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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.