Rattling around the country, and this week, washed up in Orlando for one of my favorite events of the photo calendar–PSW. It’s so loaded with great classes, it’s like a candy store of photo instruction. On Tuesday, I teach a pre-conference class called Photo Safari with my bud Moose Peterson. Fair enough to call it a safari, ’cause what we do is go and hunt for pictures. From what I gather, our game this time around will be airplanes, as we’ll trek to the Fantasy of Flight.
Like any shooter who’s been doing this for awhile, Moose is experimenting, seeking new subject matter, and in short, re-inventing himself. A long time landscape and wildlife guy, he is of late entranced with flying machines, so much so he’s instituted a series of workshops called Air2Air.
It’ll be fun being around the smell of jet fuel again, and once again point my lenses at some cool, sleek planes. I’m not an aviation photog, not by any stretch. Always been a generalist. Give me an assignment, I’ll go get a picture for you. Curious about lots of stuff, so my photo portfolio, should such a thing exist, is a bit like a cluttered general store out in the country somewhere. You know, one of those places you can go into and score milk, butter, eggs, fishing line, bait, DVDs, romance novels, firearms of various caliber and types, and certain lawn tools. To complete the analogy, it’s tended by an aging, somewhat curmudgeonly proprietor who is increasingly forgetful as to where things are. Uh, that would be me.
But I have flown all manner of craft, have hundreds of hours in helicopters, and once, did a major story on aviation. It was a biggie, the first ever all digital coverage in the venerable history of the National Geographic.
Did some fancy flying as well.
Man, I thought I was styling back then, with my D1X and Lexar one gig cards, sitting backseat in an FA-18 with the Blue Angels. Rode the slot position with them twice, and had pretty good luck. (The Blues will routinely dole out “media rides” on certain occasions, which are fun, to be sure. Hop in a fast mover and go flying. But being allowed to ride in formation is a rare treat.)
Those one giggers (about $750!), if I recall properly, held 119 NEFS (Nikon Electronic Files) per card. Cool! Went up with one card in the camera and one in my flight suit. What a blessing. First time I ever rode a tactical aircraft, it was with the Air Force T-birds, and, in the midst of getting violently ill, I switched out 10 rolls of Kodachrome. Dropped one, which is a no no in one of those birds. Any object like that is classified as FOD, or, foreign object debris, and you have to land immediately. But Bert, the pilot, a great guy I’m still in touch with, just turned the plane upside down and the offending roll spilled out onto my canopy. I grabbed it, and we kept flying.
Amazing how far we’ve come in the digital world, which of course is what Photoshop World is a celebration of. Those one giggerlys have been replaced now by Lexar 32 gig screamin’ fast storage lockers you can stash literally thousands of pictures on. Given the fact I now shoot D3S and X type cameras with two card slots, well, changing cards isn’t a major concern anymore. Shoot all day, never have to change.
I’ve quite literally had my ups and downs in flight, and spent a fair bit of time on carriers, working aboard both the Truman and the Lincoln.
Managed to set up a small flash studio in the hangar bay of the Truman, grabbed a swatch of seamless from the carrier photo department, and did some portraits. A carrier is a floating city of 5,000 people, complete with a newspaper and a photo staff.
During the ’93 war, I transited Bahrain, and jumped onto the carrier Lincoln, operating out in the Gulf. Being catapulted off and trapped on a carrier has it’s moments, I tell ya. Members of the press get dumped onto a plane called a COD (cargo onboard delivery), which is a lumbering beast compared to a fighter jet. When I got shot off the Lincoln, the pilot, perhaps because it was an operational area, or perhaps because he was just getting his ya-ya’s out, did some dipsey doodle, evasive type maneuvers. As a passenger, you’re squeezed into rows, tighter than a regular commercial airliner, shoulder to shoulder, facing backwards. As soon as we hit the skies the journalist next to me taps me on the shoulder, and asked me to get the attention of one of the crewmen, who was a couple seats away. I reached over and tapped him on the shoulder. The crew guy was a big dude, most likely from the deep south, judging by his accent, and probably had been shot off aircraft carriers a few hundred times. He had a bunch of air bags stuck in his belt, and the scribe next to me was getting ready for his own version of a catapult. Got him the bag just in time. When he launched, the guy immediately to my right, navy personnel, signals the for a bag as well, and, as they occasionally say, engages in a technicolor yawn.
Now I’ve got stereophonic barfing going on, and I grit my teeth. The crew dude looks at me, looks at them, rolls his eyes, reaches into his kit, rips open a giant bag of cheetohs, and chows down, all the while eyeballing the gastrointestinal acrobatics being performed. He shrugs, and sits. The cabin filled with a wonderful mix of aromas, and other stomachs started giving it up, and all the while, he sat there, contentedly munching cheetohs. Those flyboys.
That aviation coverage was a labor, indeed. But worth it. A point of pride for the studio is that after it was published, it was acquired by the Library of Congress, who felt that in addition to being the first digital coverage for the yellow magazine, it was also an important piece of a visual continuum they maintain from the Wright Brothers forward. Sorta means that 100 years from now, when my hard drives are toast, and most of my pictures are properly and blessedly forgotten, these will linger, and maybe a researcher will find them useful, or even a great great grandchild might take a look, prompted by fuzzy tales of a lunatic in their blood line.
It’ll be fun to take a look again at some planes. Might even light a few up. Photoshop world, here we go again! More tk….
Thank you for another great post, Joe! Somehow I find all your post interesting, whether they are tales from the old days or some new lighting techniques.
And please promise all of us that you will always end your posts with “More tk…”!!!
Joe don’t forget that shot of the experimental airplane you took at pre-sunrise where you taped the 8 DB units to the underside, gelled warm, firing downward and you threw the WB to tungsten. IMHO, that still lives in the top 5 of best shots you’ve ever done!
Dennis Pike says
I come to the blog for the photos… I stay for the ever pleasing, self depricating humor.
Bruno Ãzera says
Great images… Awesome story… And cheetos? How could it be better? 🙂
Ted McAusher says
Really cool post. The things you’ve seen through your photography are amazing Joe.
awesome telling- i Love jets and i love cams so you’re right pushing my buttons!! thunderbird film story the Best!!
Simon Fleming says
My father has always been an avid reader of National Geographic and as a young boy I would eagerly await him finishing each months copy so I could gaze at the magical pictures and amazing stories inside. I remember much of your work, and now being a little older, a little wiser and more photographically inclined myself, the connection means a whole lot more.
You continue to be an inspiration to me today, but I’d like to thank you especially for those early contributions that sparked my photographic journey.
Ian Mylam says
Joe, if you weren’t such a genius with a camera, you should have been a writer … this blog, those words, those pictures… just brilliant.
Tim Skipper says
I start my day looking for a story from you. And giving that today I’m trying to find a nice way to tell a client where I think they can stick it, it was a blessing to read.
William Beem says
Welcome back to Orlando.
Phil G says
Having the pleasure of attending the Flash Bus Tour in Houston, and following your work for some time… I seriously that your work will be forgotten when your hard drives are toast and you shutter is silent. Your legacy, talent and teachings will be remembered and copied just as other greats in the field of photography.
Speaking of planes, the Sun N’ Fun International Fly-In and Expo is going on here in Lakeland this same week, just about an hour west of Photoshop World.
JerseyStyle Photography says
Very cool. Love hearing about that Nat Geo story, the issues of which I have in my desk right now.
I like you’re work so much there…I had to get it framed:
http://bit.ly/fQcxyK ….Hanging in my office now, bearing down on me.
Sweet inspiration, as they say. ~ Mark
Ryan Meyers says
Oh how I wish I could join you and Moose on that one. Thanks for yet another great story and amazing pictures to match.
Hey JerseyStyle Photography – Thanks for posting that blog post with Joe’s fantastic photo. What a treasure.
And remember, this year is the Centennial of Naval Aviation. A great theme if you’re looking for one.
Ian Loomes says
Unfortunately your Photo Safari was sold out (in record time I think) but I’ll settle for a handshake and a greeting. Look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Like several have said before, I look here first thing every morning for something to start my day.
Great story! For some reason i find the idea of you flailing around trying to catch a film roll in an upside-down jet quite hilarious 😀
Marty Ginter says
Joe, always enjoy your blog. Informative and certainly very entertaining. I wish I could be at PSW, maybe next time.
Dave R says
No technicolor yawn pictures? I would’ve put that on the cover 😉
Gordon Gurray says
a great post, Joe. I loved to read it. Man, what I wish I could shoot some pictures on a carrier… must be a really exciting event
I have that NG magazine. The shots for that article are simply great. The cover itself is stunning!
Christian Held says
The picture from the flight deck is fantastic! Can yountell more about the work on the carrier? This is a brilliant post and I remember you talking about the flight in a fighter jet. How did you manage to shoot such sharp pictures. You scared or too focussed on getting some good shots? Awesome work McNally!
Wow, that Blue Angel shot is nothing short of amazing.