Photos from my dawn shoot at the Sun n’ Fun Airshow

(Above: That’s “Fifi,” the world’s only still-flying B-29 Super Fortress out on the flight line at dawn. Shot with a Nikon D4, and a 24-120mm f/4 lens I borrowed from NPS). 

This was my third time shooting the Fly-in (it takes place in my hometown of Lakeland, Florida), and this is the first time that I could actually stay and shoot the entire day (Well, I left before sunset to meet my family at Disney World), but I got more shooting in than all the previous times combined.

I was there as a guest of Sun n’ Fun’s official photographer, my buddy Jose Ramos, (link) along with Nikon Professional Services (NPS) who hosted me for the day in the event’s Nikon Media Center, and I got the honor to shoot alongside Bill Fortney, Bill Pekela, David Lee, and Scott Diussa (and of course, my buddy “Fuji” Ramos).

Camera Gear
I shot my new D4, and love it, love it, love it!!!! Love it more every time I shoot it (the tonal quality and gradation between colors is really wonderful, and the extra megapixels don’t hurt either). I shot with two lens: a Nikon 28-120mm f/4 I borrowed from NPS, and a 200-400mm loaner also from NPS.

We got there about 30 minutes before sunrise and headed out to the War Bird’s Flight Line and warmed up there until the sun came up. We didn’t have much for clouds (OK, it was a cloudless morning), but the light was pretty sweet, and we shot until about 30 minutes after the sun came up, then we headed back to the Nikon Media Center.

Above: Here’s a P-51 Mustang on the ramp. This was about the only angle I could shoot from (down low and in front), because there was a large tarp over the entire cockpit and canopy, and it looked pretty….well….distracting to say the least. Still a gorgeous plane.

Above: Later in the day the US Air Force Thunderbirds arrived and did a few passes by our shooting tower. 

They don’t actually do their airshow performances until 4:00 pm today, tomorrow and Sunday, but on Thursday they did do a few passes just to scope out the area and get the feel of things, but they didn’t do any formations or anything really wild, but we were able to shoot from special elevated shooting platforms Nikon put up for the media (shown above, right out by the runway), and that’s where I got the shot I showed right before this one.

(Above: My buddy Jose “Fuji” Ramos [Fuji is his “Call sign.” Long story]).

One of the highlights of my Sun n’ Fun visit was catching an excellent presentation by my buddy Jose Ramos on Aviation Photography. Besides some amazing images (he gets to shoot air-to-air from military jets, which makes for some just absolutely sick photos), I was really impressed with his respect for the pilots, crew, and mechanics that work on these amazing machines, and in particular you can feel his reverence for our military men and women in uniform. He had some fascinating personal stories that really made his presentation a lot of fun, and when he was done, he had a big crowd around him asking questions for another 30 minutes. Very cool stuff, and I’m really glad I got to see it.

(Above: Jose snapped this iPhone photo of me out on the flight line once the sun was up enough that we knew that part of the shoot was over). 

My thanks to Jose, and the great folks at NPS (I don’t think a lot of folks realize how awesome it is having Nikon Professional Services at a photo event like this. They bring LOADS of high-end gear available as longer gear to the working media, and they have techs on staff (thanks Francis) who will do free minor repairs, offer advice, and even gladly clean your camera’s sensors. They were especially kind to Canon users who came in and needed their help. They really treated them like on of their own, and I thought that was really cool.

(Above: Here’s one for the road, taken from the back of Jose’s Golf Cart on the way back to the Media Center after shooting the Thunderbird’s warm-up). 

I have a lot more shots, but I’ve got to hit the sack
Again, my thanks to the gang at Nikon for their wonderful hospitality, and to “Fuji” Ramos for inviting me to shoot alongside him and share a day shooting some amazing planes. Also, my apologies to Moose Peterson — I know I’m not supposed to be shooting this stuff Moose — don’t worry — I won’t make it a habit. ;-)

  1. Scott….please KEEP shooting it, these are gorgeous images! I’m only jealous because I wasn’t there. And as I see it, you’re just one step closer to joining me in a plane shooting air to air :-)

      1.  Ken, It sounds like it’s time for another “commercial” like the “I’ll
        Light Ya For It!” one that Scott did with Joe McNally a couple of years
        back, only this time with Moose.  Can you see them both hanging out the
        back of a plane shooting pictures of other planes? :-)


  2. Scott, you’ve out-done yourself once again!  Some really sweet shots that you captured.  Thank you, thank you for the P-51 pic.  I mentioned the plane on Google+, wondering if you would get any pics of one, and I groaned when you mentioned the tarp issue.  Great angle that you decided on.  You didn’t disappoint! :-) 

    My only beef with the prop shot was that the wheels and wing tips were cut off (I know….it’s all about the composition), but I think that would have looked nice as one of your cinema crop panos if those elements had been included.  But, to each his own…. ;-)

    Have a great weekend and thanks for sharing these!


  3. Very cool shots.  Fifi is amazing, and it’s great to see her back in the air again.  I was thrilled to see her flying at EAA last year after watching her there as a kid.  I’m liking the “dawn shoot”, too — nice to see some of these planes sitting alone on the tarmac, vs. crawling with people during the day.

  4. Scott, really nicely covered.  Love the low angle of the Mustang and the 2nd image of the flying fortress with the 2 pilots in cockpit and the yellow tint of the sky….nicely composed.  

  5. Hi Scott,
    I’m a beginning photographer who loves your site. When you post your photos like in your fly-in story above, I would love to know some of your camera settings for each photograph.

    Would it be possible for you to add the focal length, ISO, aperture and shutter speed values along with the name of the plug-in(s) you may have used, under each photo, like a sort of a caption?

    I think that would greatly help all the beginning photographers who read your blog, to really learn and pay attention to those crucial settings which contribute to your amazing photographs. Many thanks.

  6. Beautiful shots. I was there Thursday, too.  I got a shot in the golden light seen in your second photo but was afraid people would think I faked it. Then I looked at the raw photo on the back of the Canon S100 point and shoot and saw that it really was like that. GREAT shots!

  7. Cool, nice to hear that you like the D4. Mine is waiting for me at the store and i´ll get my hands on it in a couple of days.
    You like the D800 as well? It´s a killer in many ways i think, i guess i´m gonna get one as a “backup” and for other slower work where i need more pixels. It´s a bargain at that price in my opinion.
    2012 is the year of a lot of good stuff for us photographers.

    1. HI Michael: I darkened the sky a bit, then I brightened this side of Fifi (she was backlit, right?) with the Adjustment Brush so you could see more detail (you could see some, but not enough for me). I also added a little Clarity to this side of her as well. Lastly, I tweaked the white balance a little to make the sky warmer. Hope that helps. :)

  8. Great shots, Scott!  Jack and I camped out there from Thursday to Sunday with a group of his old Northwest pilot buddies.  A ton of fun!  Thought I was going to die from near heat stroke Friday–but survived it ;)

  9. I am an addict of aviation and aviation photography.  I’ll admit, as most photographers would be, I’m a bit envious of your day with “Fuji” at Sun-n-Fun.  The photos you posted were really great. Although I missed this event, I have my “sights” on Oshkosh. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Hey Scott, I really would like to have met you. This year marked my 31st SNF and I shoot as much as I am able. I have not met Jose yet but i’sure I will at some point. I am part of SNF volunteer security and I have a golf cart issued to me to use for the week. It helps to get to a lot of places fast.
    I shot this year with my new D7000 and enjoyed it very much. I was able to go in the Nikon tower as there guest a couple of times. I am reading your how to guide on my camera and thanks for your help.
    By the way the shots a great, I was on the ramp early for those sunrises too.

  11. hiya Scott, love the shots – especially the really close ones. i have a quick question about LR4 that is well illustrated here – is it that LR4 almost by default gives a tamer kind of HDR? especially a shot like the first one in the post. or did you do some brushing on the plane?

    to me LR4 hold back the highlights very well, but does not seem to easily let the blacks go properly black. 

  12. Scott thanks for posting the photos.  The shot of the P-51 is in almost the same position I took of “The Brat III” about two weeks earlier when FIFI was in Mobile, AL.  I have attached one of my favorites of FIFI.

  13. Absolutely love the photo of Fifi so do my boys (they are 8 & 9) and just this weekend my grandfather gave them his model B-17 of the Memphis Bell that is signed by it’s pilot so they are super geeking on planes right now. Can’t wait until the airshow comes back to Texas!

  14. Scott, I love your work and books. I am wanting to get some of your work to hang on my wall in my office for inspiration,where can I buy a copy of one of your prints?

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