Duxford Airshow - the planes

Wow, it's been a long time since my last post.  This slowly dawned on me whilst processing some film yesterday (post coming soon), the realization I had a ton of (I think) cool images of the planes flying at the airshow I visited a couple of months ago, which I blogged about in a couple of posts. As always at Duxford there was an amazing diverse range of aircraft flying.  Luckily, the cloud cover wasn't too thick so most could put on a full display.  I have picked out some of my favourites for you below.  Of course, there were many other photographers at the show, both professional and amateur alike.  Some were wielding enormous set-ups of big glass, top of the line bodies and monopods...I personally wouldn't be able to tolerate that on my small frame (I am actually in the middle of transitioning to a mirrorless set-up, more on this soon).

Anyway, here are the images, and I will leave it there.  I have some exciting posts coming up including my first attempts at shooting and home developing colour film, and an impending trip to Paris.  Hope to see you back soon!


American involvement in conflict 1941 to now

The United States has for many years been a major player in world conflicts.  A focus of the recent IWM Duxford American Air Show was to highlight this involvement and to remember the wide range of people and aircraft that participated in these important moments in history.  I will try in this post to discuss these in a little more detail, and also of course talk about the photography I undertook during the visit.

World War 2

There is so much that has been written about the second world war, so I am not going to go into detail about the war itself (there are loads of great sources and readings out there).  I am however going to focus on the deployment of American Air personnel as this reflects the portraits I captured on the day.


The United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF) was a part of the Army and originally consisted of the Eighth Air Force (bomber command).  The USSTAF was established in 1944 and also retained overall command of other air forces stationed in the Mediterranean and Eurpoean theatres.  Over the course of the war 1.5 million American soldiers (a big constituent being airmen) were either posted in England or carried the fight over to continental Europe.

Airman 1-1733Airman 2-1721

The main challenge with these portraits was to avoid the fun fair rides and big crowds in the background, as it didn't seem in keeping with the mood...  The other challenge was keeping up with their movement.  They were moving around, chatting with each other and so getting a sharp shot was more tricky.  It was made even more so by me forgetting to change my settings so that I had a fast enough shutter.  I was a little frustrated with this sequence of images when I got them on to the computer, as a lot of them had missed focus slightly, or there was a little too much motion blur.  They are a great group to photograph though as they keep it authentic during the day, avoiding the use of phones and modern conveniences as much as possible, making environmental, candid portraits like this a pleasure to capture.  The colours produced by the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 lens I was using was excellent, with only a little bump in vibrance needed in Lightroom.

Alongside the military efforts, there was a big drive by civilians in the US to keep spirits up, and a lot of this culture (music, dancing styles) journeyed across the Atlantic to England.  There was a rise in popularity of jazz, blues and R&B music, with the dances that accompanied them.


Just a small aside - there is still an American presence in the UK to this day, with bases such as Mildenhall and Lakenheath hosting fast jet pilots and their families.  It is a vital jump-off point for operations in the middle east, increasing their capability in these areas of the world.

USAF portrait-1699

Vietnam War

There were four major contributing factors that pushed the US into the war in Vietnam; containing the spread of communism in Asia; a domino effect of the other countries in South-East Asia falling if South Vietnam did; a weak South Vietnamese Army (ARVN), and finally (perhaps most importantly) North Vietnam attacking the USS Maddox in 1964.  The combined effect of these events led to the US President, Lyndon B Johnson to become aggressively interested in the future of the country, with him finally declaring war after the attack on American air bases in February 1965.

Over the course of the war there were approximately 8.7 million "volunteers" (possibly including a lot of people who decided to join rather than be drafted and get a less favourable posting) and 2.15 million draftees pulled from the young male population in the United States.

Screaming Eagle

This portrait was taken from a group of actors called the "Rolling Thunder" experience, who re-enact troop deployments of the 101st "screaming eagles" airborne division.  The majority were dressed as regular troops and NCOs from the period, and they created a great atmosphere.  The light was flat this early in the morning, and so the sky was one big softbox.  This created great conditions for portraits and I was able to capture this image; at an aperture of f/4 and an ISO of 100 to keep the quality as high as possible, I was using a shutter of 1/250th of a second (the exposure was more or less spot on from the Nikon D750 and the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8, only needing to bump the image up in Lightroom by +0.2).  Most of the colours were greys and olive greens, so a black and white conversion seemed fitting, especially considering the subject.  There's a sense of underlying tension, a sense of waiting for something, which is exactly what these troops posted in FOBs (forward operating bases) would have experienced on a daily basis.

A quick kit thought - this was my first time out with my new Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 lens and after using it all day I had two observations.  First, yes it is pretty heavy, but not debilitatingly so (I wasn't in pain, just a little tired in the forearms).  Second, the images I was obtaining (when user error was not involved) were amazingly sharp and colourful.  As an alternative to the extremely expensive Nikon/Canon glass, it is hard to beat in terms of quality and value for money.

The first signs of diminishing support at home in the US for the war came in 1964-65.  Small protests were being organised, mainly on college campuses, but high profile protestors included Mohammed Ali, who became one of the many conscientious objectors (people who refused to be drafted into service).  As the body count and cost to the US tax payer rose, more and more movements took place, including one of the largest at the Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C. in 1967.  Now it wasn't just academics and free spirits, ordinary American workers were getting involved.

Out of Vietnam

Get us out of Vietnam

Unfortunately I did not get a chance to catch the name of this re-enactor, which is a shame because he did a great job of posing for people taking pictures, and keeping to the mood of the display.  His dead stare had a certain level of anger and frustration, just perfectly reflecting what people would have been feeling.  I decided to take a couple of different images, with slightly different compositions and, in the end, different processing.  I like them both, but maybe the black and white image does remind me more of a picture you might have seen in the paper at the time.

  Johnson ordered an end to the bombing in 1968 and in 1969 the new President, Nixon, began pulling troops out whilst at the same time providing money to the ARVN.  Kissinger proposed a peace deal in 1972 which the North Vietnamese refused to sign, until Nixon's renewed bombing forced the hand of North Vietnamese leader Thieu and the Paris Peace Agreement was signed in 1973, bringing the Vietnam war to an end.

The Cold War

I'm not going to say much here because, technically, there was no military involvement in the Cold War.  However, there was an American presence in Berlin after WW2, where West Berlin sat as a little island marooned in communist occupied German Democratic Republic (GDR).  The Americans were amongst other things tasked with guarding the Berlin wall (think Checkpoint Charlie).  The wall was put up to stop people taking advantage of the loop hole West Berlin presented - a route to the free West.  Between 1961 and and its fall in 1989 about 5000 people tried to cross the wall, with a small percentage of those people being killed in the process.

Berlin wall-1847Berlin wall-1850

A piece of the wall has been added to the newly reopened American Hangar at Duxford.  It was a very popular installation on the day of the airshow, alongside a haunting animation looking at the proliferation of nuclear weapons since their invention.  Again, shooting the wall I was hugely impressed with my combination of camera and lens.  Due to the lower light and the need for a faster shutter speed dodging busy crowds I was shooting at ISO 1000, and the D750 managed it with ease.  The Sigma still had excellent colour rendition and sharpness, every hole and chip in the wall was captured perfectly.

I always enjoy my visits to the museum, and the air show was no exception.  Shooting portraits of people re-enacting what our armed forces went through to keep us a free society is always a pleasure, and I am always humbled by the constant stream of stories and  achievements made by this group of people.


The Norfolk Coast (the unusual case of Britons wanting less sunshine...)

Ah, bank holidays.  Bank holidays are those wonderful British creations that are basically a permission slip from the government that excuse us from work (we won't mention the countless people that actually do have to go to work...sorry...).  The first bank holiday of May prompted a trip 90 minutes up the road to the Norfolk coast in the hope of creating some lovely landscape images.  We were at a slight disadvantage in that we would be on the coast at the worst time light-wise for photography but, hey, it made it more of a challenge.

First stop - Caister-on-sea


Light was very harsh on the beach (unsurprising, but still annoying), so I first started looking for details instead of wider vistas.  The tide was rushing out (or in, we couldn't tell as every time we thought we had decided our feet were drowned) and using a Lee Little Stopper I played around with some extended shutters.  There were some nice colours, with the frothy white sea and the (very clean) sand dotted by dark pebbles.


The only real option when shooting the horizon was a black and white conversion.  The colour raw looked OK, but pretty contrasty and full of shadows, washed out colours and  caused weird artifacts when processing to try and correct.  I'm not a massive fan of the image above, but I thought it was useful to show, not least for the fact that it reminds me to try and make something, even if the light is not ideal.  I do like the strong contrast and the movement of the sea, which was enough for me to include it here.  I used a Lee Little stopper and tripod to introduce motion (the Big Stopper was too much as you lost the pebbles on the left completely.  For some people that would have been preferred, but that's what makes photography great - do what you like!).

Ocean fisherman-

There were a surprising number of sea fisherpeople (there was a woman too - surely you cannot call her a fisherman?) on the beach.  I think this person was actually in the process of fishing, but it was almost impossible to spot the line stretching into the water.  He had some friends to the right who were setting up, but I really liked how alone he looked, but also how happy he was to just sit and wait for a bite.  This conversion was actually done with the Nik Silver Efex software (which is now free - see Nik Collection) and it added some grain, a slight vignette (which I actually toned down) and a nice colour cast.

Second stop - NT Horsey Wind pump

The wind pump at Horsey is currently being renovated and so there's the little brick stump building, and not much else.  At least that's what I thought.

Flooded by a sea of wheat-1646

You can walk either side of the waterway, and down the right side there is a trail that leads round a field full of wheat.  I really like this image (possibly my favourite from the day) as it appears as if the little boating hut has been flooded by the wheat.  The colours were also great due to the sun being softened slightly by some wispy clouds.  Again, the trusty Lee Little stopper was great for introducing the motion, which I really wanted here to add to the flooding concept.

There was also a very small boarded walkway through the field to that hut, but it was behind an old barbed wire fence along with the sign.  It seemed a shame that people cannot go and explore, but I can see why - the water snakes its way round and through the land here and you don't want to take a summer dip... I couldn't decide which image I liked more.  Maybe it is the landscape version (right) as it looks a little brighter, but maybe the vertical composition of the left one suits the foreboding sign and, you know, leading lines and all.

Norfolk spring-1658

Time was getting on, so just before we headed for home, we explored the other side of the walkway.  This side ends in a lovely seating area complete with benches and a little grassy jetty-like square.  I set up my tripod there (to avoid including lurking dog owners in the image) and again got to work with, you guessed it, my favourite accessory the Lee Little stopper.  I try not to overuse it, but not only do I enjoy shooting the motion it creates and I love the colours it produces.

So, that was our brief day on the coast.  It was a struggle at times to find images, but it was still great practice to get out and use my gear.  And it was fun, which is the point, isn't it?

Wandering in Wicken Fen

Finding time to go out shooting is usually my problem.  With limited free time, sometimes that motivation to go out with the camera is missing.  But every time you do, you remember why, and this trip to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire was one of those times to remind you not only how enjoyable making images can be, but also that we are so lucky in Britain to be surrounded by such varied landscapes. Wicken Fen is a National Trust property between Ely and Cambridge.  There's a good variety of things to shoot, with an old wind pump, wheat fields, waterways and Konik ponies.

Windmill-1506Wheat-1541Fenland skies-1555

The boardwalk around the marshy fens takes you around the old windpump.  A light breeze added a nice bit of motion to the wheat in the foreground of the shots I was taking of the pump.  Not being a full-time pro, it is a lot more difficult to get the (cliche?) sunset/sunrise shots, but luckily the April weather was being kind, providing some lovely clouds and rain storms on the horizon.  It was actually a blessing in disguise, as recently I've been trying to move away from the traditional thinking of landscape photography - the more you look on sites like 500px, the more the landscape shots begin to look the same!


Looking to the skies also gave me some different looks.  The D750's much derided flippy screen is so useful when trying to get alternative perspectives...and without looking like a prat bending over in less than flattering positions!  Shooting at f/8 with the highly recommended Nikkor 16-35mm f/4, the images I was getting were brilliantly sharp with lovely contrast.

Solitary konik-1595Konik portrait-1607

The absolute highlight of our visit to Wicken Fen was seeing the wild herd of Konik ponies.  These were absolutely beautiful animals who seemed completely at ease in their environment.  In the case of the stallions in the herd, perhaps too comfortable...The horses were curious to the point of following you along the fence, which made them great subjects for some portraits.  Of course, coming here on a landscape shoot meant I did not have anything longer than 35mm, but they got so close that ended up being the perfect focal length.


Wide angle lenses can actually be great for unusual portraits of animals.  The image above is not right - the focus is on the middle of the snout and not the eye, and there's a hand on the right.  But, actually, there's still something charming about that horse.  If only the focus point had been in the right place...

A day among the (virtual) clouds

A few weeks ago now, we spent some time with Virtual Aviation at Cambridge airport.  They have a couple of Boeing 737-800 simulators that trainee pilots (and occasionally, newbies like us) use to practice flying - they are genuine simulators, set up to give you the same feel that the real aircraft would.  Very cool! Obviously, photographing in this environment would be very challenging, due to the low light and bright screens simulating the view out of the window.  But, I do enjoy a challenge, and luckily the low light performance of the Nikon D750 is just fantastic.  I dialed in an ISO of 3200 - easily manageable by the D750, producing very usable images - and started shooting.  Luckily, with it being a controlled environment, once you have the settings in manual, you can just shoot away as they are unlikely to change.  This makes it much easier to focus on composition and trying to get some more unusual looks.  My time was limited, as I was quickly roped into being a co-pilot for my husband!  However, I did get some nice documentary images of his first take-off, flight and landing at Heathrow.  So, as a slight change I decided to present these images as a photo story.  I hope you enjoy.

(A big thanks to Virtual Aviation for their hospitality and great tuition during our afternoon)

learning the ropes-1487Accelerate-1488Pete-1491Taking the controls-1489Easy, right--1494LHR landing-1501