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! 

Video: Meet Team Global Stars

Wow! I have been busy the past few days preparing for, shooting, and editing a series of videos for the Global Stars aerobatic team based out of Little Gransden Airfield in Cambridgeshire, UK. After a full day of shooting and many hours of editing, I'm pleased to release the first in this video series.

The Global Stars are a team led by Mark Jefferies, a world famous aerobatic pilot and owner of www.AirDisplays.com. I've been lucky to meet Mark early in my UK travels and had a chance to do some earlier air-to-air photographs with him and another pilot on the Globals Stars team, Chris Burkett. In preparation for another season filled with aerobatic shows, we've been busy shooting footage for these promotional videos and photographs.

This video was a combination of footage from GoPro cameras, a DJI Phantom Vision 2+ aerial quadcopter (drone), and my D610 dSLR video rig. Music is by one of my favorites, Dexter Britain.

Check out the video and meet team Global Stars! Stay tuned for more videos, including some killer airborne footage, coming very soon......

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: British Harvest

The United Kingdom is covered in farms and fields that require an annual harvest in the fall. For those farmers, these last few weeks have been very busy! These farmers wake at the break of dawn and work late into the evening to prepare the foods that end up on our table. It's dirty and hard work, but also makes for a few great photo ops. 

These prints were all taken over several days at the Little Gransden farm during the process of their fields going from flowing wheat to almost bare earth. 

Behind the Quick Shot: Flying Lauren

Air shows are a great place to go if you want to see some incredible flying machines and aerobatic feats by talented pilots. Usually, these pilots are mature and experienced men, so you can imagine my surprise and excitement when one of the best aerial performances from the Little Gransden Show came from a 27-year old female pilot named Lauren Richardson.

Lauren Richardson is the owner and pilot of a Pitts Special biplane, registration G-BKDR. At 27 years old, she is one of the youngest aerobatic and display pilots in the United Kingdom and world. But don't let her age deceive you - she's also one of the most naturally talented and accomplished pilots!

Many air show pilots linger behind the scenes, rarely interacting with the crowd - but Lauren believes in being approachable and goes out of her way to meet and greet with spectators and aviation enthusiasts. She also brings a unique, dynamic, and stylish flair to her performances, all with the goal of being more than just "your average air show pilot."

Lauren started flying only 6 years ago when she got her private pilots license. At the time, she thought aerobatic pilots were "utterly mad" (her words!) and had no intention of ever trying anything remotely aerobatic. About two years later, she changed her mind after a ride in a two seat Pitts Special (the same plane she flies now, but with one seat). The flight was supposed to be straight and level so that she could enjoy flying in one of these fine aircraft, but the pilot she was with decided her experience flying in the Pitt should include just one quick loop. That was it - she was hooked. 

Seeing the world from upside down was the most incredible thing I had ever experienced and somehow, there and then, I just knew I had to learn to really fly. The freedom and joy of it all was verging on narcotic.
— Lauren Richardson

Since her first aerobatic experience was in a two seater Pitts, it was only natural that she would grow into flying and owning a Pitts Special. You could say the girl in her took over - the plane was just too pretty and fun looking - she just had to have it!

Looking back at the 2014 flying season, Lauren said her experience at Little Gransden was probably her favorite; it's her "home" airfield and her parents had a chance to see her display. But that wasn't the only fond memory from 2014 - during the Cleethorpes Show she ended up signing autographs and posing for pictures with the crowd. At one point a little 9 year old girl told Lauren that she wants to become a pilot because she saw Lauren's display. For Lauren, experiences like that make all the hard work that goes into preparing these shows worth every bit of sweat.

Lauren likes to create interesting and engaging displays at the shows, so she's got lots of work planned for the off season to bring some new tricks to her 2015 performances. But Lauren isn't willing to spill the beans on those new tricks yet, so stay tuned for a new "Top Secret" performance next year!

For Lauren, seeing hundreds of thousands of people looking up at her during the displays is the most rewarding part of flying, and she loves to meet and greet with the audience after a performance to absorb their energy, excitement, and encouragement. The rest of us, looking up from the bleachers with our mouths agape, can barely wait to see what tricks and performances she'll bring us next year. 

To learn more about Lauren and the Aerobatic Project, visit her website at theaerobaticproject.com. You can also check out pictures and videos she's posted on her Twitter and Facebook page. Many thanks to Lauren for taking the time to chat with me for this "Behind the Quick Shot" post!

Lauren in her Pitts Special taxiing at the Little Gransden Show.

Despite a perfect display, her engine cut after landing, so she had to get towed back to the parking area. That didn't damped Lauren's mood at all - she kept smiling despite the hiccup and the crowd gave her a standing ovation upon her return.

Quick Shot: Mustang Nose

Last weekend was the annual Little Gransden Airshow, which is held to raise money for children in need. I honored by being invited to join the airshow as one of the official photographers, which permitted me access to the flight line for the aerial displays.

During the course of almost 4 hours, I photographed approximately 50 aircraft that exhibited during the show..... my camera felt like it was just eating up memory cards to keep up with the action! Thankfully, I packed plenty of spares.

One of the benefits of flight line access during the show is that you get a head on view of the planes as they taxi back from landing, meaning I had many chances to get some intimate head-on portraits of some beautiful birds.

I have always had a soft spot for the P-51 Mustang, so I was thrilled to have a chance to shoot this Mustang from the flight line during the show. While I got many great aerial photos, my favorite turned out to be this one on the ground where the Mustang was coming at me nose first. 

Stay tuned to the blog for some behind-the-scenes information about how putting on one of these air shows works... and lots more photos of classic birds.

The P-51 Mustang named "Marinell" taxiing down the flight line after landing. I love this photo in black and white to show off the polished metal on the fuselage of the aircraft.

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!

Quick Shot(s): Little Gransden Airfield

Hey Folks! About a week ago I signed off for my move to the United Kingdom, where I'll be living for the next 3-5 years. We arrived safely earlier this week and have been busy buying a car, renting a house, getting a bank account.... all the things you have to do start over in a new country!

For temporary lodging, we've been staying at the Fullers Hill Cottages, which are very nice extended stay residences west of Cambridge. The cottages back up to a small private airfield, called the Little Gransden Airfield, which is home to some really fun and unique aircraft. I've been spending a few days photographing the various aircraft here and wanted to share some of these photos as my first Quick Shots from the UK - but stay tuned because I've got more great stuff coming soon!