By Douglas Gritz
South of downtown Denver in Centennial is a company called Bye Aerospace who have been working for the last several years to create an all-electric powered engine for aircraft. They have one complete and functional and currently installed in a small plane.
AOPA Pilot Magazine reached out to me to go out and create editorial photos of the engine and the airplane. During our initial discussions they said they thought I’d be a great fit for the project. I have never shot engines or airplanes before. But more on that later.
When I arrived I followed the inventor around to the hanger at Centennial Airport where they kept the engine and the plane. The engine was sitting on a set of wheels near the middle of the floor. I asked them to bring the airplane out first onto the runway area so I could get a few portrait photos of the plane along with their logo on the side. For these types of shots I usually like to be photographing either early or late in the day when sunlight is more flattering but unfortunately that wasn’t possible for this shoot.
Thankfully, the aircraft’s skin still worked with the harsh light of the late morning high angle sun by giving off specular highlights that made for visual interest. I also used an ultra wide angle focal length and got up really close to the aircraft. This produced a visually interesting curve of the plane toward the background (wide angle lenses stretch out space, telephoto lenses condense it.) So that was working for closer shots, but wider shots from farther away were not. So I had them turn the plane around and reposition so the sun was backlighting the aircraft. I then framed up the shot the with my camera so that the sun was just out of the top part of the frame. This gave the image a little bit of a natural vignette. See the photo below.
Once I was satisfied with shots of the plane, I moved back inside the hanger to shoot the engine. I had them close the hanger door to get the ambient light as dark as possible. Then I set up three lights to edge out the engine contours. I kept those lights tungsten and set my white balance to match. This made the ambient daylight spilling in from the windows in the background blue, which provided a nice contrast with the foreground and gave the image a little bit of a sciency feel.
After I completed and packed up, one of the inventors walked with back out to my car as I loaded up. “I can tell your photos are going to be really good,” he said.
“Oh yea? How can you tell.”
“I have a friend who specializes in photographing aviation subjects. So I can tell you know what you’re doing.”
I found that quite flattering, but mostly because I was hardly a specialized aviation photographer. In fact, I’d never shot aviation-related anything before. Of course, I didn’t dare reveal that. But it reminded me of something I’ve always in mind. I’ve shot a wide, wide variety of subject matter, and a lot it without prior experience. I’m able to do this, as I think many other photographers are as well, because I am a photographer. What that means to me is that I should be able to create quality photography of just about anything regardless of prior experience because the basic and essential skills of photography apply no matter what the subject matter is. It’s still always going to come down to composition and light. So if you’ve mastered those photography skills, in my mind, you should be qualified to photograph whatever comes your way.
The final editorial story with my photographs appeared in their magazine’s May issue and is available to view online here.