Video: Fly with Team Global Stars

I have been busy working with the Cambridgeshire based aerial performance team, the Global Stars, to produce a series of videos highlighting their stunt performances and am excited to finally release the second video. This short movie, titled "Fly with Team Global Stars" gives you an up close and personal view into what it is like to fly as a member of the team. Strap in and get ready to fly! 

Behind the Scenes: Airshow Photographer

Ever wonder what it's like to be just feet from the action at an airshow with nothing but a (big) camera lens between you and some of the most powerful aircraft in the world? 

Let's take a step behind the scenes as an airshow photographer at the Little Gransden Air and Car Show from a few weeks ago. Although not new to aviation photography, I don't have many connections in the UK yet, so I was very grateful when an opportunity arose for me to be an official photographer in at this show. I may not have my furniture shipped over from the United States, but I had everything I needed to shoot the show, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Being a show photographer starts by getting to the show with all your equipment and checking in with the coordinators. After signing my life away to the Brits, I was issued a neon yellow vest that certainly raised my fashions up a few notches. More importantly, the vest gained access to the otherwise restricted portions of the show along the runway, which offers an unobstructed view of the aircraft. This area is tightly controlled by the CAA (British version of the FAA) as you are closer to the aircraft with no safety barriers between you and a spinning prop. 

Neon yellow really can be quite the fashion statement! In my right hand is my D610 with Nikon 80-400mm lens while I have my D800 with 24-70mm on my left shoulder.

Neon yellow really can be quite the fashion statement! In my right hand is my D610 with Nikon 80-400mm lens while I have my D800 with 24-70mm on my left shoulder.

The group of photographers first had an orientation with the organizer who showed us where to stand and explained some of the basic rules for the day. Those rules include getting the heck out of the way should there be an accident - we are standing immediately in front of the fire and rescue services! 

A view of the crowd from my vantage point. Straight ahead is where the planes would park before it was time to perform and the runway is immediately to the right (off image).

A view of the crowd from my vantage point. Straight ahead is where the planes would park before it was time to perform and the runway is immediately to the right (off image).

After our photographer orientation, I had an hour to sit with my friends and enjoy our packed lunch before I had to scurry off to the pilots briefing. This is the last minute planning meeting for everyone flying at the show. Here, the show director reviewed the order of the performances, the timeline, and the take-off sequence. This turned out to be a bit of a spectacle - some performers wanted to get airborne several acts early to give themselves some practice and prep time, so there had to be some careful coordination and planning to make sure everyone knew where they were supposed to be and that all the planes were in the right place at the right time. Adding to the balancing act is that some planes have certain restrictions - for instance, an ultralight glider was set to perform immediately after the Vulcan, but we had to wait 3 minutes for aerial disturbances and turbulence caused by the Vulcan's jets to subside before the ultralight could take to the air. 

Managing the logistics for an airshow is very tricky business and made even harder when some of the performers fly in from another airfield to display and then fly away - the timing has to be perfect! Here a pair of Lancaster's flew over the show immediately following a memorial prayer service to honor those who have died in service to their country.

Besides a slew of logistics, the show director also took this opportunity to cover radio frequencies, information on getting fuel, and where the backup runway to land in the event of an emergency was located. It was all the sorts of things that, as spectators, we take for granted when seeing a brilliant show.

Held in one of the hangars before the show started, the pilots orientation was a chance to work out the final logistics for the flying performances. Here the flight director is briefing the pilots that would be performing on everything from emergency procedures to where the snacks are located.

Following the briefing, I made my way to the flight line to start shooting. This is where the behind the scenes gets less interesting - the obvious photographing of planes ensued! But there were several unique twists to being a show photographer; the show director was standing nearby and I could overhear her radio. This meant I could hear the pilots talking to each other... "ready... go" was a good clue they were about to do a trick or stunt I needed the camera poised and ready for! 

Getting the timing right for photos like this can be a bit tricky, but it helps when you are standing close to the flight director and can overhear the pilots talking on the radio!

Several hours and 5 memory cards later, my feet hurt but I had shot just about everything possible from the show! After returning my vest it was time to head home and start the long and painful process of editing thousands of images to find only the very best.

My friend, who was back in the crowd, got this distant photo of my position for context. I am in one of the neon vests between those firetrucks - it's a position that offers a great vantage point without blocking the views of the rest of the crowd.

Although I normally shoot with my Nikon D800, I actually opted for the D610 for this shoot because it offers a faster shooting rate and the lower megapixels meant I could fit more images per memory card. The camera performed beautifully and is probably my new "go-to" for any action shooting. I still used the D800, but kept it equipped with a 24-70mm lens and used it for close up shots of the action immediately in front of my position. 

Being so close to the flight line also gave me a chance to get some unique angles on non-flight activity. For instance, Mark Jefferies greeted the crowd after an exquisite aerial solo performance. By being away from the crowd, I could shoot back on them to add the additional context.

The show was an outstanding success - all of the performances went off without any major glitches and I took away thousands of great shots. After almost 6 days of editing (slightly delayed by the fact that our furniture was delivered in the middle of it), I narrowed it down to the very best images. Here are a few of the other photographs from the show:

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.