A Walk Through Aviation History

In celebration of Veteran’s Day this year, I went to Virginia Beach to visit the Military Aviation Museum. It is one of the largest private collections of military aircraft on the east coast, and reminds me of places like the Shuttleworth Collection, which I loved to visit while I was in the UK.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the museum put on a special ceremony, and then displayed a number of aircraft from that era.

I really enjoy black and white images of aircraft, and particularly like the challenge of shooting them on the ground in a way that captures their spirit for flight. So with each of these photographs, I tried to use the surrounding hangers and structures to remind you how much these machines love to fly.

If you want to learn more about the Military Aviation Museum, you can visit their website.

All photographs taken with the Nikon Z7 and Zeiss Milvus lenses.

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Behind the Scenes: Shuttleworth Collection of Historic Aircraft

It's dangerous to let me loose with a camera around historic aircraft - I absolutely love to photograph these flying machines! I could spend hours capturing every little detail, especially when the aircraft carry real historic value. 

Every year, the Shuttleworth Collection, which is a private collection of historic aircraft maintained by volunteers, opens the doors to their workshops for visitors to see behind the scenes of what it takes to maintain and keep 100+ year old aircraft airworthy! The collection, which aims to preserve the airworthy nature of these aircraft, many of which are the only remaining flyable ones left in the world, spent almost a half million British pounds ($750,000) to achieve this goal in 2015.

With my Leica SL in hand, I spent several hours photographing the inside of the workshops, which are normally closed to visitors. This provided me with a rare opportunity to see inside these aircraft while they are in maintenance - and it was truly spectacular.

1941 Supermarine Spitfire Inside Struts

Engine and wooden propeller

Aircraft engineer hands

Bristol Scout C cockpit

Inside the wing of a 1941 Spitfire

Parts hanging in the workshop

Britsol Boxkite tail

Shuttleworth Engineer

Clamps

1938 Westland Lysander engine

Fabrication

Bristol strut

Workshop

Parts

Safety belt

Tools and parts

Machine gun replica on 1917 Bristol F2B

Wooden Propeller

Tail from 1942 North American Harvard

Avro 19 Series 2 in the hangar

Will You See Me in 2016?

I was honored earlier this year when ARTS Deutschland "Professionals for Aviation"  contacted me about using some of my air-to-air photographs as part of a calendar they put together every year. I happily obliged and just received my copy of the calendar.

First, kudos to the designers - this is one of the nicest calendars I have ever seen! It's printed on lovely stock and has some nice 3D textures that really make the images pop. 

My photograph of Team Global Stars is included in their large hanging calendar, along with in their smaller version. I am super excited about being part of this publication and, if you get their calendars, you'll see me in 2016! 

Quick Shot: Hurricane Pilot

I have thousands of photographs in my personal collections, but very few of those images feature a person as the primary subject. When I saw this pilot getting into the cockpit of his Hawker Hurricane, I knew I just had to get a quick portrait photo.

He had no idea I was taking his photograph, which makes the image and his expression 100% genuine. I had watched as he climbed up the wing and opened the cockpit canopy. As he started to climb inside, I just let it rip with the camera's shutter, knowing that something he was about to do would be worthy of a portrait. Sure enough, I got this expression of deep concentration as he was getting situated.

I love photographs of people in black and white, so there was no question that I'd be converting the image, with an extra emphasis on capturing the detail and lines in his face.

Shot with the Nikon D610 and Nikon 80-400mm telephoto lens.

Quick Shot: Shuttleworth Collection Air Show

Europe is known for having a complex and colorful history - you can hardly walk down a street without coming across a building from the 12th century or some old castle where Sir Arthur dueled. So it's not surprising that Europe also has a fantastic collection of historical aircraft, some of which can't be seen flying anywhere else.

Of course anyone who owns a piece of aviation history wants to show it off to the public, and this weekend was one of the popular British air shows to see historical aircraft. The show was held at the Shuttleworth Collection Museum at Old Warden Park outside Biggleswade, UK and featured aircraft ranging from the old and bizarre to fast and modern. 

Unlike my previous two aviation photo shoots, this one was done entirely from the ground. I shot primarily with my Nikon 80-400mm lens and used my new Nikon D610 body for the ground-to-air shots because it offered a faster frames per second capture rate.

If you ever have the chance to see this collection, I'd highly recommend it! And you can enjoy it in true British style while picnicking and drinking a pint of the finest ale!

This is a more unique aircraft - it's actually a towed glider called the Eon Primary! I'm not sure you could get me strapped into that chair to fly that contraption either!

At first glance, this small transport aircraft doesn't seem all that special - but check out the point on the windshield. How'd you like to get fingerprints out of that?

Mark came out to play with one of the most modern aircraft, the GOFF PETROLEUM Extra; as expected, Mark put on quite the show with some daring acrobatic work to please the crowd.

This German World War II aircraft is called a Frieseler Storch and was one of the more unusual characters that took to the skies - it's an incredibly slow flying airplane and has a very awkward way of moving through the sky.

This was one of the half dozen biplanes on display at the show - I love the bright polished finish of this 1937 Hawker Demon contrasting with what was a particularly beautiful British afternoon.

If you look closely on this Spitfire, you can see a series of white stripes on the wings and underside of this fighter - those stripes are called invasion stripes and were painted using mops and whatever white paint could be found before the Allied invasion on D-Day. These are obviously a re-paint since the real stripes were applied crudely just hours before the invasion.

This Spartan Executive is probably my favorite aircraft from the show - but this was taken back at the Little Gransden Airfield. The plane normally resides at the airfield where I'm temporarily living, so I've had two weeks to drool over that polished aluminum finish!

I absolutely love these World War II classics like the Spitfire - very few still fly and the ones that do mostly reside in Europe, so it was a real treat to be buzzed by them during the show.

Mark and the GOFF PETROLEUM Extra closed out the show, giving me a chance to get a few more shots of him at work with a great display of aerobatics. 

Quick Shot: Air-to-Air Stunt Flying

I had the great honor this weekend of joining pilots Mark, Chris and Bob at the Little Gransden Airfield for some more air-to-air photography - this time using stunt planes! 

Air-to-air photography is one of the less forgiving disciplines; like professional sports photography, you don't get a "do over" if you miss your shot! You have to be on your heels and ready for every shot by anticipating the shot and settings required. Adding a layer of complexity to an already challenging discipline is to shoot from a stunt aircraft while photographing two other airplanes flying in dangerous formations....

Let's begin by setting up the photo shoot. Mark (flying the red 'GOFF PETROLEUM' Extra) and Chris (flying the blue G-Force Extra) wanted to get some solo shots and then some group formation work. Since we were going to photographing airplanes that move relatively quick and that would be doing stunts, it was important that the photographs were being taken from another aircraft that could match the performance of their planes. To achieve that, I joined pilot Bob in a Chipmunk (DHC-1) with the rear left glass removed from the canopy to facilitate my shooting. The Chipmunk is a two-seat military trainer - although not as nimble and fast as the two Extra's, it was an ideal aircraft from which to shoot. 

To get the shots that Mark and Chris wanted, we were going to have to do some flips, tight turns, stalls, and dives. Experience has taught me several things - don't fly on an empty stomach and know how to squeeze so that you can continue to focus without feeling light headed. Oh, and did I mention that while you're trying not to loose your lunch, you also need to have your head sticking out of a plane and taking photos?!

The flight was a wild success - we were safe and I managed to get all of the shots that Mark and Chris were looking for - plus I had a good bit of fun doing aerial stunts over England! Shooting from the Chipmunk also proved to be a bit easier than shooting from the Air Ranger - I could keep the majority of my body inside the aircraft's canopy and only had to stick enough of my camera lens out to get the shots. This is key because at those speeds, the wind can really knock the lens around, so it's important to try and keep it stable by sheltering it from the wind.

In almost 20 minutes of flying and 4G's later, I had 771 photographs totaling almost 60GB of memory! After a big gulp of water (I had my mouth open as we flew) and a shower, I started the process of editing and here are the results. 

Mark showing off the beautiful smile on the front of that GOFF PETROLEUM Extra

The GOFF PETROLEUM Extra is extremely agile, as demonstrated here by long time stunt pilot Mark

Mark maneuvering the GOFF PETROLEUM Extra towards the sky, while the fields below help remind you that we're flying in England. The photo was actually shot level, but I liked the look when I oriented it off level.

There's a saying that where there's smoke, there is fire - but not in this case! The smoke is an effect to help you see the trail of their movements in the sky. Here pilots Mark (red Extra), Chris (blue Extra), and Bob and I (in the Chipmunk) are all going vertical while I shoot out the side of the window.  

Which way is up? Again, the three airplanes are flying in formation, so I'm also upside down as I take this shot. 

Do you feel like you've completed the entire loop yet? Did you notice that Mark and Chris are looking at me in all of the shots? That's not because they wanted to pose for the camera (although it's an added benefit!), that is to help them keep their spacing from one-another.

This stunt is known as mirroring. Mark and Chris must demonstrate accuracy, timing, and most importantly, trust, in order to execute this challenging stunt. And yes, they are really just feet apart from each other.

Now it's Chris' turn to show off the nose of his blue Extra as we fly over a farm house in rural England.

My view from the back seat of the Chipmunk. Pilot Bob did the navigating and coordinated the movements with Mark and Chris. 

After a safe landing - I'm in the back seat (the canopy was cracked open after we landed so Bob could have some fresh air) and you can see where the glass on the left side of the canopy was removed to facilitate my camera.

Quick Shot: Air-to-Air Over England

Scenic Traverse Goes Flying!

You probably noticed I've been having some fun photographing all of the aircraft at the Little Gransden airport near Cambridge - and you wouldn't be the only one! Some of the pilots at the airfield have also taken notice and today they invited me on a fly-along to do some air-to-air photography.

Air-to-air involves photographing one airplane from another to get some photographs of an aircraft in flight. It's significantly more challenging than shooting from the ground too.... suddenly you have to contend with holding a camera out of a flying plane's window and keeping it steady enough to get great shots while both you and your subject are cruising over the ground. Adding a particular challenge today was that the airplane I was shooting from also had under the wing struts, so that meant the alignment of the two aircraft had to be such that the struts weren't in the way. 

The entire flight was only a few minutes long, but gave me several chances to photograph this beauty over the skies of the United Kingdom. I'm very appreciative that they let me come along and take some shots for them this evening - what do you think of the final results?

The plane I flew in - notice how the window was removed to facilitate my camera and lens sticking out and into the wind! It's a very small aircraft, but very nimble as well - and lots of fun to ride in!

A view of the Little Gransden Airport and grass airstrip.

A more detailed view of the aircraft hangars and property at Fullers Hill and the Little Gransden Airfield. We are staying in one of the buildings behind the hangars, so it's easy for me to constantly keep my eyes and ears open for any activity at the airfield.

How would you like to maintain that garden?! This was one of the many scenic views afforded to us from the air. I think this would fall into the "high rent" category!

Quick Shot: Stampe-ing Around in Little Gransden

This evening was busy at the Little Gransden Airfield here in the United Kingdom, but one plane in particular caught my camera's attention.

The aircraft in question is a Stampe et Vertongen SV.4, more commonly referred to as a Stampe, which is a two seat biplane trainer aircraft used heavily during the 1940s. The militaries of France, Belgium and England all used these aircraft to train pilots during and following World War II - because they are primarily European based aircraft, this was my first opportunity to see a currently flying Stampe up close.

This particular Stampe was built following the conclusion of World War II, with it's engines coming from Paris and the main airframe being largely constructed in the former French colony of Algeria. Several years ago it was completely overhauled and now flies regularly from the Little Gransden Airfield. 

I love to see and photograph aircraft like this - they are so exquisite and graceful in the air! It's really an honor to photograph aircraft that have also played such an important role in Europe's history and I thank the pilot for letting me photograph his beautiful machine.

How can you not love an aircraft like this? Everything about this plane is gorgeous and it couldn't have been a more beautiful day to see this piece of history in action.

The Stampe taxiing towards the grass airstrip at the Little Gransden airfield. It flew for about a hour today, offering its passengers some breathtaking views of the British countryside.

The Stampe returning from her flight

I usually find that aircraft photographs either look better in black and white or color, based on the personality of the aircraft and story I'm trying to tell.... but this Stampe is the exception and looks gorgeous in both!

Hey pilots (or friends of).... if you have a unique or favorite aircraft that you'd like me to photograph, shoot me a note. I'm happy to try and arrange photo ops!

Photo Essay: USS Intrepid & USS Growler

There aren't many places around the United States where you can walk aboard a retired US Navy aircraft carrier or US Navy submarine from the cold war era -- probably because some of those vessels are still in service today! But New York City has become the permanent resting place for two ships who served their country valiantly and I had a chance to tour and photograph both last weekend.

The USS Intrepid was commissioned in the fall of 1943 - as World War II raged. She served in the Pacific theater during World War II, sustaining attacks from Japanese kamikaze fighters. After the war, she continued her service in the Atlantic and supported operations during the Vietnam war. One of the most notable accomplishments for the Intrepid includes being the recovery ship for astronauts in the Gemini and Mercury program.

The USS Growler (SSG-577) was launched in 1958 during the height of the cold war. Her mission was simple - to carry the Regulus nuclear missiles that would be launched at the Soviet Union in the event of nuclear war. Thankfully her weapons never had to be used and after a short 8 years of service, she was retired. 

Both of these vessels now reside at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City where they serve as living museums. I knew I wanted to photograph both ships to capture as much of their story as possible during our short visit. All of the photographs were taken with the Nikon D800 and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. I wanted these photographs to be in black and white - it can be a very powerful medium for describing the age of these vessels. With that all said, enjoy the photo essay by clicking through the slideshow below:


Quick Shot: Emerging Texan

I want my photographs to tell a story, and I am really excited by the story of this photograph of a North American LT-6 Texan. This aircraft was photographed during my recent visit to the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force in Peachtree City, Georgia. 

The Dixie Wing volunteers had been generous enough to pull out several of their World War II aircraft and line them up on the taxiway, despite heavy rains that day. This aircraft had just barely been pulled out of the hangar, which presented an interesting opportunity.... could I take a photograph in broad daylight (ok, overcast rainy daylight) that made it appear that this aircraft had just pulled out of the hangar and was preparing for its next sortie. Unfortunately, the hangar behind this aircraft was very cluttered and it was going to be hard to present this hangar in such a way that a viewer would believe this photograph was from World War II. The only thing playing to my storytelling was an L-16 that was used during World War II in the background; by levering that aircraft, I could create the appearance that the LT-6 Texan had just emerged out of the dark hangar it shared with another aircraft.

To get this photograph, I climbed about 5ft up a ladder to shoot down on the airplane from a higher vantage point. The higher vantage point also meant that it would be easier to trick the camera into making the hangar darker. The biggest trick was to make sure I was centered on the aircraft and holding the camera level!

After the shoot, I converted the photograph to black and white and was able to achieve the look I desired. Now when I look at this photograph, I see a warbird getting ready for its next battle, and I hope you see that too!

Emerging Texan: A US LT-6 Texan aircraft with an L-16 in the background. This photograph makes me think the Texan is emerging from the hangar to get ready for its next mission during World War II.

Source: Emerging Texan

Quick Shot: US Navy SBD-5 Airplane

The Douglas SBD-5 "Dauntless" was one of the US Navy's most prolific killers during World War II. Unfortunately, after the war ended, most of the aircraft were left to decay and today there are only two SBD-5's in the world that can still fly....

... and this is one of them!

Based at the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force in Georgia, this SBD-5 is still airworthy and flies routinely. I am always excited to photograph aircraft like this that are so rare - it's my chance to capture one of the few remaining pieces of US history. 

It was pouring rain all day during my shoot at the Dixie Wing, but the rain stopped long enough for a few rays of sunlight to peak through the clouds, creating a dramatic cloud scene. I got my shot and minutes later it was back to a solid grey sky and pouring rain - but that was okay!

I like this photograph in black and white because it shows off the drama of the sky and gives the aircraft an old and majestic feel. I am very pleased with how this photograph turned out, but more importantly, am satisfied that I captured one of two airworthy SBD-5's left with the beauty and glory it deserves!

One of two airworthy Douglas SBD-5's remaining in the world, located at the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.


Quick Shot: Marauder

One of the many things I inherited from my father was a love of airplanes. I've always been drawn to their raw power and sleek design. When I had a chance to photograph some of the best World War II aircraft still flying today, I jumped at the opportunity. 

The B-26 Marauder was a twin engine bomber used heavily in the European theater during World War II, including on D-Day. Unfortunately, frequent accidents during take off and landing gave the Marauder the nickname "widow maker" for some time, but the pilots learned to fly this great machine and it became one of the most important aircraft to the war effort. 

This B-26 is located at Fantasy of Flight outside Orlando, Florida. The aircraft has been diligently maintained and is still able to fly today.... 70 years later!  

The aircraft was parked too close to other aircraft for me to isolate alone in a single shot, but I was drawn to the reflection of the machine gunners bubble on the front of the bomber. I used a Nikon 14-24mm wide angle lens to get close to the bubble but to still get some of the wings in the shot as well.  

The photo was edited using Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Nik HDR Efex 2; I didn't have a tripod so I got all of the dynamic range from a single shot by dialing in an exposure compensation of -0.5 stops so that the bright sky wasn't blown out in the highlights. 

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Quick Shot: Fatherly Inspiration

Happy Father's Day! I wanted to dedicate today's Quick Shot post to my Dad, Paul, who has inspired many of my interests and some of my photography.

My dad is a geek. He loves electronics and gadgets. Since my mom is repulsed by most things with a plug, I'm going to assume my own love of technology and gadgetry came from my dad!  

I remember family vacations growing up where my dad would have his camcorder that required him to tote a VCR over his shoulder for the camera to write to ... years later the bulky VCR sling was replaced with a bigger camcorder that could write to tapes stored internally. It's the oldest memory I have of my dad with some type of photographic equipment (and I bet that camcorder is still in our basement somewhere!). In the basement of my parents home is a box of tapes containing footage I shot in Yellowstone National Park..... I remember feeling like I was making a Hollywood production with that giant camera sitting on my shoulder and was constantly nagging at my dad to let me have a turn filming it.  

Some years later my dad gave me my first camera for Christmas. It was film, but unlike the film of my dad's Minolta, this camera took special film that didn't require the careful loading (110 film). This camera was magical. I took hundreds of photos and couldn't wait until it was time to pick up the prints from the drive-through film processing place down the street. (On a side note, talk about times changing - I don't think those places exist, yet they used to be on every street corner!)  

Digital cameras came a few years later. My dad's first digital camera was this giant blue camera that probably had 1 megapixel resolution. I remember sitting with him and being enamored by the ability to see your photo instantly. It's probably been 15 years since we purchased that camera, but it seems like just yesterday that I was using it! It's absolutely amazing the technology advances we've seen in the past few decades, yet my dad and I still catch ourselves saying "wow, a gigabyte of memory.... we will never need more memory than that!" 

As my photography evolved from an interest into a profession, my dad was there to offer advice and enjoyed playing with my new gadgets. He's also offered a bit of inspiration to my work.

Growing up my dad had a model train set in his basement. I loved putting an engine on the tracks and watching it zip around the train set at full speed (my dad did not endorse the full speed bit - I think he was white knuckled the whole time!). At some point, my dad's interest in trains flipped to an interest in airplanes, which, I suspect, is partially my fault and came as a result of a science fair project I did with airplanes. The train set was replaced with a collection of RC and model airplanes and my mom dubs this part of the basement the "transportation mall" because you can find just about any mode of transportation represented there! We went to air shows and with great envy, my dad would take me to space camp.

As you flip through my galleries, you'll see one dedicated to airplanes and one dedicated to trains - I'd go so far as to say that my interest in photographing these subjects is a result of being raised around them. My dad used to tell me to "look at the detail" in the world, and I suspect he's inspired more of my work than just the airplanes and trains I've photographed. 

Thanks, dad, for teaching me so much about photography and for inspiring my work.

Happy Father's Day! 

-Kristen

My dad and his two daughters in Yellowstone. This would be the trip where I begged and pleaded to use his video camera... (I am the dork in the cowboy hat!)

My dad and his two daughters in Yellowstone. This would be the trip where I begged and pleaded to use his video camera... (I am the dork in the cowboy hat!)

My dad and I at my wedding, October 2012

My dad and I at my wedding, October 2012

You know, we hired a real wedding photographer! But dad wanted to be sure he got his own memories, and he seems happy doing it!

You know, we hired a real wedding photographer! But dad wanted to be sure he got his own memories, and he seems happy doing it!

One of many hobbies we have in common - SCUBA diving. Self portrait taken by Kristen. 

One of many hobbies we have in common - SCUBA diving. Self portrait taken by Kristen. 

Taking one of his RC vehicles from the "transportation mall" out for a spin.  

Taking one of his RC vehicles from the "transportation mall" out for a spin.