Right Seat: Air to Air Photo Mission with Jim Koepnick & Bruce Moore
I received the unexpected message while mindlessly browsing Facebook. It was from Jim Koepnick; renowned aviation photographer with over 30 years of professional experience. He apologized for the short notice and asked if I would be available to fly right seat as the safety observer during his air to air photo shoot early the next morning. Jim was in Sebring, FL for the 10th Annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo. We had already planned to meet up during the Expo so I could receive a piece of gear he was selling me. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to observe a photographer whom I admire in his element. After a quick audible in my travel plans, I told Jim I would be thrilled to join them. The next morning, shortly before 0500, my good friend Jason drug himself out of bed earlier than planned to joined me for the almost 2 hour drive to Sebring.
We arrived at Sebring Regional Airport shortly before the planned wheels up time of 0700. Jim had us meet him and his long time photo pilot partner, Bruce Moore by the plane. As I walked through the gate and onto the dimly lit ramp, the very cold and windy morning became easier to ignore as my anticipation for the flight was building. After a few minutes of quick handshakes and introductions, we climbed on board the Cessna 210 Centurion photoship to chase sunlight for the next 90 minutes. We taxied in behind the first subject aircraft, a Flight Design CTLS and departed Runway 01 to head southeast over Lake Istokpoga.
Jim Koepnick acquires his target For all my photography readers, I'll give you the quick rundown of Jim's equipment. In his arsenal were (2) Canon 1Dx bodies. On one body, he had the EF 70-200 2.8L IS II, and on the other was the 24-70 2.8L II. Since he shoots at slow shutter speeds, he also uses a Ken-Labs Gyro Stabilizer. Unfortunately, the gyro unit was giving him some issues and he was unable to use it. Thankfully, when we got to altitude the air was quite smooth and allowed Jim to shoot at handheld shutter speeds down to 1/60. That shutter speed really isn't an issue when you're standing on terra-firma. Once you're in the air in a moving aircraft and using longer focal lengths, those slower shutter speeds can be an issue if you already don't have a steady hand. Why the slow shutter speeds? For those who many not know, when shooting propeller driven aircraft you want to ideally keep your shutter speed below 1/100 to give you the full disc blur of the prop. Using a fast shutter speed will freeze the motion of the propeller. If you're photographing an aircraft in flight, a stopped prop just looks unnatural...and silly.
As we joined up with the CT over the lake, I continued my job of scanning for traffic while Jim & Bruce communicated how they wanted to position the aircraft in relation to the light and landscape. Along with the sunlight, the ground scenery also plays a factor. For air to air shots, sparsely populated areas, bodies of water, and fields are ideal backdrops as to not distract from the main subject of the photo. Jim & Bruce have been flying together since 1991 and know how each other work. Once the pilot of the CT settled into the formations, Jim was able to relay instructions through Bruce on where he wanted the subject aircraft to be. All maneuvers while in formation are slight movements. If Jim wants the subject aircraft a little higher and closer in he may say, "Up 10, right 5". Those distances aren't exact but they're relative to how the pilot will position his plane in relation to the photo ship. Next up was a gorgeous, Van's Aircraft RV-12 SLSA. A new production line model of the RV-12 from the legendary home-build kit designer. In formation with the RV-12
Before we joined up with the RV-12, Jim & Bruce were kind enough to explain to me how and why they did certain things. From camera settings and framing up a shot to appropriate airspeed, maneuvers and patterns to fly. After the short break, Bruce declared "Tally Ho!" to the RV-12 pilot and to continue his left turn as we joined him in formation. Jim & Bruce went right back to work. Bruce's almost SIX decades of piloting was evident in the way he piloted the Centurion; very smooth and deliberate making Jim's work easy and completely making me forget that at times we were in a 60 degree banked turn.
The 90 minute flight seemed to come to an end all too soon. We returned to Sebring Regional marking an end to another one of Jim's 1,000+ air to air missions. The morning was topped off with a last minute invite to breakfast. Jason and I joined Jim & Bruce along with Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor at AOPA and AOPA Staff Photographer, Chris Rose. I felt slightly out of place and attempted to engage in conversation without sounding too much like a tongue-tied buffoon! Thankfully they were all very welcoming and I enjoyed the time I got spend to spend with them. After such an amazing day, it made going back to work at my real job on Monday very difficult!
I just want to thank Jim & Bruce for giving me this opportunity. If you'd like check out more about Jim & Bruce, click the links below to their websites.
Keywords: Aviation Photography, Bruce Moore, EAA, Jason McLemore Aviation Media, Jim Koepnick, Sebring, US Sport Aviation Expo
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