Wigs Over Houston

OK, not really – it’s WINGS Over Houston, but I figured, with the wigs on the site and all…you get the idea.

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B-25 – The Yellow Rose

Going back to October, this year’s Wings Over Houston Airshow was Oct. 17th, and I went with my dad (as usual) and my boss/friend from work. She’s a former employee of US Airways (now part of another airline, can’t remember the name right now) and loves airplanes, too, so it was fun to share the experience with someone else.

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MK959 Spitfire

I told myself that since I wasn’t very satisfied with my aerial pics last time, I’d focus on shooting the planes during the viewing hours of the show, when you can get up close with them before they take off. However, once the planes got in the air I couldn’t help myself, and since I knew a bit more this time about what settings to use on the camera for decent shots, I managed to get some really nice ones this year. I also made sure to try for shots that would be more unique or interesting than the typical stuff everyone else snaps – the two above were taken during a war simulation, and I particularly liked the effect the smoke from the faux-bombs created.

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The Breitling Jet Team – from France

The Thunderbirds were there this year (instead of the Blue Angels who performed in 2014) but my friend and I were wise enough to leave before the final show; my father and I spent over an hour in the shuttle line the year before since we left with everyone else, and since there were two performance jet teams this year, I still got to see some high flyers before we took off. It was a good idea, since it meant we walked right onto a shuttle instead of waiting in line forever.

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In 2014 I saved my camera strictly for photos of planes in the air and didn’t even take it out when we were wandering around viewing the planes, but since this year I wasn’t planning to take any aerial stuff anyway I took my camera with me to the touring area earlier in the day, and got some nice shots there too:

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Standing beneath the wing of a C-17; one of my favorite shots of the day

I took my telephoto lens again this year, but am considering taking the wide-angle next year; it was hard to get all of the planes in my shots while we were walking around with the zoom lens, and it wasn’t the most convenient lens for these types of shots. We stood in line to tour the inside of the C-17 and my lens was pretty much useless inside it; I could not even get a shot of the cockpit once we got in there because it was so small – and we stood in line for over an hour to get up there! I did get a shot of the stairs leading up to it, though:

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I also got a few shots of one of the servicemen standing in the cockpit and looking out the little round window that overlooks the huge cargo area where we were all waiting in line, but with the lack of indoor light and my inability to get my settings right, all the shots of him looking through it were crappy and blurry. I processed one of the shots, though, and just edited the hell out of it to disguise the fact that it’s a bad photo – I had to process it, because the dude was looking right at me in the shot.

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There was also a nice big United 737 that I took some snaps of; I tried to keep all the crowds of people out of these shots so it might appear that I was actually just getting super-close access to a plane on a runway instead of at an exhibition; for the most part I think I pulled it off:

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Another thing I wanted to try this year was taking pictures of interesting people, as well. There certainly are a lot of them:

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Yes, “interesting” is one way to describe these guys

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I love it when I get to piggyback off someone else’s staged shot; this veteran was posing for someone else so I snuck up behind them and snapped the same photo:

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That’s actually a composite of two shots I took of him; in one, a woman walked into the frame right as I snapped the shot, and her body covered up half the flag. In the other, she wasn’t in the frame, but his features were not as clear and the shot wasn’t quite as focused, so I layered that less-focused shot over the better one and erased the woman’s body out of the frame. And there you go.

Last shot for now – I snapped this one quickly while we were waiting in that hour-long line for the cockpit of the C-17; I snapped a bunch of one-offs through the open cargo doors since there wasn’t much else to do and nothing I could get decent photos of inside, and right after I took this one I looked at it on my LCD screen and realized it was a nice one. How much more alike could these two look anyway?

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Yep, definitely related

I processed this one in black and white because the color just didn’t add anything to it. I especially like the young guy’s shadow on his dad’s (I assume) shirt. They were probably looking up into the cargo hold at all the people standing in line inside and thinking to themselves, why on earth would those idiots stand in line so long just to spend two minutes inside a stuffy cockpit? Well, because we can, dude. That’s why.

I edited most of these shots over the past two days; that’s how busy I’ve been and have just now gotten around to really editing these photos. I’ve decided I need to start dedicating myself to editing at least one photo a night since I’ve got such a backlog of stuff and what I’m really craving is a good old portrait-and-jumping photo session. I don’t want all this other stuff to get completely forgotten, though, so I’m trying to work through it all now. Still lots I’d like to edit from this set, as well as my trip out to IAH back in September, so more planes to come.

Next week – vacation! I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving already. A whole week off, and I’m going to try and take my portrait shots then.

 

No Plane, No Gain

I am continuing to scour the three thousand photos I took at Wings Over Houston last weekend for shots that might be unique from what other photographers captured. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of photos from the event that have been uploaded to various airshow and aviation websites, and yep, I’m still seeing a lot of “my” photos over and again, including several with the Blue Angels passing over the moon – although none of those look quite like the one I captured. As I see more and more shots from others, I get a better idea of which pictures I’d like to process, like this one:

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This was the narrator of the Blue Angels performance; I popped this shot off real quick for no good reason but ended up liking the color and composition of it. Don’t know if I would have liked it as much had he been wearing the traditional blue flight suit, because I love the bright yellow against that rather dull background.

I didn’t so much love this next shot, but I was impressed with the aircraft so I wanted to share at least one:

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The propellers on this thing were massive; when at rest they looked almost as big as the fuselage of the plane. They also swivel, so the aircraft can fly either as a plane or a helicopter. It was definitely an impressive thing to watch, but a damned ugly thing to photograph. I was so excited to see it fly but when looking at the photos I couldn’t work up much energy to process any of them; I had to force myself to do this one. Moving on.

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I liked the color and composition of this one, but I admit to having been too lazy to look up exactly what planes these are. It’s been tricky for me, processing shots of planes where the subject is so small; I’m used to getting right up on a plane as it lands like I’ve done in the past with commercial jets, but these were much higher in the sky and farther away than the planes I capture at airport observation areas. So even though these felt tiny to me, I found other things to appreciate. Also, I wasn’t able to slow my shutter speed down enough to blur the motion of the propellers; I tried, but my camera was still stopping the blades. If I’d slowed down the shutter any more, though, everything would have been blurry, so I quit trying.

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Ah yes, I do know what these warbirds are – a B-17 and a Mustang P-51 (a TF-51D, actually, but I prefer to call it a P-51 because it sounds better). I’m so bummed there were no clouds in the sky as that would have really helped to project a sense of flying here; it almost looks like a shot of planes set against a light blue background, like an ad in a paper or something. I tried to cheat and add some clouds as a layer but it looked awful, so plain boring blue non sky-like background it is.

At times, though, the planes made their own clouds:

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Again, such a small subject but at last, some texture to the sky! That’s a A6M2 Zero, by the way, a Japanese WWII fighter plane.

And now, for a few more Blue Angels shots:

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This is one of those shots that’s been replicated a thousand times over, but at least mine is nice and crisp. And holy hell, how do those pilots not die doing this sort of thing? Amazing.

Now this one is a little weird:

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I actually took the shot while focusing through a chain-link fence, and if you look at it from afar you can see the fence’s diamond pattern against the shot. It’s very big and blurry, but it’s there. Because of that, I edited the hell of it, adding an HDR filter through Photoshop and intensifying the color. It’s a little odd-looking and I’m not sure I like it, but at least it’s something different from the usual.

That’s all I’ve had time this week to edit, but in other news: SANDY’S BACK! She had surgery in mid-August and was not cleared to go back to massaging until October 20th, but I haven’t had time to get to her until this week. I knew I was in for an entertaining session when she told me what sort of surgery it had been: she had part of her colon removed. YEP. And as soon as I was face-down on that table she started telling me all about it. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that once again while my head hung over the massage table my jaw was hitting the floor. I don’t know anyone else who can literally make my mouth hang open in an odd mix of horror and hilarity like Sandy does. After sharing with me the specifics of what came out of her right after surgery (just a hint: the word “jelly” was used), she skipped ahead to her last day in the hospital, when the doctors refused to release her until she passed gas. “And no squeakers,” Sandy elaborated. “They wanted a sonic boom!” Just imagine, she mused, the one thing you spend your whole life trying to avoid doing in front of other people and one day you have to perform it for your doctors to get your ticket home. Oh Sandy, you have been missed.

Air Apparent

This past Saturday was the Wings Over Houston airshow, and for the second time I went with my father. Last year, the military were not involved with the show because of the government sequester, and it being my first trip I had no idea how much that impacted the crowd – but this year, the event was twice as crowded as last. And, there were loads more planes than last year, including the Blue Angels. It was a great show, and well worth the early rise time (I got up at 5 AM to be at my dad’s house by 7) and the hour-long line we had to stand in when the show was over and we went to catch a shuttle back to the park-and-ride. Now for the fun part: I took THREE THOUSAND PICTURES. How am I ever going to sort through them all?!

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The Blue Angels

The sorting has already begun, actually, because the first thing I discovered Sunday morning after processing that shot above, was that everybody with a camera at the event took the exact same pictures as me. Once I realized it, it made perfect sense, but I admit there was a moment of disappointment in comprehending that of course we all took the same pictures, since we were all watching the same show. Allow me to share the example with you that enlightened me:

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Hey! No fair!

I’d searched Wikipedia to read up a bit on the Blue Angels, and yep, there it was – my photo! Only, it was taken two years ago. The only difference is that the smoke trailing from one of the planes in the Wikipedia shot is gray whereas all of mine are white – other than that, it’s exactly the same. Once I got over my disappointment at realizing it was highly likely the majority of my awesome three thousand shots were not that awesome at all,  but were actually pretty damn common, it at least provided me with a starting point for culling through them. I decided to try and find more unique shots that perhaps not as many people bothered to capture, like this one:

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An F-100F Super Sabre flying into a cloud of smoke during a demonstration

I’m not sure that particular shot works all that well. but certainly the dark smoky background is different than the usual. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get the back end of the plane into the frame, but that’s not always a necessity.

By the time the Angels came out to fly (they’re always the grand finale, and rightfully so) the moon was visible in the late-afternoon sky – it was a welcome appearance, since the sky this day was cloudless, and for aviation photographers clouds add so much  interest to a shot, as well as giving the pictures a better effect of being airborne. I’m sure many picture-snappers got shots of the Blue Angels flying over the moon, but mine has actually gotten 5 retweets and 10 favorites on Twitter, 3 of which were from Blue Angels pilots themselves, so I’m happy. Hey, don’t laugh – 5 retweets on a photo is more than I’ve ever gotten, so I’ll take it!

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Aside from the sky being cloudless, it was a gorgeous but COLD day, at least for Houston (in the mid-forties all morning, and very breezy). I was wearing Ugg boots and my long Free People sweater, but I still had to go purchase a big fugly Wings Over Houston hoodie to keep from chattering my teeth off until mid-afternoon; I was quite the sight in my oh-so-fashionable outfit, including kicky scarf, and a big gray sweatshirt stuffed over all of it, but it’s not the Wings Over Houston Air and Fashion Show, so whatever. Plus, the morning chill gave way to an afternoon that was incredibly pleasant, especially when standing in the aforementioned shuttle bus line for an hour. And if you still felt cold, there was always this to warm you up:

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The Shockwave Jet Truck

Yes, that’s a jet engine strapped to the cab of a semi, so yes, at some point in someone’s life this was actually considered a good enough idea to make it happen. It’s at the show every year, and while watching it reach speeds of up to 375 miles per hour doesn’t do anything for me, seeing it taxi past the crowd with flames leaping everywhere is pretty awesome. Makes for a nice picture too.

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More Blue Angels shenanigans – yep, that’s actually two planes, one right side up and one upside down. Actually, I think this is how baby airplanes are made.

A funny story: at one point during the show, a group of four people came up right in front of us, carrying two poles attached to banners. They had on orange reflective vests that said “Oracle Team Polehandler” on the back, and to us they looked like they were at some point going to parade around with the banners advertising whatever Oracle sells. They sat down on the tarmac in front of us, and I was totally amused by the one female in the group who kept turning to face the crowd and take selfie after selfie (with the tarmac as a backdrop) on her iPhone. She seemed completely unaware of the fact that we could all see her sitting there smiling at her phone camera, and I admit to thinking her a bit oblivious – especially since a pretty amazing stunt flyer was putting on one hell of a show at the time. You would think the fact that the pilot’s stunt plane had the huge word ORACLE painted on it might have clued me in to something, but nope. Then her whole group got up, picked up their poles (in accordance with the title on their orange jackets) and marched themselves with precision over to the active runway, where they proceeded to stretch the thick ribbons that were attached to each pole across it and hold each end. Not soon after that, the completely obnoxious announcer (not the announcer for the whole show; ORACLE apparently had their own) told the crowd that the pilot was now going to perform his infamous “triple ribbon cut,” wherein he flies between each of three sets of poles, cutting each set of ribbons stretched across the runway with his plane – using the left wing for the first ribbon, the right wing for the second, and cutting the third ribbon with the fin of his plane while it’s inverted. WHUT?!

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Oh yes he did – see the ribbons?

That teeny tiny person in the white shirt and black pants is the female in question, and after realizing she’d volunteered to stand on a runway and hold a pole while a plane hurtled towards her upside-down to cut some ribbons in half, I conceded her participation was totally worthy of multiple selfies (in fact, I want to find out how she got the gig so I can do it next year). And speaking of the obnoxious announcer, he must have said the pilot’s name a zillion times while describing his various death-defying stunts: SEAN D. TUCKER. He said his name so much, it reminded me of late-night infomercials that use repetition to make a product stick in the viewer’s brain. He also mentioned several times what EXCELLENT PHYSICAL CONDITION the pilot SEAN D. TUCKER was in to be able to endure the G forces while he performed his stunts, and I found myself wondering aloud if this was a performance or a personal ad. Either that, or perhaps the announcer had a serious crush on him. Either way, I decided to roll with it, and since SEAN D. TUCKER was in such EXCELLENT PHYSICAL CONDITION and so obviously proud of it, when he taxied by us after his demo was over I yelled out to him: Take off your shirt, SEAN D. TUCKER!!! OK, maybe I didn’t shout it, but I did mock-shout it to my dad and his friends so we could all get a good chuckle. Still, I think it’s possible SEAN D. TUCKER heard me:

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Bask in the gloriousness that is SEAN D. TUCKER!! Actually, he is rather handsome.

My Canon 7D and my used eBay 70-200 lens did me proud, but I admit to suffering lens envy at some of the humongous ones the photogs in the media box were sporting. And while the Blue Angels were performing, a military photographer out on the tarmac stopped right in front of us to pop off some shots, and I drooled at how fast his continuous shooting was compared to mine. But in the end, I got some nice sharp shots with my little “cheap” setup. I still want to get my hands on the new 7D, but I’m wondering if a better zoom lens might be a smarter investment (they cost as much, if not more, than the new 7D camera body). I definitely saw the limitations of the lens today, and would have loved to get a bit more zoom as well as some image stabilization, so we’ll see which way I decide to go. If I move up to a lens that’s much bigger than the one I have, however, I’ll no longer be able to shoot without at least a monopod, which leads to a whole new set of limitations. Plus it might be ridiculous to have a $1600 lens strapped to a old-model 7D anyway. Moving on.

These are just the first shots I’ve had time to edit, and I’m not sure how I’m going to more forward with it all. I hate to bore the crap out of everyone with shot after shot of air show photos, but in the end, if it’s where I’m at and what I’m into, why would I do anything else with my time? So love my plane photos or leave them, people. Because they’re gonna be around for awhile!

Airplanes!

As I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, I went to the Wings Over Houston air show with my father last Saturday. I’d never been before, but my Dad is crazy about airplanes – particularly the B29 bombers his father worked on during WWII. The last B29 still flying, Fifi, was there, along with many other antique planes, but due to the sequester there were no military aircraft this year. This meant attendance was low, but that was fine by me as crowds aren’t my favorite thing in the world. I’m more a fan of the modern, high-speed, showy planes, though, so not getting to see any of that stuff was a bit of a bummer. Still, we had a good time, and of course I took photos. Once again I decided to just take my iPhone and make do, although there were loads of nice cameras around. This was just two days after Ramone disappeared, though, and I was still feeling very sad about that, and I just wasn’t in the mood to lug my big camera around to take pics.

I actually drove out to my parents’ house Friday night and spent the night with them, since my father likes to get to the airshow right when the gates open. He also likes to park his car at a shuttle pick-up and ride the bus over, which means getting to the shuttle station at 7:30 AM (my father is perpetually early; it is not a habit I picked up from him). I figured his idea was better than driving through all the traffic, and since the air show is nowhere near my house but is fairly close to my parents, I stayed Friday night with them and got up early Saturday to head out with Dad.

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First ones inside. Yep.

Dad wanted to get there at 8 AM so we’d have enough time (two whole hours) to check out the planes. This sounded excessive to me, but it turns out he was right – in fact, we didn’t even get to Fifi in time to go inside or even get close to it, because at about 9:30 they had her blocked off and ready to taxi over to the runways. I got some video of her later though:


Love the sound of those engines.

Some the planes made you pay before you could go inside them; others offered up their interior for free. I believe this was taken in one of the free ones – no idea who they are, but I’m sure that guy with the iPad knows:

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No air show photo-post would be complete without a little airplane art:

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I did plenty of color shots too:

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A propeller aimed at the moon.

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I probably should be able to tell you what plane this is.

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But I can’t.

For a little vanity, here’s two shots of me in propeller reflections:

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I should have tried jumping.

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My legs aren’t really that short.

Time for a video break: Apparently the show performs some sort of re-enactment every year. This year it was Pearl Harbor. While watching it, my first thought was I bet they do the same plane choreography every year and just give it a different name. Kind of like this re-enactment:

OK, so theirs was a little bit better:

Interesting side note about this battle: Right at the end of it (it went on for quite awhile, because my dad and I went to get lemonade and came back, and it was still going on) they set off about eight of those explosions at once, and it scared the crap out of everyone (as you can see, by the way, we were in the front row of the gated seats. My dad buys up two boxes every year then gives the tickets to friends and co-workers). Right after this, the entire field filled up with smoke, and the faint wind blew it all right over the spectators – then stayed there. For about 20 minutes we all felt as if we were being barbecued. People’s eyes were watering, and everyone was shielding their faces and starting straight down – it was a quite a miserable sight. My next thought was that I would have lasted about fifteen seconds at Pearl Harbor, or anywhere one bomb detonated, much less many bombs – because I was completely incapable of functioning due to the smoke alone. Throw shrapnel, enemy fire, and airplane strikes into the midst and clearly I’m a goner.

Believe it or not, my father actually DID sustain an injury during this battle. At some point during this 20-minute smokeout, a cinder flew into his eye. He did not figure this out until much later in the day, when he eventually ended up at a clinic getting it checked out. But for the rest of the time we were at the show his eye was watering and he was in a fair amount of pain. Being my dad, he tried valiantly to enjoy the show in spite of it, but we ended up leaving about an hour early because he couldn’t stand it anymore. That’s a big deal for him, as he’s been going to this air show every year for at least 20 years and I doubt he’s ever left one second early. Anyway, you’ll be glad to know he is fine now, and was actually feeling much better by the next day. But he was hurting pretty badly that afternoon.

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Smoke ring from one of the explosions.

Honestly the re-enactment didn’t excite me all that much, but the acrobatics sure did. I tried to take some video, but as you can see, I got disoriented and started filming all sideways. I guess that’s a fair indication of how ineffective I’d be as a stunt-plane pilot.


You can hear my dad and I freaking out at the end, LOL.

I was pretty pleased with the iPhone’s performance once again; I managed to get some nice arty shots of the stunt flyers with it:

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Pretty clear for a phone camera!

Backing up a little here – the entire show kicked off the way any good air show should: with skydivers plummeting down to earth attached to huge American flags while the Star Spangled Banner played.

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OK, so you can’t see the flag in this shot, but AMERICA YAY!

And a few more arty shots to wrap things up:

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Reflecting on the air show. Get it? You’re welcome.

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This is an old airplane of some sort. It’s airplane #5. That’s all I’ve got, sorry.

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Sounds reasonable. Unless there’s A MAN ON THE WING OF THE PLANE! Sorry, I always have to say that at least once.

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Follow the instructions

I realize this whole thing might appear to be the antithesis of the way I’d prefer to spend a Saturday – but the truth is, I had a ball. For next year, I think I will take my real camera, and will definitely be there bright and early with Dad at 8 AM, front row. You bet.