I have always wanted to do a shot like this. Never got to it. I think it might be something about the degree of difficulty required to assemble the pieces of the above puzzle. Lessee, need three vintage Stearman biplanes, all of which are fitted to spew smoke, three excellent pilots who can fly safe and super tight, a camera system that can handle the vibrational effect of being right behind a massive engine, and delivers high-res, super sharp results despite the rocking and rolling, and a client willing to take a chance and fund the whole thing.
That’s why this stayed in my head for the last like, 10-20 years, literally.
Enter Lynn DelMastro, of my studio and Jill Manka of Waldo Wright’s Flying Service in Winter Haven, Fla. They brought their massive organizational skills to bear on the pieces outlined above, and lo and behold, word came from Florida. We can do this!
Now, the question is, can I? (It’s a knee trembling thought that transits through every photog’s fevered brain.) And, I’ve said this before, it stays with you, leading up to shoot day, like a big wet dog, sitting on your chest as you try to sleep at night, breathing the hot breath of potential failure in your face.
And, God bless ’em, Nikon signed on! #NikonLove!!! The D810 is a massively important camera in the system and this spring a lot of attention went to D5 and D500, the new kids on the block. This was a good opp for the D810 to strut its high resolution stuff.
The below shot gives you a rough idea of the setup.
I’m sitting in the lead cockpit, with the intrepid Rob Lock, formerly of the NBA, currently of the clouds, flying steady and straight. The main camera, a Nikon D810 fitted with a 14-24mm lens, is bolted to the high wing above me. It just clears my fat head and gets to Rob. Lots of sky behind us. That’s where the two other Stearmans would roam, on radio with Rob and I, closing, closing, closing and then peeling off and spilling smoke on my call. AJ Jackson and Jim Lyons were flying the wild card planes, taking their mark off Rob’s Stearman. I had to guess placement, obviously, as I could not look backwards, or through the camera. Guesswork at the camera! Never done that before.
Here’s my view of the setup. A Manfrotto jungle gym.
The flashes are two SB-910 units, gelled with half CTO gels for warmth. They are fitted to the sides of the airplane with Justin Clamps and lots of tape. Both are set manually, so they give off a steady value. One is connected to the camera via SC-29 cords, and the other is slaving on SU-4 mode off the connected unit. Cameras are set to shutter priority to maintain 1/500th of a second, and at ISO 125, the f-stop floated around f4.5 or so. Sometimes wider. I sat under the camera, firing a radio trigger.
In the end, the skies gave me a gift, and thankfully, the guesswork for exposure and framing played out in the right direction. Many thanks to all! Lynn in my studio, and Jill down at Waldo’s. And the pilots! And Cali and Jon, in our studio, who did the rigging.
And of course to Nikon and my madcap, blessedly inappropriate brother in pictures and mischief, Mike Corrado.
Cameras in the sky! More tk….