lowers their affect on you.

Yes, there's only so much you can do, but you have to start somewhere, so start with your body.

The Airframe is Your Enemy

Sure, the aircraft is how you're in the air, and that's magical and all, but its structures can work against sharp imagery. I mentioned how the propulsion system can introduce vibrations into the airframe, so if you steady some part of your body against some part of the interior, those vibrations can make it to your camera. While you're absorbing the bumps and jiggles of the flight with your body, don't then introduce buzzes and shakes by resting your tired arm, or easing your aching back, by leaning against a door frame. At least not while you're pushing shutter buttons.

Resting a forearm or shoulder on a door frame is a sure way to add a little excitement, if excitement for you means blurry photos.

AAR in Melbourne, Florida.

I've not flown often in Hueys, but since I'm showing a few shots of me demonstrating the topic sitting in one, I figured I'd at least share an image from one of those flights — AAR facilities in Melbourne, Florida.

One overlooked jiggle risk is leaning a shoulder against a door frame, or an elbow on a seat bottom (if you're sitting on the floor). Your shoulder is soft, as is that cushion, so you might not notice your contact, or you might think either softness prevents a vibration from being transmitted. That has not been my experience.

Even just sitting in a seat can be problematic, as the bottom and the back are transmitting movements to your, well, to your bottom and your back (and your arm).

Even pressing your head against a low ceiling for "stability" can translate those high-frequency vibrations from your low-tech head-bone to your high-tech sensor. Yes, hold your head high because you're pursuing a noble venture…just don't hold it against the headliner.

What is This Invisible Force?

Avoiding the wind can be tricky because you can't see it. (Duh.) And even when you don't feel it on your face or hands, it can induce tiny, very rapid, jitters when it is tickling the front of your lens.

I have noticed, out in the world, that most people with a camera don't use their lens hoods. I use mine 100% of the time. Except when some of that "100% of the time" is shooting air-to-air. The lens hood, then, is off and the front element of the lens is for-sure clean. I might cover the upside of lens hoods in another article, but the chance that a hood will be the victim of passing breezes (40-, 70-, 100-mph breezes, at that), and thus blur the capture, is far greater — and more deleterious — than a lens flare would be.

Left to right, things are going from horrible to less horrible, but that lens hood has refused to get out of the wind.

Even without a hood, lenses used in air-to-air photography are often longer, optically, and thus longer physically. To both bring a target aircraft "closer," if it is some distance away (for safety or just pilot comfort), or to really fill the frame with the target, I often shoot with a 70-200 mm zoom lens which protrudes from the body of my camera by 8.5 inches (22 cm). That distance is enough to encounter the passing slipstream without my fingers enjoying/detecting that breeze. And like I said, the vibrations induced by that passing air can be just enough to have the image come out, "hmm, let me look closer…yep," not in focus.

If the aircraft is hovering, having a bit of non-lens-hooded lens out the door of this MD 500E is probably okay, but in flight you've got to pull everything in. It can get uncomfortable, but it's the price you pay for greatness, right? (Note how I'm resting an arm on the seat, which I've declared a no-no, but I'm pulling my upper body in as much as I can, and during an actual shoot I would try to minimize that connection.)

As with the photo from a Huey, I wanted to bring in an image I made from the front seat of an MD 500E, in this case an MD 530F flown by Wilson Construction.

If the cabin is large, stay back from the window or door. If it is small, and you can't position your entire body more deeply into it, lean away from the aperture. ("You really should get to the gym more often," your abdominal muscles will be reminding you.) Take care, though, that your leaning in doesn't interfere with the pilot operating the aircraft — you might bump, or a camera strap snag, something. Move slowly, both leaning back and straightening up.

If you are near the open window or non-existent door, also take care to not let one of your appendages become a source of camera shake by that appendage meeting the slipstream. A stray elbow, perhaps? (Has that happened to me? Of course — that's why I mention it.)

That elbow in the slipstream, exaggerated a bit for illustrative purposes, might be steadied a bit by leaning against the door frame, but you know what leaning against the door frame does, right? (If not, go back a couple of paragraphs.)

A technique that might work, if you are in the cockpit and the target can be seen, in an orientation you can use, looking across the pilot, is to shoot across the pilot. I've done that in helicopters and in fixed-wing aircraft, when the window in the pilot's door is not too dirty or distorting, or the door is not in place to begin with. Even if you can shoot out your side, shooting out the other side can add photos of the target from its other side.

If the action and the airframe and the pilot are amenable, shooting from one side of the cockpit, across the pilot (not shown) and out the pilot's side of the aircraft, can keep you and your equipment totally out of the wind.

This K-MAX, operated by ROTAK Helicopter Services, is seen in Puerto Rico, captured by me shooting across the cockpit of an MD 600N. The pilot obliged by staying tucked into his seat back, and keeping his arms low.

Can You Just Use a Gyro?

Yes, you can use a gyro, but you should not use just a gyro. A gyroscopic stabilizer is no panacea, so the preceding guidance is still valid and should be employed. For me, even adding a gyro — which I do for every air-to-air shoot — does not guarantee each click of the shutter will render a sharp image. A gyro smooths out the smaller movements of the aircraft and the, likewise, smaller instabilities of hand-holding a camera with a long lens being triggered at slow shutter speeds, but bumps still happen.

(Normally, a pilot or passenger can't predict the small burbles or bumps caused by, say, a pocket of turbulent air. I can. The moment after I decide to press the shutter button, thus the instant I am pressing that button, then will the aircraft suddenly lurch up, down, or sideways. It's a gift, I guess…)

If you do choose to use a gyro, just know they are not light — ranging from a bit less than 2 pounds (about 0.8 kilos) to more than 10 pounds (4.5 kilos). Add that weight to your camera/lens combo, then hold everything up to your face as the aircraft dips down ("hey, that weighs a bit less") or jerks up on a thermal ("uuuuuggggghhhhh") over and over for an hour. A gyro is an important tool for bringing back more good images, a great addition to an air-to-air gear set, but not free of effort or cost.*

Here's the rig I'm holding in the photos — this camera weighs three-and-a-half pounds, the gyro weighs four-and-a-half, the lens clocks in at five-and-a-half. All together, we're looking at 13+ pounds (6+ kg) that needs to be held in your shock-absorbing arms while the aircraft in which you're riding bounces and jiggles and sways.

If the aircraft can safely accept a bungie cord to suspend your complete rig, in a position that facilitates your photography, that can relieve much of that weight from your arms and back. More complicated suspensions systems are also available. Just be sure the pilot agrees to where and how any such support is attached.

Red Sky In Morning?

All of the above can be applied whenever you are flying for photography (even air-to-ground), but one factor that is best applied in advance is to choose the time of day more favorable to smooth air — the morning. Before the sun has heated the ground, before thermals rise and winds scurry across the sky. And not only is shooting in the a.m. usually less active, atmospherically speaking, the slanting light can be very attractive — softer light can mean prettier colors, and that light glancing off the target can highlight edges and shapes, while the ground is rendered darker by the abundance of long shadows, letting the target really pop off the page/screen.

Evenings can bring the same benefits to the lighting, though usually in a warmer tone. The air is more likely to be livelier, from the day's heating, but that usually tapers off as the sun retreats. With less experienced formation fliers, I usually prefer the late afternoon flights, as it lets the flight crews build confidence while it is brighter, a confidence that holds over to when the light is fading. In morning flights, launching when the light is dim and the confidence to fly closer to each other hasn't yet built, the distance to the target is farther, which means a longer lens setting and, thus, a greater chance that atmospheric perturbations and airframe jiggles, and human frailty holding a camera, will manifest as blur.

And the Point Is…

Who knew there was so much to know about shooting non-blurry photos air-to-air!? And much of what there is to know is about what not to do! But if you are going up with sharp images as your goal, these are some tips to get what you need.

Of course, there are still issues of lighting and composition to consider, and camera settings that affect the amount of blur in the props or rotors. But great lighting, composition, and the perfect amount of rotor blur are for nought if the entire scene is blurry.

Thank-you to Rick Cobbold at Flight Trails Helicopters in Mesa, Arizona, for letting me climb around some aircraft to make the illustrative imagery.

Another thank-you, this one to Peter Gibson, my long-time assistant for wielding the camera to make the photos of me posing in the aircraft.

* I use a Kenyon Laboratories gyro, and they might be the only company in the world that actually makes such equipment. They offer a wide range of gyro-stabilizers and accessories. I have no business relationship with them, and I'm happy to give them a shout-out.


(AeroMark Images) A2A air-to-air blur blurry flying gyro gyroscopic photography stability stabilization technique Sun, 04 Apr 2021 20:40:04 GMT
Front and Center A common approach to composition, especially among less-experienced photographers, is to place the subject in the middle of the image. This is natural if little to no thought is put into composition beyond, "make sure you can see the object/person/scene."

Such a noobie mistake is worth growing out of, and requires only a little experience, a bit of self-critique, and perhaps some guidance. The most common corrective advice regarding placing the subject in the center is to adhere to the "rule of thirds" which, if you've not heard of, search the web for that phrase and prepare to spend some time — Google returned about 87,900,000 results. Go ahead…I'll wait.

Actually, I won't. That 88 million number is real.

But I'm not here today to explain the rule of thirds. I'm not here to denounce centering the subject in a composition. I am here, instead, to declare that sometimes you want the subject in the center. The reasons and the effects of putting it there are varied, so I'll show you a range of those effects; then you can make your choices based on your own reasoning.

What's Wrong with Centered?

A subject plopped, unthinkingly, into the middle of a photo is often decried for its lack of graphical energy. By putting the visual weight of the image squarely in the center, balanced, the subject is usually static. De-energized. Look at these two examples:

Phoenix Police Department Air Support Unit

The image on the left, number 1, has the aircraft centered. In number 2, the aircraft is definitely not centered. The "centered" version is not bad, but I trust you see the static nature of 1. It kinda just sits there. In 2, with all that weight on the left, there's built-in tension, energy. (There's also room to put a headline or body copy — not the point I am trying to make, but worth noting.)

Look how, in this next image, which is nearly identical to number one, something is different; something that makes it better.

Phoenix Police Department Air Support Unit

The aircraft in number 3 is more solidly in the middle, rather than being almost in the middle like number 1. And although I didn't catch this A119 exactly head-on, in 3 it's closer to head-on and that also makes a difference. Do you see it? Almost centered versus definitely centered, and not-quite head-on versus exactly (okay, more-exactly) head-on? I feel a big difference between them, a difference in power akin to the difference between "Oh, hi. Yoo-hoo," versus "I. Am. Here."

Solidly centered, facing the viewer, also indicates the subject is looking at you. Not some other person or place. It can feel confrontational, it can feel honest and, as importantly, by focusing the spotlight on the subject in this way, the subject is putting the spotlight on you.

And that is why you would purposefully and carefully center the subject: It brings the most attention to the subject and, in turn, to the viewer. If that is the right approach, though, you have to really shoot for it.

More Examples, More Observations

Here's another "I'm looking right at you, kid" composition. This electronics test bed Boeing 707 had just returned to Libby Army Airfield on Fort Huachuca, Arizona. It is bold, powerful, confrontational. If you want those qualities, this is one way to get them.

This Chinook on Fort Hood, Texas, is seen head-on, but with a couple of differences: I am very close to it, so the wide-angle lens is emphasizing the bulbous nose; I am low, looking up to it; there are soldiers working on it. Each of those factors changes the effect.

The overall change is one of softness. Yes, the aircraft is definitely the center (no pun intended) of attention, but this is more human. The aircraft is approachable yet heroic, capable yet it needs our involvement. Strong, but a team player.

This Lockheed L-1011 is owned by Orbital Sciences, which uses it to launch payloads into space. The importance of the aircraft is communicated by including the expanse of the ramp at Mojave Air & Space Port. The subject is still obviously the subject, but instead of it dominating us, the viewer, it is dominating its space.

Another image from Fort Hood. This head-on shot of one Bradley Fighting Vehicle is affected by it being amongst its brothers. The camera is low which, by diminishing the power of the viewer is often used to imply the power or goodness of the subject, but by being low in the midst of a bunch of Bradleys, it works mostly not to extol the virtue of the subject, but to subjugate the viewer.

If the point of view wasn't directly in front of the one, if we could see a path between them, we might feel we could escape, slip through a gap. But being in line, in that one vehicle's sights, we feel trapped!

One more vehicle and then I'll show some other subjects.

It might not be obvious at first glance, but this is an A-10 Thunderbolt II. Or, at least, it is some of an A-10. We have fuselage, engines, horizontal and vertical stabilizers. Missing is, most obviously, the wings, but also the big gun. (The gun is so big you can see the nose gear is offset to the starboard to accommodate its barrels.) The wings are elsewhere being reconditioned, modified, strengthened, in a service life extension program (thus the "SLEP" in the sign). I find there is something both noble and humbling about this image — the Warthog has served well, and is having its life extended so it can continue to do so. It's basically a formal portrait of a patient on the operating table, waiting for a new organ to be installed. Or something like that.

The boneyard.
Centering people in the frame can have any of the above effects: confrontational, honest, honored, aggressive, even playful. A person, with their posture and expression, can add emphasis to, or detract from, your message, so you need to watch those human actions carefully.

Of course, a big smile might be just the thing. Crossed arms can show defiance, but his smile counters that and, to me, suggests pride.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

A big smile with open arms is more, "welcome to Melbourne!"

AAR in Melbourne, Florida.

Maybe just a wry grin, surrounded by your work?

Or skip the grin, and show you mean business.

AAR in Melbourne, Florida.

In each of these images, we leave no confusion about what is important — it's the "who" in the picture — and they are looking at you!

Back to non-people images, here is a set of propellers in a memorial at Airbase Arizona, part of the Commemorative Air Force. Admittedly, the display is ready-made for centering the subject, and I did just that, but I've shot purposefully and worked a tiny bit of Photoshop on it.

Since I intended my photo to do justice in honoring the B-29 crews, I didn't just hoist my camera to my face and bang off a shot. This is actually the fourth of four frames I made, and with each click of the shutter button I was adjusting my position and framing: off-center just wasn't working; I wasn't quite straight enough; that streak of bright reflection on the left side of the pylon was running through the emblem.

The "little bit of Photoshop" was in service of keeping the attention on the memorial, though brief excursions to the American flag, or the building, or the masonry/concrete in the foreground, were all fine with me. But there was a drainage pipe on the berm and a small piece of paper, or something, littering the grass. Those were distracting so I excised them. No harm, no foul — this image isn't evidence in a trial.

If you've never been on the flight deck of a C-5 Galaxy, just know two things about it: it is a long ways off the ground, and you have to climb a long ladder to get there. Here's proof of the latter/ladder:

I don't recall my crouching to make this image, meaning there is another four feet, or so, of ladder out of frame at the bottom. You climb that just to get to this. As for the effect of centering the ladder in the frame, it invites you to climb. Off center, especially if the rails didn't converge, visually, as evenly as they do, the viewer is given the choice — climb, or maybe look over there (wherever there is). As shown, the climb is imperative. It is demanded. (If you're interested in the reward for hauling yourself up this ladder, the interior of the flight deck appears in my article about "bones.")

This final image is looking down the runway at a small, un-towered, airport near Phoenix, Arizona. Even more than the ladder, it demonstrates how the subject doesn't actually have to be upright and staring at the viewer. Even without the painted arrow, there is a strong implication of direction, of motion, of somewhere to go.

And The Point Is…?

Take with a grain of salt a critique of your photography that declares "you should never put the subject in the center." The center is a very important place as it pushes distractions aside, it balances the forces in the image, and demands attention. Remember, too, that it also puts attention on the viewer. That can be a good thing, so make sure you demand that attention with purpose.

(AeroMark Images) aerospace Airbus airplane alignment aviation Boeing CAF center centering composition detail formal formality helicopter Lockheed Mojave photography Stargazer symmetry technique Sun, 07 Feb 2021 21:12:27 GMT
Working Those Pixels It is true that photos are made, not just taken. Pressing the shutter button is the beginning, and a very important beginning, what with the multitude of settings to set and a composition to compose and picking the right time to press that button, but those merely comprise step one. Step two and step three and, perhaps, step 119 come later, and it's those subsequent steps that convert the collection of photons you captured when you pressed the shutter button into a photograph instead of a snapshot.*

What to Start With

Let's look at turning a good snapshot into a good photograph using a single image capture. (By the way, later I throw reality to the wolves — so, stick around for that!)

This is nice, right? A trio of F-16s from the Air National Guard in Tucson, Arizona, on a training flight over New Mexico. The settings on the camera have captured detail from the brightest to the darkest parts of the scene and the focus is good from near to far. Compositionally, I left twice as much sky as ground, giving the aircraft room to fly, visually, and I've chosen a moment that has the three aircraft attractively aligned. I'd say the first step was well taken.

What to Do

So, now what?

Rather than describe every step in turning the snapshot into a photograph, here are pairs of images that shows the basic changes:

There's the original, again, next to the result when I instructed the software I was using to automatically make a good photo. The result is less murky, that's for sure, but a bit overdone in my mind — too much contrast, too much color (saturation).

With version 1a, I returned to the original and began moving the post-processing controls around manually. More contrast, yes, plus sharpening (a must for the any digital photo) without overdoing that. I also used a tool to select what I hoped was a neutral-colored feature, something naturally gray, to shift the color of the image to be accurate.

Version 1b has a bit more contrast in the aircraft, making their shaded undersides dark. (I know it might be a little difficult to see the difference just glancing back and forth, but it's there.)

Version 1c actually lightens those undersides just a bit, countering the darkness that the additional contrast imbued them with. It's a subtle tweak, but I wanted to make sure we can see the details (which, again, I know are hard to see at this small size).

How did I like the result in 1c? Not well enough to let that be my final version. Frankly, what I had hoped to be a neutralizing of the color — even if technically accurate — looks too warm, too yellow, to me. So I actually went back to the original and went through some of the same steps but chose a different element on the nearest Viper as the neutral one, and I like the result, 2a, much better.

Why not just show the original and 2a, the final final? That would have less clearly explained that there can be a lot of work put into achieving a final final, including starting over. Sometimes the changes, step-to-step, are dramatic, sometimes they are subtle but meaningful. Notice above, actually, how 2a appears similar to the automated version. Why not just push AUTO and move on?

As I mentioned, the auto version was too contrasty and, on the undersides, too dark. Here's a close-up of the nearest F-16 to compare those results. It might be all those fluffy white clouds in the distance (even though we are actually over dull, dry, dim, desert), but I expect more light to be thrown up under the aircraft, and a random viewer of the image might feel the same. So, I tried to not let that viewer be disappointed.

This is a potentially versatile image, with plenty of room for copy to splash across the sky. Or, depending on the space available, cropping out some of the image is perfectly acceptable, too. Like:

I've reduced the amount of sky while retaining plenty of it in front of the aircraft. This wide offering would look right at home across a three-page spread in a brochure, or even on the big screen in SuperAeroVision (I just made that up, but I'll claim trademark on it 'cuz it's catchy).

Or square it up, à la Instagram, which fills up nicely with that stair-step composition.

Or just keep on cropping until you have two gals and a plane.

More to Do

Obviously this article isn't meant as an extensive how-to on preparing photography, but is only the briefest of overviews to bring home the point that pressing the shutter is just the start. Plus, once you believe you've arrived at a "final" image, just know that it doesn't have to be final. And not just by my preference for 2a over 1c.

For instance, here's some fun I had with that SuperAeroVision cropping:

I can make the aircraft speedy (which, for me, is meh but doable), or…

Give it sunset colors, or…

Turn day into a brightly moonlit night, or…

Simple black-and-white, or…


Push the colors to their extreme, or…

Throw the actual colors out the window, or…

Invert the original colors, creating a negative.

So many choices. But why do anything except the natural and attractive 2a? Because sometimes you have to grab eyeballs by the, well, you gotta grab 'em. Cropping, tweaking colors, and plenty more approaches are available to accomplish just that.

Short Wrap-up

I come to bury Caesar. I mean, the point is: while it's possible to fix a poorly captured image, it is much better, and you have far broader options in post-processing (what all of the above is called), when you start with a well-shot, well-composed, well-timed beginning. Then, take care, evaluate what you start with and where you end up, and don't be afraid to start again.

Long Footnote

* Unspoken, by me above, is an underlying technicality — when I press the shutter button and collect photons, I have instructed my camera to do nothing more than collect photons. Meaning, "Dear camera, do not be messing with the image. Sure, maybe the colors are wonky because the lighting is from a low-pressure sodium lamp, or the contrast is low, or high, or any number of other imperfections in the scene — just give it to me straight and I'll figure out what to do with it later."

In other words, my camera stores the data that forms the image in a "raw" format. That's why the original, way at the top, is a bit flat, contrast-wise. It's not how I remember the scene, and it's certainly not as eye-attracting as where it ended up, but by capturing the scene the way it did, I had the most information — dynamic range, color densities, and more — with which to achieve an image that looks more like what I recall, and is certainly more interesting to look at.

If your camera is set to save something besides a raw format, it is making many of the kinds of decisions I made later, about color and contrast and brightness and sharpness, in the instant after it captures the photons. That can often result in really nice photos, right out of the camera. It really can. And it's a lot easier than what I go through. But it also means those decisions, those results, are baked into the image, and now further changes are made on top of those original changes. And that means you are somewhat, or greatly, damaging the integrity of the image. Plus, since almost every camera that is not set to save raw image files is saving JPEG image files, they are being baked in with some level of damage caused by the JPEG compression scheme. I shan't go into that here, but you can read all about why JPEG sucks here.

Thanks to Arizona Air National Guard 162nd Wing and 161st Air Refueling Wing for letting me see and show their aircraft in action.

(AeroMark Images) aerospace airplane Arizona Arizona Air National Guard aviation composition detail F16 Fighting Falcon photography post-processing technique tweaks Viper Sun, 17 Jan 2021 21:52:51 GMT
Keeping Your Distance In this time of pandemic, with its new challenges and expectations, there are stories to tell not just about keeping our distance from one another, but also in spanning the distance between despair and hope. One such effort, to bring hope where it is desperately needed, takes flight nearly every week from a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, to the heart of the Navajo Nation at Chinle, in the northeast corner of the state.

To give credit where it is due and, more importantly, share some ways that people can help, I will report on the who and the how and the why in an upcoming issue of ROTOR magazine. In the article below, I share the simple techniques I practiced to capture the images to illustrate that story.

The Need

The Navajo live on reserved lands covering most of northeastern Arizona, plus adjacent lands in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. High rates of poverty and, for many, primitive living conditions — no running water for washing, showers, or toilets, no electricity for heat or lighting — plus a culture that values family and community gatherings, have combined with limited access to healthcare to ravage the population with COVID-19. In their efforts to reduce the spread of the disease, the tribal government has been restricting travel to and from the reservation, but the resurgence of the disease across the country in November led to a total lockdown, with not even truckloads of supplies allowed in.

One Response

One small but important mode of transportation has been allowed to continue; MD Helicopters, in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, began shuttling supplies to the reservation on a near-weekly basis during the summer of 2020, and continued to do so even during the strictest lockdown. (If the mode of their shuttling need mentioning, it is by helicopter.) These efforts are conducted through the auspices of Native American Sustainability for Veterans and Those in Uniform (NASVU)*, and most weeks the cargo consists of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, though in the first flights it included chainsaws (for cutting firewood).

I've been on site with MDHI quite a bit lately, as I'm producing a video for them, and noticed some stickers on the side of one of their aircraft denoting flights to Chinle. I asked about these markings and learned of this continuing effort. "Can I fly with you to capture the images to support a story?" "Absolutely," was the answer, and it happened within days.

The Photography

Keeping in mind the need for distancing, I made a couple of choices in photographing the activities. 

Both of the above photos were made using a wide-angle lens, with which I captured elements both near and far. On top we see about $2,000 worth of supplies, purchased in the Phoenix area with donations, and in the second image we see "WINSLOW" painted on the ramp at the FBO and, where the concrete strip ends, the MD 902 Explorer in which most of the supply runs are made. Supplies and people, aircraft and location.** Each time the story is illustrated more fully than if I had excluded all but a single feature. Notice too, for the wide-angle to be effective in these situations, I have to be fairly close to one of the elements, a closeness that should be minimized or eliminated with people during these times.

But what about at Chinle, where the aircraft was to be swarmed with eager hands to unload the load? Well, the swarm turned out to be three people, and I made sure to be away from the aircraft when they approached it. What we did was: the pilot called Chinle from Winslow and told the folks there to expect the aircraft to land, I would deplane (dehelo?), and after I was away from both them and the aircraft, the pilot would actually depart, only to return immediately. This allowed me to get an "arrival" shot. We see that below.

What you will notice, too, is that I am not standing near the aircraft with a wide-angle lens. I'm no dummy — those things throw up a lot of dirt 'n' stuff. Since the supplies are delivered to an open field adjacent to a church, to get a clean shot I'm using a narrow-angle, AKA "long," lens and standing a good 100 feet away. Yes, in this case the long lens is serving the concept of "distance" not for COVID safety, but for sticks-and-stones safety.

I moved around and around the aircraft as they unloaded, mostly staying 20 feet or more away. The image above was shot with a lens that fairly reflects how our eyes "see," and I used that to show a breadth of elements — aircraft, people, vehicles, dirt field, buildings — putting the people and equipment in context.

Then, remaining where I was standing, but switching back to my long lens, I isolate the efforts. Both approaches work, and shooting both ensures the right image will exist to support the words as might be written.

Moving farther around, and again with a wider-angle lens, the dirt road and the footprints lead our eye to the subject, as the road also suggests transportation away from the aircraft. It is a simple photo that tells a nuanced story.

With the supplies all transferred, the pilot chatted for just a couple of minutes with the folks on the ground. Notice that I've moved to yet another location, another angle on the activities, and have gone back to the long lens, which means I've also backed away from the people. The pilot is the obvious subject, but he is speaking with someone we can see, and the aircraft — and the stickers commemorating each of such assistance flights — are noticeable though out of focus.

Around to the other side of the group and, now, the wide-angle lens.

I never got much closer than this, never actually spoke to anyone, and I was always masked. It's kind of sad, missing that personal interaction, but the safety of the members of the Navajo Nation was paramount, so I did what was necessary to respect that, while also making the images that tell this one small story of hope delivered.

The Photography Lessons

Such a personal story, people helping people, often benefits from a wide-angle lens used close to the action. (I'm thinking of writing about that in an upcoming article, actually.) Since physical closeness poses extra risks during a pandemic, I used the wide-angle lens from a greater distance than normal, but composed with other elements of the scene to tell more of the story.

Take the image just above, with the pilot standing (distanced) with the three folks from the reservation. If I had not included the nose of the helicopter, using a wide-angle lens, it would be a photo of four people standing. Yes truck, and yes buildings in the background, but such an image would require more text to explain the situation.

And notice what is in focus in that image — the people in the midground. (The background is actually not in focus, though it is hard to tell in this low-resolution image.) What is obviously not in focus is the helicopter in the foreground. Why? Because the "meeting" is the story, so I kept the helo for context, but focused on what's important. Compare that to the very first photo, way above. There, the midground supplies are in focus, while the background people are not. The meeting of those two men is communicated, but the supplies take center stage. 

And don't forget your narrow-angle lens. As with the woman being handed a box from inside the helicopter, which I shot from behind the aircraft. It tells us to look at just one thing: that action. A long lens can also visually connect elements that are not necessarily near each other by bringing the background "closer" to the action, seen when the helicopter is arriving or when the pilot is framed against the aircraft while speaking.

This type of imagery could be destined for a company newsletter, social media, an annual report or, in this case, a trade magazine. You need a range of images to support those media, so if you use your equipment and use your feet, much of the story can be told without a word.

To Learn More or Help Out

In addition to NAVSU, help is coming to Native Americans through other channels, including the Native American Relief for Humanity Coalition, of which the Barry & Peggy Goldwater Foundation, led by granddaughter Alison Goldwater Ross, is a part. You can learn more about them at, and if you choose to make a donation through them, they ask that you designate it for Native American Relief.

* That single asterisk, way above, is there because, at the time of this writing, NAVSU is still awaiting its 503(c)(3) certification, so fundraising is being handled by the Veterans Medical Leadership Council Charities. You can learn more about them, and find out how you can help, at

** The double-asterisk is just to note that this is, indeed, the Winslow, Arizona, where Jackson Browne declared to have witnessed a fine sight to see, while standing on a corner. Whichever corner he might have meant, there is now a corner in town with a statue of him, and a statue of his co-writer, Glen Frey. You will, however, have to bring your own "girl, my Lord."

Thanks go out to MD Helicopters for allowing me to accompany their pilot, Bob Rappoport, on this trip. It's a great service the company is providing, which involves about 4 hours of flying, plus two fuel stops, and a mere 15 minutes of transferring the supplies from the aircraft to the waiting hands on the ground.

(AeroMark Images) aerospace aviation composition COVID detail distance distancing focus helicopter lens photography technique Sun, 27 Dec 2020 19:01:05 GMT
Reflecting gnitcelfeR Reflections are one way of seeing things differently, and when someone sees something differently, they want to see more.


By coincidence I was reading, just this morning, that the job of the headline of an ad is to entice the reader to read the first line of the ad. And the job of the first line is to entice the reader to read the second line. Etc., etc.

Fair enough, but before a reader reads, they first see — and if the image they see doesn't do its job of being noticed, the headline won't get to do its job. The opening photo, above, may not even be recognizable for what it is to many viewers, but it still attracts every eye that spies it. Step one? Done.

(The object in the center of the image is a venturi mounted to the side of a classic, polished aluminum, Cessna 172 — the air flowing through this device creates a vacuum which is used to drive, typically, a gyroscopic horizon on the instrument panel.)

This doesn't mean every photo has to be a masterpiece, a stark raving mad amalgam of color or detail. The photo in an ad, however, must at least cause a pause. Then the headline can take over. Etc., etc.

Even if the photo is not illustrating an ad, even if the intent is not to stop the reader from just turning the page, interesting photography is always better than non-interesting photography, and reflections are one way to make photography interesting.

What is it about reflections? They cause a pause because they pique our interest. We know what the world looks like normally, and we've experienced enough reflections to know they show the world in a new way, whether that reflection is a faithful but flopped reproduction of a scene, in an intentional mirror, perhaps, or distorted by the reflecting surface.

The mirror behind the smiling woman, above, reveals more of the room and also the people with whom she's interacting. Our attention snaps to her smile, then to the mirrored image of the room and people. The question of why, or at what or whom, she is smiling is automatic in our minds, so giving an immediate answer is the reward for pausing. It doesn't answer all our automatic questions, but we've gained the viewer's attention and now the text can take over.

This image of an Airbus H135, shot from quite near its nose, is attracting first because of the colors and shapes of the composition, followed immediately by recognizing there are people in the image. Reflected people. The interplay of elements in the image is important — the interesting exterior details and reflected people and, through the Plexiglas, interior details plus, if we glance around the image long enough, we'll notice a pair of legs in the bottom right, standing beyond the helicopter, that appear to be, maybe? Are they? No, they aren't, but they look sorta like the legs of the man on the right, whose upper body we see in the reflection. All of that examination takes only a little time, but it is time during which whatever the next step we intend for the viewer can be taken.

(You might have noticed the man on the right is me, looking at the camera that is capturing this image. By not having the camera plastered in front of my face, a viewer doesn't immediately identify this person as the picture-taker. Not an accident, that.) 

The image of the older gentleman sitting on the tire of what is actually a somewhat younger airplane, makes use of the reflection in the polished aluminum in a more subtle way. We are not immediately drawn to the reflections, but when our eye wanders away from his face to the polished fuselage and cowling, the spinner and propeller, and visible engine components, we also notice the reflections in that aluminum. As with the photo of the smiling woman in front of a mirror, this reflection gives more information; broadens the scene without directly showing it.

(There is so much good happening here, beyond even the bare photography. This gentleman was the crew chief on this exact PT-22 Recruit trainer during WW II, and his father worked for Ryan Aeronautical Company, the manufacturer of these aircraft, so would have made components that are on this exact aircraft, and one (or two) pilots who had trained during the war, in this exact aircraft, were known to live within a couple hours drive of where this Recruit is based.)

Aviation Day 15 April 2012 Here are two images in which the reflections are the only thing giving the aircraft their sense of place, since I've digitally replaced the "sky" in each with blended color fields. It is in those reflections, in the spinners and in the painted cowls, that we can place the airplanes in open areas (versus inside museums, perhaps) with people in attendance. So, here, the mirrored environments play decidedly secondary roles, but those roles are not without value. I've detailed some details about these aircraft, and my photography of them, at the bottom of this article.

EAA Airventure 2009 Here's another version of letting the spinner fill in the details, though in this case, most of what is interesting to see is the reflection, not the underlying object (a King Air, by the way). There is enough recognizable detail in the spinner to somewhat explain what we're seeing, but there's also the fun-house mirror aspect that works because accurately describing the details is not the point. It's just more fun, in this case, to smile at how the scene is visually distorted.

Fun is good.


There you have it. Reflections, whether in intentional mirrors or polished aluminum, Plexiglas or glossy paint, stop our eyes because we're often delighted by what we see there. Used skillfully, they reward the viewer by delivering on that expectation for delight, and they reward the advertiser/marketer/journalist by extracting at least a little bit of the viewer's attention. What you do next with that attention is up to you.

So, What About Those Two Airplanes?

The two aircraft — red/white and blue/white — are rarities. Early in World War II, one of the companies building the F4U Corsair "gull-wing" fighter under contract was Goodyear. Well, they got it into their heads that if the Corsair was good, it was bound to be better with a bigger engine. (The Corsair had an 18-cylinder engine, the engines in these bad boys had 28 cylinders and weighed twice as much as a fully-loaded PT-22.) So Goodyear got to tweaking and engineering and building, eventually presenting to the military what was badged the F2G, commonly referred to as the Super Corsair. The red/white airplane is an F2G-1, the blue one was an F2G-2. However, the orders for these two versions were cancelled with only five of each built. Several were purchased as war surplus, including these two, then modified and flown in air races.

I photographed the blue one, known as Race 74, a couple of times over the years, including this formal, detailed, profile in January 2012. I later got it into my head that I should photograph the red one, Race 57, in a complementary way, and did so when the opportunity presented itself a mere three months later. I then developed an idea for printing the two competitors very large and selling them as a pair. That concept might look like this:

Unfortunately, 8 months to the day after I made this photo of Race 74, it crashed while practicing aerobatics, destroying the aircraft and killing the pilot/owner, Bob Odegaard. That was a very sad turn of events and I felt pursuing the printing and selling at that time was in bad taste. So I didn't. I might just revive the plan though…

Pointless Bonus Image

If you just couldn't get enough of the very first image at the top of this article, here's a different view of the same object on the same airplane. Of course this image, and the first, have had their colors highly amplified.


(AeroMark Images) advertising aerospace airplane aviation composition detail distort focus helicopter marketing mirror photography reflect reflection shine shiny technique venturi Mon, 02 Nov 2020 00:48:04 GMT
Complete Coverage Telluride, Colorado. Beautiful scenery up in the mountains, yes, but when it comes to helicopter flying, the density altitude is also getting, well, up there. And though summer in the mountains isn't as warm as summer in the lowlands, combine even mountain-summer temperatures with high altitude and the amount of air feeding your engine and flowing over your rotor blades gets a double-whammy. Still, if you want to put in snow-making machinery, you don't wait until the cold weather arrives.

Thus it was in August that Mountain Blade Runner Helicopters, based in Montrose, Colorado, was hoisting buckets of concrete along the ski runs of Telluride. My job? Photograph the activity for Kaman Aerospace because the aircraft doing the hoisting was a K-MAX, their premier product.

Here are photos showing the aircraft and the activity. It was no accident that I captured this wide range of shots — it's what a photographer does. Read on to see what I did and learn why, so you, or a hired photographer, might do the same thorough job.

This wide composition places the K-MAX amid the other equipment and the scenery, from the concrete truck and ranks of snow-making machinery, to the trees and mountains of southwestern Colorado at 11,000 feet above sea level. Images that show only the aircraft have their place, but showing the aircraft and the environment tells the story.

Reversing the camera position let me put the people, briefing the morning's activities, front and center, and I used the semi-circle of their arrangement to frame the aircraft. (It's harder to see in a small version of the image, but it is the aircraft that is in focus, not the crew.) This is another view of the "story," showing the people more prominently without detracting from the product. With the aircraft still on the ground, I got down on the ground, too, to show the details of the business end of the K-MAX, the trolley that rides in that wide-U-shaped track, from which 6,000 pounds can be slung. No other aircraft is so designed to lift and deliver loads time after time after time. Photographically, note that only the lifting-related elements are in focus, keeping a viewer's attention where it is intended.

So I have wide shots, showing the environment, and a narrow shot showing a key feature. How about some action?


Sure, I have photos of the aircraft hovering above me, and you'll see those in a minute, but I also wanted to show more than "aircraft against sky," so I moved up one hill and shot wide to include the ground equipment as the K-MAX was bringing a now-empty bucket back to the base, where it would be traded for a filled one. I also moved up an adjacent hill and got down in the grasses/flowers to include something of the foreground environment as another option.

Here's a shot looking up at the aircraft as it was swinging the concrete bucket toward the waiting trucks, and one where we're gazing right at the belly of the bird, with its shrouded hook suspended between us. Yes, they are aircraft-against-sky, but more than that too. More to see and, thus, more interesting to see — on the left are clouds to enliven the image, on the right we have the pilot looking at us.

And speaking of the clouds, I'm just noticing how they came and went throughout the morning. At times it was overcast, at other times essentially cloud-free, with a range of appearances in between. Not something planned for, but it yielded photos with a wide variety of lighting conditions and graphical elements. Nice.

Moving to air-to-air photography, this angle shows off the shapes of the aircraft and its livery. A beauty shot, if you will, though the line draped from the belly shows this is a machine at work.
I also composed to include the work being done at the far end of the line: pouring concrete (well, about to pour concrete).

And finally, while it was a challenge to capture the action, air-to-air, due to the conditions and the limitations of the chase ship, I managed at least one strong close-up of the aircraft at work. This image went on to grace Kaman's 2020 marketing calendar (which I also designed and produced), as well as being featured, very large, in their trade show exhibit.

The Takeaway

If you have a dynamic event to capture — a helicopter running back and forth, hauling loads of concrete in the mountains, certainly qualifies — shoot to show the action from multiple angles with a range of camera lenses and settings, to include more than the single object of your photographic desire, so you and your downstream designers have plenty to choose from and, more importantly, so your viewers will be able to see the full story.

Even if you think the photography is destined for only a single application, like an ad, you don't want to be kicking yourself — or that hired photographer — for not capturing more, when the boss says, " hey, we need a photo for social media (or company newsletter or magazine article or annual report)." She will not happy if all she hears are crickets, shuffling feet, or excuses.

(You should not be surprised to learn that the photo at the top of this article, with TELLURIDE in the sky, was yet another image from that day — you never know when you even a non-aviation shot can be part of the story.)

Thanks to Mountain Blade Runner Helicopters for the opportunity to fly and shoot with them and, of course, to Kaman for allowing me to help them tell their story.

(AeroMark Images) action background cement Colorado composition concrete fly flying helicopter Kaman K-MAX photography ski run slope slopes story Telluride Fri, 09 Oct 2020 17:53:58 GMT
Catching the Wandering Eye In many of my articles I mention, often in passing, how the first job for a photograph is catching the eye of a reader. A browser. A passerby.

When you are communicating in your role as a marketer, and especially when you are enticing someone to be communicated with, the path to communication is something like, "Hey, look at me!" followed by "Ah, now you understand what I am," and then "See? It's good that you looked; now you appreciate the benefits available to you."

Put less conversationally, and from the perspective of the intended receiver, it is "Notice; Understand the topic and the offer; Imagine how the future will be better with the offered product/service/affiliation."

Simple, right? Notice how in each of these descriptions of the process, "Hey, look at me …" and "Notice; Understand …" the words that describe the steps become more numerous as the process unfolds. That correlation is not accidental. The attention-grabbing step happens, or doesn't happen, in as little as a half-second which, if the grab happens, you then have the reader's attention, a little more of their time, in which to attempt the next step, and then the next.

Today, I will delve only into catching that eye to stop its (and its owner's) wandering. (Note: I will often refer to advertisements, but these could just as likely be marketing materials calling out to be picked up, or graphics adorning a booth, calling out to be visited.)

To Start…

You can probably skip the rest of this article if you are able to choose appropriately from among these simple tips for creating and employing eyeball-grabbing imagery:

Show a very-well rendered image of something familiar;

Show something familiar rendered in an unusual way;

Show something unfamiliar in an interesting way;

Show people;

Make the image germane to the subject (which, by the way, does not require showing the subject);

Ideally, show whatever it is you're showing in such detail (or lack thereof) to lead the viewer to look for at least a little more information.

It is certainly possible to, technically, adhere to these tips and still not grab those eyeballs, but they are a start…

Danger! Danger! (Or not.)

Our brains are always on the lookout for, first, danger and then opportunity. Each of these, danger and opportunity, is most easily spotted if it stands out from its environment. The danger of a snake-in-the-grass? It doesn't stand out, so we might blunder into harm with no advance warning. But what if we're hunting for friendly snakes? Well, the snakes might not be a threat, but the environment is still working against our noticing them. And if that environment holds both harmful and friendly snakes, we must first notice a snake, then determine if it fits in one of those two categories, then act accordingly.

And, by the way, there is a third category of snake in the grass, which is neither harmful nor friendly. I mention this because ideally we don't want to disappoint a wandering eye by stopping it with a graphic, a snake, that promises to be an opportunity but is actually just a waste of time. That is annoying and you don't want to associate your brand with annoyance.

As marketers, how do you stand out from the grass that is a magazine, the internet, a trade show? The most effective tool for catching the eye of the beholder, in this dog-eat-dog world of getting your friendly-snake-in-the-grass company noticed in the bazaar of aerospace ideas, is an image. (Who doesn't love a mixed metaphor?) An assemblage of shapes, colors, contrasts, and textures, recognizable or intriguing, that causes a pause. A pause that suggests there might be an opportunity here, a pause that is your opportunity to make your case.

I'm a photographer, so that's where I would fit in, and step one for me is figuring out what to show and how to shoot it in order to get you to your step one: getting noticed. The second image above, the H145, grabbed your eye — probably as soon as some part of it entered your field of vision — by overfilling the frame with a boldly colored aircraft, pointed right at you, slightly tilted, and packed with aerospace components and construction details.

This box with its colorful background was an approach taken by a company that subsequently became a client of my then-agency. I don't have a copy of those ads, which were full-page buys, but this was the graphical approach — photograph the boxes on a colorfully lighted background. Add text and logo and done.

Remember how I cautioned against annoying a reader? Well, there is little chance of annoying a reader with this ad. It shows a box, the text of the ad spoke of the box. No surprises and, certainly, no miscommunication.

Then again, there wasn't much to enjoy about the ad, either. Reread those previous two sentences and savor that lack of joy. They paid a lot of money for those placements, but the ads performed only so-so.

I don't judge the box-on-bright-colors photo to be bad, as it was a fair attempt at achieving step one, but it has several weaknesses. First, it is, ultimately, just a photo of a box. The bright colors might stop a reader/surfer/attendee once, but there is little to hold the viewer's attention once the color has stopped their wandering eye. This box also looks very similar to other boxes offered by this company, and by its competitors. That similarity in appearance means another ad, though with different boxes but shot on the same colorful background, might not appear to represent a different product and, if the first ad was not of a product in which the viewer was interested, they might just flip to the next page or click on the next link or wander on to the next booth.

Relatedly, if a viewer didn't comprehend that the box was, indeed, a product in which they should be interested, the lack of depth in the presentation, of connections to the world or, best yet, a benefit to improve that imagined future, the next time they spot the ad they might, again, just flip/click/wander on by. It has happened more than once, to me, that in revisiting an ad in which there was at least an interesting graphic, I discovered the product/service was something that did interest me.

In considering how to improve things for the client, I had two immediate concerns: doing a better job of attracting attention and bringing at least something interesting to the ad. While I was at it, I also recommended we reduce the size of the ads. So what did I do instead of merely colorfully framing boxes, photo-wise? This:

I featured people. Actual aerospace people, not models or, ugh, stock photos of people. I then photographed those people staring directly into the camera, with a confident expression. As people ourselves, we are naturally drawn to returning the gaze. "What is this person thinking? What are they so sure of?" We created at least five of these ads, and likewise developed trade show graphics panels based on them, each with a different person and corresponding colored "frame." They looked alike yet different, and every one of the ads was pretty much guaranteed to get looked at. (The H145 photo also benefits, a bit, from this normal response to people looking at you.)

The ads did show the product, though not the "box" elements, but instead the human interface elements, and those product photos were quite small. The photos of these confident yet serious people — never haughty, not like they know something you don't — would grab the eyes of the reader who turned to this page because these eyes were already looking at them. Once grabbed, the text would do its thing and, before you know it, these now-2/3-page ads performed better than most of the other ads in a magazine.

Work better and cost less? Nice.

Working In Miniature

These three banner ads, which I screenshot off the web today, just happen to provide some exemplar approaches to catching a surfer's attention. At left, Bristow presents one of its aircraft, in its signature livery, photographed cleanly, with little else to the ad but a tag line and a logo. We know what to expect and it gives it to us.

Tech-Tool Plastics (another of my then-agency's clients) also shows an aircraft — a bright yellow one shot from a less-usual angle — but since their product offerings are, as stated here, "High-quality replacement windows," the composition puts the emphasis on the windows without indicating the owner/operator of the aircraft. That detail, the owner/operator, is immaterial since this is not positioned as a testimonial. I kinda wish they didn't consume 40% of the ad space with text and logo, but it works, so what am I complaining about!?

Intermountain Turbine takes a non-photo approach which substitutes strong graphics (step one) and just the words you need to understand what they are about. In this case, a photo of one or both of the enumerated engines might not have fared as well in such a small space, so I'd say it was a good decision to forgo them.

Each of these ads had to work at a small size on a page filled with competing content, both editorial and sponsored. Using a range of approaches I adjudge they succeeded and you can take whichever lessons to heart that fit your situation.

By the way, I commend you if you paused on the Bristow ad and thought to yourself, "Hey, didn't I see that photo in an earlier AeroMark Images blog article?" Not exactly, but close enough! I flew and photographed with Bristow in December and featured many of this ad's sibling images in a blog article about shooting air-to-air while flying a lazy orbit, "Going In Circles." Here's the photo from the shoot that they put into that tiny ad.

Doing More by Coloring Less

Understand that, in general, there are two distinct environments from which you need your image to stand out. One is the graphical one, all of the "grass" analogies I keep using, the other is the psychological environment, the experiences and expectations of the viewer. If a photo were to appear before them as part of an ad or booth graphic, displayed against a blank wall, would it stand out, mentally, as something about which they would want to know more?

Most readers/surfers/attendees expect color imagery, so one way to cause a pause is with a black-and-white image. Just as a zebra-striped snake would be more noticeable among the grass than a, well, than a green-striped one, so do black-and-white photos stand out among a thicket of color images whether the color images are actually present or are just expected.

Not only would this above image stand out among a sea of ordinary full-color ones, going black-and-white helps us stay focused on the Citation and the people, rather than mentally wandering off to the other aircraft, which includes at least one with a red stripe, and the green treeline, even though that is chromatically muted. The aircraft was about the most monochrome thing in the photo to begin with, so by pushing the color out of everything — and notice that the black-and-white version is much brighter and higher contrast than the original, inset, image — the bold elements and shapes of the Citation take center stage visually, not just geometrically. What a difference compared to the yellow H145, eh? But that would be the point — black-and-white images are not expected which, thus, draws the eye.

EA-18G Growler on or above NAF El CentroEA-18G Growler on or above NAF El CentroPhoto call at NAF El Centro

If the opportunity presents itself, we can further subvert a viewer's expectations by providing a bit of color to remain among an otherwise grayscale image. This Growler photo certainly benefits from this technique. Where the Citation photo was mostly gray to start, with some distracting colors in the non-important details, the Growler image was originally mostly bluish, from the horizon up, and tan below. Rather milquetoast, really. The afterburner flames are visible, but by dumping all of the colors except for those flames we give the viewer a bonus reward for stopping by.

And, whereas I had brightened the photo of the Citation, I darkened this E/A-18G, giving it a visual weight that works better for this military aircraft. That brightening led to a category of imagery known as high-key, while the darkening results in a low-key photo. Those categories are not dependent on photos being black-and-white, but figured I'd toss in that bit of photo jargon in case you come across it elsewhere.

Doing More with Color More!

People expect color images, and black-and-white upsets (in a good way) that expectation, but we can also grab those eyeballs by upsetting that expectation in the other direction. Punch those colors till they burn retinas!

(C) Chris J Price

The emboldened colors in this image of an F-16 are just that — bolder versions of the colors already present in the original image. I don't think there's much to add here: the recognizable shapes with the otherworldly colors will definitely cause a pause.

Try a Little Tenderness

I would be remiss if I did not share at least this one other approach to capturing a gaze: subtlety. 

Rather than poke a viewer in the eye — which is fine, by the way — a reduced presence, in size or detail or color or whatever other elements of an image or its presentation are screaming "look at me!", can also work. This H130 plies the skies near Salt Lake City in service to a drug rehabilitation center. Residents are shown around the mountains via this aircraft, which also delivers them to a remote ridge-top pasture to spend time away from the distractions of the urban areas. To support such a "story," I've framed the aircraft in subordination to the environment. The contrast in sizes, as well as in textures and colors, attracts the viewer. Rather than "look at me," the viewer's brain is thinking, "what is this?" with calm excitement. (Is that a thing, calm excitement?)

The Takeaway

With its first job being "get noticed," your photography needs to, first, be considered in terms of the graphical environment in which it will be encountered. Then, in coordination with the messaging, choose the subject that communicates that message, even if the "subject" is not the exact object or representation of your service. Photograph the subject, and prepare that photo post-facto, to attract attention and support the communication of your message. The tone of the photo must cohere with the tone of the copy and the layout of the ad, whether that is matching that tone or playing against it.

In short, give the passerby a reason to look, then don't disappoint them when they wonder, "what is this about?"

Bonus Image

Actually, the "bonus image" is the one at the top of the article. I bet you spent a little time checking it out, reading the text in the image, trying to understand what it represented. Is it aerospace-related? Yes. Do I expect you to know what it is, as in, on what aircraft it appears? No. Though if you do, count yourself among the very few. I, myself, was surprised with what I learned about the aircraft while preparing this article.

Here's the image again, so you don't have to scroll back to the top — I included it because it fits into the category of tips, "Show something unusual in an interesting way." It is a data plate on a World War II prototype stainless steel cargo aircraft, designed and built for the U.S. Navy by the Budd Company, maker of railroad cars. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about it if you'd like to know more:

(AeroMark Images) aerospace airbus attention aviation black-and-white bristow cessna citation color composition E/A-18G EA18 environment F16 F-16 fighting falcon flying grayscale growler H130 H145 lockheed marketing phi photography S92 S-92 Sikorsky tech-tool plastics Thu, 10 Sep 2020 01:44:34 GMT
Capturing A Bumblebee My recent article A Lot In A Little presented the wide range of images I captured during a single air-to-air mission. In that piece I stressed the need for efficiency when aircraft are airborne — it's expensive to fly these things.

In this article, we'll see the wide range of images I captured during many hours of photography at an active firefighting helibase. In situations such as this, where the aircraft are not under your control but you have time and reasonable access to them, I stress variety rather than efficiency.

In case you're not familiar with the term, a helibase is, according to the U.S. Forest Service, "The main location within the general incident area for parking, fueling, maintaining, and loading helicopters." In this instance, the helibase was located in the Grand Canyon National Park and, though I photographed the gamut of aircraft operating there, for a photo essay I was crafting for a trade magazine, I'll illustrate my approach to ground-based image making with just one of those aircraft — the "Bumblebee!"

(Nick)Name that Helicopter!

Bumblebee is the affectionate appellation for an MD 900 helicopter, owned and operated by Papillon, on a 365-day lease to the National Park Service that has it marked as an NPS aircraft. Why Bumblebee? It's the livery — the rear half of the aircraft is glossy black, bisected by a broad, swooping, yellow stripe. Very jaunty. I have seen photos of the aircraft for many years, but this was my first time seeing it in person.

The above image presents both a clean portrait of the aircraft and an example of using the environment to make images that are more than "photo of helicopter," despite my being stuck to the earth. This is at the helibase, where the terrain is surprisingly hilly, so I took advantage of the hilliness in letting the foliage slightly occlude the aircraft. How hilly? Just take a look at the next shot, made shortly before this one.

The aircraft, at least what we can see of it, is spinning up on the ramp outside its hangar, and through the magic (well, through the intentional effect) of a "long" lens, I have definitely put the aircraft in its environment by blocking much of the fuselage with the grassy hill and framing it against its home.

And switching to a view from inside the hangar, shot through a "short" lens, I offer a totally different approach to showing the Bumblebee in its environment. Note how both of these images have the helicopter at its home, yet the emphasis in the first shot is the aircraft, while in the second shot it is the hangar. The choice of equipment and vantage point make all the difference while telling, essentially, the same story.

In the "hangar" shot, the pilot, Heather Saur, has her back to us in that cluster of folks in the center, so I moved in a bit, and switched to a different lens, to frame the aircraft, out of focus, through that cluster. They were planning for a medevac flight, which required not just loading some medical equipment…

…but also cleaning the interior of the cabin due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I chatted with Heather about the MD 900, also known as an MD Explorer, and she lauded its utility, versatility, safety, and low noise operation (those last two enhanced by its lack of a tail rotor). With it she can haul people and equipment in the cabin, carry gear or a firefighting bucket on a line, and if need be, fold up seats and lay in a stretcher. (A note on masking: while some of the crewmembers were sans mask, I was always wearing mine if I was near anyone, anywhere at the base.)

The Bumblebee departed on its medevac run and I prepared to move to another location (nearer the canyon). I figured they would pick up the patient and transport them to a local hospital, which would undoubtedly take a while. My car was parked near the ground equipment of another helicopter, a K-MAX, and I got to chatting with those folks (readers of my articles will know I have a lot of experience with that model aircraft (though you may not be aware that I have at least as much experience with MD Explorers, having flown many air-to-air missions with them)). And just like this paragraph, the chatting went on for a while when, suddenly, a ground ambulance pulled into the lot. "Hey! I bet the Bumblebee is bringing the patient here!"

Sure enough, a little later the Explorer came zipping in over the forest and settled onto the ramp where, once the rotors were stopped, the ambulance backed in through the gate (above) and picked up the patient (below), a firefighter who, I believehad injured her ankle. (I, of course, purposefully did not photograph the patient in an identifiable manner, in accordance with HIPAA regulations.)

With that bit of excitement captured, I did push on to a Grand Canyon overlook called The Abyss. Why? Because this deep canyon provides useful terrain for aircraft entering and exiting the canyon proper, and provided me a photogenic vantage point for photographing those aircraft. (It might also be preferable for operators by not being visible from the major tourist viewpoints, thus not disturbing visitors' reveries. That's just a guess, though.)

How photogenic? I thought you'd never ask! Here's the view from The Abyss. Notice the slightly yellower clouds near the horizon in the center, and the darker column of something-or-other at the left edge of that center section? Here. I'll zoom in for you.

That darker column is smoke rising from a wildfire on the north rim of the canyon. On the day I was there the helibase was active with aircraft working that fire. I never saw the Bumblebee head toward the fire, though it ran other errands in and out of the canyon, but Huey, K-MAX, and Air Crane helicopters came and went that way. (Look for those in the photo essay!) But we're here, today, for the jauntily-clad Explorer, so let's wrap up with a few images of it from this vantage point.

The wind had picked up, at least along the ridge where I was standing, blowing into the canyon, so Heather executed a single rising orbit to gain the altitude she needed to exit the canyon against that headwind. This image has her about 270 degrees through that maneuver.

Here she is rising out of the depths of the Grand Canyon, one of nature's most wondrous wonders.

The lighting this day was mostly cloudy, which is not always useful, but especially considering the subject — a black-and-white(-and yellow) helicopter already has extreme contrast, just in its paint — direct sunlight would have been a challenge. Then again, the overcast means less light overall, so shutter speeds might face their own challenges, in that they have to be slower to allow enough light to reach the sensor, while using a long-focal-length lens usually calls for faster speeds. As always, it's a balancing act.

A little bit closer and nearing the rim, the Bumblebee was not buzzing around for my photographic pleasure, but rocketing past as it climbed out of the gorge. In all of these images, my shutter speed is just a bit faster than I like it for helicopter photography, but even then, considering the very long lens I was using, even with vibration-reducing technology in the lens, it was a challenge to capture the aircraft crisply as it maneuvered.

She has cleared the steeply rising terrain and is headed back to base…

…and, on a separate evolution, heading back in for more.


Unlike the need-for-speed of an air-to-air mission, photographing on the ground allows not just more time, but more options for activities, angles, distances, compositions. A photographer should take advantage of those options to show the aircraft and its crews in multiple ways. From my first photo of the Bumblebee to the last on this day, over nine hours had passed. And I was hustling the entire time (remember, I was photographing other aircraft, too).

The result? Lots of images to choose from. Need a beauty shot for a full-page ad? Got it. Larger landscapes with the aircraft? Details of people working? Less-usual compositions? A collection of images suitable for telling a story in a magazine or annual report? It's all there.

Keep your eyes open, move your feet, and know and use your gear to the max.

Bonus Image

I have never seen an image like this, featuring a (bumble?)bee and the Bumblebee in one shot. I noticed the buzz of activity among these flowers and did what I could to make something interesting. The difference in distance between the camera and the bee, versus the camera and the helicopter, precluded my having both in focus. That was fine by me, though, because if everything were in focus, our eye would probably not notice the bee in flight. By putting only the flowers and the bee in focus, we notice them and then make the connection. "Oh. I get it. It's a bee and the Bumblebee. Ha. Ha." (This would be spoken deadpan, of course.)

A big "thank you" to Papillon and National Park Service for allowing me access to the helibase.

(AeroMark Images) action aerospace aviation color composition environment Explorer flying focus helicopter MD900 MDHI photography technique Wed, 05 Aug 2020 19:34:01 GMT
Framed I am, as I write this, deep into producing a photo essay for a trade magazine about firefighting helicopters in Arizona. Sorting through the thousands of images I've already shot (and I'm not done yet!), I saw a few that gave me the notion for this article — I had "framed" people or aircraft within other objects in the image. You might wonder, "Huh?" then "What? Why?," while I wondered, "Do I have enough examples to illustrate this approach?"

I'll answer my question first: "More than enough!"

As to your questions, well, I'm not quite sure what to do with "huh," but the "what" and "why" are answered below.

These first two images were made in Payson, Arizona, and involve an S-61N that was waiting to be called to a fire burning just a few miles to the west. Above, the fueler has climbed aboard the fuel truck, parked some distance from the helicopter, to check the level in one of the truck's tanks. This image illustrates the basic idea of framing — using elements in the composition to partially or totally surround the subject. In this case, I am looking through the open side door of the S-61, across the interior of the aircraft and through one of its windows. The exposure and focus are set for the man, the result being: the viewer knows exactly what the subject is, but is also treated to a bit of the environment. 

I don't contend that a viewer would know the "frame" is a particular helicopter, or even a helicopter at all (though the circular vent in the window pretty much says "aviation"), but this is still a more eye-catching and interesting photograph than would be one of just the man holding a stick. It has more depth, literally, yes, but cognitively also. There's more to think about, and time spent thinking means time spent with your messaging.

Using the same location and the same "framing" helicopter, the S-61N, I had noticed this AStar coming my way and prepared to capture it as it swept by. Rather than hustle out from behind the Sikorsky, I instead framed the AS350 within the 61's rotor blades. I may have other photos of the AStar isolated against the sky, but that approach yields "aircraft against sky," whereas this composition is about the broader story: aircraft in the foreground, fuel truck next to it, aircraft flying by, Mogollon Rim scenery beyond it all. Again, more depth, visually and conceptually.

Notice some differences in this example compared to the first — the subject is an object in motion (rather than a person), the frame is a visual confluence of elements in the composition, not an actual, fixed, aperture like the window through which we see the fueler, and all the elements in the frame are understood for what they are. Notice, too, a similarity — we know what the main subject is, despite that subject being relatively small in the frame, by how it is constrained within a larger composition.

This technician at Fort Hood, Texas, above, is testing communications gear in a Humvee. Most of us might not recognize this as a Humvee, but if that were important to a story it would be shown or explained elsewhere. For this article, the point is how I've framed the technician with elements of the vehicle and gear. Only his face and portions of his headset are in focus, and except for the yellow wire in the foreground, his face is the most colorful area in the photograph. We know he's the subject. Now compare that image to this next one.

The framing now includes far more of the equipment and some of our attention is drawn to it, but as what we see of those bits of gear are cabling and their backsides (in particular, no controls), we still understand where our attention is intended — the technician. Providing a range of similar-but-different compositions gives a writer or graphic designer more options to tell the "story" as best supports your goals.

I certainly have many photos of the airmedical EC135, above, air-to-air, air-to-ground, and with both of us on the ground. In these two renditions, though, I opted to give a nod to the hospital by framing its name through the aircraft. Each is more visually interesting than a simple photo of that University of Tennessee at Knoxville Trauma Center signage and, as with the previous two, a range of compositions offers a writer or designer options. By shooting through the aircraft, I also tie the hospital to its aviation connection. (I suspect every example in this article is one of the several, or many, shots I made of the same subject. Shoot a lot — options are good.)

The Chinook, above, was parked at the end of a day on call for firefighting near Tucson. I chose this image to illustrate using foliage as a "frame," which suggests being located in the wilds of wherever. The sharp-eyed among you might notice the green traffic light smack dab in the middle of the image, giving the lie to this being too remote, but the overall sense is, indeed, of an aircraft parked in the "boonies" rather than in a 200-foot x 300-foot parking lot adjacent to a six-lane highway.

By the way, just because it is near a highway doesn't mean it, or the several other helicopters, and their crews are living the high life — they are occupying an abandoned boy's school, devoid of any extant buildings, its past life evidenced only by broken tile floors and concrete pads among desert plants and animals, including rattlesnakes.

A different Chinook, a different location (northeast of Phoenix). This mechanic is securing the main rotor blades at the end of their day, also fighting fires. Like it was with the fueler, this person is framed by a helicopter, but in this case the framing is done by the aircraft on which the person is working. Also, unlike the fueler seen through the open door and the window of the S-61, most viewers in this industry would understand the aircraft type, even though it is mostly out of focus.

Once I'd captured a number of those "tighter" shots, I widened the composition to capture the woman holding the blade's tie-down rope but kept the guy on top in the shot as, basically, a little treat for someone who might notice him there. And if you didn't notice him then, well, the photo still works, even if the more obvious "frame" of rotor blade-rope-ramp-aircraft is enclosing just a bit of the scenery. I think when we first view this image, we are drawn to the woman smiling, but with his red helmet visible among all of those intricate shapes, our eyes are then drawn to the corner, despite it occupying but a small area of the image. Then our eyes dart back to the woman smiling, then back to the corner. Fun…and effective, by engaging the viewer for longer and, for some, a sense of satisfaction at "discovering" the guy in the helmet.

Akin to the maintainer securing the blades on the Chinook, this soldier inspecting a UH-60 tail rotor at Fort Hood, Texas, is framed by the aircraft on which he is working. In this example, though, we are closer, the person is visually larger, and the framing elements are at the tips of his fingers. The result is a more intimate feeling to the image.


In an exception that proves the rule, the Bell 206 that is framed through the windscreen of this S-76C++ is not the subject of the photo, but does play its role in  giving the photo context: an air-to-air shoot where, for the moment, the video crew is in the Bell as we both head for the Gulf of Mexico from Houma, Louisiana. The details of the interior of this Sikorsky attract our eyes, but seeing the other helicopter lets us know we're out here doing something, not just flying.

I'll wrap up the "images" portion of this piece by circling back to the story I'm working on; firefighting aircraft in Arizona. This is a pilot and his AStar, which is equipped for, and assigned to, helitack duties. They each sit awaiting a callout from the San Carlos Apache Airport near the mining town of Globe. The Cessna provides both shade for the pilot and, in this image, frames for the pilot (strut-shade-chain) and the helicopter (strut-wing-fuselage). A two-fer!


The "what" of framing is visually placing the subject in the confines formed by one or more elements in a composition.

A literal frame works, like a window (see the first image, above), as can a formation of objects and/or phenomena (the strut and the shadow being examples, respectively, in the final image). The frame can be large or small, the object within the frame can be large or small.

The "why" of framing is, usually, focus with context. The frame might consist of non-identifiable elements, clearly identifiable elements or, perhaps, elements that are identifiable but unimportant in their own right. A frame can allow you to communicate, in essence, the forest and the tree.

The S-61N through which we see the fueler in that first image is, as stated, not necessarily identifiable as such, yet the composition works because the subject is clear and the frame suggests an aviation environment. Showing just the fueler on his truck would not suggest aviation at all unless there were markings to make that connection.

In the close-up of the maintainer in the red helmet securing the rotor blade on top of the Chinook, he is obviously the subject while, despite being out of focus, the aircraft type is not in question.

The other Chinook is shown through trees and shrubs, which we understand to be trees and shrubs. The flora gives context while being, in terms of their particular species, unimportant.

There are other techniques or conditions at play in these photos — use of color, leading lines, depth of focus, where people in the photo are looking — that play into our understanding of the situations or actions above. The use of frames is, indeed, just one of the many tools at a photographer's disposal, one that works well with others.

The "trick," if we were to call it that, of creating a frame in photography is to remain open to seeing useful and appropriate ones, then acting on that recognition. Sometimes they come and go pretty quick, but they can give an image staying power.



(AeroMark Images) aerospace aviation composition environment focus frame framing light lighting photography technique Wed, 15 Jul 2020 04:39:39 GMT
A Lot In A Little When you are "burning dinosaur bones," as Chris Cornell put it, efficiency is important. The direct operating costs of a Robinson R22 helicopter might run $150-200/hour, while small turbine-powered helos can cost five times that amount. So, if you put up a good-size twin-engine turbine, like the Sikorsky S-76C++ you see in the following images, and a Eurocopter AS350 to carry the photographer, there's some real money being spent on beating the air. That photographer had better make good use of those burnt bones.*

The goal, as always, is to make eye-catching imagery that is maximally useful, making, also, the most of the time aloft.

There's a lot to see, so let's see how that photographer did. (Spoiler: The photographer was me, and I did a great job.) I'll touch on aesthetics and technique both, depending on the image. (Second Spoiler: The images get bolder the further you read.)

This first image, above, doesn't really grab a viewer, even if capturing the aircraft against that shadowed area certainly allows it to stand out. We appear to be in a wilderness area of no real grandeur, so why shoot and show this one?. To illustrate that I was just warming up, getting the focus dialed in and the exposure set, ready for this next shot.

We more than literally flew past the Hollywood Sign — it came and went in a mere 15 seconds, during which I shot 9 frames at 4 different zoom settings — so I made the first shot to prepare for what was going to be a short window. Then, no time to celebrate, but on to other locations, other backgrounds, other opportunities!

Not an iconic background like the Hollywood Sign, but indicative of an urban area, framing a beauty shot of the aircraft. There's actually a lot going on in this photo that keeps our attention on the aircraft. The S-76 is in direct sunlight, so is very bright. That direct sun, a setting sun actually, also means the aircraft is "warm," while most of each building and all of the streets are illuminated by the blue sky, so "cool." And notice how the background is soft, not crisply focused? I normally keep my ISO setting (the sensitivity of my camera's sensor) as low as practicable so I can keep the aperture of the lens (the size of the hole through which the light passes) large. That large aperture means less of the scene, from near to far, is in focus. Here, the helicopter is and the background isn't.

In focus.

Bright versus dark, warm versus cool, in-focus versus not — the aircraft fairly pops out of the frame.

This image is much like the previous one — bright/dim, warm/cool, in/out-of-focus. The warm/cool thing is even more stark, though the in/out-of-focus is less pronounced because I left the camera's shutter open for a bit longer to capture more rotor blur (not that the previous shot was lacking in that regard). A slower shutter means a smaller aperture, and that means more is in focus, near to far. (Especially viewed smaller, as we do in this article, the background might appear in focus, but it's not.)

Something that further differentiates this second pair of images? They are in the vertical, also called portrait, orientation, compared to the horizontal/landscape orientation of the first pair. Each orientation lends itself to particular applications, and I point this out to emphasize the value of capturing images in both orientations during a shoot, unless you have zero need for one or the other. As an example, look at this next image, made 14 seconds after the preceding one.

I've left plenty of space around the aircraft, too, which might be useful in an ad or brochure, where text or inset graphics could find a home, or just to emphasize the environment in which the aircraft operates.

And if you like having space around the aircraft, you might love this next composition as it stretches out to the horizon where the setting sun is illuminating the haze, lowering the contrast and delivering an atmospheric look, while the aircraft flies nearby, bold and un-hazy. I expect there's a graphic designer looking at this right now and thinking, "ooh, I could put a great-looking headline right across that bare space!"

Of course, including all that background means the aircraft appears small, which might limit the utility of the shot if it seems there is too much not-aircraft in the photo for a particular application. Well, by capturing these images with a high-pixel-count camera, hefty cropping is possible while still retaining print-quality resolution. The following image is an 11 x 8.5-inch crop of the above, and the aircraft still more-than-fills the frame. Yay, pixels!

An additional point to make about the images I've shown so far: they are all from the right side of the aircraft. If the photographer's aircraft allows only access to shoot from one side, it's possible the images will be restricted to seeing the target from one side. Such was not the case on this mission, and I switched from left to right sides of my platform throughout the flight.

Here's one from the left side of the S-76, which shows even starker bright/dim and warm/cool contrasts; and thank goodness — if those buildings had also been lighted by the sun, the aircraft would have been fighting for visual dominance against their angles and facets.

Vertical/portrait orientations are a challenge when showing a helicopter from the side, since they are physically long objects. Still, you should try to capture such arrangements in case they are needed to show off the profile of the aircraft while also fitting, graphically, onto something like a full-page magazine ad or the cover of a report.

I'd had enough of the city, so we headed to the ocean with the Sikorsky leading the way. By this time, the sun was fast approaching the horizon, so the lighting keeps changing. There is still a bit of direct sun on a few buildings, while most are in shade, and it appears the sky is no longer blue overhead, so the light in the shadows has warmed up. We still have good contrast in brightness levels and sharpness, which keeps the aircraft definitely the focus of our attention — and get a load of the reflection of the horizon in the glass!

When we made the beach, our first destination was the Santa Monica Pier. There's no denying the pier is one stop in our visual appreciation of this composition, but by giving the aircraft and the pier each their own space in the image, we can enjoy them both without the former clashing on top of the latter.

We leave the pier behind and I capture a simple portrait of the aircraft against an energetic yet non-distracting background as we head northwest along the coast.

Back to the other side of my, and the target, aircraft, taking full advantage of that gorgeous sunset for both its lighting and for catching another reflection of that horizon. It appears, too, that the sky overhead has again gone blue. If we were pointed northwest a moment ago, and are now pointed southeast, we will again discover…

…the Santa Monica Pier. But this time, we maneuver around to its southern face and the entire scene is backlit, de-emphasizing the colors of the pier and the aircraft, letting the ocean, mountains, and sky take the front seat, color-wise. There are so many elements, yet we are not confused about the subject, despite it not occupying even one-tenth of the image area. Notice that our attention flits from aircraft to pier, then up to run along those indigo mountains to the left edge of the frame, then back to the aircraft, the pier, and finally back to the aircraft. Always back to the aircraft.

My aircraft skirts around to the shoreward side of the Sikorsky, putting that aircraft against nothing but ocean, in blue, contrasting with that gorgeous orange/yellow sky. I can't recall if I timed the shot to grab one with the red strobe flashing on, but sometimes I make that effort as it can really help with these otherwise backlighted compositions, bringing some extra "life" to the aircraft. Sometimes you just get lucky. Whichever it was, effort of luck, I'll take it!

We return to the city, but have one more stop to make before heading for home. This image is not that stop, but it grabbed my attention, what with the violet lighting on the background, left over from the deepening sky.

And this isn't it, either, but shows I've moved back to the other side of my aircraft, is a vertical shot showing high-rise buildings to really communicate "city," and that city is much less in focus than the aircraft, though we are again hampered in seeing that difference at this small size.

We were closing the gap between us and positioning the two aircraft for the final shot, but still I was watchful for interesting compositions and caught this one as it floated by.

So, where is that final destination? The last place we want to see? The coup de grâce? Why, it's the 405!


It might sound kinda funny that a mere road, the 405 Freeway, was our final destination, but we had in mind a truly stunning image with traffic on that road: Legendary traffic heading north from Los Angeles after sunset and, by gum, that's what we put together.**

It's not an easy shot, either. Hovering helicopters are not pinned to a point in the sky, immovable in the air. They are constantly shifting left and right, up and down, by usually small increments, which can help or hurt the pursuit of a composition. Still, thanks to the skill of the pilots in both aircraft, I was able to capture just the shot we had in mind. And in case you thought I might have forgotten…

…I shot it in landscape orientation, too.


In these 20 images (Really? 20? Yes.) we saw the aircraft large and small in the frame, the frame oriented tall and wide, the lighting direct and indirect, the backgrounds detailed and important or not. In other words, these 20 images provide a broad range of choices to show off an aircraft and its operations. And choice means having the right tools to communicate effectively. If a customer saw two images — one on the web and a totally different image in a brochure — they might not even suspect they were shot in the same 50-minute flight.

Wait! Did I just say the flight was only 50 minutes?

Yes, though I admit that's not the full story. From the first photo, above, to the last, only 38 minutes had transpired. The other few minutes were occupied in transiting from the Van Nuys Airport to the first shot, and from the last shot back to the airport.


When setting up an air-to-air shoot, make the most of everything at your disposal. Plan for the right time of day — very early or very late work well not only because the main light source is low in the sky, better revealing the dimensionality of the subject, but the light is usually less harsh, more colorful, and more changeable, as the sun rises or sets. Plan for a variety of locations or backgrounds, and approach them from different directions. Shoot a variety of compositions, not always filling the frame with the aircraft, and shoot in both vertical/portrait and horizontal/landscape orientations.

And, by the way, shoot a lot. I mean, a lot! These 20 were selected from nearly 900 frames I captured in those 38 minutes. If I had been shooting on 24-exposure rolls of 35 mm film, that would have been one roll through the camera every minute!

They say time is money, but when aircraft are running, it is truly money that is money. Make that money worth the most it can be.

A big "thank you" to Helinet Aviation in Van Nuys, California, for the very productive flying.

* I know that direct operating costs for helicopters comprise much more than just the fuel burn, but it's not as poetic to say, "when you are burning fuel, consuming oil, deteriorating seals, stressing rotors, eroding compressor blades, insuring machines and people, and just plain ol' spinning up the Hobbs meter," compared to "burning dinosaur bones." I recalled that line from a song, but couldn't remember who sang it. So, I checked around and discovered it was written by Chris Cornell of, at the time, Soundgarden, one of the leading "grunge" bands, though he was not referring to helicopter operations. As an added humorous note, I was actually familiar with the song as performed by Johnny Cash. Who knew Cash did grunge?

** You can see this image on the cover of the 2nd Quarter 2020 issue of ROTOR, the magazine of Helicopter Association International, by following this link. In addition to the photos populating that story, there are 11 more pages of content by yours truly!

(AeroMark Images) action aerospace air-to-air aviation color composition environment flying focus helicopter Helinet light lighting photography Sikorsky technique Wed, 24 Jun 2020 14:27:50 GMT
Picturing History In my years as an aerospace photographer, and as the son of a USAF fighter pilot and as just a plain ol' guy who likes airplanes, I have been around many vintage aircraft. Whether in museums, at airports, or even in the wild, those older machines have a certain appeal, born of nostalgia and, probably, a more easily seen and appreciated level of technology.

Here, I share a bit of what I've been drawn to and have captured on film or in digits and, in some cases, how I altered that original image.

And I'll do that with images of one of the all-time favorite vintage aircraft, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. I mean, who doesn't love the Flying Fortress?! (Don't worry if you don't actually love the it, perhaps because you've no idea what it is; the tips I'm sharing are applicable across the board.)

First I'll run through some variations on a theme, then I'll show a few more images and discuss them. Lots to see, so dig in!

I'll start with this beauty, the B-17G "Sentimental Journey," belonging to the Commemorative Air Force. I've taken advantage of the clouds and soft lighting to capture and create a very pleasant portrait of the aircraft in flight. It appears I liked both the "warm" clouds below and the "cool" ones above, so I split the difference and placed the aircraft across the middle. I did, however, not center the aircraft left-to-right in the frame. I left space on the left for the Fortress to fly into, a place for it to go.

Folks knowledgeable about the markings on this aircraft recognize it and understand this could not be a photo from the '40s. Still, that doesn't mean we can't play with it to suggest a 75-year-old image. I'll do that in a few different ways, to show some of what's possible.

One approach is to turn it into a black-and-white image, as that film type was the most common at the time. Merely converting to black-and-white isn't quite enough to send us back to the war, though, so I've also added what would have been film "grain," the small, gritty variations in brightness that you see best in the now-gray clouds. Notice, too, the vignetting in the corners of the frame, the darkening, simulating how most lenses don't project a uniform amount of light across the entire image. Even modern lenses can suffer from this, but especially in a camera that would have been carried onboard another aircraft of that era, this was a common optical defect.

For a final touch, I added a ragged frame to what would be this "print" of the image. It is just another little message that says, "hey, old photo here!" I would note, though, that this is still a fairly clean rendition, possibly representing a modern print of an old piece of film, so let's take a more ragged approach to aging the photo.

I've gone black-and-white again, but with much different settings. First, note the lower contrast and brightness. Details, especially in the shadowy areas of the aircraft, are much less distinct. The vignetting is less aggressive, but I've added streaks of paleness which, to my eye, suggest uneven chemical processing of the original 35 mm film (the proportions of the image, 3:2, suggest that film size). Then, for good measure in making this an old print of an old piece of film, I've added splotchy staining which could result from improper washing of the print when it was made all those years ago. Not all of the chemicals were removed when the print was made and, over the years, those chemicals have discolored the paper.

But color film did exist, so let's go for a color rendition and see what that could look like!

There were some good color films at the time, but their sensitivity wasn't as good as it is today, which means more graininess or slower shutter speeds — or both. And if you were in a war zone, keeping the film stored and shot within its preferred narrow range of temperatures was a problem, which can lead to even more graininess and detours from color accuracy. Plus, you know, war zone, so dirty camera and optics and iffy processing. In this image I've got the graininess, though I've not let the colors move too far from the original — plus flecks of dirt and that vignetting again, with some of that inconsistent chemical processing across the span of the frame.

Why "age" a modern photo? Without wandering into fooling a viewer for illegal or unethical reasons, in marketing, converting an obviously "new" product or scene to a vintage look can be eye-catching with its juxtaposition of vintage with modern. Maybe you are preparing images as a prop in a film or for the theater. Or, you might just want a photo that looks old; a print for your wall.

But let's move on, starting with an image I made many years ago, indeed, on actual film.

Luke AFB, west of Phoenix, Arizona, would host an annual air show back in the day. I had attended, this particular year (1990, maybe?), with my wife and my best friend, who is also an Air Force "Brat." When the show was over, we headed to my car where, just as we reached it and were putting away our gear, the B-17 from the show flew over on its way home, wherever that was. I lifted my camera to my eye and, clicking the shutter button on what turned out to be the last frame on that roll of film — and with a wide angle lens, no less — captured the aircraft. It was mere coincidence that one bit of lens flare neatly encircled the bomber, and that small, dark object toward the lower right is a P-51 Mustang, angling in to join up with the Fortress.

The lesson from this image is: be prepared, then shoot what you've got. (By the way, notice the vignetting! That's all natural, due to the lens and its settings for this shot.)

This B-17, being chased by a Beechcraft Bonanza, is taxiing toward turning off the runway, its low ground speed making it easier for me to balance competing blurs — one blur I want, the other I don't.

Keeping some blur in the propeller blades is important, aesthetically, so keeping the shutter open a long time is good. Blurred blades show the engines are turning and, thus, the aircraft is being powered along. Keeping the shutter open for a long time while the aircraft is changing its distance to the photographer, however, could result in a blurry aircraft, which I don't want. So, to balance the two requirements I set the shutter speed for this frame at 1/400 sec. Blurry blades but un-blurry fuselage.

Notice the amount of blade blur in the series of photos at the start of this article — the shutter speed there was 1/250 sec., allowing even blurrier blades, but I was able to track the aircraft's motion and, thus, not bring home a blurry aircraft. (I just saw a photo of President Eisenhower's first Air Force One airplane, shot just a couple of years ago, as it was floating in for a landing. The photographer must have used a very short shutter speed because the propeller blades appeared to be motionless, which gives a viewer the impression that all the engines were shut down. Yikes!)

The image has other attributes that commend it, though, so I don't want you to think about only blurs.

The camera is positioned low and, thus, is looking up at the aircraft, imparting both grandeur and menace. It gives the B-17 a real "presence."

We see elements of the near foreground, then the Fortress, the Bonanza, the treeline and, finally, the mountains and clouds. Lots of depth to the image, lots of environment, but the B-17 is the obvious subject, trailed only slightly by the Bonanza, literally and figuratively. And for my money, as nice as the photo would be without the Beechcraft, it is that tiny detail that keeps me looking. I didn't arrange for that aircraft to be there, but I surely took advantage of it when it was.

The same B-17 had, minutes before, actually lifted off that same runway, roaring over me for a quick flight. I'll convert it from color to black-and-white, intending not to appear vintage, but for its own aesthetic reasons. (Note the same 1/400 sec. shutter speed as the taxiing photo, though more blur to the blades due to the higher engine speed on take-off.) The full-color image has much to commend it — clarity, the thrill of being, essentially, overrun by a majestic machine, a slight tilt adding a bit of visual energy, and the contrasting colors of the sky and the ground, the latter reflected in the polished aluminum skin.

Unfortunately, that reflected ground also suggests a dinginess or griminess. By converting the image to black-and-white, though, we lose the reflected ground colors, the source of the apparent griminess, and can now better appreciate all the textures. Not just in the aircraft, either, as the overhead clouds now contrast in their softer swirls with the crisp details of the airframe.

Either might suit your needs, color or black-and-white, just keep in mind the possibilities of going black-and-white to calm unattractive or clashing colors, to bring attention to details that color might be overshadowing, to coordinate images from different sources which don't otherwise fit together stylistically, or just to be different and, thus, add a change of pace to a brochure, ad, annual report, or web site.

(You can read an article all about switching an image to black-and-white here.)

B-17 cockpit flag Chandler 20120415 01
Aviation Day 15 April 2012

I'll wrap up with this patriotic composition, which happens to work as black-and-white and color, both, in a single image.

I was covering an airport's open house, so visitors were allowed into some aircraft, a fact I wanted to show without bringing too much attention to the particulars of the person we see inside. Beyond that, it's a detail shot that plays with shapes more than forms: the various diagonal lines seen through the cockpit, the soft curves of engine cowling (bottom right corner) and top turret (at left). And in the midst of those more rigid elements, a flag.

That American flag is the only colorful element in the image. Yes, a bit of one yellow propeller tip is visible, and the sky is blue and the paint along the fuselage ahead of the pilots is green, but those colors are all very muted, barely registering as colors in the viewer's eyes. It's the flag that really stands out.

Of course, I could remove all the color, even the muted ones, except for the flag. That could work, though it does bring attention to the manipulation. In this case, I took advantage of the nature of the scene to let the flag do its patriotic duty in the otherwise dull world in which it found itself. The flag stands proud, no manipulation required.

The Takeaway

We might be so overcome by seeing a true vintage airplane (or helicopter or fishing boat, for that matter) that we allow our emotions to short circuit our good sense of photography. Our memories or fantasies might lead us to think that just snapping a snap will yield an image that conveys all that we're feeling. Usually, it doesn't. So, yes, enjoy and fantasize, but when you put a camera to your eye, also put effort into making an image that might make, for someone else, a memory worth keeping.

(AeroMark Images) aerospace aging airplane aviation b&w B17 Boeing bomber color composition conversion convert environment Flying Fortress photography technique vintage Wed, 10 Jun 2020 18:17:53 GMT
Looking at Bones Over the past 15 years, I have spent many days with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. The facility is colloquially referred to as "the boneyard," a term I also use because it's recognized by most people, though boneyard is not a particularly apt descriptor of the function of the 309th AMARG. Most coverage of the boneyard shows off the fast movers — the fighters and bombers. I've photographed those also, but am often drawn, or hired, to photograph the less usual objects or scenes. I'll share a few of those photos and, of course, talk a bit about the photography. It's a bit of a behind-the-scenes tour that few people have, or could have, seen. Enjoy.

Helicopters don't get the kind of coverage the fixed-wing aircraft get, but I've shot the rotary-winged residents many times. The tan Cobra, above, had been there two years when, in 2006, I captured this image while shooting for an article in a trade magazine. The composition manages to emphasize the skeletal appearance of the protective coatings, shows there are more than one Cobra in storage — along with ranks of other aircraft, closer on the right, farther on the left — all in a desert environment. The sizes and positions of those various elements lead the eye through the composition, communicating a rich story without jumbling them up.

Purgatory is a better analog for the most visible elements of these 2,600 acres, the many thousands of aircraft* baking in the sun. However, these fighters, bombers, reconnaissance, cargo, and miscellaneous other, vehicles are most often not headed for the scrap heap, not rotting in a graveyard, but are being maintained at some level of readiness, pending a future need. That need might require a flyable aircraft, or it might be a spare part from one of these denizens of the desert, with "spare part" being anything from specialized hardware to hydraulics, avionics, or major structures. The Cobras were there in the role of parts donor.

This sad UH-34 Choctaw has been hanging around for quite a while, having arrived in 1973. It was one of at least three helicopters that served President Eisenhower as "Army One." It might yet be restored and displayed somewhere, but for now…

Notice how I positioned the camera below eye level for both this and the Cobra photo. It is often good compositional practice to not run the horizon across the middle of a photo, since that arrangement is usually less visually interesting, all things being equal. From below eye level, you aim the camera somewhat up at the subject, which puts the horizon lower in the image. In the Cobra photo, the low camera position also kept the distant aircraft from intruding as much on the subject. For the Choctaw, looking up from the low position imparts a grandeur to the subject, yielding what is called a "hero shot," which seemed appropriate for a former presidential transport.

Not every airframe gets such presidential treatment, though…

The preceding trio are a true rarity among photos from AMARG: destruction in action. These C-141 Starlifters were some of the last of their kind and we see, here, their final moments as recognizably Starlifters. The tracked Caterpillar is using its grapple to tear through a wing root of one, after which it dragged the disarticulated wing off to the side, then it chewed through another's fuselage, aft of the wing box — we see the empennage falling away — then, from the other side, chewed through forward of the wing box.

Witnessing the fuselage lifting a bit, then dropping, repeatedly, then rolling on its side, was oddly emotional to me. It honestly felt like watching a helpless animal being torn apart by a predator. I tried to capture some of that motion, most visible in the middle of the three images, by choosing a very slow shutter speed and, thus in that frame, recording the blur of the vertical and horizontal stabilizers as they fell.

The successor to the C-141 was the C-5 Galaxy, and that's what we see next.

This is the front office, the flight deck, of a Galaxy. They have subsequently applied opaque coatings over the windows, so you can no longer see both inside and out. The challenge in being able to see out is: the sun can come in. Thus, this image is a high dynamic range assemblage of five different photos, shot from the same spot (I think I had to jam my camera against the ceiling, since I wasn't equipped with a tripod), each shot made with different exposure settings to capture the full range of brightnesses.

Without this technique, the brightness levels are of such extreme difference, from direct sunlight on parts of the interior, to other areas in deep shade, no single shot from a camera can show everything clearly. (You can read more about the technique in a couple of earlier articles: Looking Inside HDR and Taming Dynamic Range. The latter explains the technique using yet another boneyard aircraft that is no longer available — the Boeing 747 that was outfitted to carry an ICBM-destroying laser. It was scrapped in 2014.)

At the other end of the C-5 is a passenger compartment with seating for 75 or so. The seats face the rear of the airplane, which is surely safer, though it must feel a bit odd compared to the forward-facing seats we're all used to. And don't think you can watch the world go by, albeit backwards, in flight — there are but two windows, one each in two emergency exits. The one in this photo is on the starboard side of the cabin, and that rope hanging on the right is how you are to make it to the ground which, I think, is 20+ feet below.

Behind that passenger compartment is the empennage of the massive aircraft, its interior visible through a pair of large circular panels on the back wall of the compartmnet. I've heard it told that the volume of this space, not used for anything but access to some of the mechanicals back there, is larger than the cargo compartment of the C-130 Hercules. I can't say that's true, but it is a fascinating sight nonetheless.

One of two Boeing YC-14 prototypes, this one stored with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona.

Speaking of the C-130, there's one in the above image, but I figured I'd feature a far more rare aircraft, a Boeing YC-14, both enjoying a rare meteorological event for this desert town — fog. Only two of these Boeings were built, and I've photographed them before, but I was quick to take advantage of the fog to make this, and many other, images. The weather was not what I expected, and it cleared up soon after this, but you know what they say: "When life gives you lemons, take photos of the lemons!" (Or something like that.)

On the opposite end of the rarity scale is the F-4 Phantom II, which readers of mine will know I have a fondness for; my father was a Phantom pilot in the Air Force. While the aircraft was made by the thousands, they left USAF service in 2016 and are nearing the end of their service with a few of our allies (this is May of 2020, so they might all be retired when you're reading this in the future). I covered the last USAF flights at Holloman AFB, but there was a less spectacular milestone at the boneyard a couple years before that, and we see it below.

This RF-4C, 68-0599, is getting its final preflight, then taxiing out, for its final flight before being converted to a QF model. It had been resurrected and would be flown elsewhere to receive the remote control radios and actuators to function as a target drone. 0599 was the last Phantom pulled from the boneyard for such service.

I'll admit the taxiing photo suffers by the nose of the F-4 visually running into that A-10, but by the time the Rhino (a nickname for the type) rolled past the Warthog (a nickname for that type), the crew were not looking my way. You do the best you can in a dynamic environment, right?

Indeed, it was as high-speed target drones that the last Phantoms flew for the Air Force. But if that ended in 2016, what aircraft model has the service been targeting and, if planned and succeeded, shooting down? The answer is: the QF-16 Fighting Falcon. Yep, they've been pulling older Vipers out of the boneyard so the Air Force can put them back in the sky to track, target, and terminate. Of course, this means AMARG has been busy.


wanted a wide shot of this hangar, which housed not only F-16 work but, as evidenced by seeing a bit of a Warthog on the left, some work on the A-10. (In the past, AMARG had completed a service life extension program (SLEP) on the A-10, but I don't recall what they were doing with them here; I was there for a QF-16 story.)

This is yet another high dynamic range photo, required due to the image encompassing both outside, fully sunlit, and interior elements that I wanted to show together. I also used a bit of the building's structure, forming this wide, sideways, "V" at the right, to frame the workspace, adding more visual energy and immediacy than if I'd positioned my camera outside the structure.

The opposite of that wide view, I suppose, would be this inside view of an F-16 engine compartment, sans engine. It's not a common sight, and it helps illustrate two aspects of the aircraft's design: the serpentine shape of the intake, seen at the front and, centered on the left and right edges, those gray blocks are the mounting points for the engine. Two steel pins, one on each side bolted into a gray block, form the bulk of the structural, mechanical, connection of the engine to the airframe. All of the thrust of that engine is transmitted through just those two points. Amazing.

I'll end with my most recent photo, from a series I shot for a trade magazine. I flew over the boneyard, back and forth, at 300 feet, capturing the expanse of the place and the variety of aircraft. I won't name all the models visible in this one shot, but they include Sea Knight, Sea Stallion, Galaxy, Lancer, Eagle, Stratotanker, Stratofortress, Tweet, Hercules, Hornet, and Phantom.

Most people are amazed at what they see here, and rightly so, but they should also be proud that we have the foresight and wherewithal to maintain this critical stockpile of materiel that can be flown out or picked apart to support not only our own armed forces, but those of our allies, too. Around half-a-billion (that's billion with a "b") dollars of aircraft and components are reclaimed and returned to service every year. No, this is definitely not a boneyard — it's a treasure house of some of our greatest machines.

Of course, I must give a large "thank you" to the folks at AMARG. I've been interfacing with, and been hosted by, some of the same people this entire 15 years. They've always been super cooperative and I hope to keep working with them in the future.

* While it was heavier-than-air craft that were originally placed on ice (hah!) in Tucson, with the addition of some ICBM-related hardware in the 1980s, the facility changed its name from Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center to Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, then later to Group. Despite those rocket parts plus, unless it has gone elsewhere, a Navy blimp's gondola, I'll just use "aircraft" to take in the entire sweep of their inventory.

(AeroMark Images) aerospace airplane Arizona aviation bomber boneyard cargo composition environment environmental fighter HDR helicopter photography storage technique Mon, 18 May 2020 22:28:14 GMT
Fascinating Faces I am producing a series of books, with a very limited distributionon aerospace photography. They are heavy on example images and light on text, yet even if you are not lucky enough to receive one, the content is still worth sharing. And that's what we have below — book 2 of 4: Faces.

Faces are fascinating to us humans. They immediately draw our attention then, from observation and experience, we deduce personality, mood, intent. And from those deductions, we might adjust our expectations, consider our own mood, perhaps modify our own intentions. It’s complicated, and it’s automatic.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance with LUH aircraftSikorsky Aerospace Maintenance with LUH aircraft

Photographs of faces are particularly interesting because the image freezes in time the expression that lets us ponder so much about the person. Here are examples of those frozen moments, along with a few notes about the how and why of a good photo.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

A smile is always appreciated, isn’t it? These men, above and below, appear calm, confident, and comfortable being photographed. That’s good whether you’re looking at the shop floor or mahogany row.

One trap to avoid when eliciting a smile is using a humorous comment or question that, while yielding a smile, brings with it a tension around the eyes. (Money, sex, politics — probably best to avoid those.)

Your subject need not look directly at the camera.

This slightly averted gaze can retain the energy of a face looking toward the viewer but, because they aren’t staring directly at us, the image communicates a larger story — there is some other person or activity in the vicinity.

Which brings us to one of my favorite subjects — people working.

They are intent on the task, focused on the details, solving the problems. The photographer’s job is to capture those faces (and bodies) showing their intensity, focus, cogitation.

We can’t see what these soldiers are looking at, but it must be important which, in addition to the eye-catching eyes, at right, and the vibrant color,* that mystery engages us in the image.

* By the way, the soldiers were not actually operating under red lighting — I put a red gel on a flash unit, which I located off-camera.

Sometimes it’s just paperwork.

Sometimes it’s being cramped in the belly of a jet fighter while a camera lens is poked through an access panel and the shutter tripped without the photographer seeing what the camera is about to capture.

A special challenge arises when you’re photographing a pilot, airborne at the controls. Many such photos end up looking like the inset below. Not good if the intent is to feature the person. Better to, without compromising safety, get the camera in front of the pilot.


Combining an intense gaze with those crossed arms denotes a seriousness demanding to be noticed. These men were posed for an ad in which their images would be composited together — they are serious about their work and we wanted to communicate that. Done!

Or, you just let a person’s personality come through when you briefly interrupt their day.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

Faces: so much communication in such a small space and tiny sliver of time. We are immediately drawn to look at them, to interrogate them for what they have to tell us.

Whether for advertising, marketing, shareholder communications, company morale, community relations, or however you need to tell your stories, using faces wisely and well can be a powerful tool.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

(AeroMark Images) action aerospace attention aviation composition employee environment environmental people person photography portrait portraiture pose posing technique worker Fri, 01 May 2020 15:01:10 GMT
Looking Up I have photographed one model of helicopter over the years that few people have seen, far fewer have piloted, and only a tiny number have flown on*. I speak of the absolutely unique K-MAX from Kaman. It looks different from any other helicopter**, and it acts different, differences that make it ideal for what it is designed to do: lift things.

Starting in 2005, those projects have taken me from Alaska to Puerto Rico, with many stops in between. Much of that photography has been from the ground, which presents challenges for any photographer charged with supporting the communications/marketing/etc. needs of their client. But that's my job, so here are some tips for making good images when the subject is in the sky and you ain't.

So Far Away…

I'll use photos from a recent multi-day shoot in Las Vegas, starting with a common challenge you face when photographing a helicopter from the ground: the aircraft is not near you.

So much could be better about this photo, not just that the aircraft is small, but also the bright sky leads to the aircraft being nearly a silhouette, devoid of color and surface detail, and with nothing but blank sky, the vignetting in the corners (a characteristic of most lenses, even pro-level ones like this, depending on the aperture setting) is obvious and unattractive. Not visible, because I went to the trouble of removing them, are the dust specks made noticeable by this being such an undetailed field of color.

Of course, I chose that image for demonstration purposes, and though I took the shot, and it might find usefulness if a designer wanted what it has (the vignetting can be repaired in the computer), the issues of the aircraft being far from the photographer and seen against a plain sky are common challenges when shooting aircraft at work.

Still, why make the shot at all?

Because that was the first image I made as the aircraft was arriving to its work site from a local airport. When it appeared in the sky, I got sighted on it, auto-focused the lens, and 5 seconds later made the following image.

Basically, that first image was just prepping for what might happen next which, in this case, was the K-MAX flying past the Wynn Encore hotel and casino in Las Vegas. I wasn't sure of the path it would take, that being dictated by air traffic control at McCarran International Airport, so I had to be vigilant for opportunities as it approached, and took advantage of this one.

Less than a minute later, the aircraft had half-circled around its landing zone and, as it approached, I framed it thus:

So, one tip for a far-away aircraft is to keep your eyes open to compositions that place it in its surroundings. Include the buildings or scenery or nearby celestial objects that give a sense of the environment. That tip is, of course, in addition to having and properly using a long focal length lens.

The In-Between Place

So far, I've not shown the aircraft doing what it does — lifting things — which it does on a long line hanging from its unique hook-on-a-trolley system. The challenge is making eye-catching photography of the aircraft when it might occupy only a small area of the image, as when you are some distance from the action. That's a challenge photographing any aircraft carrying a load on a line, and since that is the K-MAX's raison d'être, you'll get a lot of practice meeting that challenge.

This next one is a nice photo of the aircraft. A head-on shot with rim lighting and a formal composition: the aircraft laterally centered in the frame and the cargo line neatly splitting the image in two, leading right down to the, um, where's the load? The load is not even visible, yet see how small the aircraft has already become?

This next image shows the whole thing: aircraft, line, and load. Yet, something else is missing…

Missing, again, is the environment. We see nothing but aircraft with load, located anywhere in the world because it shows nothing but (vignetted!) sky. Below? A more complete story, with the rooftop and the ground crews muscling the load into place. The aircraft isn't doing much more in this image than it was above, hauling around a big something-or-other, but the image is doing so much more. (That something-or-other is one of 80+ exhaust fans, some in excess of 5,000 pounds, the K-MAX picked up and placed in one day.)

If the photographer can work near where the aircraft is working, other opportunities present themselves. One advantage of being closer to the load is, the line will appear visually shorter. That means the aircraft can appear larger. Of course, nothing comes for free, as yet other challenges can arise. One is demonstrated in this next image.

To capture the aircraft and its load, when working near the aircraft, a wide-angle lens is required, though the "leaning" buildings are the result of my necessarily pointing the camera up, leaving the horizon low in the frame. That geometric convergence might be attractive or distracting, depending on the application. If leaning buildings are acceptable, shoot away.

If not, a yet wider-angle lens, which would still need to be shot from just a bit farther away to capture all the action, might be the solution. That approach, however, further requires pointing the camera level at the horizon, which means also filling half the image with the whatever is in the foreground. Another solution could be the use of a lens capable of shifting its elements, allowing the "view" to be pointed up while keeping the camera aimed at the horizon. I have such a lens, but for a dynamic situation such as this, it would prove unwieldy — it is best suited to static situations, often when architecture is truly the subject.

A third, possible, solution that might come to mind is correcting the distortion in post-processing. That approach has merit in many instances, but is not a panacea. Just look at the following version of the preceding image, which "corrected" the leaning buildings with specialized software. I judge this cure to be worse than the disease; the buildings look natural but the aircraft is wildly distorted and the usable width of the image has narrowed considerably.

When you start getting this close, you also, typically, need to wear personal protective gear for vision and hearing, plus a hard hat. The vision thing might mean safety glasses, which can interfere with looking through the viewfinder; The hearing thing can be awkward, depending on how that is handled and, of course, can interfere with communications for coordination and safety; The hard hat can interfere with holding the camera up to your face, especially for shooting vertically oriented images like these. On this last point, I usually re-arrange the suspension system in my hard hat to put the bill of the hat at the back. That helps.

(Me? I have a forestry hard hat, which has a smaller bill and is fitted with integrated hearing protection, plus true safety glasses in my prescription. What I didn't know in advance was, I would need to wear boots on this job site. And wouldn't you know it? I had pulled my boots from my luggage in preparation for the trip. Why would I need boots in Las Vegas? So, a trip to the local department store and, presto! I now own two pairs of boots!)

Harking back to staying alert to opportunities for interesting photography, I noticed the shadow of the aircraft moving about the roof, so I ran to the shadow and made the following:

The pilot of the K-MAX was maneuvering the aircraft, aligning the load to the allotted locations on the roof, which had me scurrying around, trying to keep the sun behind the aircraft without my tripping over a rooftop protrusion. Sometimes I saw a silhouetted helicopter, and sometimes I got an eyeball full of sunshine. Still, the image was so stunning I repeated this composition on a couple of his placements, and shot at least one while ignoring the load!

Giants in the Sky

Lastly, a bit about image-making from very near the action. Photographically, the opportunities from nearly or precisely below the helicopter can be many, with concomitant, special, challenges.

Looks pretty good, right? Bold, frame-filling, with angular elements and composition adding energy to the image? If we zoom in, especially for smartphone viewers, the defects become (pardon the pun?) clear.

Blurriness a'poppin'! And if you notice how the blurry details are short lines (highlights on rivets are a good place to look), you'll understand this is motion blur. Is this defective image the result of poor camera technique? Improper control settings? Yes, I'll admit to some technique failing here, brought on by totally appropriate control settings.

You see, what might seem an obvious solution to motion blur is not the solution one might hope for: increasing the shutter speed should sharpen everything right up, right? In a sense, yes. But note the main rotor blades. If a shutter speed is chosen fast enough to assure zero motion blur in the fuselage, those rotor blades end up looking blur-less also, and that is not good for a helicopter. (Click here to see my article on that subject explicitly.)

And what if the motion blur is not entirely the result of bad camera handling? If you look at the blur apparent in the upper left corner, it appears less egregious than in the lower right corner. That's because the aircraft is turning to its left, thus twisting in the frame. It's one thing to accurately pan a camera with a moving subject, but this subject is moving not only laterally, but also reorienting itself rotationally.

Another challenge when working close to a working helicopter is rotor downwash, which can not only rock you and your camera about — not good — but can potentially knock you over, so be careful.

And then there's the issue of pointing your camera skyward, as required for the above shot, and trying to keep it steady, downwash or no. Keep in mind, when pointing a camera somewhat level to the ground, your arms and torso can flex to steady your shot. When pointing up, craning your neck and putting your eye to the viewfinder, your body is less equipped to counter the up-and-down motions.

Can it be done, getting a sharp shot with all of the above working against you? Of course. (Why else would I pose the question?) This next image was made less than one second after the preceding one.

Further, when an aircraft is working overhead, the distance is probably not great — a hundred feet? Two hundred? This means their motion, as an angle compared to your static position, is conversely greater. For instance, imagine tracking the motion of a helicopter moving at 30 knots, 300 horizontal feet away, over there, above that electrical tower. That's fairly easy to track, right? Now put the aircraft over your head, a mere 150 feet away, doing 30 knots. You've craned your neck, stretched your arms up to control the camera and lens, are wearing safety glasses and are being buffeted by downwash. Now, track and shoot! Hurry, because things are changing fast.

The difference between the blurry version, above, and the sharp one? Sometimes it's a matter of just shoot, shoot, shoot because you know some will be blurry. Or sometimes you sense your camera or the subject moved during an exposure and you shoot again. You seldom have time to stop and "chimp"*** during a dynamic shooting situation, so pressing the shutter release many times can be your best insurance for coming back with sharp images.

Here is another, good, example of shooting up at a working helicopter. Blurry blades, sharp aircraft, and a load slung in view. (Most of the fans they placed were the large gray cylinders, but a few were these square boxy things.)

Here, There, and Everywhere

There were so many images to choose from in putting together this article. So many. And in those images are so many opportunities to teach and learn. But rather than blather on about what I did, and what you could do, should do, here are a few more images. Look at what I included in the frame. See where the light was coming from. Check out the compositions. In other words, learn what you can from them, and happy shooting! (And don't forget the footnotes — *** — following these images.)

* This operator, ROTAK Helicopter Services, has at least one K-MAX that can be outfitted with an external chair. It's just a tubular metal frame with some flat metal panels for a seat bottom and a seat back which, when installed, has the rider with their back against the fuselage, just forward of the main landing gear beam. Your author is one of the tiny number of people who have flown on that seat. Twice. In Puerto Rico. Images from that project appeared in ROTOR magazine.

** During World War II the German designer Anton Flettner developed helicopters for the German armed forces that featured twin, counter-rotating main rotors similar to what the K-MAX sports. Is it a coincidence the K-MAX has them? Industrial theft? Neither. After the war, Flettner emigrated to the U.S. and eventually became chief designer at Kaman Aircraft.

*** Chimping is the practice of immediately reviewing the images just collected, holding your camera against your chest with the screen pointing up, and your head tilted down; apparently something about this posture reminded someone of a chimpanzee, so, "chimp" it became.

A big thank-you to ROTAK Helicopter Services for inviting me to capture their people and machines in action.

(AeroMark Images) action background cargo composition construction flying helicopter install installation Kaman K-MAX Las lifting long-line photography ROTAK Vegas working Tue, 24 Mar 2020 21:59:20 GMT
Working Details People are endlessly fascinating to look at, and we are instantly drawn to seeing them. In a previous article I addressed looking at them looking at us, while today I will look at them more obliquely. This approach can serve a different purpose than portraiture, showing what they are doing rather than who they are, but even without seeing their eyes, our eyes stop and look.

Here are a smattering of examples.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance with LUH aircraftSikorsky Aerospace Maintenance with LUH aircraft

I'll start with a favorite subject, and an effective one for telling the story of people doing things — hands. They are expressive, capable of both fine control and heavy work. We can immediately relate to the texture or temperature or effort, or any of myriad sensations of the hands we see in photos, because we've touched or wrangled or demonstrated the same, or something similar, with our own hands. This means hands are a particularly effective tool for engaging a viewer. (This is my earlier article on hands.)

The grippiness of the knurled knobs, above, and the stickiness of the adhesive patches, below, are examples that we, having touched knurling and stickiness, can relate to. Are there aromas associated with electronics and chemicals? There are for me. If we take that next step and recall those aromas, that's a bonus connection.

I like this next one because we see more of the man whose hand is gripping the antenna, and we surmise by what little we see that the man is examining the other side of the panel. In fact, he is installing that antenna, though I don't contend that his action is completely illustrated by this photo. A tiny caption is all that would be required to fill in that gap. Which I just provided!

By using a slow shutter speed, below, I allow the hands turning the speed wrench to illustrate that motion. In all of these, my own hands almost sense the positions of the fingers, the reach of the arms, the work that is being done.

Okay, enough with hands.

Another partial view of a person that grabs our eyes are legs which, while not as expressive as hands, are still potentially active appendages. With this guy's upper body bent into the helicopter, out of our sight, I'd consider this next photo almost comical because while it's not rip-roaring funny, it is unusual enough to grab our attention. Visually humorous without being disrespectful. There's plenty going on, with mostly angular shapes (human legs, landing gear legs, that expanded steel cage-thing) plus the wavy/circular elements of the fuselage and dangling wires. And it is the human's legs we are drawn to, time and again, as our eyes scan the photo. This same image but no legs? Not much reason to keep looking.

Above, only legs and we don't know what the guy is doing. Below, no legs and we see exactly what this guy is doing — driving rivets. You can feel the effort, the energy, possibly even hear the sound. The mechanic's focus is right where he's working, and our focus is the same. Every time I look at this image, I want to assume the same manly pose, tense my muscles, drive that rivet. I've never even driven a rivet, but I'm sure the one in this photo has no chance, right?
AAR in Melbourne, Florida.

Next we go for the whole shebang. The entire enchilada. The complete caboodle. Full-body shot, sans face. (Well, we see the face of the guy in the back with the hose…but work with me here!) We get action, in this case again bordering on the humorous without being disrespectful. We'd just flown an air-to-air mission over the Gulf of Mexico and now the crew is washing the aircraft down. All that activity offers many opportunities for interesting compositions, including this arrangement.

But notice how more energetic the one on the left is compared to the one on the right, which was taken less than a second later. The stretched arms, the craned neck, the pointed toes. Even there, on the left, I was probably a fraction-of-a-second late which, if I'd shot a smidgen earlier, would have shown more of that pilot in the back with the hose. Still, better than the one on the right. The Takeaway

Even without showing a face, we are drawn to images of people doing things. And as I often stress, after the first job of a photograph in service of marketing — grabbing a viewer's attention — the second job is to keep that attention. Showing people at work can keep viewers looking, which gives your messaging time to do its job.

To get these photos, much has to be juggled. The guy riveting was probably in that position for many seconds, especially if he was driving multiple rivets. That means I could probably alter my vantage point and take more care in focus and exposure settings, perhaps trying multiple combinations. Or, like the helicopter washing image, you must move quickly and surely to capture a fleeting scene.

Keep your eyes open for opportunities and, even if you can't see the expression on the face of a person in the photo, you can put a smile on the face, and understanding in the mind, of the person looking at it.


(AeroMark Images) action activity aerospace aviation composition face hands legs people person photography work working Sat, 25 Jan 2020 18:40:42 GMT
Going in Circles I was recently in the Gulf of Mexico for a week of photography and story-gathering. One of the photo shoots was mostly air-to-air with one of the larger aircraft types that carry oil & gas crews from shore to offshore and back again, a Sikorsky S-92. In this case, though, the operator (Bristow Group) has configured one of these aircraft as a full-time search and rescue asset.

The flight plan was for us to transit to one of those offshore platforms, shooting air-to-air on the way, then deposit me and one of their rescue personnel on the platform and capture shots of that Sikorsky crew training in hoist operations. With that completed, pick up me and their other crewman from the platform and capture more air-to-air over the Gulf as we return to base. Here's a photo from the platform with the crews in training.

I'll point out that the sun is already heading toward the end of the day — see the shadow cast onto the surface of the helideck? Well, that is a shadow of only my head and my forearms holding the camera, poking up from where I'm hunkered down in a stairwell, shielding myself from the considerable downwash of the S-92. (Although this article isn't about the platform photography, it's still worth sharing, as it includes the aircraft that had dropped us off, a Leonardo AW139, also flown by Bristow and also in SAR configuration.)

What I am writing about is using a simple maneuver to capture, in a short span of time, a wide range of imagery for future use. That maneuver? A circle.

More specifically, after the platform crew training photography, I again boarded the AW139 and took to the air with the S-92 in trail. The camera ship then went into a gentle turn to the left while the target ship did the same, keeping itself in position outside the camera ship's right side while I captured image after image. Thanks to the sun being low in the sky (the time of day for the flight was not an accident), this circle results in the light striking the target aircraft from every angle. It also results in the background changing in lighting and content, from open water to marshlands and back.

There's not much more to say about this maneuver and its results that you can't glean from the following images. I did make slight modifications to the composition over the course of the maneuver, and as the lighting changed I would make adjustments to the exposure settings, so in the course of two minutes I made over 100 shots.

Some things to look for, shot to shot, is how the changing angle of the light reveals or diminishes details of the aircraft, from windows to rivets, and how the "color" of the ship and the background are affected by the angle of the sun, relative to the camera. I'll let these images, thus, stand by themselves, then offer some thoughts at the end. (Don't worry — I didn't share 100 shots; just 9.)

The Takeaway

Air-to-air photography presents a host of challenges for the photographer, many of them technical in nature (cameras, lenses, stabilization, settings), some of them aesthetic, and definitely there are safety issues. One I keep in mind is financial. Even if I'm not paying for the two (or more) aircraft to be in the air, I remain cognizant of the high price of rotary-wing flight, and do my best to work efficiently. This circular maneuver is one technique to get back on the ground sooner with a higher percentage of useful, and visually different, images.


(AeroMark Images) air-to-air aviation background color composition helicopter helo lighting photography scenery technique Tue, 31 Dec 2019 17:31:33 GMT
Making a Masterpiece A short story that illustrates how thinking ahead and showing your work can help you and your client when the time is suddenly right. Let me explain. (I'll also show some images, in the order they were captured, so you'll see how I made it to the final one.)

I contribute to a major helicopter trade magazine and, by my nature, think about ways to improve not just what I do, but what they offer to their readers. One idea came to me about making the last page, facing the inside back cover, something that readers would seek out. I envisioned the content to be visually interesting without a lot of verbiage. Just a little dessert at the end of the magazine's main course.

Mike Tragarz’s Hiller on the ramp at his home.Mike Tragarz’s Hiller on the ramp at his home. The Hiller UH-12E4/5 as we positioned it just before sundown. The shadow of a shipping container, out of frame on the left, is just moving up the landing gear. That white trailer in the background was a challenge, and required careful compositing to avoid.

The magazine editor was supportive of this idea, especially when we landed on making the image about a small operator. The next two issues had their last pages already planned out, so we would wait to implement this new feature. Fine.

Unrelated to that idea, I had previously been asked by the editor about photographing helicopters using lighting techniques for really stunning "portraits" of aircraft. I was actually already considering the same pursuit, so our desires melded perfectly and I combined the portrait approach with the idea of that last page feature. Since the next two issues already had last-page content scheduled, I would have time to work on both aspects of the new feature, which I called LastLook.

Mike Tragarz’s Hiller on the ramp at his home.Mike Tragarz’s Hiller on the ramp at his home. These three frames illustrate a technique called high dynamic range (HDR) photography, which I would be using for the final image. Three images are captured, at prescribed exposure levels, and the images would later be merged using specialized software. (You can read more about HDR here and here.) 

Mike TragarzÕs Hiller on the ramp at his home.Mike TragarzÕs Hiller on the ramp at his home. This is the image that resulted from combining the three previous ones. Much better, but something was still missing. Note, too, that a change in camera position has hidden the white trailer behind the aircraft.

By chance, at the annual picnic of an aviation group I volunteer with, I met a man with an interesting helicopter and asked him if I could use his aircraft for a trial run of a "portrait." He agreed and we set a date and time — that being about 90 minutes before sundown. This would allow enough time to prepare and place the aircraft, then place it a little bit to the right. No, back to the left and at a greater angle. Well, now that I see it, a little less angle. Nope. Make it a little more. (The owner was very patient and accommodating, especially since the resultant image was not intended to appear in the magazine.)

Michael TragarzÕs Hiller on the ramp at his home. What was missing, besides waiting a few more minutes for the sky to go gorgeous, and repositioning to keep all of the main rotor blade in frame, was light inside the cockpit. I positioned four separate lights to illuminate the interior, which combined with HDR to really punch things up!

I'll admit that "masterpiece" might be an overstatement, but the final image is pretty sweet, right?

Plus, I sent not just the image to the editor, but an idea for how such an image would work on that final page, complete with the magazine's standard footer elements and a caption. When I called to discuss, the editor had not yet viewed the art, which was great because when she did, her response was "wow!" And I know she meant it.

What happened just a day or two later wraps up the story.

The content that had been planned for the last page of the next issue, due to go to press one day hence, was suddenly pulled and they needed a replacement. Well, the editor had a replacement in hand — this photo and a page designed to show it off!


(AeroMark Images) Arizona aviation background color composition focus helicopter helo lighting photography scenery technique Sat, 07 Dec 2019 23:45:44 GMT
Showing Less to Engage More When a photographer presses the shutter release, they are making myriad decisions how to capture the scene before them. The most obvious decision is: what is to be visible in the photo.

Scores of books and hundreds of online articles discuss composition, and there's plenty to think about on that subject. But most advice about composition concerns where to put the elements within the frame. An important, but often overlooked, corollary is what to leave out of the photo altogether.

Why leave something out?

So that what you leave in has more power.

For example, here is a perfectly useful photo of an AStar at Reno-Stead Airport. I was on assignment for a magazine and this was one of many, many locations I visited to capture aircraft involved in wildland firefighting. This AStar was just waiting for a call.

Notice anything unusual about the aircraft? Sure, it has a cargo basket and some mirrors on the nose, but unless you're particularly eagle-eyed, and familiar with it, you may not realize it is equipped with the FastFin system from BLR Aerospace. Maybe cropping will help? Do you see it now? Maybe? Cropping — leaving out the forward half of the helicopter — helps if you know what you're looking for, but even here the features that yield the benefits of the system are merely visible without helping a viewer understand the workings. Also, this is not a very "attractive" composition, whether for attracting views or concerning aesthetics.

Are the FastFin components recognizable now? Yes they are. From this angle you need not only be less of an AStar expert to notice the new shape of the tail boom forward of the horizontal stabilizer, but the major features of the system are represented and their functions easily described. We are not including, in this view, much of the aircraft, but we don't need to show the entire aircraft to know what it is. We're showing less but communicating more.

That's a straightforward illustration of this concept. Here's another example, from another assignment (this story is, at the time of this writing, not yet on press).

I'm up in the Wasatch Range southeast of Salt Lake City and have captured another perfectly useful photo of a helicopter, this time an EC130. I've included much of the scenery in this photo, including foreground and background. That's good. And though the image below is similar in composition to the close-up of the AStar, it was composed this way for a different reason.

Compared to the first shot, this one also shows the aircraft in the mountain environment, but in a way that emphasizes the aircraft. (I also liked how the trees, out of frame to the right, are reflected in the glass of the aircraft.) Notice that I cut off the EC130's nose — which otherwise would result in the aircraft taking up almost the entire composition — without reducing the importance of the aircraft or the scenery. Win-win!

This F4U Corsair is neatly cut in half, yet viewers are not confused about what the other half looks like. They understand it is a mirror image of this half. By not showing both we might, thus, accomplish a couple of things.

Right off the bat the image catches a viewer's eye. It's unusual to see an aircraft cut, photographically, in half. 

Thus, the aircraft is also larger on a page or on a screen. It has more "presence." To fit the full width of the aircraft would mean, essentially, reducing its "size" by 50%. (For example, the diameter of the engine would be only half of what it is here.)

And in conjuring up the other half, mentally, a viewer is spending more time with the image. More time with what you're communicating. (This was at Sun 'N' Fun, by the way, where I was gathering images for my various stock collections.)

Next is an aircraft I encountered at a fly-in at a remote airport in Arizona: an Adam A500, serial number 009. _MSB7534

I for-sure wanted to capture this high-angle shot to show off the unique layout of the engines and airframe — a low-wing push-pull with that high horizontal spanning the tops of verticals that rise from twin tail booms. I got the shot, but with bits of adjacent aircraft and distracting imperfections on the ramp. So, time to crop. _MSB7534

This is better, but the composition is a bit dull and there are still those stains and repairs on the ramp. How to show less without losing sight of the key features of this aircraft? _MBP3153 Like this. Lots of improvements here. Twin tail booms with a horizontal stabilizer connecting the tops of the vertical stabilizers? Check. Push-pull propulsion? Yes, though only the tips of the aft propeller are visible. All that's missing are the winglets, which are not an unusual feature these days.

Not only does this composition entirely avoid the ramp, it naturally, graphically, grabs your attention. Plus, the sky now plays a more important role here, bisecting the frame and, ever so slightly, suggesting potential flight better than seeing the aircraft parked solidly on the ground and the sky untouched by the aircraft.

Once stopped by the graphics of the composition, the image naturally prompts the question, "What is this?" while revealing enough of the plane to answer that question. It's a bit of a puzzle, which people appreciate, with an easy payoff. "Oh! It's an Adam! You sure don't see those very often." Again, more time spent thinking about the aircraft is more time to communicate your message.

You can, however, make the puzzle too hard. Here's an example. This is the spinner of the rear engine of the Adam. Without knowing the type of airplane, seeing the spinner pointing to the right but the wing/winglet obviously pointing left, might be interesting to ponder, but might not pay off in the viewer's mind with a solution to the quandary, "What's going on here? Are these parts of different airplanes?" As a supporting image, in a brochure about the airplane, perhaps, this might be fine. But as the single representation of it, it's too obscure.

What's The Point?

The goal of communication is to impart knowledge to a viewer. That process starts by first attracting their attention, then providing information in a manner that satisfies the viewer's curiosity, a curiosity created by that initial attraction.

Those myriad choices made by a photographer should include the ability to see when "all" is too much. Sometimes showing all of something means also showing competing or, at least, distracting features or objects. Showing too much, at first, might not attract a viewer's attention or elicit the curiosity that leads to learning.

A complete series of photos should encompass a full range of coverage to allow maximum creative employment of the series. Keep in mind, photographer and client, that the full story might best be told by showing less.

(AeroMark Images) airplane aviation background composition crop cropping focus helicopter helo marketing photography reduce reduction scenery technique Tue, 19 Nov 2019 19:36:49 GMT
Killing Color I'm planning a marketing video for a client and have decided to create it in black-and-white, rather than full color. There are practical reasons and aesthetic ones, both, that can inform such a decision, and exploring those reasons and showing examples, using still photography, is what I'll do today.

These examples, by the way, are heavy in the "space" portion of aerospace, and start with this: one of the radio telescope antennas at the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in western New Mexico.

VLA dish P1159

Rendering this image in b&w was a choice based simply on the aesthetics. The stark white structure silhouetted against the storm clouds is bolder and brings more attention to the antenna than the original, color, image did. (See the grass bent over in the foreground? The wind was howling a solid 30+ knots from the west, making a tripod an important tool that day.)

Unlike the following images, the VLA scene was shot on 35 mm transparency film and scanned into the computer, where the conversion to b&w was handled. No matter how they started, it is during that computer-based conversion that improvements can be made beyond simply converting the colors to shades of gray. But sometimes, a simple conversion is all that is necessary.

This next image, of launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex in Florida, is a "simple" example with a deeper reason for the change. 

The photo is clear enough, considering it was shot from inside a bus (yeah, I didn't have any special access at KSC), but the tinted windows have played hell with the colors. Neutralizing the color of the structures leaves the foliage a sickly yellow green. Killing the color completely, though, rendering everything in shades of gray, takes care of that annoying color cast and lets us think less about some awful mutant virus attacking all the shrubs and grass, and more about the historic Saturn V/Apollo missions that launched from here.

Below, 39A without mutant viruses. Seriously — my eye was always drawn to the mustardy-green shrubbery in the bottom left of the color image, while in b&w I bounce back and forth between the liquid hydrogen sphere and the launch tower and water tower, and that means I'm thinking about the real subject of the photo. That's good.

As World War II was ending in Europe, the U.S. snagged many of the people, and 30 boxcars full of matériel, related to German rocket programs. Their expertise and equipment were then incorporated into our own efforts. One item still extant from that original haul is this timer for a V-2 rocket. I'll note there is nothing wrong with the above photo of that timer, being clear and well composed, but a b&w rendition, shown below, might be preferred. Or not. By removing the colors, the grayscale (another term for black-and-white) image has our eyes glancing more at the piano-key switches and the screw heads, while in color we spend some time eyeing the orange wiring harness that connects them to the rest of the machine and occasionally the blue fields in the background.

The wiring harness, especially, might be distracting or it might be important to whatever story is being told by the image, unlike the ugly foliage at 39A, which is just plain annoying. For this photo, the photographer or designer might choose according to their desires or the requirements of the application, so it's nice to realize a choice can be made.

The conversion of the timer image, from color to grayscale, was made in a straightforward manner. But we can be not straightforward and punch things up if we want. This next graphic shows doing just that: punching things up.

This is a guidance system used in Minuteman III missiles, called an Advanced Inertial Reference Sphere (AIRS). It looks plenty techy, even in natural colors, shown in the upper left, above. In the upper right is a version where I highly emphasized the colors that are actually contained in the image, while the largest version is in b&w with heightened contrast. Some of the darker details have been lost, as have some of the fine details in the brightest areas, resulting in a more aggressive presentation than either of the other two versions, emphasizing the shapes and bringing, perhaps, a bit of the menace of the weapon it guides.

I emboldened that AIRS image during the transition from color to grayscale without reference to the colors in the original, choosing only to increase the contrast. But the colors can be useful in making the transition, using a technique that harkens to the days of b&w film — color filters! To demonstrate, here are four versions of a portion of a Saturn V main engine, known as an F-1. Screenshot

If you were not aware, placing a color filter in front of a camera lens when shooting b&w affects the intensity of light from objects or fields of color reaching the film, based on their color. A common combination is to put on a red filter when shooting a landscape, since that will reduce the intensity of the blue light reaching the film and, thus, yield a darker sky. (Red and blue are opposites on a color wheel, so a filter of one blocks the colors of other.) Red elements in such an image would be, conversely, brightened, as the filter preferentially lets red light through to the film.

In the above foursome we see the results of converting with no filtration, in the upper right, and the results as filtered through a red or through a blue filter. The most obvious difference between those three versions is, indeed, the appearance of the sky, but notice how blue reflections on some of the metal are also darkened or lightened, depending on the filter. The same goes for the warm colors, darker or lighter.

Isn't this great? Computers give us the ability to retroactively apply the effect of a color filter on a color image when converting to grayscale, with the same effects as a filter over a lens if shot on black-and-white film, yet the color and intensity of the "filter" can be manipulated at will, post-facto!

Wrapping It Up

Photography, and videography, are such malleable media, allowing us — photo/videographer, journalist, marketer, artist — to manipulate imagery to better explain a concept or tell a story. And despite all the great advances in color photography brought about by modern digital cameras, and color reproduction in print or on screen, sometimes simplifying an image by removing the colors is the most effective course.

Knowing this option exists is an important first step in taking advantage of the technique. Knowing that further choices are available, to be even more communicative, makes that knowledge even more powerful.

(AeroMark Images) aerospace aviation background control controls detail engine filter filters photography rocket rocketry scene scenery space technique Thu, 07 Nov 2019 03:49:34 GMT
Looking Forward To It Beginning last year (which would make it 2018), I have been photographing from inside helicopters looking forward through their cockpits for the trade magazine Rotor. The chosen image from each flight appears as a two-page spread with a minimal caption. These are relatively simple projects, but bring challenges that are not often encountered otherwise. I'll start with the first image that has run in the series, as it touches on those challenges. On 26 June 2018 the Arizona Department of Public Safety Bell 429 helicopter flew over Sedona, Arizona, providing this wide-angle view of the iconic location. Piloting the aircraft is DPS Officer Darrel Detty (right seat), accompanied by Systems Operator Officer Craig Bremer (left seat) and Rescue Specialist Officer Edgar Bissonnette (not shown, in cabin).

I am in the cabin of a Bell 429 flown by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. It's a fairly new aircraft model and, for Az DPS, a new addition to their fleet. Also, being a law enforcement aircraft, it is loaded with avionics including a camera under the nose with its controls and display seen on the left. So, check off "interesting aircraft."

The Bell is based in Phoenix but for this photo mission we headed up to Sedona. Why? So I could satisfy my second desire for these photos: interesting scenery. That might mean beautiful, as here, or it might mean unusual (we'll see that in the following example).

With those two desires met, what else does this photo reveal?

It reveals the challenge of showing both the interior, often in a mix of light and shade: a plethora of dark instruments hiding under a glare shield and a well-lighted exterior. And those are not just two challenges, those are four! I want the interior and the exterior both properly exposed, and I want them both well focused.

The scenery is in broad daylight, streaming in from the right, and the same daylight is streaming into the cockpit, but some of it is blocked from striking the black instrument panel while some of it is not. That's a lot of what's termed dynamic range, so judicious camera settings, a camera with the ability to capture a wide range, and the proper post-processing software and adjustments all play into taming those lighting challenges.

As for focus, I'll admit, even at the small size of the photos in this article we can see the helmets and shoulders of this fine flight crew are a bit blurry. But by the time we reach the radio panel we're good, focus-wise, as is the scenery. Depth of field, how much is in focus from near to far, is a function of the camera lens setting called aperture which, in order to capture focus near to far, requires the other camera setting, shutter speed, to be conversely slow, increasing the chances for blur induced by vibrations or bobbles of the airframe through the air.

"Dude! That's a lot of writing. Show more pics!"

I hear you and here they are.

Welcome to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan AFB. Colloquially called "the boneyard," it is temporary home or final resting place for thousands of aircraft from our military or other government operators. Airplanes, helicopters, a few rockets and, if I recall correctly, even a blimp's gondola. They store them, they might keep 'em ready to be flown out on short notice, or maybe it'll take longer but they can still get 'em flying, or they might strip 'em to use the parts on their still-active brethren. I've photographed there many times including, if you can find it, an article I shot and wrote several years ago for another trade magazine, Vertical. Nowadays, only bus-bound tours are allowed and there's a bunch of security you have to go through even for that.

Here, though, we get a view that very few people can muster — from 300 feet above the ground. I'm in the back of a Bell 206L3, courtesy of Southwest Heliservices, shooting through where a front-seat headrest would normally be. There's a structure called a "broom closet" between the front seats, so I couldn't shoot from the center of the cockpit, but the view is still great and, in this frame, I timed a shot through the chin window to capture a massive C-5 Galaxy.

On the topics of aircraft and scenery, I admit the aircraft is not particularly noteworthy. It is clean and well maintained, but otherwise nothing to write home about. So it's the scenery that makes this image. A view of a place that many find very interesting and, now, few can experience.

This shot is from an Airbus H135 over downtown Atlanta, Georgia. We arranged with Airbus for a flight during the annual helicopter trade show, Heli-Expo, knowing we could tie this photo, as its own standalone feature, to other coverage of the trade show in the magazine. ROTAK Helicopter Services K-MAX operations at or near Jose Aponte Airport, Ceiba, PRROTAK Helicopter Services K-MAX operations at or near Jose Aponte Airport, Ceiba, PRROTAK Helicopter Services K-MAX operations at or near Jose Aponte Airport, Ceiba, PRROTAK Helicopter Services K-MAX operations at or near Jose Aponte Airport, Ceiba, PRROTAK Helicopter Services K-MAX operations at or near Jose Aponte Airport, Ceiba, PR

A bit farther south, and east, is the American territory of Puerto Rico, a victim of Hurricane Maria. Helicopters were one of the critical tools in repairing and rebuilding their electrical grid, and I've been there twice (as of this writing) to photograph those activities. One of the less usual aircraft in the world is also one of the best for much of that work, the K-MAX from Kaman Aerosystems, flown here by ROTAK Helicopter Services.

For this photo, though, you have to understand something about the K-MAX — it has but a single seat. So we rigged my camera behind the pilot, balancing security (first) with a desire to limit the vibrations and bumps from the airframe affecting the images, and attached a remote shutter release to the collective for the pilot to trigger during flight. Of more than 700 frames he triggered, just shy of 100 were not blurry — good job! Seriously. The aircraft has a surprisingly lively ride and choosing from among 100 is not a bad thing.

Lastly (so far), I was in Palm Springs, California, flying with the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation to capture the most recent image in the series. Unlike the K-MAX, this former US Army AH-1F Cobra has two seats but, like the K-MAX, we needed to mount the camera for remote shooting — the seating is in tandem and there's not much room behind the pilot. So we used a similar approach to mounting the camera and, in the front seat, I had the remote shutter release with me. We made a quick jaunt out to the wind turbines that dot the landscape and I came back with 100+ options. (Just in case the remote failed or the camera drooped, unnoticed, I carried another camera and shot from my seat, too.)

What Else?

Notice how all except the K-MAX photo have a markedly angled horizon. That big diagonal adds visual energy to the image, plus I often find a delicious sense of vertigo when I look at these images.

Each image was shot with a camera sporting lots of pixels. The Az DPS/Sedona image is the only one captured with a mere 36 megapixels; the others gathered 42 megapixels! I mention this because you need a lot of pixels to create a high quality image that will be printed 17 inches wide in a magazine, and raw pixel count is one of the factors in obtaining quality.

Each image was also shot with a very wide-angle lens, in these cases, 14 millimeters on cameras with sensors the size of 35 mm film. I want to capture as much of the interior and the terrain as I can, to give the viewer a sense of being there, of experiencing that magic of rotary-wing flight.

As I stated early on, these are fairly simple projects. They are not, however, slam dunk easy — use the appropriate equipment, techniques, and post-processing prowess, to capture your own visions of life from the air.

(AeroMark Images) aircraft aviation background cockpit composition detail flight focus helicopter lighting magazine photography scene scenery technique Mon, 14 Oct 2019 16:37:32 GMT
Up. Down. All Around. What do you get when you put a photographer — especially an aviation photographer — at or near an airport with a camera and time on their hands? You get photos of airports is what you get. This photographer, in particular, has an affinity for a graphic approach to what appears before him so, for your viewing enjoyment (and a bit of insight into what catches my eye), here are some of what I've captured over the years.

I was on a client assignment for two days at the Libby Army Airfield on Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Sometimes lots was happening, sometimes nothing — which, for me during the latter situations, meant "time to see and capture some interesting views." Here are three photos of the same ramp.

The early morning of August 16, looking northwest.

That same day, a late-afternoon summer storm blew in. There are mountains out there somewhere!

The next morning, there's a bit of water left standing in the tie-downs and the mountains are back!

Notice how I used three different lens focal lengths to capture each scene; a slightly "long" lens the first morning, a "normal" lens in the afternoon, then a wide-angle lens on day two. Each was chosen to include or emphasize elements in each scene.

On the ground at a different airport, this one near Phoenix, Arizona, I happened upon a Cessna that had assumed an unnatural parking attitude. Letting the other aircraft clearly contrast with their skyward-pointed neighbor, I focused on the odd one and let it go at that. (I see tie-down chains descending from his wings, so I'm not sure what allowed a wind to upend him. Too much slack?)

Naval Air Station Pensacola, in Florida, was drizzly the day I was there. That kind of cloud cover, and sometimes the cleansing effect of a little water on things, can embolden colors and contrasts. Even out of focus, it's impossible to miss these military water towers which, for no more reason than "I wanted to," I've focused instead on the fence.

This is Grand Prairie, Texas, at their municipal airport. If you have some familiarity with aviation windsocks, you'll recognize a stiff breeze when you see it. Actually (and I had to look this up), to be fully extended like this, the wind must be at least 15 knots — let me tell you, it was at least 15 knots that day! I suspect the helos I was there to photograph had their work cut out for them. AAR in Melbourne, Florida.

We're in the air now, looking at the airport in Melbourne, Florida. We made a few trips around this side of the airport to capture shots of the client's facility where, to give this image context, I made sure to include a view right out to the Atlantic. Air Logistics

Houma, Louisiana, en route to some air-to-air with one of the offshore helicopter operators. This Cessna was taxiing as I was flying and, well, I took advantage of the opportunity to make a bit of art. ROTAK Helicopter Services K-MAX operations at or near Jose Aponte Airport, Ceiba, PRROTAK Helicopter Services K-MAX operations at or near Jose Aponte Airport, Ceiba, PR Ceiba, Puerto Rico, is on the east coast of the main island and, despite my being there 17 months after Hurricane Maria, as we were lifting off from Aeropuerto Jose Aponte de la Torre for some air-to-air work, I was struck by how much damage was still visible at an otherwise fully functioning airport. Notable here? That tall hangar building does not have transparent siding!

Lastly, here is Detroit's Metro Airport. A clean composition of a cluttered terminal area that visually contrasts with the empty taxiways and green spaces.


What can we take away from this short "what I did on my summer vacation" collection of images?

I suggest they show that opportunities for strong, aviation-related imagery might arise at any time and a good photographer will notice and take advantage of those opportunities. Even if the client is not an airport (though I have those, too), these more environmental images can find value for broader stories that might develop, in a slide deck or an annual report.

Don't let good imagery slip by, even if it's not part of the assignment — you never know when it will come in handy.

(AeroMark Images) airport aviation background composition detail photography scene scenery story technique Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:10:30 GMT
No Gyro? No Problem. How do you get 1,200 sharp air-to-air images? Apparently, you press the shutter button 2,535 times then, back in your hotel room, throw out the 1,335 blurry ones. At least that’s what I had to do on a recent photo flight. You see, my gyro stabilizer was suddenly inoperative so, to make up for not being able to depend on up-front quality, I increased the quantity.

This screen shot of my cataloging application displaying 33 images per row which, times nine rows, reveals a mere 297 of the 2,535 original captures. I didn’t bother counting up the highlighted ones visible here, but those are the blurry ones. It’s a lot.

Actually, I see frame number 480 needs a check-mark too. Why is it yet unmarked? Well, the first step in my process for reviewing and choosing images has me examining each frame for sharpness which, to make sure I am being ruthless, I perform while zoomed in to just the important portion of each frame. I suppose I was zoomed into that edge of the frame and found the aircraft to be sufficiently sharp and moved to the next frame.

(Looks again.)

Well, not only is it not sharp but, more obviously, the target is mostly out of frame. I must have accidentally skipped over that one. Rest assured, it won’t be the last image I decide, upon further examination, to consign to the trash heap.

I always shoot more, plenty more, than I would ever use because of the vagaries of air-to-air photography. The other aircraft is moving, my aircraft is moving, the background is changing, the lighting is changing, the air is seldom still, and rotor blades appear wherever the hell they feel like it, sometimes obscuring a feature on the aircraft or background, or just looking awkward. This split image shows two frames shot within one second of each other. On the left, my camera was in motion relative to the target. Bad. On the right, my camera was steady on the target even though, if you look carefully, you'll note we are both moving relative to the background. Extra good. Why extra good? Because a blurry background helps the sharp target stand out against it.

As an example of wayward rotor blades, these three shots were made in barely two seconds and, believe me, I am not so skilled as to press the shutter button only when the blade is not blocking the cockpit. Any of these would be technically fine, but visually the rightmost is the most attractive.

With an operative gyro I could probably have shot fewer than half this number to yield plenty more images than I will use. But either way, gyro or not, I would shoot a lot and throw away all the bad ones. You should do the same.

The point of this little bit of prose is to give you permission, if you weren’t already comfortable doing so, to shoot, shoot, shoot.

Pixels are free, right?

(Shall I detail all the expenses involved in capturing those free pixels? I shall not (but you are welcome to imagine what those expenses are).)

Extra Credit Image

This is the view from the chase ship, to give you a sense of the scenery we were working in.

Thanks go to Wilson Construction for the opportunity to fly and shoot with them.

(AeroMark Images) fly flying gyro gyro-stabilizer hec helicopter human lineman linemen md530f photography power line power lines story technique Wed, 14 Aug 2019 01:26:43 GMT
Balling It Up There's a category of helicopter operations called human external cargo in which a human, or humans, are carried in a somewhat unrestrained manner. They aren't just hanging onto a flying helicopter sipping a drink with an umbrella stuck in it, but aren't belted into a seat, either. They have a job to do that requires some freedom of movement outside the aircraft.

Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings.

And sometimes "outside" means "suspended on a rope 100 feet below." Cool! One such job is attaching those large spheres to power lines that alert passing aircraft to the presence of the line. The spheres are known as aerial marker balls and, well, somebody's gotta get 'em up there, so call in a helo and a couple of people with balls.

I was working on a story about human external cargo, so my job was to capture these guys doing theirs.

Thus, at 4 a.m., when the alarm went off, my assistant and I sprang out of bed (if by "sprang" I mean "dragged ourselves"), freshened up, gathered our gear and headed to the first site of the day. We arrived at the appointed time, pulling into the dirt lot along with the linemen and various support personnel in their small fleet of trucks. The sun was still an hour below the horizon, and the helicopter wasn't due until daylight, but already they were laying out their gear. Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings.

My story was focusing more on the human aspect of human external cargo, HEC as it is initialized, rather than, say, the aircraft. Which is why we were there in the chilly pre-dawn dark, photographing the men going about their business. The orange metal seats were laid out, strung from a series of spreader bars, straps and carabiners sprouting everywhere. Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings.

The helicopter arrived, the human-rated line was laid out and attached to the belly hook, pre-flight briefings were held, documents signed, and all was made ready to fly. But they didn't fly right away. These marker balls were to be hung above a freeway, so the linemen laid back in their rigging, cradling a ball, the helicopter sat spinning, and everyone waited. And waited. And waited for the highway patrol to close and clear a section of freeway over which two balls were to be installed.

Then, boom! The freeway was clear and off they went! Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings.

Five minutes later the linemen were snatching another ball, held aloft by their boss, and five minutes later their feet were finding the ground again — two balls installed and it was time to unhook, pack up, and head out to the next location. Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings.

That sequence repeated three times, twice in dusty fields, once in a gravel quarry. Set up…wait…wait…wait…go!

Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings. Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings. Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings.

After the eighth ball was installed and the aircraft was back on the ground, we packed up my now-dusty gear and traipsed back to the hotel. It was only 8 a.m. and the free breakfast was calling us. Installing aerial marker balls along major highway crossings. Notice the range of situations I sought out and captured; groupings of people and equipment and, especially, action (even if the action was lying on your back waiting for "go") that convey the human side of the operations. In barely three hours of work, some of it driving and much of it waiting with the crew for that "go," I captured over a thousand frames.

That number doesn't guarantee good images — you still have to be a good photographer — but the results show I chose various vantage points and camera/lens settings, moving my feet and adjusting my camera to make images that show the coordination, the connections, the humanity of the work in visually interesting ways. Take heed to do the same when it's your turn.

(AeroMark Images) composition fly flying helicopter human lineman linemen marketing MD530F people person photography power line power lines story technique timing Sat, 03 Aug 2019 01:00:44 GMT
Calendrically Shot For many in business, wall calendars have lost their value as scheduling tools — a working professional’s daily schedule is often too cluttered to fit into a 2-by-2-inch square, and a piece of paper on the wall won’t beep to remind you it’s time for another staff meeting (ugh). Still, we use wall calendars for more than a quick glance at the month; they give us a glimpse, a reminder if you will, of the machines, people and, hopefully, the beauty in the world, even the beauty in our industry.

Here are some thoughts on capturing and incorporating images for your calendar.

One approach is to feature the subject (I'll be using aircraft, but it could be armor or trucks or boats or those annoying scooters millennials hop on, burly-man beards flying, man-buns not-flying. (Actually, I don't mind the scooters, and my son sports one of those burly-man beards though, sadly, a man-bun is out of his, um, reach?)) Where was I? Photographing the aircraft coming your way is a powerful approach.

Then again, you can also place your subject in a larger view of its environment, if that environment or the composition warrant it.

If you are shooting air-to-air, plan to take advantage of as many backgrounds, lighting directions, and camera settings as you can. All of these came from fewer than 90 minutes — plenty to choose from, for the calendar and beyond. If you are stuck shooting from the ground, a good vantage point and spot-on timing are your best friends (and a dynamic sky doesn't hurt).

If your subject is on the ground with you, do your best to make the composition and lighting work for you. The first job of an image is to make people stop and look, so give them something more enticing than "aircraft on ground." Boeing 747-8F at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, 24 June 2010.

Of course, if you can get in the air while the subject is on the ground, go on up — bold, graphical, eye-catching results are there to be found and captured.

Whether making the image or fitting it into the calendar, don't be afraid to put the subject off-center. Such a layout can add energy to an otherwise static image, or allow space for other elements — like text or inset images. (But don't, please, don't feel you must fill such space with something else — just sayin'…)

Another approach to adding visual energy is rolling the camera along the lens' axis. You might think the view from a KC-135 is the view from a KC-135, but by rolling the camera left, there is more oomph in this shot. It's a simple technique that can be employed almost anywhere.

Another example of rolling the camera, this time while capturing an aircraft just sitting on the ramp. Combined with a low angle to exclude the background and, perhaps, hide the fact there's no pilot in the cockpit, I've made something useful from almost nothing.

This barely scratches the surface of the challenges and opportunities for photography in service of a marketing calendar. I think an important concept to grasp is how a calendar is like a book, with the need to both draw and keep a reader's attention, then to tell the story of your company, your products, your people.

If yours is a good story, be sure to tell it well. 5.0.2

(AeroMark Images) advertisement advertising airplane aviation calendar composition helicopter marketing photography sales technique timing Fri, 12 Jul 2019 14:43:19 GMT
Show Different I am not an avid air show shooter, one of those many, many fine photographers who capture the aircraft that ply the skies above fascinated fans. I enjoy a good air show, but I find I'm not really drawn to making photos of the planes in flight. So, if I'm not a great show shooter (I didn't say that; it's just not something I do a lot), what have I to offer?

Well, shooting different is my differentiating approach, so here are some samples to illustrate what I do and how you, too, might shoot the show different.

One way to bring some zing to an image of a flying airplane is to get it when it's low. Here, Skip Stewart's Prometheus is airborne, but not by much, and has just clipped some streamers strung between those poles with the black-and-white-checked flags. I was crossing a taxiway, obviously not near the action, but saw him making a run so I pivoted and shot. Bang — it's a good photo that shows both the energy and the environment of his performance (and the exposure before this one appeared in news coverage of the event).

Here is more low-flying action, Margaret Stivers of Silver Wings Wingwalking, approaching show center and framed between P-51 Mustangs. Again, this puts the action in a place, not just against a blue sky or even a distant horizon.

Chino Air Show 2012

Another approach to less-usual, and thus more interesting, photography is to put something besides the airplane in focus. A guy in a hat holding a camera pointing, obviously, at the yellow airplane. We don't need the Northrop N-9MB in focus to know what the photographer is focusing on. There was only one of these iconic aircraft flying in the world and people who know airplanes know this one.* Chino Air Show 2012

If you are going to make photos of the airplanes in the air, how can those photos look better than just photos of airplanes in the air? Perhaps more strongly than the above examples, it comes down to timing and composition. Take this diamond formation of the USAF Thunderbirds demonstration team. They are just about to pass over the crowd, but coming from behind the crowd. I knew they had circled around to behind, but were then hidden beyond the building just behind the crowd-holding bleachers on Nellis AFB. I was standing in the gap between building and bleachers, so I waited, which didn't take long, and as they flashed overhead I pointed and shot, creating a clean, formal portrait. By the time someone in the stands would have seen and shot, they would be getting a rear view — this is better. ThunderbirdsThunderbirds Or how about this one from the same day? Rather than put the Vipers smack dab in the middle of the frame, I kept some of the formality in the composition, by centering the group along the bottom, while also giving them space above to fly into. This is one of my all-time favorite photos of the Thunderbirds.

If an aircraft shows its top, rather than just its side and bottom, shoot for that! Most air shows' flight paths runs from one side to the other, left-to-right or right-to-left, thus the dynamics of flight usually present just the side or bottom of the subject. Those can be nice, but seeing the upper surfaces is usually more satisfying, so be sure to fire away if they come in banked or rolling or whatever. The image, below, of a rare Temco TT-1 Pinto, was made in a pretty small window of time. In the course of 14 minutes from its arrival on the scene, airborne, until it landed, the pilot showed its topside for fewer than 5 seconds!

One technique that might not be available to you, or it might, depending on your connections and savvy, is to position yourself where others haven't or can't. This B-17G is just lifting off the runway and there I was, at the end of the runway, firing off just a few frames before it roared overhead and banked away. Head-on shots can be quite dramatic and, especially in the case of propellor-driven aircraft, a balancing act regarding the shutter speed to adequately capture the airframe crisply while allowing sufficient prop blur. In this frame, the shutter speed of 1/400 second made a pretty good compromise. (If you're shooting jets, you can probably crank that speed to as fast as your camera will allow, unless you've got some intentional blurring in mind — which can be a good thing.)

Air shows are full of photographic opportunities. Although you don't have to spend every moment taking photos — you can also stop and smell the cotton candy, hot dogs, and lemonade (okay, and the porta-potties) — when you do decide to capture some memories or make some art, here's some advice: plan for what might happen, keep your eyes open for possibilities, and act quickly when something interesting appears in your viewfinder.

(*Sadly, the N-9MB was destroyed in a crash just two months ago (at the time of this writing, mid-June 2019), fatally injuring the pilot, David Vopat.) 

(AeroMark Images) action air show airplane airshow aviation composition photography technique Tue, 18 Jun 2019 23:20:26 GMT
Motion in the Movies One of the strongest arguments for using video is signalled in another, more descriptive, term for the medium: motion pictures. The power of motion to catch our attention and lead us through a story is unmatched.

One effective approach, when choosing then editing a collection of clips, is to tie the motion in one clip to the motion in another, whether that motion is the subject moving through the frame, the camera moving relative to the subject, or their combination.

stack o screen shots Illustrated here are 24 screen shots taken from a marketing video I created for AeroMark Images. These represent most of the clips incorporated into the video, with a total runtime of one minute.

Some quick math will tell you that each clip runs, on average, barely two seconds, but because the opening sequence — the time lapse of roiling clouds diagonally bisected by an Airbus airliner speeding through the frame — is on-screen for 8 seconds, and the ending sequence — an MD 530F helicopter peeling away into a fade-to-black plus logo — occupies another 9, you'll not be surprised to see a number of clips appearing for but a half-second.

There is plenty to discuss and dissect, but I'll limit today's examination to movement within and between the clips. The red arrows should help illustrate my decisions.

Notice how the motion in clips 1 and 2 runs along a similar diagonal, while clip 3 — a Southwest Airlines B737 on approach, reflected in the windows of an office building — flattens that left-to-right vector while also providing an interesting graphic effect. That clip actually ends with the airliner in the middle of the frame, which is where the Black Hawk (4) starts. The Black Hawk is a new "target" for our attention, but it appears on screen where the previous target was, so we don't have to hunt for where to look next.

The Black Hawk is indicated as moving right-to-left, but the camera is panning with that movement so clip 4 ends with the H-60 still pretty much in the middle of the frame, the same area of the frame where we pick up the V-22 in clip 5. Again, a new target we don't have to hunt for, and another change of direction, clip-to-clip.

We don't want everything moving in the same direction, which would be monotonous, yet too much back-and-forthing is aggravating. We want energy in the editing, but not too much.

Clips 6 and 7 are but two of the nine clips that run a total of five seconds, so there's some pretty brisk cutting into a sequence that tell its own condensed story. Then, bang! Clip 8 is nothing but billowing late afternoon clouds. Glorious, powerful, mountains of clouds.

Suddenly, we're back to aircraft when a T-34 blurs across the frame, right to left, an MD 600N lifts up to a hover, a Citation Latitude taxis left-to-right, nearby, then an Airbus A320 taxis right-to-left, far away through shimmering heat waves.

So, that was left-up-right-left, but then I calm things down with an Airbus departing Puerto Rico (13) and a Boeing arriving (14). These are an interesting pair, motion-wise, because although I've indicated a left-to-right motion, that is the motion of the aircraft/camera — the background is actually moving right-to-left, which means the change from heat-wave airliner to getting-airborne airliner doesn't feel as back-and-forth as my arrows might suggest. The C-130s that follow Puerto Rico are also stationary, but the camera is on the move and we get the same motion effect but now it's the aircraft standing still while we pass by. So much fun!

At 16 we have another helicopter lifting off, a K-MAX, moving up and out through the top left, then a Bell 407 pointing down left, followed by the shadow of a different 407 moving left across the near canyon wall, capped off by an F/A-18D departing to the left, afterburners on, in clip 19.

Clips 20 through 22 are a subset of the actual seven clips in the video. Each is of people, all but number 22 are still frames that blend from one to another. The final "people" clip is live video of a smiling pilot who moves left in the frame, then leans back to the right, followed by clip 23, the MD 530F that is, at first, traveling to the right, then peels away and heads to the left as we fade to black. Then up pops the logo.

That is a lot going on in 60 seconds, isn't it? But I make the most of it by incorporating a range of aircraft and scenarios, inside and out, with varying cinematic styles, and motion of the subject or the camera or both. And not just motion within the clips, but with energy I impart in the editing. This use of motion, of action, attracts the eye, but by not overwhelming the video with excess or ill-considered edits, the viewer is rewarded without my overstaying my welcome. (In case you missed the hyperlink above, click here to view the video: AMI Reel No 01.)

Music, color, wild audio, transitions, and more are just some of the other factors to be considered and crafted. And believe me, you spend more time editing than shooting. But the result can be the thing you strive for in any medium: you move people.

(AeroMark Images) action aerial airliners airplane aviation background composition edit editing helicopter helo marketing motion movement movie placement scenery technique timing transitions video window Fri, 31 May 2019 19:46:41 GMT
Skew Not The Scenery Among the several challenges you face when photographing the interior of an aircraft is the small space. Not much room for photographer and lights, so you often mount the lighting equipment outside the aircraft, sending the illumination in through the windows.

That means you're working on the ground. On the ramp or in a hangar. And what you see through those windows is, thus, not the scenery that would be passing by in flight.

Not a problem — shoot the aircraft on the ground then digitally insert an exterior scene as though seen through the windows of the aircraft.

However, an error I've seen repeatedly in images of aircraft cabins is distortion of that exterior scene, as though it is a poster taped to the window outside the aircraft. You've bound to have seen this yourself, in ads or marketing materials, even if you didn't understand why it looked wrong.

Typically, it looks wrong because the image of the world that is visible through the windows, as seen by the camera, should be the same as if you saw the world from that same location, floating in the air, with no aircraft present. But some presumption of what the occupants would be seeing (even if no occupants are present) apparently leads some photographers or production artists to skew things up.

Here are an aerial scenic and an interior of an aircraft. The scenery is what is known as the East Valley, in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. The aircraft is an MD Explorer. (I'd not realized until after I put together this article that, coincidentally, the MD Explorer is made in Phoenix's East Valley — nice!)

To properly combine the two images, drop the aircraft onto the scenery and cut out the windows. That's about it, and here's what it looks like when done properly.

If I cut away half of the aircraft, you'll see the background is unchanged (and you'll also note that I lowered the background so its horizon cuts through the scene where we expect it, relative to the aircraft in flight).

But if the background is skewed like a poster taped to the glass, this is the result.

I had to duplicate and flop the background image because the skewing caused it to contract, using up nearly the entire width of the background image to fit into the window as I've seen it done. I could have worked harder to avoid or hide that dupe/flop, but showing it this way helps you compare the scenery on both sides of the following cutaway.

The proper technique is simple enough, right? Whatever your background image, if it is suitable to be seen through the windows of an aircraft, leave the background alone and merely place the aircraft over it with the horizon running through the image as appropriate to the aircraft and the setting.

To really drive the lesson home, let me tee up and hack this Mulligan into the rough for your slow-clapping pleasure. (I don't know golf, obviously.) What I mean is, here is a direct comparison of the wrong (left) and the right (right) scenic treatments.

Bonus Round

On the topic of background appropriateness, don't let the beauty of the background overshadow the subject of the photo — the aircraft. Also, choose a background that has lighting which reasonably matches the lighting inside the aircraft. You can get away with some imperfection, but if the two are way out of whack, people's attention is disturbed by the mismatch. Here's an example of a bold background that demands its own attention, with lighting on the outside that is unrelated to the lighting on the inside. Doesn't your attention keep wandering to the scenery? Mine does. That's not what you're selling, so don't let it be what your viewer is looking at.

I'll conclude by observing that these types of digital constructions are prone to being both overthought (skewed scenery) and under-evaluated (lighting). My advice is: think carefully but not too much.

(AeroMark Images) aerial airliners airplane aviation background cabin composition helicopter helo interior lighting photography Photoshop scenery technique window Wed, 15 May 2019 22:23:57 GMT
Why Engines? Over my years of aerospace photography I've noticed that my eye, and camera, often turns to engines. I wonder why that is? And even if I had a succinct answer to that question, why would you care?

The "why" of my photography is answered by my appreciation for the graphic opportunities offered by the machinery, tied to my understanding, as limited as it might be, of the wonders contained within and the wonders made possible without. Not succinct enough? Okay, the short version of the answer is: they look cool and do neat stuff.

Boeing 747-8F at PMGA for hot-weather testing

As for why you would care, I suggest that seeing some examples of my infatuation might spur your own photographic exploration in search of interesting and useful imagery, or lead you to expect more from a photographer you engage to those same ends.

Above is exhibit A, a General Electric GEnx engine hanging on the wing of a Boeing 747-8F. Boeing had the aircraft in Arizona for hot weather testing and, among the many images from a couple days of shooting, I brought back many featuring the engines. This shot is straightforward and includes enough of the aircraft to identify it without requiring a fuller portrait.

Boeing 747-8F at PMGA for hot-weather testing Here is the same engine, seen from a location not far from the previous one. Now a bit inboard, this was shot with a wide angle lens which, admittedly, optically distorts objects towards the edges of the frame. Intake stretched out and misshapen? Done! Then again, the engine is now ready to suck in the unobstructed sky, while we've retained a view of the markings on the vertical stabilizer. This is a more eye-catching rendition because of the distortion, and catching eyes is job one for advertising/marketing photography.


A different 747, with a different engine, undergoing maintenance. A very graphic representation of the complexity of the nacelle panels without cluttering the composition with the myriad details that would have appeared if shot from an oblique angle. I can just imagine the headline or caption, something like "open for business" or "see what's inside" or "we give you wings!" (Maybe that last one's taken?)

This engine mounted mid-wing on a B.2 Canberra is in need of some maintenance, sure, but made for an interesting still life — faded paint, complex mechanicals, and sky. And notice how the wing, and the engine, and the fuselage are related in shape, shifting from narrowing with rounded leading edge, to narrowing with blunt intake, to barely narrowing fuselage, each with an orange underside. A respectful rendition of an aged machine that invites the viewer to spend some time wandering around the textures and details.

aircraft parked and stored If I'm talking "mechanicals," I'd disappoint myself if I didn't include this detail of a breakthrough engine from the 1950s — the J79 that powered the F-4 Phantom II and B-58 Hustler, among others. The breakthrough was variable stators actuated by those dog-leg arms. It was a great engine that, with tweaks, continues to serve with foreign militaries' F-4 Phantoms. Not bad for a sixty-year-old design. There's a lot going on in this image, so I've composed the shot to clearly show the arrangement of parts and plumbing. If you are communicating an important feature of your product, a bold, smart approach can bring visual interest and clarity to back up your story.

Holloman AFB Even with no engine in the engine, there are ways to incorporate them. This maintainer is shown through just a smidgen of a T-38 Talon trainer fuselage, where the engine should be. Here I've brought people into the mix without focusing (no pun intended) on the person.

Speaking of putting people in the shot, this Boeing technician is inspecting the Rolls-Royce engine on a Boeing 787. Including a person gives the image scale, revealing how large these engines are without resorting to a "stand here, in front of this engine, and look at the camera" or "stand here and pretend to be looking at something" approach. (BTW, the engine is not running — the fan blades are being driven by wind blowing across the ramp.)

Those familiar with my work will not be surprised to see an image like this. An E/A-18G Growler was just sitting there in a hangar on Whidbey Island, Washington, minding its own business, when I walked up and brazenly poked my camera into its tail feathers. (Tail feathers is slang for these panels nearest the camera that contract and expand to adjust the dimensions of the conical exhaust nozzle.) What we see is the rear of the engine and the afterburner section in all their gritty glory. Often I strongly emphasize the latent colors, but not here — it's naturally dim in there so I upped the contrast, but that's about it. Boom! Attention grabbed.

I'll wrap up with a panoramic assemblage. This is an H-1 rocket engine on display at the New Mexico Museum of Space History. I was attracted to the textures and details of the engine contrasted to those of the concrete ground and wall. So, 26 frames later I had the beginnings of a formal portrait that could be easily printed 14 feet wide for an exhibit, which would make this larger than life size.

It doesn't have to be engines

The point of all this has been to, perhaps, expand your thinking about ways to look at propulsion units, or whatever products or processes are your business. Keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish and how the images will be employed, but also be aware of the opportunities afforded by the particulars of your subject and its environment.

(AeroMark Images) airliners airplane aviation Boeing composition engine exhaust fighter General Electric intake nacelle photography powerplant Rolls-Royce technique thrust Thu, 02 May 2019 22:29:07 GMT
For Whom the Sun Sets There is oft-given advice that a photographer should have the sun behind them, streaming in over their shoulder and smashing right into the subject's face (or whatever surface is facing the camera). That is seldom good advice — most subjects look more interesting when lighted from the side.

Other times, schedule or aesthetic considerations allow you to put the sun behind the subject. Whether it's early morning, late in the day, or both the subject and the sun are overhead, having the light source beyond the subject, perhaps even showing the light source in the shot, can lead to powerful, eye-catching imagery.

While photographing for Cessna a few years ago I caught this Embraer 135ER taxiing at the same airport. I rue the construction fence, but I knew there was something worth seeing and sharing. One thing about aerospace products: they often photograph well with backlighting like this, revealing their shapes with crisp bright edges.

Take care, with such lighting scenarios, to not let the exposure, as determined by the camera, become too bright. If you let it, the camera's meter will push the image to be a pale, pastel, blah — when shooting into the light, go dark.

If instead of hazy, golden early-morning light, as in the above, we see an airplane in clear, cool early-morning light, the crisp edges still do their thing, as we see on this QF-4E. There's no haze to lighten the sky, so the dark aircraft tries to blend into the blue, while having the sun below and beyond the aircraft yields a less usual rendition of the mighty Phantom.

Holloman AFB Later in the day, photo opportunities can still present themselves and be worthy of your attention. This CH-54A had just picked up water to fight a wildfire when it roared overhead. Like most of the 1,000+ photos I made that day, of various aircraft and people fighting the fire, this one didn't make it into print, but it's one of my favorites and shows the energy you can capture if you're not afraid to let the sun shine in. Right into your lens, no less.

Here, another challenge of exposure is to keep the shutter speed slow enough to render sufficient blur in the rotor blades or propellers. All that bright sun will push your camera to speed up the shutter but, as I've declared previously, especially with helicopters, no blur means no fly. Keep your ISO low so your shutter speed can be likewise.

Here is an MD Explorer framed against a sunset sky that is both warm and cool, heading for home after a successful air-to-air photo mission. The colors are relatively muted but, being near opposites on the color wheel, demand attention. Note, too, how I've left room — sky — in the composition behind the aircraft. This arrangement helps communicate that the day is past. If there was still work ahead, I would have left space in front.

MD 902 FlightCare Another sunset, another MDHI aircraft, in this case an MD 530F silhouetted against a sunset sky quite different from the one above. See all the sky I've left ahead of the aircraft? We're still flying and shooting, so I've left room in the composition to tell that story. (Humorous side note: the 530F's pilot's wife turned this image into their shower curtain! Who knew!?) _MBP9099 I'lll end back on the ground, just after sunup at Sun 'N' Fun in Lakeland, Florida. The crew of this Nanchang CJ-6 are prepping for the day's flight demonstrations. More than any of the previous images, I've let the shapes go almost completely black against the background. There's a lot to see in a photo that is basically black-and-oranges with the sun smack-dab in the middle of the shot.

I warned, earlier, to keep the shutter speed slow so rotors and props show up blurred. In this image, where you might think shutter speed is immaterial, I suggest you keep it fast so the aperture will open up and you'll blur, not motion, but the background by reducing the depth of field.

Don't be afraid to seize the dawning or dying light to make bold statements about your subject. Arcing through the sky or resting on the turf, there are stories to tell.


(AeroMark Images) airplane aviation back lighting composition dawn dusk edge edge lighting helicopter photography rim light silhouette sun sunlight sunrise sunset technique Tue, 16 Apr 2019 22:43:01 GMT
Putting the Muse in Museum Whether for business or pleasure, museums and other densely packed collections of aircraft present not only a target-rich environment, but also a couple of challenges to capturing useful or interesting imagery. Here are some suggestions for overcoming those challenges.

One benefit to photographing in a museum, among static aircraft at an air show, or at a so-called "boneyard," is the aircraft are not moving. This obviates the need to react to rapid changes in composition, lighting, etc., but it also means there is more on your shoulders in terms of your chosen composition, lighting, camera settings, etc. If you just show up and start pressing your shutter button, you can expect your images to look like the next guy or gal's. Here's an example, sort-of.

This is the Great Gallery of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. The aircraft at the center is the one-of-a-kind M-21, a version of the SR-71/A-12 family of spy planes, and carrier of the drone perched on its back. This photo actually focuses more on the D-21 drone by putting only it in focus and pushing the scenery outside the windows nearly to white, while keeping some of the M-21 in frame for context. The result works well enough, but the other aircraft still draw attention to themselves. (Note: the small size of the image, here, would suggest other aircraft are in focus, but in the high-resolution image it is clear (hah!) that even the drone, itself, is not fully in focus from nose to tail.)

Here's another approach — a four-frame panorama that features the entire M-21 but puts it in the context of the space. This perspective, the breadth of the image, really gives a sense of being there, which might be your task on behalf of a museum.

First medium, then wide, and here I present a close-up of one of the engines out of the M-21. I like the controlled chaos of all the wiring and plumbing. While the image is reasonably decorative on its own, ones like this might also serve as an adjunct to a larger story about a product or technology. But even in that role, there's every reason to approach the subject with an eye toward interesting beauty.

The Arado 234 B-2 Blitz is another one-of-a-kind aircraft, this one housed at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, D.C. And like the M-21 it is inside a building, positioned amid other aircraft. And so, again, I used selective focus and detail shots to keep our attention on the subject.

This head-on shot of the nose canopy doesn't show the entire aircraft, but suggests an evil grin among the structure and wiring of this 75-year-old jet. The museum already has great photos of the aircraft using controlled lighting, so I didn't need to recreate those.

I also took care to capture this angle of one of its engines because, beyond the visual interest of the shapes and colors, I know the thin band of metal visible in that hole of the inner cone is actually a pull handle, like on a lawn mower, that cranks up a small piston engine which then acts as the starter for the jet engine. So cool! (Plus, what is it with me and engines?)

At Pinal Airpark, in south-central Arizona, a bevy of Boeing 747s are among the dozens of aircraft awaiting their respective futures. This wide-angle shot uses the near empennage to attract your eye by dominating the frame, then the fuselage pulls you forward, then the left wing points you to the other aircraft. It's an unusual composition that, nonetheless, tells an unambiguous story.

Perhaps it's not obvious, but for this shot I've positioned myself on the ground under what, in the preceding image, is that nearest 747. A truly unusual view of this "Queen of the Skies" draws your eye into the frame, and the aircraft on the horizon fill out the story. Plus, bonus, I captured an Apache helicopter headed to the Army National Guard heliport on the same airport and, though too small to recognize, those are parachutists under canopy in the upper left — and, for the truly eagle-eyed, on the right side, more parachutists strung out above the tip of the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer. Whew! So much to see.

Chino Air Show 2012 At the Planes of Fame Air Show in Chino there are planes galore — and they're famous! It's great fun to wander and gawk, but for this shot I narrowed my composition to take in just part of an XP-40 Warhawk. I was intrigued by the shapes and textures and the polished aluminum skin. Not so interesting was the sky. So…

Chino Air Show 2012 …I brought in a sky from elsewhere and exaggerated the aircraft's colors that were there but muted. Much, much better, yes? (I discuss skies in "The Sky's (Not) The Limit.") Finally, if you don't like adding skies, just wait for more interesting weather and then take your shot. Or, at least, when interesting weather arrives, take advantage of it.

I arrived early one morning at the Air Power Reservoir (as it is now labeled by the Air Force) on Davis-Monthan AFB where I was greeted by fog. I was not there specifically for the Boeing YC-14, but when light gives you lemons, you make — in this case — lemonade in the form of a forlorn portrait of a long-cancelled program. And I made that lemonade using eight overlapping frames, stitched into a panorama, to include the C-130s in the foggy distance while keeping the foreground sharper and in higher contrast. All of that to emphasize the fogginess and the sadness of a very interesting airplane resting in a very uninteresting field. I left the YC-14 small in the frame, too, to diminish its impact, visually, thus piling on the feeling of abandonment.

In Summary

When faced with a crowd of other aircraft (or it could be buildings or other, non-aviation, vehicles), consider how to either present the subject in a more interesting fashion or to isolate elements that can still tell the story. Be thoughtful with your camera settings and technique, keeping in mind that selective focus can be used when you must, or choose to, show those other aircraft. Be creative and, in all seriousness, have fun.

(AeroMark Images) airplane aviation background boneyard composition focus helicopter lighting photography scenery static storage technique Sat, 30 Mar 2019 04:34:09 GMT
Double-Trucking In "Rigged to Jiggle," my article about mounting a camera inside a single-seat helicopter to capture a behind-the-scenes, I mean, a from-behind-the-pilot view looking out onto, in that case Puerto Rico, I mentioned a couple of issues that such mounting tried to accommodate in lieu of a human holding the camera. Here's what to do if a human is available and carriageable.

Don Hooper of Cochise County Sheriff's Department Where are we in the above? I'm in the back row of an Airbus H130 flown by the Cochise County Sheriff's Office out of Sierra Vista, Arizona, and the pilot is orbiting a spot in the Dragoon Mountains, not far from the town of Cochise, population 50 (or so).

To make this image, I'm using a 14 millimeter lens on a full-frame-sensor digital camera with a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. I'm not expecting to see a rotor blade in the image, swishing by overhead, but though this is a shorter exposure time than I use for air-to-air photography, in the few frames in which a rotor blade makes an appearance, it is plenty blurry. And that's a good thing.

I'm holding the camera with both hands and keeping it as level as I can, relative to the airframe, because I want the banking turn to be registered as a tilted horizon, not a tilted fuselage. The sense of almost vertigo I find in these images is delicious, if you ask me.

In addition to holding on with two hands, I'm also positioned so my body is touching the aircraft as little as practical. These machines are abuzz with vibrations large and small, so I reduce the contact area between my body and the airframe, then use that very same body to dampen out what vibrations I can. Of course, I'm also altering the composition throughout the shoot, tilting up and down to include more or less of the interior, and positioning the camera nearer or farther from the instrument panel.

We're banking not just for a tilted horizon, but also I'm hunting for the right mix of scenery and lighting. Here, the sun is off to the left side, softened by high clouds but directional, giving the scenery noticeable three-dimensionality without blinding us.

Still, even with proper camera settings and good technique, not every shot will be a winner. It's best to shoot a lot. During the Cochise County flight I captured about 700 frames in a 45-minute flight.

H135 Atlanta How about this shot from another Airbus, an H135, this time over Atlanta? Lots of problems here, mostly aesthetic.

Notice how dull the composition is with a level horizon? "Ho-hum, we're in a helicopter." The sun is glaring, literally and figuratively, into our faces and the lens. Lens flare is a reasonable choice in some images, but not for this one. We are seeing the shade side of the high-rise buildings, which renders them bluish and low in contrast. The instrument panel is, likewise, low in contrast, and thus low in detail. So much not to like about this shot.

But don't worry, I made 300 images in the 13-minute flight during Heli-Expo 2019, held in Atlantaand a great one should appear in an issue of Rotor magazine, so I'll reserve that version for later.

B429 Phoenix[filenamebase}

If light from the front is potentially problematic, what about from behind? This shot from a flight over Phoenix in the Arizona Department of Public Safety Bell 429 has the sun pretty much from our six. This gives us the potential for seeing great detail in the interior of the aircraft, with no sunlight in our eyes, but the city is rendered a bit dull with all that straight-in-its-face brilliance. So, better than being blinded ourselves, but not as good as it could be. (You can see the image that did go to print from this photo mission as a two-page — what's called a double-truck — image in the Fall 2018 issue of Rotor magazine.)

B206L3 over Boneyard

In this final example the sun was mostly hidden by high clouds, yielding a softer level of contrast that probably works well for the subject, the Air Power Reservoir on Davis-Monthan AFB, in Tucson. Colloquially referred to as "the boneyard," Southwest Heliservices flew their Bell 206L-3 low and slow on a few zig-zaggy passes over the collection of helicopters, cargo planes, bombers and fighters while I clicked off 600 images in fewer than 20 minutes.

The lower light levels on this morning led me to lower my shutter speed, to 1/200th of a second, to maintain an aperture setting capable of capturing clearly both the interior of the aircraft and the passing parade of planes below. That slower speed meant I had to be extra careful with what I touched and how I worked to keep the images sharp. With that many shots, you'd think I'd get a good one, right? I got several, including this one, and you can see another in — you'll never guess — the Winter 2019 issue of Rotor magazine.

So there you have it — float like a butterfly within the aircraft, set your shutter speed slow enough to blur a blade if one appears and, coincidentally, provide sufficient depth of focus so as much is in focus as you can get, put an interesting subject in front of the aircraft and orient the light source for attractiveness plus inside-and-outside visibility, all with a wide-angle lens on a camera capturing sufficient resolution to print large. And shoot a lot.

Many thanks to the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, Airbus Helicopters, Arizona Department of Public Safety, and Southwest Heliservices for their cooperation in making these images possible.

(AeroMark Images) Airbus Atlanta aviation background Bell Cochise composition helicopter lighting Phoenix photography scenery technique Tucson Tue, 19 Mar 2019 00:05:41 GMT
Rigged to Jiggle On a trip to Puerto Rico to photograph a specific type of helicopter for a trade publication, one of the shots I wanted was from inside the cockpit looking out at the world. It's a shot that benefits from a smooth ride, room in the cabin so I can compose the shot looking forward between, or beside, the flight crew, using my body as a shock absorber while touching the airframe as little as possible, and timing the shot when — hopefully — the ride is smoothest.

Here's a view of Puerto Rico I shot from just such a helicopter. This photo has a story of its own, but it's not the story I'm telling today.

The smooth ride is needed for a sharp photo despite the relatively slow shutter speeds required for helicopter photography. I've written about it before, but in short: photos of helicopters made with shutter speeds that are too fast result in images of aircraft that appear to be airborne for only the time it will take for them to fall to the ground. Fast shutter speeds render the rotor blades as though not turning. No turning rotor, no flying helicopter.

The challenges on this assignment involved all of the above because of the particulars of this aircraft type — a K-MAX from Kaman Aerospace. For those not familiar with it, here are the challenging features:

There is no cabin; just a single-seat cockpit.

The ride is, um, frolicsome.

The rotor speed is somewhat lackadaisical.

No cabin means I won't be along for the ride, and the pilot will have other tasks at hand, including his hands being busy flying the helicopter and, thus, unavailable for holding a camera behind his head.

In other words, the camera will have to be mounted to the airframe.

The frolicsome ride means the even-slower-than-normal-for-a-helicopter shutter speed I'll need to capture an appropriately motion-blurred lackadaisical rotor blade, if in one appears in the shot, combined with mounting the camera to the airframe will result in plenty of opportunities for blurry photos.

But if you want to make a photographic omelette, you gotta break some "rules" for photographing eggs. (Or something like that.) Anyway, here's what we did.

I looked around the cockpit and found a useful feature — a beam behind the seat with holes into which I could locate the base of my monopod. The monopod allowed me to locate the camera as high as possible without banging against the ceiling, and also to adjust the camera in pitch and yaw. The mechanic and pilot then used high-strength zip ties, and even the first aid kit mounting strap, to immobilize the monopod in space. Secure, but not rigidly mounted.

camera rigging in K-MAX 6camera rigging in K-MAX 6 Here is the monopod, attached from multiple angles to be, how should I say? Delicately hog-tied? All these connectors are endeavoring to securely fix the camera, which would mount in the tilted jaws at the top, without imparting undue vibration from the airframe.

To the camera I attached a wireless shutter release. The remote was mounted to the collective, easily activated by the pilot while also out of sight from the camera's perspective.

We assembled the system, test-shot and adjusted the composition. I set the focus to be out a couple hundred feet (no need to have the camera hunting for focus during the flight anyway), and taped both the focus and the zoom rings on the lens so they could not inadvertently change. I also set the shutter speed higher than normal, despite what I would have preferred, because it would be better to come back with sharp images and less-blurred rotor blades than to come back with more-blurred blades and no sharp images. A trade-off, but one I figured was required.

With everything set, off went the pilot. He flew a short flight, returned, the mechanic retrieved the camera while the aircraft idled, and I reviewed the images. Judging there to be at least some non-jiggle-blurred ones, the camera was reattached and off went the pilot for a longer sortie.

Here's a detail from one of the jiggle-blurred images. (Due to the small size of the images in this article, I had to isolate a small section to adequately communicate the result.)

How did we do? Of 404 images captured by the pilot, 276 were discarded out of hand for being jiggle-blurred. That's a lot of wasted, well, digits I guess. But digits are cheap, and having 100+ non-jiggle-blurred images gives me plenty to choose from. Plus, because the pilot planned for, and flew to, locations with varied scenery, the choice of which image to use is, delightfully, compounded.

Above, notice how there is sharpness not just outside the aircraft, but also as near as the instrument panel. The water bottle is showing up a bit soft, but from dashboard to scenery, setting the camera as I did captures almost everything in focus. Below, the full image.

The point of all this is: I knew we were in for a bunch of blurry images and prepared accordingly. A camera must, foremost, be safely attached to an airframe, but with enough "give" in the system so as to not transmit every buzz and jiggle, these latter requirements being particularly important in a helicopter. Do the best you can and just know that throwing out 7 of every 10 means you still have 3.

My thanks go out to ROTAK Helicopter Services, especially Ely Woods, for all of their support and assistance in making these images possible.

(AeroMark Images) aerial aviation blur blurry composition helicopter K-MAX photography Puerto Rico remote technique Tue, 19 Feb 2019 23:57:40 GMT
Slow Shooter Aviation is inherently moving. The machines, the people, even the backgrounds, seem destined to be seen in motion. Effective images of those machines and people, in or against their backgrounds, are not always wrought by fixing each and every detail in sharp relief. Sometimes, you gotta go with the slow.


The Sikorsky S-76C++, above, is captured against a southern Louisiana background that is blurring beneath us. Yes, the aircraft is rendered sharply, but having that blurred background spells motion. Direction.

Good. Done. It's what we expect.

An MD 530F heading for a landing at Gillespie Field, California, below, is another such example, though it is more difficult to make this shot. If the aircraft had been hovering, otherwise motionless, that would be one thing. But tracking an aircraft with a slow shutter speed is, frankly, more difficult to do successfully than hanging out of one helicopter and capturing another. (The secret? Practice, practice, practice.)

If you are telling a story of speed that doesn't require a rivet-sharp aircraft image, you can let the background be sharp and the aircraft go speedy blurry. This is Nellis AFB during a Red Flag exercise, when assets from other branches of our military, plus aircraft from other nations, train together. This photo is more about the base and not the particulars of the aircraft, but in a more compelling composition than one just like it but sans Hornet.

Of course, it's not just aircraft that move. People and equipment make their way through the world of aerospace, and illustrating that motion can give urgency to what might otherwise seem static if rendered crisply in all detail.

This next image follows a mechanic and his cart o' goodies as they traverse a hangar at Chase Field in Beeville, Texas. It was pre-dawn, so the only light was from overhead sodium vapor floods. Not only is that light an unsightly orange and deficient in some colors of the spectrum, but there's not a lot of it. Still, a slow shutter speed with careful panning and you have a picture that says, "I've got places to go." Plus the blurred background elements don't compete for attention the way they would if all were static and sharp. They aren't the story, except as environment, so this approach diminishes their power without isolating the action from its locale.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance Once in place, leaving the camera static allows the mechanic's motion to now say, "I have things to do." The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed how, despite the slow shutter speed, even the garbage cans at the top of the frame are not in focus. The low light levels allowed both a slow shutter speed and a large aperture (meaning, shallow depth of field), a pairing you can seldom achieve outdoors.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance As in all photography, the purpose of the images must inform the choices you make. What you render sharp, what you let go soft, and that which you choose to blur, are such choices. Make them wisely in support of the story you are trying to tell.

(AeroMark Images) action airplane aviation background blur blurry composition focus helicopter intent lighting motion photography shutter speed story technique Wed, 30 Jan 2019 18:05:46 GMT
ExPositioning Photographing a trade show would seem a turkey shoot, with lots of targets in a small space, but it poses many challenges. Chief among those is actually the plethora of turkeys and a surfeit of distracting elements. Depending on your goals, though, focusing on "story" can help you make visual sense of the show.

I wrote an article two years ago that mostly laid out the technicalities of good, clean, show-the-show (or show-your-booth) imagery. And in my most recent article I wrote how positioning your camera is always a choice, one you should take advantage of when photographing an aircraft or its associated activities. In this article I'll combine camera position and story to go beyond the technicalities.

Much of a trade show is about not just the products, but the people showing the products. If you are capturing even just your own exhibit, you can step back, literally, and show the main attraction reflected in the actions of others. Here, MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton was introducing the MD 540F and, though I have photos of her and the aircraft in focus, this composition tells both stories — presentation and attendance.

Here's another approach to showing a presentation. In this case it is one-on-one in a small booth. To deal with that latter factor, I went near and low. This allowed the graphics to appear large and, thus, not face a lot of distraction from adjacent booths.

Want to show the product in situ? Fine, but don't just stand there and shoot. Get close up while still including the space. By dint of a large camera aperture due to the somewhat dim lighting on the show floor (versus outdoors, say), a shallow depth of focus is achieved. The result is a visually large product in focus against an out-of-focus background, which tells both the small and large stories without confusing the two.

Here, again, the product is the focus, but with thoughtful composition that emphasizes something about this particular aircraft, and includes interested visitors. Everyone at this expo knows what this model aircraft looks like, so why make this photo in particular? Because it was a new customer for the type and this view tells that story, unfettered by the milling attendees.

If your entire exhibit is your target, though, you should still consider how to best show it off. For this expansive space occupied by Airbus, putting the camera high shows both the space and the crowd, without the latter blocking the former.

None of these images, except perhaps of the Airbus booth, are meant to be "the image" of an exhibit. Each, instead, contributes to telling the story of the show, whether for your employee newsletter or annual report, or for distribution to the press. Remember, anybody can hold a camera — where you hold yours is how you make images that stand out.

By the way, as mentioned in my article from two years ago, photos of your own space at a show can reveal inelegant details, detritus or doo-hickies, that might have gone unnoticed in person, but when committed to pixels, reveal themselves as undesirable. If you review the above images with that in mind, you might see just such details, intended or not. None are as egregious, though, as the following image. I'm assuming the jacket was draped over the wall from the opposite side, which was either storage or a small meeting space, but the result for passersby was not a good reflection of anyone's brand. (In the interest of full disclosure, I shot that Rotor & Wing magazine cover.)

Reminder Links

In case you missed their hyperlinks above, the two previous articles I reference are "Shooting the Show" and "You Put It Where?!"

(AeroMark Images) aviation composition exhibition expo helicopter photography position show technique trade show Fri, 18 Jan 2019 21:33:16 GMT
You Put It Where?!

The best view, meaning eye-catching and communicative, is often not the obvious one. Not the "standard" one, the one that is expected. Sometimes you, or at least your camera, have to go to the unexpected place to make the exceptional image.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

Above, we peer down into the fuselage of an F-5 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma where a maintainer is preparing the compartment for a new fuel cell. These are cramped quarters that, photographically, allowed only peeking through a small access panel. Retaining the visibility of that hole's perimeter emphasizes the tightness of the space — even our view is being squeezed.

Here's another top-down scenario at MCAS Yuma, this one of a maintainer wrenching on an engine. I positioned myself on a mezzanine above the action, which provides both a better view of that action and a more interesting image for the viewer.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

Where appropriate, go low instead of high, as represented here by photographer Michele Peterson*, both of us on the ramp at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth. This is not an uncommon position for an aviation photographer, let me tell you! But except for the undeniable joy of lying on hard or gravelly ground that might be freezing or baking, why go so low?

For this: the "hero" shot I made in New Iberia, Louisiana, of a Bristow Academy S300 dominating all it surveys.

Air Logistics

Or maybe the more serious domination of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle on Fort Hood, Texas.

Another reason for going low, if not quite into the weeds, is to isolate the subject from an undesirable background. This Epic LT turboprop had distracting company so, to emphasize the exhaust stack, I merely knelt and framed everything against a clear blue sky. Isolation achieved.

Here's the front office of a QF-4 captured not from, well, it wouldn't have a pilot so, not from where the non-pilot's non-eyes would be, but from below the rim of the cockpit on the right side. This gives a a different and, thus more interesting, view of both the legacy steam gauges and the switchology added for unmanned operations. Wow, that's a lot of fiddly things!

Holloman AFB

Speaking of looking inside, here's the engine compartment of an F-16C on Davis-Monthan AFB. I'm going to declare this a surprisingly uncluttered space for all that goes on here, a condition emphasized with a simple and elegant composition. Fun fact: the engine is attached to, and delivers its thrust to, the aircraft through just those two gray mounting blocks visible at the 3 and 9 o'clock positions.

And finally, what the world looks like from inside a Bambi bucket. The Phoenix, Arizona, police aviation unit was practicing wildland firefighting with their AS350 and, while of course I photographed the operations from the outside, including air to air, here's a view I'd never seen. I reached my hand-with-camera into the space, pointed the lens back out, and made the shot. It's eye-catching and story-telling all in one. That's a good thing.

East Valley Wildland Fire training

Obviously, being on the ground with an aircraft, or armored vehicle, allows access to spaces and activities that are not available when photographing them in motion. Take advantage of that access and don't settle for the same ol' same ol' photography. Maybe go high or low, or just shove your camera somewhere and shoot!

* You can learn more about Michele, and see her work, at


(AeroMark Images) aircraft airplane angle armor aviation composition helicopter location photography position rotorcraft technique unusual Wed, 02 Jan 2019 20:24:46 GMT
Piecing Together the Past It was December 21, 2016, that the USAF retired its final F-4 Phantom II from service. I was covering the event for a magazine but the day allowed time to create more than run-and-gun photography. This first image, then, is one piece of a puzzle I began on the ramp at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Not much to look at, right?

Here's a view of the puzzle in pieces. I set my tripod low and used a very long lens to capture 18 overlapping images of that final aircraft, a QF-4E. It looks a bit of a jumble in my cataloging application, but will come together eventually.

This next one's a bit more pleasing, isn't it? Run the video and you can see that I wasn't using my normal gear for creating panoramas, as the captures follow a bit of an arc, rather than bang-bang-bang in perfect horizontal rows. Still, I can work with these just fine. 

Here we go. All put together, though a bit dull because of the high, thin, clouds and the sun shining on the other side of the aircraft. (Composing from the sun side of the aircraft, however, put buildings and unrelated aircraft into the scene, so this view is preferable.)


I could now work on punching things up in contrast and chroma, but decided, instead, to develop the final in monochrome, adding drama and, I believe, creating an image more fitting of the occasion.

A piece of the puzzle not obvious in the image is my own history with the Phantom — my father flew an F-4 in the war over southeast Asia, but passed away when I was a teenager, 42 years before this momentous day. I recall his enthusiasm for the aircraft and, in no small measure on this chilly December day, I was mourning not just the passing of a great airplane, but also my dad.


(AeroMark Images) 720162 Air Force airplane Alamogordo attack aviation bomber composition Double Ugly F-4 fighter grayscale greyscale Holloman McDonnell McDonnell-Douglas multi-frame New Mexico panorama Phantom Phantom II photography QF-4 QF-4E Rhino Scat technique USAF Sat, 15 Dec 2018 03:17:20 GMT
How Much is Enough? I was standing outside the fences southeast of Naval Air Facility El Centro, conversing with friends, enjoying the mild weather as I let the clock run up to 10:30 when I'd move to inside those fences. A thrum rose from the south, a sound I'd heard many times before but not yet on this morning. Against the frosted buttermilk sky an RAF C5 Hercules was turning crosswind for runway 26. I grabbed my Nikon and pointed a big lens at the banking Herc'. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Four frames in I re-evaluated the camera's settings and figured I'd better make a change. Just above, you see frames four and five, un-retouched. Yes, I captured the aircraft as large as that lens would allow, and with an appropriate shutter speed to balance blade blur against the blur of the oncoming bulk, but I needed more light. Without even reviewing an image, I knew I needed more light.

I quickly set the camera to quadruple the amount of light its meter had determined was appropriate. The result may seem, at first, weak. Washed out. Overexposed. But here's why I made the change.

This is how the image preparation software I use automated its adjustments of frames four and five. Already we see better overall contrast.

Next I tweaked those initial, automated, settings with brightening, contrast control, and recovery of the deep shade side of the aircraft. There was about a four-second pause from four to five, as I effected the adjustments and reacquired the subject in the viewfinder, so the background shifted to something more visually appealing, but perhaps there is, otherwise, little to distinguish the two, quality-wise?

These images, cropped from the same frames four and five, reveal how the shaded fuselage is a bit more visible in the latter, with perhaps a bit more clarity overall?

Further cropping, thus enlarging, really tells the story — frame four required a harsher application of that shade-side brightening, which still failed to reveal all the detail available there, plus it exacerbated the digital noise and the details throughout are also much softer. 

Each pair of images is zoomed to the same percentage so, of course, the aircraft appears larger on the right, but the extra clarity is not due to the reduced camera-to-subject distance (it would be an additional 20 seconds before that distance was reduced to its mere altitude above me). More importantly, by showing these at the same zoom level the intensity of their respective noise levels is accurately revealed.

The question posed in the headline was "how much is enough?" The answer is, sometimes too much is just the right amount.

Here's a P.S.I. (post-script image): Twenty-seven seconds after my fourth exposure, above, the C5 has passed me, having combined the crosswind and final legs of its approach into a swooping, descending curve. What a difference a half-minute makes — blah skies and strong backlight are now blue skies and soft sunlight.

(AeroMark Images) airplane aviation backlighting backlit C-130 C-130J C5 cargo cloud clouds El Centro exposure grain Hercules lighting Lockheed military noise photography skies sky technique transport Tue, 04 Dec 2018 19:20:27 GMT
The Sky's (Not) The Limit When the aircraft looks good but the sky looks like nothing, it's not likely you can wait for the ether to improve. If the shot's gotta be got, here are some solutions for coming up with images that do more than fill space.

ManiyakYak 11 "Maniyak" at Coolidge Municipal Airport, Arizona.

Above, this Yak 11 was the subject of a multi-frame panorama, so it can be printed six feet wide at magazine resolution (talk about a centerfold!), and made from a low camera position for that "hero" treatment, but the sky wasn't much to speak of. So in addition to pumping up the colors and contrasts in the aircraft, the sky got a decidedly bold color cast to emphasize the aircraft. Realistic? Not so much. Effective? It makes you stop and look, so, yes. (Extra points if you noticed that I also removed the remnants of contrails, which I found distracting.)
Adam A500An Adam A500 on the ramp with a new sky.
See the sky just at the horizon, beyond this Adam A500? The gray-blue blah with no clouds? That's what the entire expanse looked like, which means it didn't look very interesting. So I scrolled through my nearly 3,000 images of clouds and skies to find something a bit more arresting. (This was also a multi-frame panorama, good for five-and-a-half feet in a magazine, or 11 feet in a trade-show booth.)

Yes, there is actually sky beyond the original image of the F-22, at top, a thin overcast with almost no visible features. So, back to the clouds in my files, but this time with a little more drama to match the intent of the aircraft. You see also more oomph in the aircraft itself, plus I gave it a little more room to fly into the shot, angled it for visual energy, and though too small as presented here, the exhaust's distortion has been added.
Cessna Citation MustangA comparison of the photo of a Citation Mustang as originally captured versus as placed on a new background.
The sky above this Citation Mustang was actually nice, but what worked even better was seeing some sky beneath the plane. Jets are easier to put into the sky, with no rotors and propellers to convincingly blur, but it still takes attention to details. Be alert for pitot tube covers or "Remove Before Flight" tags. In this image, I also brightened the underside of the aircraft — an oversight in many such creations — and I even "adjusted" the elevator from its parked-on-the-ground setting.

Note that in all of the above images the sky was chosen to complement the aircraft, to appear with a coherent direction to the lighting, and to share the same color temperature. Even the Yak seems reasonably realistic, if unusual…

(AeroMark Images) airplane aviation background composition enhance enhancement photography replace replacement skies sky technique Mon, 19 Nov 2018 23:15:18 GMT
A Picture is Worth How Many Dollars!?

When hiring a photographer, the idea of return on investment, ROI, is often rendered instead as “you charge how much?!” That reaction sees photography not as an investment, but as a mere expense — and keeping expenses down is the foundation of a desirable profit/loss statement, right?

But photography should be treated as an investment and, as such, should be held accountable for a beneficial return. Fortunately, if a photography project is structured correctly, with clear goals and strong support, the return can be surprisingly robust.

Blackhawk Composites location, where they manufacture cowlings for Blackhawk Modifications' Caravan Conversions.

If an artist sells a photograph, its value is the sale price, but for a commercial concern paying for the services and deliverables of a photographer, the value of an image may be more complicated to assign or discern. Being on the “photographer” side of the discussion, I have sought to find an analog by which a reasonable value can be assigned. One approach, as imperfect as it is, equates the value of a full-page photograph to the cost of a full-page ad in an appropriate magazine or journal.

In other words, if providing quality imagery to an editor entices them to run a single photo at full page, or multiple images that occupy a full page of space, the value of that imagery is reasonably commensurate with what it would cost to run a full-page ad. Magazines need quality content and helping them can, thus, help you.


So, how much is good photography worth? A quick survey of current media kits across a range of aerospace publications yields these numbers for a full-page, interior, advertisement:

Niche-market industry publication: $4,500

Broad-market industry publication: $8,500

Pan-aerospace industry publication: $18,000

General-interest aerospace publication: $27,000

These numbers reveal the potential value of photography. Hire a professional photographer for a day, pay them $3,500, and the value of even a single photograph is less than the cost of a full-page ad in even a niche-market magazine. The ROI for a full-page photo in a pan-aerospace pub? Five-to-one looks great to anyone’s boss!

Blackhawk Composites location, where they manufacture cowlings for Blackhawk Modifications' Caravan Conversions.

Two extensions to this model: One — if you can wrangle a cover photo, an important and coveted position, magazines typically charge from about a 50% to over 100% premium for ads inside the front cover or on either side of the back cover, so bonus value for you! And two — ads are available at smaller sizes, but their pricing is not in proportion to their full-page brethren. One niche-market industry publication I surveyed charges $2,200 for a third-page ad, while a broad-market title charges just shy of $4,500 for a quarter-page. Either way, the ROI is still solidly in favor of quality photography because that photo will serve you for years.

And you know what else you get from a professional photographer? Multiple quality photos that support your marketing and advertising and social media efforts, again, for years to come. And if your product or service changes, then feel free to again hire a photographer and keep reaping those returns!


(AeroMark Images) advert advertising aviation cost equivalencies equivalent fee photographer photography price pricing promotion ROI value Mon, 05 Nov 2018 22:22:00 GMT
Shooting in the Dark Sometimes the situation for photography turns dark. And I don't mean menacing or sad. Sometimes the light goes away or hasn't yet arrived, and you need to keep shooting. Or, shooting in low light is what you desire. Here are some examples that illuminate (hah!) ways to make that work.


The Sikorsky S-76C++, above, was preparing for night operations along the coast of Louisiana. We'd already done the air-to-air of a PHI S-92 and, with the day almost gone, along with the light, I used what was left of the stormy sky as a backdrop for the aircraft illuminated by its own lighting.

At the other end of the day, below, is an MD 530F that will soon take to the sky from PJ Helicopters in north central California. Here it is the light from an ATV "tug" providing the illumination. And, again, shooting from a low angle silhouettes elements of the fuselage and rotor system against the deep pastel sky rather than blending them into that line of trees. (By the way, this photo is actually a bit brighter than the reality of the scene.)

PJ Helicopters MD 530F

This hangar in Beeville, Texas, would be the site of many hours of photography in the coming day, but I arrived purposely early and captured five differentially exposed frames to enable the assembly of this high dynamic range (HDR) image. Only then could a single photo show detail in all areas of the scene.
Chase Field hangarSikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

Lest you think only stationery objects are suitable for low/no-light photography, here are three images from a recent nighttime hoist training session with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and their Bell 429. I chose my camera with great low-light, thus high-ISO, performance and worked from a pitch-black, rocky hillside. Considering the extremely slow shutter speeds (about four times slower than I normally would shoot), I was heartened to find the majority of my captures were good — not all, but most.
AzDPS B429 against dark skyArizona DPS conducting night hoist operations training with their Bell 429, instructed by Priority 1 Rescue Training. Arizona DPS conducting night hoist operations training with their Bell 429, instructed by Priority 1 Rescue Training.

AzDPS B429 approachingArizona DPS conducting night hoist operations training with their Bell 429, instructed by Priority 1 Rescue Training. Arizona DPS conducting night hoist operations training with their Bell 429, instructed by Priority 1 Rescue Training.

AzDPS B429 preparing to hoistArizona DPS conducting night hoist operations training with their Bell 429, instructed by Priority 1 Rescue Training. Arizona DPS conducting night hoist operations training with their Bell 429, instructed by Priority 1 Rescue Training.

I captured this S300 over Broomfield, Colorado, after a long day of more brightly lighted air-to-air photography. There is still some twilight, but it's not much, and balancing ISO with shutter speed still required very good technique, and a gyro stabilizer under my camera, to get usable images. And, frankly, these are some pretty images — soft light and, because of the low light, shallow depth of field that really separates the aircraft from the background.
S300 near DenverIn and around Rotors of the Rockies of Broomfield, just outside Denver.

Sometimes, in photography, you can control the setting and lighting and action. Sometimes you can't and must work with what you get, when having the right equipment and composing to take advantage of the scene can lead to successful images. In other words, if you are prepared and practiced, you can make the most of what the client — and the sky — gives you.

Other Guy Addendum

You might think, concerning air-to-air photography, you can shoot only with the light pouring — or dribbling — from the sky. However, with the right equipment and skill it is possible to put a lot more light on your air-to-air subject. If you need that type of imagery, the guy to call is Claes Axstål. He designed his own portable, high-power lighting system that he can load into an airplane or helicopter (space permitting) and light up your aircraft like you might have not dreamed possible. See his work at

Claes Axstål web site

(AeroMark Images) aircraft aviation dark dim helicopter light lighting low photography technique Mon, 15 Oct 2018 22:44:16 GMT
But It's Just Sitting There! I recently finished a nine-day journey through the western U.S. capturing images for an upcoming trade journal photo essay on commercial helicopter operators engaged in wildland firefighting. It was a lot of driving, sure, but it was also a lot of aircraft sitting on their respective ramps or makeshift pads, ready to launch at a moment's notice. Yes, I captured aircraft flying, and we'll see those in the essay, but here are some tips for creating interesting imagery even if your subject is idle.

San Diego Gas & Electric leased Erickson Aircrane at Gillespie Field in El Cajon

Above is an Erickson Aircrane on the ramp at Gillespie Field outside San Diego. I let the sun and sky provide a bold canvas against which I silhouetted the aircraft. Note that I've left plenty of room for text in advertising, marketing collateral, or magazine articles.

HeliQwest Bell 205++ at Heaps Peak Helitac Fire Base

This Bell 205 sits at Heaps Peak (above San Bernardino) and I've given it the "hero" treatment, putting the camera low and gazing up at the aircraft. (This is also a multi-exposure high dynamic range composition, allowing detail in both the bright sky and shadow side of the aircraft.)

Angeles Forest Fire Base at Fox Field in Lancaster

This view of another Bell 205 is also from a low perspective, this time at the William J. Fox Airfield, not for a "hero" treatment but to bring attention to the ancillary components like lights and mirrors and, in particular for the essay, the tank.

Here's a bold composition that fills the frame with an AS350, showing off shapes and colors, and also puts it at its current base, Reno-Stead Airport.

San Diego Gas & Electric leased Erickson Aircrane at Gillespie Field in El Cajon

I got on a lift next to one Skycrane to take advantage of the eye-catching nature of its twin engines, a location few get to visit, and to peer across to its brother aircraft at San Bernardino International Airport.

The ROTAK K-MAX based at Sacramento on call with the USFS.

As with all the aircraft sitting on alert, this K-MAX at Sacramento's McClellan Airport is not alone, so it tells the fuller story to show their support equipment, here their maintenance trailer, and other aircraft that are also potentially put to work, a Boeing 747 on the left and an Airbus AS350 on the right.

And finally, at least for this article, I can't forget the people. Here's a crew packing up after short haul training with this AS350B3 at Covered Bridge Canyon outside Salt Lake City.

Everyone loves a good photo of an aircraft in the air, but there are some advantages to be gained when they are just sitting there. You can get close, you can compose at greater leisure, and you can use techniques — like HDR or stacked focus — that are not possible with moving craft. Don't just "take a photo" and call it done; find the angle and the elements and lighting that attract the eye and tell the story. That's what a photographer does.

My thanks go out to all the crews, the operators, and the public affairs people who cooperated to allow me access to these, and many other, aircraft. There was lots to see and photograph, and I made the most of it all.

(AeroMark Images) aviation california composition detail details fire firefight firefighting helicopter nevada photography technique utah wildfire wildland Thu, 04 Oct 2018 17:57:12 GMT
Them Looking at You Looking at Them In a recent posting the topic was people working. Caught in the act of doing their jobs, and how photography captures the intensity of those efforts. This month I interrupt the people to make images that are just a step closer to portraiture.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance with LUH aircraft

None of these are staged environmental portraits. These folks were doing their thing, or about to do it, or just finished doing it, and I basically asked, "hey, can you look over here for a sec?" As in the above image. This mechanic was moving from one task to another and I asked her to look my way. Click.

Or below. This pilot had just shut down after a photo flight with me and as we were heading back to the hangar…"hold it…" Click. In both cases the aircraft in the background, even out of focus, gives the image, and the person, context.

Lieutenant Paul Shields in front of the Wichita Police Department MD500E.

Another pilot, another flight well flown. While I chose to convert the above into a black-and-white image, somewhat it tune with the more serious expression we see, the brighter, warmer colors below seem better suited to this pilot's post-flight smile.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance with LUH aircraft

Now this mechanic has just a hint of a smile, just a bit of a twinkle, and I was happy to catch it before he crawled up inside the airplane for some very close-quarters work in preparation for a new fuel cell. And again, this is where I found him so this is where I photographed him. No coaching, no fake posing; just a natural, relaxed look.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

Lastly, this fellow needed no prompting to give us a big smile and, spending some time with him that day, I know that's a genuine smile because he enjoys what he does. My job, typically for a corporate newsletter or annual report, is to showcase the character of these men and women as they do their thing. And that's what I did.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

(AeroMark Images) aviation environment environmental job maintainer maintenance man mechanic men natural pause people person photography pilot stop technique woman women work worker working Sat, 08 Sep 2018 03:33:27 GMT
The People Manning the Unmanned Vehicles Except for very specialized vehicles and missions, unmanned means only that a man, or woman, is not on board, and a photographer does a disservice to the operators if the photography doesn't encompass them.

In these images we see how focus and composition are used to create much more than a "nice" photo of a drone.


The above image is the opener to a story in the Summer 2018 issue of Rotor magazine. In that story I look at the training side of drone operations through the experiences of four organizations. The two women, Jessica Bautista and Elizabeth Rohe, are digital journalists with the Town of Gilbert, Arizona. Though they appear clearly focused further in the article, I left them out of focus here since they are obviously connected to the drone.

By focusing beyond the student and instructor in the foreground, our attention is directed to Challenger Aerospace President LeRoy Aday and the red drone. Aday is visually smaller in this image than the other two people, and the drone is half-hidden, but we still know what I wanted us to focus on. (And I'm sorry, I don't intend to pun the word "focus" all the time — it's unintentional.)


Camera placement and lens choice give this Mesa, Arizona, Fire Department drone great visual power but Deputy Chief Brian Kotsur, towering over it, is obviously in charge.


And here, despite the identical relationship between operator and drone, I've taken the opposite approach to tie the pilot to the aircraft — though the latter is visually tiny, mirrored in City of Scottsdale Police Sergeant Austen George's sunglasses, that mirroring immediately tells us where the pilot's attention is focused.

Four images; four approaches showing people and their unmanned vehicles, shifting from drone-centric to pilot-centric. Those connections are important to the story, so it is important to the photography.

(AeroMark Images) composition crew drone focus inclusion lens manned operation operations photography pilot quadcopter remote technique UAS UAV Wed, 15 Aug 2018 02:55:48 GMT
We Can Fly Because They Care Recently I put the spotlight on the airborne crewmembers not operating the aircraft. This time I take a look at ground crew, the men and women who prep, check, and in myriad ways support the mission by making sure aircraft are safe and ready to fly.

As I've mentioned previously, I love photographing people doing their jobs, and these images show me doing just that. While these folks are doing their thing I don't want to distract them, but I have my job too, which is to clearly tell the story. I do that with composition, color, and honesty.

Above, I framed this mechanic against clouds building south of Puerto Rico, with lots of diagonal elements that impart energy to an activity that is important but visually serene — he is intent on his inspection of the K-MAX rotor system while our attention keeps coming back to him.

Below, a fluid check is just one of the many small steps required to send this QF-16 into the skies above Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The orange safety gear contrasts with the otherwise low chroma aircraft and surrounding scene.

There was very little color in the F-5 or the garb of the mechanic working on it at MCAS Yuma. However, there were colors in the out-of-focus background elements, which tended to draw our eyes away from the action. Solution? Kill the color and, thus, emphasize the shapes.
Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

Yet another example of focused attention, this mechanic at Fort Polk, Louisiana, is one of many who keep the Army's UH-72s ready for flight. The major elements of this composition point toward the upper left, giving a clear indication of where the action is.
Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance with LUH aircraft

Since none of these images was posed, which often is revealed by a subtle, if not outright corny, sense of unreality, the alignment of this crewmember's outstretched hand and the rotor blade of this Bristow S-92 is most likely just happenstance, but I'll take it since it helps our eyes connect his signal to the aircraft.

Each person in the above photos is seriously focused on their job, which is fine and appropriate, but sometimes the fun of working around aircraft comes through!

Marshal Parks MD 900

(AeroMark Images) action airplane aviation background check checking color composition crew crewmember fighter flight focus ground helicopter inspecting inspection maintenance photography preflight prep preparation prepare work worker Tue, 31 Jul 2018 19:30:40 GMT
Playing with Crayons EA-18G Growler on or above NAF El CentroEA-18G Growler on or above NAF El CentroPhoto call at NAF El Centro

A couple of articles ago I showed a "before, during, and after" series of my taking a blah photo and making it work with brightening and emboldening and a bit of color punching. The result was reasonably realistic while attracting a viewer's attention in a way the original never, ever would.

This time, I share a few examples of pushing the color to the edges and, maybe, beyond. Above, an E/A-18G lights out of NAF El Centro. I converted the original to boldly contrasty black-and-white for the entire image save for the flame from the Growler's afterburners. My eyes dart about the image, but always back to the flames.

Phoenix PD AS350East Valley Wildland Fire training

In a comparatively muted example, this Phoenix PD AS350 is headed for water as the crew trains for wildland firefighting. The colors here are natural but pumped up just a bit.

B787 main LGaircraft and details

Technically the colors in this Boeing 787 main landing gear are natural, but have been pushed so far they've fallen off the reality chart. Eye-catching, yes, though not always appropriate.
A-10 at Libby Army Airfield
This A-10 got the none-but-one color treatment, which brings the simplicity of black-and-white but with a color kick. This technique can be used to unify graphics thematically, applying either the same color to other images or applying complementary ones from a coordinated palette.

B787 engineaircraft and details

Wrapping up, I've moved to two complementary colors. In this case the term "complementary" means not "nice together" but, rather, "opposing" as in, on opposite sides of the color wheel. This pairing brings an electric vibrancy to the image that definitely grabs the viewer by the eyeballs. As always, that is the primary mission for a photo in service of marketing and, even more importantly, for advertising.

(AeroMark Images) 787 a-10 airbus airplane as350 aviation boeing chroma color douglas e/a-18 emphasis emphasizing eurocopter f/a-18 fairchild growler helicopter hornet manipulation mcdonnell McDonnell Douglas northrop photography republic saturation technique Wed, 18 Jul 2018 15:14:42 GMT
The Folks Not Flying the Ship It is common when flying a photography mission in public safety/emergency medical aircraft for the full complement of crew to be present. Sure, we'll try to take care of the photography, but if a call comes in, they will be ready to respond and photography be damned!

So when you are flying such a mission, don't forget to capture people besides the pilot(s). If an observer or paramedic is in the ship with you, be sure to come back with photos of them.

EMT-P Terry Neal

Above is Emergency Medical Technician–Paramedic Terry Neal in the back of a University of Tennessee Knoxville Lifestar Bell 407. We were en route to rendezvous with our target aircraft, their Eurocopter EC135, of which I got some great shots before, as it happened, the 135 got a call and we trailed along for that too!

Trooper/Paramedic Edgar Bissonnette[filenamebase}

Here is Trooper/Paramedic Edgar Bissonnette of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. We are in the department's Bell 429 approaching a local mountain that's popular with hikers and Bissonnette is alert for signs of people in distress. The photo flight was to capture a through-the-cockpit shot for a two-page spread in an upcoming issue of a trade magazine. (The photos turned out great, so look for that soon.)

Tactical Flight Officer Kyle CarmichaelMesa Police Officer scans the scene of a reported disturbance.

Observers are critical to police aviation. Above, at the scene of a reported disturbance, Mesa Police Tactical Flight Officer Kyle Carmichael scans the surrounding areas. We circled and Officer Carmichael continued to keep an eye on events until ground units had secured the location.

In almost all cases, these people are the reason there's a helicopter and a pilot, so to ignore them is to miss the real story.

(AeroMark Images) aviation cabin crew crewmember emergency medical EMS EMT first responder helicopter medical mission officer paramedic people person photography police public safety rescue SAR Sat, 30 Jun 2018 02:32:35 GMT
Turning Yuck into Yeah! I came back from an air-to-air photo shoot with plenty of good images, but one image didn't look so hot. What it looked was dark. Deadly dark almost to the point of featurelessness. And I know why (hint: it was on purpose).


There it is.

The flight started before sunup and as we cruised toward an intended location, we were passing this dramatic topographical feature. The sun had not yet crested the mountains to the east, however the clouds had a head start and their peaks were already brightly illuminated. That presented me with a challenge — how to not lose all detail in the clouds while retaining enough of my subject and the midground to later create something dynamic. So, I exposed the image darker than the camera was inclined to. It looks pretty bad, doesn't it?

To head toward that dynamic result, first I lightened the overall image without, as we say, "blowing out" the highlights in the clouds. This reveals the details that had appeared nearly black but overall the effect is probably worse than the original. Take a look.


The aircraft now stands stark against a dull, lower-contrast sky above hazy terrain, with everything tinted blue. To make an omelette…

Next I selected an element of the image I knew to be neutrally colored and sampled that element to "correct" the blue — that element might be the skids or the spotlight, maybe even the white paint. I say "correct" because the colors we see, above, might be technically accurate, but they are not effective as an attention-grabbing and -holding choice. Here's what I got by shifting away from the blue and also increasing the contrast.


That's looking much better! Still, I think it can be even more dynamic, if even less technically accurate, so I further increase the saturation and got this.


I hadn't even noticed the green grass in the lower right corner until I made that change. One more tweak and I called it done — a little judicious cropping to enlarge the relative size of the aircraft in the scene.


The final is dynamic and eye-catching, job one for a photo in service of marketing — first the reader must stop, then they can see your message.

(AeroMark Images) arizona aviation color helicopter md600n neutral photography sky technique terrain weavers needle Tue, 19 Jun 2018 01:40:49 GMT
Blurring For Focus Air Logistics

One of the opportunities I often take advantage of when photographing helicopters is to compose them against a background that not only gives context, but adds visual energy. Either by composing the elements in the scene, or by taking advantage of the mixture of low altitude and low shutter speeds, each not unusual when shooting helos, to blur the background with motion.

The S-76, above, jumps off the page with its vibrant livery contrasting with the muted colors below it, then I further separated the two by motion-blurring that brown field. As a bonus, the dark lines in the field act to frame the aircraft and offer a sense of direction, funneling the fuselage through the image.

An out-of-focus background helps to bring extra focus to the subject, but because of those low shutter speeds, required to render the blades in motion, the aperture in the lens must be small to restrict the volume of photons entering the camera, and a small aperture tends to render the background in glorious, distracting, clarity.

Well, there's more than one way to reduce that clarity, and motion is one of those ways. (You can read about shutter speed and why you don't want too much of it in a previous article, here.)

MD 902 FlightCare

Of course, for there to be motion blur, something has to be in motion, and for the blurry thing to be the background, the aircraft must be in motion relative to it, and the camera and the subject need to be moving together. No surprises there, I hope. The effect is more noticeable the closer the aircraft and the passing background are to each other, so lower altitudes are your friend, at least photographically. This red MD Explorer is probably no more than 50 feet above the terrain so, even though we're probably sliding along at only 30 knots, there's plenty of blur in that background (and in the rotor blades, for that matter).

The S300C, below, shows off its three-blade main rotor from, perhaps, 200 feet above this corn field, and the blurred corn makes streaks of color and contrast, emphasizing motion, more so than even the creek bed flowing past the Explorer.
In and around Rotors of the Rockies of Broomfield, just outside Denver. As always, the first goal of a photograph is to prompt a reader or passerby to stop and look. Get their attention. Putting some blur in a photo puts some energy in the photo, and that energy is used to stop a reader in motion. "Look at me; something is happening here!"

(AeroMark Images) action attention aviation background blur blurring blurry composition design dynamic dynamism focus helicopter photography technique Mon, 21 Aug 2017 22:38:25 GMT
Cover Photo? No, Maybe, Done. In the world of aerospace marketing, air-to-air images are often the default for magazine covers. Providing those images to magazines is one of the best bargains for a marketer (here's an article about that), but what if you don't have the budget or time for an air-to-air shoot? What if you must shoot from the ground?

It helps if the subject of the photograph is inherently dynamic, like a fast jet, but fast jets sitting on the ramp can be rendered dully while a wood-and-fabric biplane sitting on the grass can, through the photographic arts, be rendered as an eye-catching siren.

I present the tale of two aircraft photos, representing ones you might have the need and opportunity to create. A jet that's not even sitting on the ramp, but traveling about 140 knots, and a biplane sitting on grass. What features or factors would recommend each for or against a cover position?

This MD82 photo as a cover? Umm…no.

MD-82 AA San Jose 20080729 12xz

First, of course, this is a majorly horizontal image. The aircraft is very wide in the frame. Cropping to fit the cover of a magazine would excise most of the aircraft and leave swaths of uninteresting background. Admittedly, that would provide plenty of space for the flag (often mislabeled as the masthead) and cover lines (text), but it would be more space than needed.

The lighting is fair. There’s plenty of it, so everything is clear, but it’s mid-day, not a sought-after hour because of the generally harsh nature of that overhead sun, though the evident haze softens that harshness and pales the background, allowing us to better focus on the subject. A good news/bad news situation. But photographed from the side the fuselage appears as a simple tube visually broken only by the vertical stabilizer and landing gear. The wings and horizontal stabilizers have no dimension from this angle; the engine is its own tube but doesn’t otherwise relieve the simple profile of the airliner.

The nose gear is still in the air, which is a plus, and the smoke trailing the main gear indicates they are just touching down. So, there is some actual action but the side-view composition mutes much of its potential. There are too many factors working against this as a truly effective cover shot. See?

How about a Dornier Bü 133? Probably.

The photo is tall, so step one — check. There’s plenty of sky above the upper wing to fit the magazine’s flag, and room in the sky for those cover lines. So far so good, at least from a technical standpoint.

Yellow airplane against blue sky? That's some eye-catching color right there! The lighting is great, with perhaps just a touch of high cloudiness to soften that direct sun. Having the sun come from the side, too, rather than from behind the photographer, gives more dimension to the shapes.

And there are more shapes. The fuselage bursts in from the side, but we're not looking at the aircraft directly from the side. The engine has bulges, the livery is dynamic and, in typical biplane construction, struts and wires and tires, oh my! Lots going on, though the Dornier is going nowhere.

A feature of the image that is not obvious, except when you look for it, is the focus. Notice how the struts and wires are in focus, from near to far. The fuselage from the cockpit to the engine, that's all in focus too. Yet, the landing gear is not in focus, even though it certainly is at a distance somewhere in the range of those other elements. My technique? I used a perspective control, or tilt-shift, lens to tilt the, what I call, slab of focus so the struts and fuselage, etc., were within that slab. If something is not in that slab, it's not in focus. Doing so achieved two goals — all of that busy wing structure stayed crisp and eye-catching, along with cockpit and engine, while the foreground grass and background buildings went blurry. We know what those blurry things are, but our eyes are not drawn to them. It's a great technique, though it requires special equipment and the time to use it (it's a little bit tricky).

Put that bold image into a cover position and here's what you might get.


To illustrate a solution to the challenge of photographing a jet from the ground, I've put together this little number.

I was actually working on an unrelated long-term photography project for a city when I noticed this Antonov AN-124 warming up at the far end of the runways (someone later told me they need to get those engines up to temp and dialed in, or something like that, before releasing the brakes). I waited, long lens in hand, to capture a series of it rolling toward, then rising over, me. It came, I pressed the shutter release several times, and off it went (with one of its main landing gear bogies never fulling retracting into the fuselage for as long as I could see it!).

If this is your situation — you on the ground, the aircraft taking off — being in its flight path is a good place to be. Especially as it rises, vertical compositions make more sense and, especially with jets, you can use a fast shutter speed to get the sharp shots.

As for the "both of you are on the ground" scenario, with time and motivation you might try something like this.

The operator rented a cherry picker and, when the lighting was right (and the ramp was wetted down), they turned on the spray pumps and I made the images. It's an unusual angle from which to see any aircraft, including this Bell 206. Graphically, the fuselage runs diagonally across the frame while the blades were positioned to run vertically. The water spray gives even this, essentially, static shot some action, while wetting down the underlying asphalt kept its texture and, I'm sure, bits of dirt and other distracting tidbits from, well, from distracting.

The ringer — K-MAX with Firemax tank (and a surprise or two)

So, here's an easy question to answer: would this photo of a K-MAX be suitable for a cover?

K-MAX N267KA Kawak tank first flight 20050615 196z

I sure hope your answer was "yes," otherwise I've not done a very good job, have I? Dynamic action and a matching composition. Good color and sharpness. Shot vertically. Plenty of room for text. It has, like, everything going for it.

Is that just my opinion? No. Rotor & Wing thought so too, and the image was the cover of the August 2005 edition of the magazine.

Or at least I thought it was. When I first wrote this article, in 2015, I thought they had used this photo. I didn't have my copy of the magazine, ten years after the fact, but I recall having a discussion, back and forth with the publisher, about them wanting this composition, from among those I shot, but with more sky above the aircraft — apparently it was too high in the frame and would interfere with the flag and other header materials. Well, I couldn't find an image with more sky, but it's a great shot and I presumed they just went with it.


They actually chose a different image and, get this — they had to add blades and sky! See?

On the left is a photo of the cover, as printed. On the right is my version where, for the purposes of this article, I Photoshopped the original photo into place, including the lack of sky/rotor blade where you see that lack. But wait! It gets even more confusing (and then, spoiler, I figure it out).

Here is the cover, recreated using the photo I thought they had used.

It's magnificent! And it doesn't need any more sky or blades at the top. What it the world could have caused the magazine to use the other, less exciting, photo? My guess is it was the brand-new ad that appeared on the other side of the cover, what's called the inside front cover.

This ad. You see, not only was I the photographer, I was also the designer of this ad for my agency's client, Kaman, and it totally makes sense for the magazine to not use the same photo as their client is using in that client's new ad.

So, the cover had to settle for something not quite as dynamic, while the ad got the prime shot. I'm going to declare good jobs all around.

And while I'm at this, I might as well continue on the topic of the ad, because slipped into my copy of the magazine (which I rediscovered only recently) I found a report on how all of the ads in this issue of Rotor & Wing performed. The number one ad, in terms of respondents to the survey reporting they saw, read, and found an ad interesting? This one right here.

(AeroMark Images) action airplane aviation composition cover art cover line cover lines design dynamic dynamism editor flag helicopter magazine magazine cover masthead photography publisher technique Tue, 01 Aug 2017 02:08:21 GMT
Going Wide Boeing 747-8F at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, 24 June 2010.

Photographers have a plethora of tools they can bring to bear in creating images to support their clients. A photographer's skill at ideation and problem solving are critical, and sometimes the idea calls for, or the problem is solved with, the right lens.

A lens that mimics the human field of view is called a "normal" lens, while one that captures a more expansive one is called "wide angle" (and one that zooms in to capture just a small portion of a scene is typically referred to as a "long" lens — why it's not known as a "narrow-angle" lens is just one of the many incongruities in photo nomenclature).

Thinking about wide-angle lenses, there are a few situations that call for them.

The photo above, besides being created using high dynamic range techniques (see my article on HDR), was captured with a very wide-angle lens. We see the aircraft, sure, but we also see a taxi light and markings, giving the scene a setting, and the texture of the asphalt is a visual bonus. Not just a picture of a plane, viewers will spend more time examining the photo and more time spent means more time to share your message.

As I demonstrated in "Inside Out," photographing from inside a helicopter can benefit from a lens that shows the exterior scene and the interior. This inside-and-out shot from an R44 shows off the spacious view from the cockpit as well as the Sikorsky S-333 we had just been photographing, plus our destination as we RTB (Broomfield, Colorado). The composition and camera settings work to de-emphasize the near elements, as large as they are in the frame, and allow the focus (figurative and literal) to be on the far objects.

In and around Rotors of the Rockies of Broomfield, just outside Denver.

Here is an image that uses a wide view to emphasize the subject by featuring it near, and thus relatively large, compared to the farther details, rendered relatively small in the frame due to the lens. The subject, by the way, is Bob Odegaard refueling the "Super" Corsair known as Race 74.

The F2G-2 "Super Corsair" "Race 74" visits Coolidge, piloted by Bob Odegaard.The F2G-2 "Super Corsair" "Race 74" visits Coolidge, piloted by Bob Odegaard.F2G-2 Coolidge 20120303 24

Each of the preceding images could have been shot with a longer lens, but the effect would have been significantly different. This next photo, of a boom operator in a USAF KC-135, required the use of a wide-angle lens if I wanted any chance of showing Sargeant Sanchez (assigned to Phoenix Air Guard Copperheads) in his workspace. Those who have flown the Stratotanker know — it's cramped back there!

What did I do in this next photo? Well, it would appear to be a Boeing 787 with a fantastically long wing, but it is just a normal 787. Using a wide lens, though, allowed me to show off the (then) newly developed wingtip that brings the efficiency of a winglet without some of the downsides of same, while still showing the fuselage, which looks fairly normal. Not a good approach for every photo, but appropriate and effective here.

Finally, this BA609 was given the "hero" treatment by my lying on the ground with a wide lens and shooting up. Not only does the composition put the subject on a figurative pedestal, thus treating it as a hero, but as with the Race 74 image, above, the wide lens reduces the visual clutter of the background, dimensionally in the frame and, thus, effectively in the eye of the beholder. Bigger subject, smaller background, cue the trumpets!

A lens is a tool. Having good ones, and knowing which to use, is part and parcel of effective photography. Wide-angle lenses can be just the thing, whether solving a problem or creating a better image. Choose wisely and, when the time is right, go wide.

NOTE: The image of the Arizona DPS Bell 407 dangling a long line in the desert is most, but not all, of an 11-frame panorama that stretches five feet wide.

(AeroMark Images) aviation background composition detail emphasis focus hero heroic photography scale technique wide wide angle Tue, 18 Jul 2017 15:46:42 GMT
On The Line Some of my favorite photography is when I get to capture people working on the flight line. They are alternately serious and relaxed, focused on what they are doing yet also, sometimes, displaying the lighter side of their personality. Above, a volunteer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Wash., pulls the prop through on a B-25, preparing the engine for starting. Sure, you see effort in her expression, but I see a smile in there too.

Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance

At Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, many of the ground and maintenance crews for the Corps' aggressor squadron have been supporting these missions for years. That familiarity, with the pilots and the operations, leads to a looseness without sloppiness and, inevitably, to their personalities shining through. The DC-10 911 "Vicki" at PMGA while fighting the Wallow fire of May/June 2011.

Sometimes it's the scale of things — people versus machine — that catches my eye. This woman, inspecting the firefighting DC-10 "Vicki" between firefighting runs, is dwarfed by the aircraft at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Boeing 747-8F at PMGA for hot-weather testing And here, not just the size of the aircraft — a Boeing 747-8F, undergoing hot-weather testing at the same airport — but also the complexity of these machines, is put into context with people in the frame.

When the assignment is a wide-ranging article, or especially an annual report, people and their world should be shown together in ways that tie them together.

(AeroMark Images) aviation complex complexity composition context crew flight line ground crew photography scale size technique Thu, 29 Jun 2017 19:34:18 GMT
Inside Out _MBP3377 When you're photographing from a helicopter, the standard approach is to exclude any element of the aircraft, to capture pixels only of the subject — the scene, the structure, the aircraft — that you are there to capture.

Sometimes, though, take the non-standard approach and also show some of the aircraft you're in. Like this shot, above, from a police helicopter over an area they sometimes fly into for search-and-rescue missions. By including some of the aircraft, the scene gets not just a sense of scale, but a sense of mission (you're in a helicopter and there's a searchlight, so, search-and-rescue, right?) and it adds another layer of interest to the composition.

This police helicopter is practicing placing a load onto a predetermined spot. In this case the load is a substantial hunk of concrete, painted pink, and the spot is a tire lying out in the desert. I also shot this exercise from the ground but, here, with my camera shoved down under the fuselage at the end of my arm, I've put everything — aircraft, cable, load, tire, aircraft's shadow, terrain — into the frame from an unexpected perspective.


Look Out!
Next we gaze over the shoulders of the crew of this offshore helo formed up with a utility aircraft. My target (another offshore aircraft) was not yet in position, but this composition shows the crew doing what they should be doing — watching the other aircraft and keeping a prescribed distance. PHI

Finally, some double-vision. Not only do we see outside this EMS aircraft through the windscreen, etc., we see the view that the pilot sees, reflected in his visor — the expanse of terrain and clouds and sky.

Note that each of these images was created using a very wide-angle lens, equipment you'll also need to use if you want to capture the aircraft and its environs. The payoff is a more interesting perspective on the equipment, the missions, and the people.

(AeroMark Images) air crew air-to-air aviation composition context crew flight flying helicopter interior photography technique wide-angle Tue, 20 Jun 2017 22:48:25 GMT
Linking for Value I sent invitations to complete a survey, about LinkedIn usage and value, using both direct emails and in postings to LinkedIn itself.

The survey was a mere five questions in length, multiple choice, and could have been completed in well under 60 seconds, so it's not an exhaustive investigation into the service or the opinions of its inhabitants. It is but a snapshot against which you might compare or contrast your own usage, confirm or upset your notions of its value.

These were the questions:

1. Do you have a page on LinkedIn?

The responses were presented as

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not Sure

2. How often do you "use" LinkedIn, whatever that means to you?

  • Daily
  • Often
  • Sometimes
  • Almost Never
  • Never
  • N/A

3. When you do use it, for which purpose(s)? (Check all that apply.)

  • Initiate business contacts
  • Correspond with business contacts
  • Research background/experience of competing person/company
  • Research background/experience of prospective hire/vendor
  • Read articles or linked articles
  • Post articles or link to articles
  • N/A

4. How do you rate the value of LinkedIn to your business? (Zero means "no value," ten means "great value," and you can turn this rating up to eleven!)

The input was a slide with values ranging from zero to 11 that entered integer values depending on where the respondent placed the control pointer.

5. How are you involved in your business? (Choose all that apply.)

  • Owner
  • Employee
  • Independent Contractor
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Human Resources
  • Recruiting
  • Engineering
  • Manufacturing
  • External Customer Service
  • Internal Customer Service
  • Other involvement (please specify)


Of all the respondents, only 1 did not have a LinkedIn page. That person is an owner/independent contractor, seldom uses the service, does so only to read articles, and skipped the question of value (number 4). Let’s call it a zero (though they obviously find some value).

Of those with a page, a third use LinkedIn daily, a bit more than that use it often, a fifth use it sometimes, and one in 12 almost never use LinkedIn.

As for what they use it for, corresponding with business contacts is the most cited reason, with over two thirds of respondents declaring that. Very nearly that many votes were cast for reading articles or linked articles. A bit more than half initiate business contacts, while half research prospective hires or vendors, and nearly half research a competitor or post articles themselves.

The average value ascribed to the service is 5.2.

Business involvement ran pretty much the gamut of available choices, with owners (42%), marketers (38%), managers (33%), and sales functions (29%) leading by a wide margin over the other choices.

Owners and Managers

If we look at the combined responses of owners and managers, we find 26% of them use LinkedIn daily and 32% use it often. Another 26% use it sometimes and 16% almost never do. So, 6 in 10 owners/managers use the service daily or often but, conversely, more than 4 in 10 use it infrequently or nearly never.

This group’s usage is almost universally at lower rates as compared to the entire population of respondents. They are 7 percentage points less likely to initiate business contacts, and 13% less likely to correspond with those contacts. They are nearly 10% less likely to research a competitor, 3% less likely read articles, and 9% fewer post articles. Only in researching a possible hire or vendor do they overtake the responses as a whole, and that by fewer than 3 percentage points.

Perhaps it is not surprising that their average value rating is slightly less than 5.

When we turn our attention to those in marketing and sales, the numbers perk up a bit. In round values, 40% of those respondents use LinkedIn daily, and 30% use it often or sometimes. None almost never use it (that was a fun sentence!).

Marketers and Sales People


Comparing usage to all respondents, marketing/sales people uses the service more broadly than the population as a whole. For every purpose except one we see higher involvement: initiating business contacts is greater by 26 percentage points. Corresponding with contacts? 29% greater. Four points separate the two populations for researching competitors, three points for reading articles, and four points for posting. Only in researching prospective hires or vendors do the marketers/salespeople use LinkedIn less, though that’s by a full 30%.

This group gives the service a 5.8 in terms of value.

Daily Users

So, what does the service look like to those who use it daily? The big takeaway would be a much higher percentage use it for reading and posting articles as compared to the respondents as a whole — 20 percentage points higher in reading, and just shy of double the usage for posting with nearly 90% of these respondents doing so! They also research competitors much more frequently, three out of four availing themselves of that ability. In fact, it is only in the two business contacts categories, initiating them and corresponding with them, that daily users trail the general population, otherwise they are much more active.

And that activity seems reflected in their judgement of its value — 8. Does their daily use lead them to value it, or does their appreciation for LinkedIn lead them to using it daily? This survey didn’t attempt to discern that, but they are obviously connected.

What about those who find little value? Well, half of those respondents who conferred a value rating below 4 use LinkedIn for corresponding with business contacts. Significantly, that is a smaller percentage than for any purpose among the full population, and that fifty-percent-usage is the highest-rated-usage among the low-value-rating respondents. Confusingly put? Sorry. What I mean is, those who value the service least also use it the least, across the board.

How little do they value LinkedIn? They give it a 1.1 score, though the equivalent question arises for this group as it does for the daily users: is the value judgement driving their usage or does their low usage lead to a low valuation? And, again, we didn’t examine that but a connection must exist. These respondents are mostly owners, with managers and marketers the key functions represented.

Coming at the value number from the other end, what about those that place a high value on the service? Two-thirds of respondents assigning a score of seven or greater use LinkedIn daily, with the balance using it often. They identify themselves primarily as owners, marketers, in sales and management, and are more likely to avail themselves of the myriad capabilities of the system than the population as a whole. In every category of purpose, they exceed the whole by between 4 and 30 percentage points.

The average value score for the group is 8, though if we look at those complete subgroups as defined by business involvement, and count the value scores for all owners, all marketers, etc., not just those who give it high marks, we don’t see universally high value scores. Owners actually fall below the full-population average, with their subgroup average value score of only 4.8. Management nearly matches the overall average with a 5.1. Marketers rate LinkedIn as 6.0 and sales gives it a 6.6, the highest subgroup score.

Sales and Marketing

Given the high value scores ascribed by those in sales and marketing, let’s look a little deeper at these two subgroups. (For convenience, I will refer to the groups as salespeople and marketers.)

Salespeople are more likely to use LinkedIn daily, 57%, compared to 44% for marketers. They are much less likely to use it only often, 14% versus 33%, then pick up frequency with 29% reporting using it sometimes, versus 22% by marketers. So, pretty consistent usage by both groups in proportions that are not surprising.

The purposes for which they use LinkedIn are of similar magnitudes, though not identical. In descending order the top five purposes for salespeople are correspond with business contacts, read articles, post articles, initiate business contacts, and research competing person/company. Each of those is engaged in by at least half of all salespeople. Marketers’ descending list of involvement is correspond with business contacts, initiate business contacts, read articles, post articles, and research background of competing person/company. Similar to sales in order, but in magnitude the last two are engaged in by only 44% of marketers.

Summing Up

The respondents in this survey are predominantly owners of businesses, with heavy representation in marketing, management, and sales. This seems a logical population since these are the roles most involved in the business of business, rather than the business of making things or serving customers or etc.

In general, LinkedIn is seen as a solidly mediocre value with an average value score of 5 out of 10, derived from inputs of every possible value from 0 to 10. The subgroup identifying themselves as employees give it the lowest score, 3.6, though not all subgroups had sufficient data to evaluate. The highest subgroup score was among those in sales, followed closely by marketing.

Those who use LinkedIn daily/often, as opposed to sometimes/almost never, do so by a two-to-one margin. Keeping in mind that this survey was not completed by a randomly selected group, but by those who chose to accept the invitation by email or outreach via LinkedIn, it’s perhaps likely the frequency of involvement, among all those with LinkedIn pages, is lower — the more active users might be the ones to more actively take a survey?

This last point, about active users being more likely to complete the survey, and how that might affect the results, also applies to the value scoring. It would not be surprising to learn that those who use the service only infrequently, or never, since creating their profile page, find little or no value in LinkedIn. But, conversely, those for whom LinkedIn is a valuable tool, connecting with these infrequent/never users is perhaps correspondingly of no value, which is fine by both parties.

So, Why Use LinkedIn?

I’m struck with the image of a public pool where the majority of the bathers are not in the pool, but lounging on the decking. I’m not sure why most came just to sit high and dry, but at least they’re not in the way, right? Those who came to swim, or float, or dive, or play Marco Polo are in the water. And if that’s what you came to do, this is the place to be.

The value calculation for respondents must be a mix of cost, in dollars (or Euros or Lire or Yen or whatever, if they are a paying member) and time, versus the benefits they receive or extract. While the financials are either small, in the bigger picture of doing business, or non-existent, the greatest cost to using the service is most likely the time spent.

So it is here that I urge a realistic review of your own cost/benefit calculation. Time can be spent only once, and if you are not getting truly good value from LinkedIn, spend your time elsewhere. We all know that social media, of which LinkedIn is merely a business-facing manifestation, can suck an awful lot of minutes out of your life. Make sure those minutes are delivering good ROI.

Circling Back to LinkedIn Photos

I recently wrote about the bad, the good, and the ugly of LinkedIn profile photos, where I showed examples of each and counseled using good photography…of course. You can read that here, but I figured I’d follow up with the technical specifications as detailed by LinkedIn.

In most settings your photo will be displayed within a circle, so crop your portrait to be square with your face in the center. That’s if your portrait is mostly a head shot. If you choose a wider view, say, a head-and-shoulders shot, crop so your face is higher in the frame, but don’t cut off the top of your head because LinkedIn’s circular presentation will exacerbate that. (Also, don’t accidentally squash or squish the photo — just cut off the excess area to leave a square image.)

LinkedIn recommends that the image you upload be at least 400 pixels on each side, and they allow images up to 20,000 pixels. I mean, 20,000 pixels!? Frankly, stick with 400 x 400 pixels — that’s plenty large enough to see you clearly and it keeps the file size reasonable. (They limit your file to 8 megabytes, but I saved a 400 x 400 image as a JPEG with maximum quality and it consumed fewer than 130 kilobytes — less than 2% of their limit.) A smaller file means it’s quicker for you to upload and quicker to display.

They allow files in JPEG, PNG, or GIF formats, so use whichever you prefer.

Here’s their page with this information and more: If they move the page, just search the internet for “LinkedIn photo specifications” and choose an official LinkedIn link.

(AeroMark Images) linkedin photography portrait portraiture questionnaire social media survey usage valuation value Sun, 04 Jun 2017 21:08:49 GMT
Diangularity Composing a photograph for commercial purposes is balancing the needs of multiple audiences across a range of media. Even if a photo is expected to have a single application, it often is repurposed to further support a brand or campaign. With such a range of requirements and restrictions