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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Air Show Photography

Air Shows are a ton of fun and in addition to seeing a lot of planes flying and some unusual aircraft at static (non-moving) displays, you also meet a lot of people (see below for an example).  The Cary Photographic Artists group had announced a bunch going to the air show at Seymour-Johnson AFB on April 16-17, 2011. Later we would have the opportunity to show our photos at a club meeting. Since I worked on Sunday, I went to the air show on Saturday, yeah, the day the big storm blew through the southeast United States including North Carolina. So instead of nice blue skies with sun reflecting off the planes, I had dark clouds.

Before you go to an air show: Do a little research. Google air show photography and you will get a tons of sites. I did and some of the best information came from a person who was using a film camera and had done it for years. Yeah, I know, film; but the skills of digital and film are the same, just how you achieve them differs.
   One of the things I learned is to get there early and get a spot near the end of the runway for the best shots. This is where they will land and take off and do steep climb outs at. If you are in the middle of the runway area, you will get a lot of bottom of the plane shots, not too exciting. Getting a spot at the end of the runway is easier anyway. Since you probably will only have access to one side of the runway, the middle means you have only one spot everybody thinks they want and are fighting for. One the other hand, there are two ends of the runway so you have twice the chance of getting a good spot.

Equipment: I don't mean to sound like a snob but it takes some decent equipment to get a decent shot. For still photos, I used my Nikon D300 with a 17-55 f/2.8 lens for static displays and my 80-200 f/2.8 for flying shots. Why f/2.8 lenses? Outside, it wasn't necessary but inside hangers (especially on cloudy days like I went on) and photographing dark areas like the torpedo bay of a WWII dive bomber or inside the bomb bay area of a B-2 bomber, it came in great as as a single slash unit simply won't go far enough for the large areas involved (ground to cockpit of a B-17 for example).
    I also took my P&S Canon 210SX for its movie feature. Unfortunately, it didn't work too well. I didn't have a tripod or other means of stabilizing the camera and when you zoom all the way out with a P&S, any movement of the hands or fingers produces great swings in the image. The further away the aircraft (or any target) and the more you have to zoom, and the worse the effect is. As fast as the planes were moving and without an optical viewfinder (ggrrrr - is any P&S maker listening?) it was almost impossible to acquire the plane and track it. The glare on the LCD screen made it difficult to find and track the plane and the slightest movement of my hands produced video that would make Popeye seasick. The DSLRs with optical viewfinders and larger bodies are that much easier to hold steady and to find the image with.
     Camera phones. Yes I saw a few people using their camera phones (not even iPhones which have a decent camera in them) and all I could do is shake my head. What they got ware little black dots against a sky. Don't even go there. Bottom line, a DSLR is the best camera for this job, period.
    Circular polarizers. Great idea, lousy to implement. Things simply move too quick to use. For those that have never used a circular polarizer (DSLRs need circular models as the lenses rotate), the problem is they have minimal effect when pointed toward the sun or directly away form the sun and have maximum effect when pointed 90 degrees to the sun (ie, the sun is to your left or right). This is why you can't use a really wide lens setting (say 24mm) with a circular polarizer as it will be dark in the middle and light on the ends as the field of coverage goes beyond right angles to the sun and starts to pick up being pointed a little more toward the sun. And like I said, it happens too quick to adjust the polarizer. By the time you adjust, the aircraft have moved on, waaayyy on.
    Lenses: A 400 mm reach would be nice. My 200 mounted on a D300 has an effective lens reach of 300 mm. I won't get into explaining her. EMail if you want.

Empty your camera bag: All I took was the camera, and the sling case for the big lens. ITs too easy to set a bag down and forget it or have somebody walk off with it. Besides, you simply don't need every piece of equipment you have. Go Light!!

Equipment settings for flying shots (Static displays you can do normally): Shutter priority with High shutter speed. I used 1/250 sec and is want' enough for a lot of shots. Think 1/400 or 1/500 at least. Don't worry about aperture, the only thing behind the aircraft is either the sky or trees if they are flying low. A shallow depth of field will blur the background so who cares about the sky? And the trees will be blurred anyway as you pan tracking the plane from one end of the runway to the other. So don't worry about aperture, go for the shutter speed.
   NOTE: When photographing propeller planes, drop the shutter speed down or the propeller will be frozen and the plane will look like it s propeller isn't turning, a most unnatural view for an aircraft in midair. 1/100 ought to do the trick. My problem? I got so wrapped up in the action, I completely forgot. Oh well, next year will be another chance.

Ok, lets look at some photos.

Be nice to the security folks, they are doing the best they can and they can't help what others have said or posted. The CPA (Cary Photographic Artists.org) had been told that no bags larger than a certain size could come inside the air show unless you went to certain gate. AND no backpacks period! Well, I measured my case and I didn't need to go through the one gate for big bags, but when I went through, I still had to go to an additional area to have my bag opened and checked. One of the security people knew cameras and commented on my equipment. We chatted for a moment and the moment was lightened. They get enough grief, don't add to their problems. And the no backpacks? Moms with two kids had them and it was just one of those things, nobody was going to take a moms supplies for the kids away or turn the family away. These folks were good and I applaud them for a job well done.

The business end of an A-10 Warthog or tank killer. Back when I was in the Air Force, I asked how far back the gun went and the answer is the gun is an integral part of the plan structure, you really can't separate to two. 3000 rounds per minute. The pilot sits in a titanium tub to protect him from enemy fire as he flies so close to the ground. (Problem is when they flip over that same tub will cause the bullets to bounce around all over the area. Definitely not a good option.)

An old WWII Navy Bi-plane. No details but it looked great and colorful.

Another old Bi-Plane. Again, no details on it.

Aahhh, the concession area. I didn't get to stay long enough to try anything a the weather moved in but they had some interesting things.

B-52 bomber. I had to really back up to get all of it in the photo and I had a wide angle lens on! The wingspan on these things is incredible. Notice the struts with wheels at the end of the wings to support the wings when needed. (I presume when the wing fuel tanks and full and ordinance is loaded on the wings. You can get a feel for the size of the plane by comparing it to the people walking near it.

The business area of a B-52. These things can carry an incredible amount and variety of ordinance. You can see the gear rotator for moving ordinance around to drop.
Flaps down! Those wings just go forever and ever.

New plane. The tail end of a F-15 Strike Eagle. If memory serves me correctly, this was the first aircraft that could take off and climb straight up on takeoff!

 Flying Time!   This is one of my favorites. (the P-38 Lightening with the twin boom tails is my #1 favorite). This is what the Tuskegee  airmen flew in WWII. If you don't know about them, go do some research. A great part of America's history yet a sad one also. Here's a link - http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org/

See why you want near the ned of the runway. I should have been closer to the end. Notice the prop blur, luckily had had my shutter speed down for this one.

The Thunderbirds awaiting their show. Unfortunately, the show for that day was canceled due to in approach of bad weather. (Nobody anticipate dhow bad it would get). I recall that the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue  Angels were approved on the basis they could still function as fighter aircraft when and if needed. It seems the time needed to remove the paint with high pressure hoses and have the m ready to go to action is about 4 hours.

BTW - I had trouble on some shots simply due to the wing blowing me around.

An F-4 Phantom coming in for a landing. My old friend Wally Hunt asked me for the tail numbers and was able to tell me when the aircraft entered the service etc. Apparently this plane is designated for use as a an arial target meaning you won't see it much longer.

I think that's enough for now. I will post more photos later. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

No it wasn't "Photoshopped"!!

Photoshop is a great tool, don't get me wrong although CS5 is a little overwhelming if you are just getting into Photoshop. I started out with Light Room 2 (LR2)  (Now Light Room 3 (LR3) is now out). But sometimes I have seen people's reactions to photos along the lines of "Wow, that is great, how did they do that in Photoshop?" I.E. if its a really good picture, its been Photoshopped.

The two photos you are about to see have neither one been "Photoshopped". (OK technically Light Room is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom but nobody refers to it or sees it as Photoshop.) The distinction is that Photoshop is a pixel editor that allows you to literally edit the pixels of the photo. I.E. Draw red horns and a tail on your sibling!! Lightroom is a photo processing tool that does what most consider to be about 80-85 of what we do with photos (serious photos). Another big distinction is that Lightroom is non-destructive, that is when you process a photo, the photo is not changed, the file remains unaltered, all changes are stored in the Lightroom program catalog. Edit a photo in LR and then open up the original file and you will not see any of the changes you made. That is why there is no "Save" option in Lightroom, the changes are stored in the program catalog. (IF you don't back that catalog file up and one day it crashes, you can start editing photos all over again as soon as you quit crying and pulling your hair out for not backing up the catalog. Yes this happened to me after working on a set of wedding photos for a full day. Got up the next morning and the power surged and the catalog with aaallll my days work form the previous day gone! I now have it set to automatically back the catalog up every time I turn Lightroom on.)

Back to the example of photos.

The first photo is straight from the camera, no retouching was done. The only thing done was to convert from Raw format to JPEG. (I always shoot Raw).

The second shot has had no Photoshopping done to it. I ran it through Lightroom 2 and cropped to get the lamp post on the left out, increased the clarity and vibrance, and most importantly (this made the biggest impact) raised the contrast to high. A little tweaking on the tone curves and voila - that was all.

BTW - For those interested, I put the camera in spot exposure mode and single point focus and set the focus and exposure point to just above the sun. This helped darken the houses and all below the sky and made the sky properly exposed. Using matrix metering for exposure (taking in the entire image, would have made for a different outcome.) 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Side Trip from Louisville to Maker's Mark Bourbon Distillery

While you are in Louisville, you owe it to yourself to visit one of the Bourbon distilleries there even if you don't drink. It is a fascinating experience. Kentucky and the Kentucky Derby are known for their bourbon (think also "Mint Juleps"). I won't go into the difference between bourbon and whiskey, you can wikipedia or google that. This is simple a photo record of my trip to Maker's Mark. There are many others in the region, in fact there is an area called "the bourbon belt" including Jim Beam, Heaven's Hill, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Woodford distilleries.

A brief history of bourbon: From Wikipedia: " Bourbon is a type of American whiskey (some spell it without an "e") distilled and made primarily from corn. The name comes from an association with Bourbon County Kentucky. (I discovered that there is no bourbon made in Bourbon County Ky) Just as Champagne has to come from a specific region of France, it can only be called bourbon if it comes from America. The region of Kentucky where so much is made has to do with the pure limestone spring water available there. The invention of bourbon is often attributed to a pioneering Baptist minister and distiller named Elijah Craig and while the evidence is not conclusive, it makes an interesting story.

There is a sign from the main (? two lane country) road telling you you're there. Maker's Mark has made bourbon for six generations, since 1840. One generation back from the current one, decided to abandon the recipe and start from scratch. One of the main changes was to replace the rye in it with a soft red winter wheat which is one of the main elements that make it distinctive.

 As you enter Maker's Mark Distillery, there is a small snack shop just outside the facility. Due to the little time left to make the last tour of the day on my last full day in KY, I simply took a shot of the sign outside and briefly looked in.
 Is there nowhere in the south that does not have a sign about Rocky City? I have grown up seeing them everywhere yet if I have ever been there, I don't remember it. Next on my places to go will be Rock City.
 As you enter the tour center, to the right is an old fire engine. I doubt it would have been any good extinguishing a fire as all that bourbon in flames would have been an inferno to rival the Hindenburg.

 Welcome to Maker's Mark Distillery.
A charming covered bridge. Almost all the colors of the facility are black and red, the company's colors.

 How they hauled to barrels in the "old" days.


Another of their black and red buildings. Not part of the actual bourbon production.  

One of several facilities where the bourbon is stored and aged. There is only one facility that actually makes the bourbon. Maker's Mark is not aged for a particular number of years like other bourbons which tell how many years it has been aged in oak barrels. Instead, Maker's Mark has a tasting committee of 16 men and women that oversee the aging of the bourbon and when it is ready, it is released for sale. Thus every bottle of Maker's Mark should taste the same. They don't sell different qualities of bourbon, they only sell one, the one that is correct. 

 This is the crusher that crushes the grain. It is an old style roller mill that prevents scorching the grain like modern machines can.

This is where they cook the grains. They say it is closer to baking. 

This is the "mash" that is made when the ground grains are mixed with water and the yeast is added. They have their own yeast which part of which is very old. They leave part of the  yeast batch to start the next. Again, it is the pureness of the local limestone water that has attracted so many bourbon producers to the area. You can see the bubbles breaking through the surface as it actually ferments. 

The wood barrels are made from a rare cyprus that makes these barrels virtually irreplaceable.  Some of the slats of the barrels are over 100 years old. They still use some of these fermenters. Apparently there are others not made of this cyprus wood. Here the guide was telling us all about the mash. He even dipped his finger in the mash to taste it and allowed all of us to also. (Hhmm, I guess the heat of distillation kills any germs.) To be honest, it didn't taste that great at this point.

Here is where the distillation takes place. Maker's Mark actually distills it twice, once at 120 proof and then again at 140 proof. This again makes for its unique taste. (No, it is not 140 proof in the bottle, it is 90 proof. The proof drops along the process.)

Each batch of bourbon consists of only 19 barrels at a time.

Here is how the distilled bourbon is transported.

This is a cut open oak barrel used to age bourbon in. It is charred on the inside as part of the flavoring of the bourbon. The barrels are used only once. After that they are sold for various purposes ranging from furniture to beer storage. (There is a bourbon beer in Louisville that gets its taste from the bourbon barrels it is stored in.) 

The barrel staves are air dried outdoors for 9 months with a minimum of one summer. (I.E. if the 9 months doesn't cover a summer, they stay out longer.) 

Here is an interesting barrel with a difference. There had been a desire to make a slightly different bourbon but they wanted to maintain the original recipe. So they began experimenting with other ways to produce a different taste. After 45 tries, number 46 produced the tasted they desired. It's achieved by pouring the bourbon out (into a separate temporary storage container. At first it sounded like they poured it out!!) when it had reached a certain point in maturity. Then these pieces of wood, French Ash I believe) are inserted into the barrel and the original bourbon is poured back in. Then it continues the aging process, being checked until it is ready for sale. 

 Maker's 46 is a slightly lighter and sweeter taste. (Don't let the word "sweeter" steer you wrong, sweeter is a comparative word. It is not "sweet", especially like southern ice tea!

 Once it is put into the barrels, the barrels are rolled by hand (no fork lifts or the such are used in the making of their bourbon). Rolling by hand "stirs"and mixes it as it ages allowing for a consistent aging process in each barrel. They are never carried upright by fork lift. Everything here is done by hand almost.

 If you want, you can apply to become part of a group that will have your name put on a barrel of Maker's Mark and when it is ready, you can purchase a bottle (or more) from your barrel.

Here the barrels are in storage as they age. The barrels are moved around as they age so that the barrels rotate. Their position in the storage "barn" (those large black and red buildings) indicates where they are in the process.

The barrels are as important as the bourbon. Following are photos of the tools they use (currently). If you come here expecting to see tons of modern stainless steel machinery like a modern manufacturer, you will disappointed. While there are certainly modern aspects to the process, there is also an great deal of old fashioned equipment and methods.

My apologies for "hot spots" caused by the flash. This was a public tour and not a private photography session and as such, you have to work quickly with what you have. If I had caught an earlier tour rather than the last tour of the day, I could have gone back and worked on some of these photos.

After the tour, you can dip a bottle of your own into their wax to seal it. Note: you must be 21 to enter this area and do this.

And yes, they have a sample of the two bourbons (which is why you have to be 21 to get into this area). (And you wondered how I knew the difference in the taste of the two bourbons). Note: the samples are small but still beware that law enforcement know samples are given out and caution should be used driving in the area. 

Maker's 46 is just coming out to market as I write this. It can be found in certain areas but has not reached nationwide availability yet. 

The tours are free and thoroughly enjoyable for all. Find one of the advertising brochures for times, directions, and other information. 

 Check out www.Makersmark.com

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