For today’s blog I wanted to show you all the fun I had at the Veterans’ Day Second Saturday at WAAAM. Very lovely time. Take a look at my WAAAM images, (not from this Saturday, they are still being edited.)
Let me start by apologizing that it has been so long.
A few months ago when I saw that the EAA Ford Trimotor tour was going to be stopping at Aurora and Salem, I contacted my friend Bryan Heim, who has a close connection to the B-17 Alliance. I thought they might be interested in being the site host for the visit. He responded by telling me he had volunteered me to be his co-event coordinator for this visit and asked if that was ok. Knowing this meant that I’d be able to spend a lot of quality time with the Trimotor, of course I said yes.
Turns out the work part was easier than I expected. Bryan and Terry, executive director for the alliance, took care of most of the volunteer coordination activities and the volunteers were so good, that on site everyone worked together like a well oiled machine. I took the job of being the guy signaling the pilot to start the engines, making sure no one was going to approach the props on foot.
The biggest part of the work I did however, was that Bryan and I helped the pilot bring the plane out of the storage hangar every morning and then helped him put it away in the evening. This job usually did involve a few brief moments of stress, moving an aircraft that valuable in and out of a hangar makes one worried about making a mistake that will damage the aircraft. The rest of the job was fun though. We watched the preflights, learning a lot about the aircraft, talked to the cool folks around the hangar, and took pictures.
The EAA tour folks worked very hard to make sure volunteers and others who helped with the event got rides in the plane, and I got a ride in the copilot’s seat. This was incredible fun and the slow, graceful movements the plane made were surreal when compared to my previous flying experience. The turn on to final was my favorite part, it looked like I was watching a slow motion reel. Of course, the turn on to final is a bittersweet moment, as it also reminds you the ride is almost over.
In conclusion, I couldn’t be happier that I took this opportunity. It was fun, I met a lot of good people, and it felt good to do this different sort of work.
The Second Saturday at WAAAM this month was unique and a lot of fun. The theme was vintage glider and a few of the gliders at the museum flew for the first time.
The glider I photographed the most was a 1935 Franklin Glider PS-2. This aircraft was painted in all yellow US Navy colors and looked absolutely amazing against a blue sky. A 1951 GRUNAU BABY IIB also flew while I was photographing and a Waco primary trainer glider flew for the first time before I was able to get to the museum.
Photographing gliders is a little different than photographing other planes. They don’t move fast like jets, but don’t have propellers (well, except for the modern powered ones) that need to be taken into consideration while photographing. This means you can set your f/stop to provide a little separation with the background and use a faster shutter speed. Added benefit, it provides more margin for error in your panning. The best thing though, gliding really is beautiful.
There is some pretty major construction at WAAAM currently; expansions to a couple of their hangars. The museum has done a fantastic job of planning the Second Saturday activities so that they still deliver a similar experience. The back lawn did look interesting, probably will transform into recognizable hangar space fairly quickly. On this day though, it sorta looked like a moonscape with rectangular craters.
Make plans to attend a Second Saturday, whenever you get the chance.
The day the Boeing 40C leaves WAAAM and heads to Spokane where its owners, Pemberton and Sons Aviation, are located, is always one of the best photo opportunity days. This year I got the word on Facebook that it was heading out Monday, April 18. That is much earlier than usual, because of the two reasons that the plane needed to be moved to beat some construction at WAAAM and had some early appearances scheduled.
On my drive there, as soon as I got on I84 and reached the West end of the Gorge, it was freakishly windy. Flying in strong winds is a concern for flying lighter aircraft, there is an increased chance for mishap, especially during landings. I knew that the wind was probably a little less at Hood River, but was still worried the whole thing may get canceled. As I got further East with no change, my anxiety level rose. When I got around five miles from Hood River and there was still no change, I was thinking the only hope was that the wind-speed wasn’t as high as it seemed. However, when I arrived at WAAAM, their beautiful garrison sized flag was hanging totally still. By the time the 40 was ready for departure, it had built up a bit, but was still slow enough for them to fly.
The day was backwards from most 40 departure days. The wind was from the East so the entire flight pattern was backwards. This did allow for different images than usual.
I have no idea why, but I always get some relief from any mental anguish from converting an image to black and white. There is something about eliminating the color from an image and creating drama through tonal contrast and separation that soothes my mind.
The secret to a compelling monochrome image is usually contrast. In monochrome, there are two ways to create contrast; there is contrast the same as in the image before you make the conversion and then there is separating tone based on color by using color filtration in the editing software. The second method, is always foremost on my mind when I shoot for b&W, which I rarely do. My method usually means that I sort through my existing images looking for one that will look dramatic after allowing for the color filtration etc.
For the process, I use Silver Efex Pro2, now available for free from Google. It is easy and powerful. I’ve tried to get similar results just as a test in Lightroom, and it takes a lot of work, but honestly can be done. Silver Efex Pro2 comes with such a great variety of presets that it is usually a matter of choosing a preset and then making tweaks. I rarely go with the preset alone; doesn’t provide the exact look I want, and deprives me of some of my therapy.
My most used preset these days is the High Structure (smooth). I usually apply a yellow or orange filter to it, red is usually too contrasty. In most pics, yellow, orange, red filters provide increasing contrast as you move through the list. This is dependent on the color makeup of the image however and sometimes blue or green are the appropriate choice. One thing to watch for is that due to some characteristic of digital images that I don’t understand, blue usually will make noise more visible.
If you want a closer look at these images look at this gallery.
I do tend to prefer images with a natural background, however, images on white can be very useful. Still, I had never experimented with doing this with vehicles, because the standard way would require enough costly logistics that in my current financial situation, it wasn’t too realistic unless someone hired me to do it. Then one day I posted an image of a plane on Facebook and Instagram, and the background was nearly white. I began to think about that in relation with the following image.
With this image, Resurgence was in front of an open hangar door, in beautiful overcast light and the inside of the hangar was in shadow. I figured that if I burnt down the background I would have a beautiful shot that looked like it was done in a studio. Ecstatic with the results, I wondered if with a little playing around in Photoshop, I could get the on white look with cars and planes.
I started with the following shots.
The pavement behind the hangars at WAAAM is very bright and I determined that if you make a shot against their white, corrugated steel hangar walls, you would be well on your way to a white background shot. Unfortunately, I never liked that shot until I thought of this idea, so I had few shots to play with. The next step in Photoshop is to go into the Channels palette and pick the channel with the most contrast between the subject and background. Then, make a copy of that channel. Edit the levels on that channel to accentuate the contrast. Then click on the thumbnail of the channel while holding CTRL, this creates a luminance based selection. Invert this selection to select the vehicle instead of the background.
Next, turn off the visibility of the copied channel and reselect the composite RGB channel as your active channel. Go back to the layers palette and enter the refine edge dialog. Clean up the selection as much as you can here and export the results as a new layer with a layer mask. Now, with the underlying layers’ visibility turned off use your paint brush to refine the mask. Then create a layer between the original and the one with the vehicle masked out and fill it with white. This essentially finishes the process.
On the Waco YPF image, I also applied a surface blur to the shadow to get rid of the concrete texture.
Important lessons were learned in this process. I had earlier discussed with some folks at WAAAM that they felt images of their vehicles on white would be really cool. I said of course it would be possible, but quite a challenge. This experiment tells me that it would be easier than I originally envisioned. The results would be better if some equipment was rented; an actual white background, scrims to create clean reflections on shiny surfaces, etc. It can be done outside though, this goes along way to making it easier than I originally thought. Plus the method, outlined here can work, with the biggest challenge being catching ugly reflections in the shiny surfaces of the vehicles.
March 12, 2016, was Second Saturday at WAAAM. My expectation was that the weather would be very bad with lots of wind and rain, essentially stranding us inside. I still wanted to go, because one of the main things going on was a speech about the restoration of the Stearman 70, the prototype of the famous line of Stearman trainers of WWII. I have written a Resurrection Report piece for Warbird Digest that should appear in the May/June issue. Thus, I was very interested in going, even if the weather kept anything else from happening.
Most of the drive, the weather was very ominous, and it seemed like the my expectation was accurate. However, the last ten minutes of the drive or so, it seemed quite promising much to my surprise.
As a photographer, most of the interesting stuff happens outside. At this point, I think I pretty much have most of the interesting pics I can get inside, at least without bringing a lighting kit, etc. So I headed outside fairly early and hung around watching volunteers prepare cars for the day. At one point I moved inside for a bit, probably to check my phone and see if anything significant was going on in the outside world. When I stepped back out, the Waco 9 was sitting outside the restoration hangar and it appeared they were preparing for a engine test.
This is when it became apparent that this was going to be a fantastic Second Saturday. The Curtiss OX-5 sprung right to life on the first prop pull. I spent most of the day around the activity around the Waco, only leaving to eat and the speech about the Stearman. I am a Waco addict and this promises to be the oldest Waco when it flies.
October’s Second Saturday at WAAAM was Roaring Twenties day, but there was plenty of other things to fascinate.
One of the items that really excited me was a rat rod that was on display. It won the Rat Rod Magazine, build-off, the second in a row for the builder. It fascinated me in its oddity and the imagination shown in how to build an automobile in an unconventional way. Furthermore, rat rods definitely have a rustic look I always find fascinating. To better show what I find fascinating about the rat rod, I used the post processing method I’ve talked about many times here. I look forward to hearing your opinion of the results.
Another thing fascinating thing at this Second Saturday was the tour of the restoration shop, focusing on the restoration of the Waco 9. This plane will most likely be the oldest airworthy Waco when completed. The folks at WAAAM are really perfecting their tours of the restoration hangar and they get more informative and exciting every time.
The final thing of fascination that I’ll discuss here today is they parked the L-birds they were flying that day in a way that was perfect for a portrait of the two planes. It was almost like this was coordinated with myself or another photographer.
On August 19, one of WAAAM’s newest acquisitions, a Waco UIC cabin biplane, was flown to the museum by the chief pilot, Ben Davidson. Being a huge Waco fan, I had to go and photograph the arrival.
It was a little bit nerve racking, as there many wildfires nearby and the weather was still that day, leading to smoke filled skies. There was some chance this could interfere with the arrival, or in the very least mess up the photos. They were a bit later than expected, but this was due to the need to talk to some folks at one of the fuel stops, not by weather or fire. I had a heck of a time deciding where to go to photograph the arrival, but decided on the place that usually works out the best, with about 15 minutes to spare.
I had recently shot the motorcycle Second Saturday where I practiced panning, so my panning was at its best. The smoke was as expected, very heavy and it was quite smelly out there.
In the end, I liked the photos really well, despite the smoke. The smoke did make the sky look pretty bad, but when the plane was in front of terrestrial objects, the smoke added separation from the background that was pretty nice.
Funny thing is, the wind came up and the smoke cleared out shortly after the landing.