#WexMondays – Image Review

Firstly, thanks to Sophie at Wex Photographic for contacting me about this image and asking if I would like to put this blog post together as to how this image was achieved. After initially submitting it to #WexMondays I was surprised by the interest it generated including that of the Frecce Tricolori themselves.

I have never photographed an airshow before but when the South West region of the Royal Photographic Society posted the opportunity to attend the RNAS Culdrose pre-airshow day, I thought to myself, ‘Why not?’ I have fond memories of attending RAF Fairford as a child for the International Air Tattoo so heading to Cornwall to Culdrose seemed like a great idea. I have to admit to usually taking my time over photographs but this experience pushed my creativity to the limit as there were tight time schedules to photograph in, while also being manoeuvred around the airbase. In addition to this it was mid-afternoon with strong sunlight causing harsh shadows and strong reflections off of the surface of the aircraft. With the heat, there was also a lot of haze to consider.

This image was taken of one of the Aermacchi MB-339-A/PAN two-seat fighter-trainer craft which belonged to the Italian Frecce Tricolori. We had a limited amount of time on the flight deck where the ariel display team were all lined up. I was trying to find a creative angle to showcase an aspect of the aircraft and, as the pilots were doing their pre-flight checks, I caught this one with its canopy open. I liked the fact that you could clearly see the plane’s seat through the canopy which dominates the left side of the picture. Now, we all know rules are supposed to be broken and I kind of broke the rules by putting the key focus (the seat) centrally in the picture. I feel this works though as the dominating canopy sits in the top left third and we also have a leading line in the bottom right in the form of the front windscreen (not sure if that’s its technical name). We were also very fortunate on the day to have an interesting cloud backdrop which I think helps provide added drama to it, although as the sun was so bright there is some burnout in the cloud and lower wing detail. I decided to enter the shot to #WexMondays as I thought it was a bit different – it can be hard trying to find a unique picture of such a popular photographic subject but I thought it was worth a try.

In respect of equipment I shot using my Nikon D7100 with 18-105mm kit lens at ISO200 f/11 at 18mm at 1/400sec and bracketed 3 exposures. I did not use any filters and kept it simple due to the time pressure – I could have used a circular polariser to dampen down the reflections a little but then I think you would lose the cloud reflections in the canopy which work.  In respect of post processing, I combined the 3 images in Photomatix HDR (High Dynamic Range) software and converted to black and white. I added a little sharpening and contrast and that was it. In terms of difficulty, I would say 5/10 – the hardest part was the composition and having to shoot under pressure. Sometimes you don’t always have time to think when you are shooting so trying to keep the ‘golden rules’ such as rule of thirds, leading lines etc clear in your mind can help achieve the images you want. Before I went, I did some research on airshow and aviation photography and got some ideas together about what might work such as best camera settings, so planning ahead also helps. One of the mistakes I used to frequently make was consistently changing the camera settings and then getting so lost in it all that I ended up with useless images as I forgot, for example, I had the ISO too high or left the bracketing on. When you have the time to play then great but for the purposes of this day I mainly stuck to f/11.  The post processing was relatively straightforward using Photomatix HDR to combine the images and convert to black and white and then Lightroom 5 to add a little sharpening and contrast.

This was completely out of my comfort zone as in shooting with lots of other people and under pressure, but it was worth it as I am pleased with my final images from the day. Sometimes we don’t know what we can do until we try it so I would encourage everyone to get out and try something completely new and see what you come back with. Thanks for taking the time to read my post.

RNAS Culdrose HDR-11 copy