2017 Air Tattoo

At the end of February, the Royal New Zealand Air Force celebrated their 80th year of service by hosting a two day air show at the Ohakea Air Base. With aircraft from several nations (including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore, France) joining in, the event promised to be a great chance to see some new aircraft. Despite a rather fickle summer so far, the weekend was held under mostly clear blue skies with the hot summer sun beaming down.

While most people have less than fond memories of the air show held there 5 years ago, for me I had a great time. Thanks to a bunch of pro photographers who gave me some hints and tips along the way I came away with images which I was very happy with and I learn't a lot.

But as with all people who are passionate about their craft, these kind of events are a great chance to see how much you have learn't and improved. This time with a longer lens (the Tamron 150-600mm) more experience and a longer airshow (2 days rather than 1), my hopes were high.

Well three days of airshow photography turns out to be as much a physical endurance test as it is a technical challenge. There is so much to learn and despite what people say when you ask them how to photograph planes, its not just a case of knowing a few simple settings. They are a great place to start yes, but knowing where to stand, having an idea of the routines and how the weather is affecting the routines are all important parts of the process. On the saturday Kelly and I based ourselves as close as we could to show centre and had a great view. The crowd was the biggest on Saturday and there were a few people who got a bit close but overall it was pretty good. Sunday was quiter and gave us more freedom to move which was great. We think most people chose Saturday because if Saturday was rained out then they would still be able to go to the Sunday show. But in the end the weather for photography was better on the Sunday in my opinion.

So what did I learn or confirm from the experience that I can pass on to you. As one person put it, what you have been freely give, freely give.

ISO 200 - 400 gives the best results in my opinion, it gives some headroom to allow for over exposure and also allows for higher shutter speeds needed to photograph jets at high speed.

For propeller driven aircraft shutter priority is the best mode to be in. In terms of the shutter speeds we used we found that helicopters look better under 1/160th of a second (under 1/100 is even better). Slower radial engines or points in the show where a propeller driven aircraft has slowed due to throttling or at the peaks of climbs look best at 1/200 or 1/250th of a second. For more modern engines and planes during periods of higher speeds 1/320th to 1/2/50th of a second is great.

WIth jets the higher the shutterspeed goes the better, but more importantly you want a decent aperture (f8 worked best for me) so aperture priority is king. But apart from some nice shots that can be got on certain passes, the best shots tend to come as the plane swoops down or pulls up at the end of the pass. 

One thing I hadn't thought much about was how the dryness or moistness of the atmosphere affects the display for the jets. If the air has more moisture in it then the condensation over the wings is more pronounced.The best misting over the wings will happen when the pilot is forcing the plane pretty hard to go in a different direction then it naturally wants to go, this includes climbs at the end of passes, tight turns and rapid changes in direction. Of course none of these happen in level flight where it is easy to track, so track the pass but wait until the planes pulls up or turns and the misting will come if the conditions are right.  We got much better angles to see the mist from away from the centreline of the show. 

Good spots to hang out on: 

The sun at your back is always a good start. If you think of a clock face surrounding you as you look towards the area where the planes are displaying (and consider this 12 o'clock) then I found the best position for the sun to be at was either 7:30-8 o'clock or 4-4:30.

The centre line of the show, planes flying over the crowd fly over this point so breaks looks best and planes fly their lowest

The point at which planes commonly climb at the end of passes.

* Taxiways that planes will use to get from the parking area out on to the runway and back.

* Watch out for items in front of the crowd which may hinder your view, like speakers, bright patches of colour or messy backgrounds.

Go easy on yourself and learn as much as you can. Talk to other keen photographers and swap notes. It's amazing what you can pick up and learn from others that can save you time. Most of all enjoy the show.


A long weekend at Castlepoint

Castlepoint is a beautiful place to visit, but not for pretty gardens or a great night life. This is rugged New Zealand, where the forces of nature have left there marks on the landscape. Between the power of the ocean and the wind, this place can vary from the serene beautiful holiday spot with great beaches for swimming, to howling gales, driving rain and huge sea swells.

With Kelly's birthday coinciding with labour weekend (the first public holiday for five months), we decided along with a few friends to head to Castlepoint for 4 days. Spring in New Zealand is usually a mixed bag where the weather is concerned which is ideal for photography, and Labour weekend was no exception. Over the course of the weekend we had a bit of everything, pounding seas with massive waves, wind, rain, beautiful sunshine, cloudy days and an amazing sunrise.

Interislander Ferry Passing Point Halswell Lighthouse

Interislander Ferry Passing Point Halswell Lighthouse v3Located at the northern end of the Miramar Peninsula, the Point Halswell lighthouse helps ships navigate the entrance to Wellington Harbour.

There are many places around New Zealand which are known to be photogenic, to be frank it's a beautiful country. But often when going to these locations, people say it can be harder to make an image because of the images that have been created there before. I'm not too sure I buy into this myth, as James Stephens says “Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself” or in other words spend some time thinking about the scene in front of you, shoot what interests you, and don't just go for the obvious shot.

“Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself” James Stephens

In the case of this image I had seen a few images from this location before, which is one of the reason's I wanted to go and visit it. It looked like a location that would suit a nice long exposure, so my plan was to photograph there in the early evening light, my favorite light. The location had been on my list of locations to visit for probably around 6 months by this point, but when Kelly and I talked about going to the emergency services display in Wellington last week, I thought there was a good chance the conditions might be right for the shot I saw.

Together with Owen we had a great time walking around Wellington, photographing the emergency services display and the architecture. The weather was warmer than forecast, so much so that it felt more like spring. But as the sun sank down in the sky and the chill of a winters night descended my thoughts turned to Point Halswell. The Mirimar Peninsula looks a great place to explore, we must make more time to come back.

By the time we got out to the point, there was a wedding shoot happening there and another photographer was waiting so the popularity of the location was certainly not a myth. But patience is one of those things you have to learn to love with landscape photography. The weather, the busyness of life and so many other things have a way of causing delays. So I have learned to use these times where possible to my advantage. Sometimes I use words to name things I see or I listen to what others talk about. I am not sure why but this seems to help feed the story writing part of my brain which I can then use in composing the image.

Positives, the sky... there were no clouds, the lack of drama would give a very peaceful to the image. A lowish tide meant the rocks and pathway foundations were nicely exposed which would add a nice texture. The strong line formed by the path had lots of interesting textures on it and therefore would add visual interest to the shot.

Negatives, the wave action was pretty minimal, which doesn't tend to look that good in long exposures. Considering this I noticed that as the boats and ships passed the point, their wakes could make up for this. This was made particularly obvious about 3 or 4 minutes after one of the big Interislander ferries went past. The funny thing about this is I hadn't really considered the ferries going past until now, but now I was thinking 'I wish that ship had come past after the sun had set'. 

The final composition I settled on was to have the path out to the lighthouse coming out of the bottom left hand corner of the frame, the lighthouse on the top and right hand third lines with the lights of Lower Hut to the far right. The rocks and path would add an interesting foreground and texture to the image, and the strong line of the path would help draw the eye through the image. The colors of twilight (which had some nice pinks, purples and salmons as well as blue) and the lack of clouds provided a sense of peace and tranquility. I liked how the composition had came together and how the elements worked together, but to quote an old TVNZ advert, 'I felt like I needed something more'. 

That was the moment when all of the preparation, thought and planning came together. I was looking to see if any boats or ships were coming so I would be able to capture the wake interacting with the rocks in the beautiful twilight, when I saw the second ferry coming around the point. I made several exposures over the next 5 - 10 minutes. The first few exposures being the normal bracketed images to make sure I had the right exposures I needed to blend in later. Another exposure was a nice longer exposure to capture the sea as the wake rolled ashore. The final exposure was of the ferry's lights as it moved through the top left third line against the darker tones of the hills. I reviewed the images on the camera's screen and was thankful that the image looked like it would come together. 

In review if the sea hadn't been so calm I am not sure I would have thought too much about the ferries, which means the final composition may not have included it. It's funny how something which looks like a negative can turn out to be a positive. But this is the joy of photography, we have our plans, our ideas and these get jumbled in with reality and our thoughts to create the final images. You can see the final result below, I am pretty happy with how it came out and the story in the image. 

Romance in the Cloud

On the way to pick up dinner yesterday, Kelly and I stopped off at the viewing platform (commonly called the cloud) on the Marine Parade in Napier. With the sun already set and the belt of venus clearly showing in the crisp clear night sky, a couple wandered onto the platform to enjoy the view. The scene was too picture perfect to pass up, especially with the soft light illuminating the lattice work so gently. I hope enjoy the image.

The Colours of Dawn

A New Technique for Astrophotography

Had an interesting time processing this image, with some surprising new findings. I wanted to lower the brightness of the building so I made 2 copies of the image in lightroom (one brighter the other darker) and opened both as layers in photoshop, nothing new here so far. Once I brought the exposure more into how I wanted to look, I decided since I was in Photoshop, I might as well use Nik Define to help with the noise, which worked ok. Still in photoshop, I thought why not try Nik Colr Efex 4 and see if I find something I like. Enter the Bleach Bypass filter, all I can say is wow, it did a great job with contrast in the milky way and star filled sections of the image. I must remember this for later.

Autumnal Sunset in the Pohangina Valley

The image above was shot using a technique I watched a few months ago. In this technique you shoot the same bracket series twice, the first as normal and the second time with something (in this case my finger coming in from the top of the frame to) obscuring the sun itself. This allows you to remove sun flare from the final image, effectively removing another barrier or artifact from the camera. It was the first time I have really tried this and it works fine.

Art of the Night

Had a lot of fun out tonight at The Art of Night - The Photography of Mark Gee event hosted by Mark Gee in Wellington. There were loads of people there, apparently 850+. In the end I wound up helping a few people to get better images of the night sky, I hope there was a lot of other people helping others out because for some this was their first attempt. I met Mark later in the night which was interesting.

 One of my goals for the trip was to try stacking astro images in Photoshop (using this method). To do this I knew I would need 10 to 15 frames of exactly the same view pretty close together, so using the intervalometer in Magic lantern I set it to 15 frames, 1 sec apart, 30 sec exposure at f4.5, ISO 3200 and then hit go. Then the next day I loaded the images as layers into Photoshop, duplicated the layers, put all the duplicated layers into a folder and named the folder land. Put all the original layers into another folder and name this sky. Go to the first layer in the sky folder and make a mask (don't need to worry about it being too accurate just make sure no land is showing) that hides the land or any fixed objects. Then copy this layer mask to every other layer in the sky folder. Now select all the layers in the sky folder and use auto align images. Once the images are all aligned in the sky folder, remove all the masks from the layers in the sky folder and then select all the layers in the sky folder again and convert to smart object and choose blend mode mean. Now go to the folder marked Land (this should be below the sky folder in the layer stack) make sure no other layers are select and then select all the land layers (no need to worry about masks here) and convert to smart object and choose blend mode mean. Now with the two resulting smart objects mask about the blurred land from the sky smart object to show the land from the land smart object below. 

 The image below was created like this except I then dropped a new land image shot separately as it was much better and then processed using Nik Color Effects pro (Bleach bypass filter) and Nik Define. Love the resulting image and the noise seems so much less.  

de Havilland Venom - Tauranga Air Show

Remember that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away!

The Peacefulness And Beauty Of A Sunrise 2