PIMA Air and Space Museum
Almost 42 years ago I found myself standing on the edge of a runway at a military base in Perth, Western Australia. Lining up at one end was Australia’s front line fighter the Dassault Mirage III. I could feel the excitement build as the aircraft hurtled down the runway, brown smoke pouring from the exhaust. I was all smiles until the sound of the afterburner hit me. It was like nothing I had heard in my short 12 years on the planet. My eardrums were being forced into the center of my skull, my intestines were being scrambled and my bowels….. you get the idea. From that moment on I was a crazy plane geek a passion that is as strong today.
I have been to America three times, the first in 2000 when I was 35. Back then I was in my post 90’s grunge phase. Being influenced by bands like Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana I was a long-haired, Flannel shirt, wearing hippie/metalhead. It was no wonder we were detained by the police three times during the 4.5 months of touring around the country. I loved that trip, the aim was to shoot some of the best landscapes the country had to offer and if I could convince my girlfriend, sneak in a few airshows and aviation museums. She was not impressed and didn’t share the same love for noisy, polluting weapons of war. It didn’t help she was a vegan and preferred folk music! In between looking for planes, we would explore stunning landscapes visiting over 30 state and national parks during our stay.
Halfway into the trip, we found ourselves in Tucson Arizona. It was summer and it was hot. We were staying in some weird trailer park just out of town. I remember it being a dusty place but the real drawcard was the aircraft boneyard and the Pima Air and Space Museum. If there was ever a place for plane geeks it is Tuscon. It is heaven, the mecca of aviation and all things shiny and fast. Move forward 19 years and I was back. This time with a group of photographers, not all of them plane geeks and not all of them convinced there were shots to be had.
So how do you photograph the planes when they are so tightly packed together? It is almost impossible to shoot one in full and in isolation. Where ever you point the camera there is something distracting that interrupts the clean lines of the aircraft. It soon dawned on me that by just showing parts of the aircraft I could better tell their stories. Walking around with my Sigma Quattro SD H and 50mm Sigma Art series lens I was able to find so many compositions with over 350 planes on display. By simplifying the view and including subtle details that helped identify the type of plane, it became a collection of images that worked so well as a set. On display were aircraft from all over the world and from different eras. You had the Century series jets from America to Soviet MIG’s and everything in between. It truly is a remarkable collection and a testament to human ingenuity.
So many of the aircraft on display were made of shiny aluminum. They had that 50’s to 70’s washed-out vibe I am so interested in. I enjoy images that feel nostalgic. Even though something was taken now, with the right post-production can look like it was taken on film decades ago. These aircraft deserved to be photographed to enhance their beauty, their classic lines and to show them as the pieces of art that they are. So how did I achieve that look that makes them almost illustrative?
Firstly the day was overcast, not a real thick layer of cloud but a thin veil that allowed a stronger diffused light to bathe the subject. That lighting was perfect to help remove any real harsh shadows. I was able to overexpose the shots a little which opened up any shadows nicely and rendered most of the skies a very light grey. The rest of the work was done in post. Using Photoshop I created three layers. The first was for toning using a Teal & Orange LUT adjustment layer. That layer was duplicated to create the second and then blended on Screen. The opacity was then adjusted to get the look I wanted (each image is different). Lastly, I created a luminosity mask using Channels to select the darkest of darks and added more black to them to enhance the dark lines and joins on the aircraft body. All in all, it takes a few minutes to achieve but is very effective. If you want to see more of how this technique can help your work head on over to my training website and subscribe to get access to over 50 of my video tutorials. Most importantly, if you find yourself in Tucson, the PIMA Air and Space Museum can’t be missed.
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Christian Fletcher has been a professional photographer for 29 years and still retains all of the passion and enthusiasm for taking a great photograph. At the core are three aspects of photography: capturing the beauty in landscapes, teaching his technical skills to others, and using his photography to reinforce the connections we all have with our natural environment. When Christian moved to Dunsborough back in 1990, he dived into photography as a career; which meant that he took photos in between paying the bills with two manual jobs not related to photography. In the pre-digital and pre-Photoshop days, Christian had to perfect working with the only tool at his disposal—his camera—which remains the essential skill in creating the best images possible even today. He ‘marinated’ himself for many years developing black and white images in a secluded darkroom in his parents’ house, and eventually started to sell his images in a local restaurant. Following six hard years of effort doing commercial, portrait and wedding photography, he was ready to give up, until he walked into a gallery in Esperance that inspired him to focus on building a gallery full of landscape images. He returned to Dunsborough with a renewed purpose, and sold his images in market stalls and in a small gallery space at the local framing shop. As his sales increased, he then established his galleries in the early 2000s and Christian Fletcher Photo Images was born. Christian has perfected the art of light, composition, colour and post processing. He believes that all great landscape images have to have the ‘perfect light’ at their core, and it is this light that he is most respected for: “Christian’s pictures are not souvenirs, but images that help us to ‘see’ and to understand landscape as art. Light literally exudes from Christian’s pictures like few others, and this luminescent enlightenment startles us with its clarity and perception”. -Les Walkling, professional photographer