Breaking rules and thinking out of the box

Someone once asked me “Do you think you are a good photographer?” … I didn’t answer; not because I couldn’t but because I just didn’t want to. My photography is personal, its like art; When a school teacher places a sheet of blank drawing paper in front of an eight year old child and proceeds to ask them to draw “anything” how could that teacher be critical of what the student has produced? They can’t, simply because no subject was set and therefore no expectancies  should be in place. This is exactly how I feel about what I produce with my camera or a combination of my camera and computer. This was the position I found myself in a number of years ago. If you are a follower of this blog and have read the article I wrote about my connection between aviation and my love of life here then you will have an insight in to how I roll when it comes to image making.

Airports are places that very few of us visit more than once or twice a year; unless of course you work at one in which case I know how you feel. For many years I worked at Manchester Airport both landside and airside and I loved it. It just fuelled my hobby and as it grew I found it more and more difficult to separate the two sides of my daily routine. Before digital photography came to the forefront at the end of the millennium most photographers used negative colour film or possibly post pay slide film from the likes of Agfa or Fuji. This was ok but unless you processed it yourself you were limited in what you could do by means of adjusting an image to suit your needs. You were still limited if you processed it yourself, apart from dodging, burning, push processing and some selective cropping that was about it. So, aviation photography. This was something that focussed on the subject of aircraft, airports and all things aviation. It’s very hard to make a comparison having lived through both the film and digital eras as they are so far apart that they are almost incomparable but I often think about how things would have been at airports in the early eighties should I have had the photographic equipment I have now. An interesting thought? Never the less, things change and we have to move with the times. Gone are the days of waiting for film to come back from the lab to see what you thought you had captured get filed in the trash; today its time to move on. Bring in the ability to review everything you do within split seconds, trash what you like and shoot to order in the knowledge things can be altered on the desktop back in the office. Yes, times have changed, drastically

Shooting images of aircraft is easy, wait until it’s in front of you and ….click. Job done. Providing you used the correct exposure, focused it and framed it well then “Bob’s your Uncle”. This is easy, and can get quite boring. That is merely my opinion and not that of those with a similar interest by the way. It’s also quite easy to shoot acceptable images for submission to the various “submit for screening” style aviation websites, however it’s not so easy to get your images on there though. There is a great tutorial by Jid Webb showing the workflow necessary to prepare your shots, you can find it here. After years of submissions and some success I decided to head to another site; one where I could play my game with my own rules and ideas and no one to judge them . I figured that I was the author of my ideas so why should I let someone else decide if it was fit for exhibition purposes. This is where Flickr came in and along with it came the opportunity to try anything and release my own take on aviation photography.

Monarch Hour .... feel the heat

The image above showing the jetwash from a Monarch Airlines Airbus, I absolutely love. End of story. I can honestly say that I am not interested in what anyone has to say about it. I am very happy with this result but to just let you know that this image would never be accepted by the popular aviation related sites. It breaks the rules and doesn’t confirm to certain criteria but most importantly I love it. And the reason I know… I tried, submitted and subsequently failed. The image was shot with the intention of showing the jetwash as the aircraft passed the Aviation Viewing Park at Manchester Airport. Now to give you a small insight in to the work involved in producing an image like this: prior to some “selective photoshopping” the shot from the camera was very contrasty with little detail in the aircraft fuselage and the colour cast was leaning to blue rather than gold. I don’t have to justify my editing decisions but what I wanted to create was something that reminded me of a scene from a Hollywood movie. You know the one, Joe Bloggs is heading away on a plane and the day is drawing to a close, aircraft are lined up on the taxiway and you can see the shimmer of all the jet engines as they each take it in turns to line up and wait. As a complete silhouette the image had too many blacks and shadow areas to prove interesting enough to keep the eye busy. I chose to select the airframe and slightly increase the level of light in Photoshop.


Ironically, the next image I chose to show you is also of a Monarch Airlines Airbus. It was put in the same trash file as the former; rejected by all for poor editing and sub standard quality to the sites requirements. I will sit on the fence with this one as I know that the quality is not that high. It was taken on the 28th November 2004 at 14:29 with a pending rain shower on what had been a very dull day. The clouds selected an ideal moment to reveal the suns full identity forcing beams of light to punch a hole through the darkness. This was all done in perfect symmetry with the arrival of a Monarch Airlines Airbus. A perfect photo opportunity and a classic example of seeing something unfolding before your eyes and seizing the moment. As a result of the camera lens at full zoom and the poor light conditions the quality has been somewhat compromised but in my opinion, not without leaving a very interesting, moody and atmospheric image. Unfortunately it was captured using the traditional JPEG format and not my usual RAW. This, in turn, contributed to the quality problem by also compromising the final output.  The image has not been heavily adjusted in any way, a small amount of contrast was added and a little saturation to emphasise the sky.


In complete contrast to the previous two, this image has been manipulated to the hilt. The shot was obtained on January 14th 2011 at 14:53. There was very little colour in the sky and the aircraft had plenty of detail and colour within the fuselage. I dropped an orange gradient filter over the image in Photoshop and changed the blacks and upped the contrast to 75%. The 2:3 ratio image looked too empty; there was too much sky and too much foreground so I chose to perform a letterbox crop. I added the dual border to balance the final output. Any opinions on this would be more than welcome, I am unsure whether my decision was the correct one but the image has done quite well on Flickr. I am sure you are getting the picture (pardon the expression) with regard to producing something different. Looking at the above image closely you will notice that there is so much more to see than just an aircraft departing in to the distance. Certain elements stand out to me; the vapour generated by the engines, the layers created by the distance and perspective compression within the image constraints, the security camera in the bottom right of the shot looking like its guarding the aircrafts’ departure, and finally the aircraft itself as it leaves Manchester. I just love how the wheels have just cleared the top of the trees.

It’s not always good weather that creates the opportunity for something on the creative side. Bad weather has its moments too, although low light photography gives hours of fun, getting soaked to the skin in the freezing cold whilst stood waiting for that one image, fun is the last word on your mind. My next and final image on this subject was taken at Manchester Airport on the same day as the one above. With a dull start to the day and very poor visibility I couldnt have imagined capturing


anything worth putting on the internet. As the aircraft emerged from the cloud the vortex from the wings left a carved path in its wake. The original image didn’t look as flattering as the one above. It was very pale in comparison and certainly not as eye-catching. Once again, I thought the letterbox style crop suited this style as the aircrafts wings set the entire shape of the piece. A darkened circular filter was added in an elliptical shape to give this moody atmospheric feel to the picture. The vortex was present but looked very bland against the light grey back drop. After adding the elliptical filter, the vortices were enhanced by burning in the shadows to make them stand out. Now its debatable what constitutes something having been photo-shopped as in my opinion making minor adjustments like adding contrast, saturation and brightness are all prerequisites and not actually manipulating the image. Whereas, adding birds that were never in the view, removing clouds etc are all considered a hard edit and my beliefs vary when it comes to this. When to edit and when to not? This warrants a whole blog on its own.

On a final note, after looking at the above images, whether you have an interest in aviation or not, do you think they warrant the refusal? If you had an aviation site would you host these images? I’m not asking you to judge them for quality, I am asking you to look at them and ask yourself do they represent something realistic and true. I look forward to your comments. As always, thank you for reading. Please come back soon.


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