Thursday, November 18, 2010

A-36 Walk-Around

For aviation shutterbugs like me who keep their feet on the ground, the ultimate photo-op is to get some time with a nice airplane, in uncluttered surroundings, free of "keep back" tape and canopy covers, and the opportunity to inspect and shoot the plane from any angle. Such a chance was afforded to me recently at Planes of Fame in Chino, CA. The plane was a special one, an A-36 Invader, which is an early dive-bomber variant of what would become the famous P-51 Mustang. Only two A-36s exist, with the other in a museum; and only a handful of visually similar P-51As exist, two of them also at Chino.

During my most recent visit to the museum, an A-36 temporarily in residence at Planes of Fame was pulled out for a new pilot to take a short check flight in the machine and then fly it for a photo mission. So the aircraft was on the ramp for three or four hours, mostly with nobody around it, under progressively more favorable lighting conditions. Plus there were two sets of start-up/taxi/shut-down sequences associated with the flights. So there was a chance for static shots, action shots, even a little human interest. It's the type of opportunity that I no longer waste, having regrettably failed to take advantage of some in my younger and more frugal days.

I treat these occasions the same as I would a photo session with a great human model, or anything else worth expending a few rolls of film on that is willing to sit still. Most of the time I am not shooting pictures but walking around, studying the play of light on the surfaces, becoming familiar with the curves and forms. Photography can enhance your visual understanding of a subject because it forces you to attend closely to the way something (or someone) is put together, makes you pull out the most attracting and interesting elements. Without the goal of getting good pictures, most of us would not do this work.

I have a few standard shots that I always get. There's the obligatory front-quarter beauty shot, for example. If I have a wide angle with me (20mm Flektogon in this case) I usually look for a couple of wide views near the tail. It's also been my habit lately to get a vertical front-quarter close-up shot bunching together items near the center of the aircraft, such as the cockpit and one landing gear. Otherwise, I let the airplane guide me.

When the aircraft taxied out and back, I skittered away from the small crowd that gathered and planned my shots from positions I wanted with the right lighting and backgrounds. This is an opportunity one doesn't easily get at airshows, where things happen fast and mobility is more limited.

I'll cop to some pangs of envy for the air-to-air photog who went up in a Navion for some portraits of this beauty upstairs. It was a fine day and no doubt he got some good stuff. Then again, he was wrapped up in his aerial mission and didn't get the stuff I got, either. Not only did I come back with a few dozen solid images, but I feel I've learned the looks of the Allison-powered Mustang in a way I had never managed before, despite having seen and photographed all the other intact ones that exist. When it comes to airplane shooting, that's a good day for me.

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