Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

San Antonio Airfest – The B-52 Bomber

B-52 Bomber

B-52 Bomber – Airfest, San Antonio, Texas

Last Sunday, I headed down to San Antonio’s Lackland Airforce Base for the 2010 Airfest with a couple of photography friends. We started at 7:30 from Austin and got to the Air Force base early — early enough that I had some time to take some images of the planes on display before the air show started. From the start, I wanted to take two type of photographs. Of course I wanted to get action shots of the airshow itself and for this purpose I brought my Canon 70-200 F4 IS lens. I also wanted to take wide-angle images of the various aircraft with my Sigma 10-20 lens. I also brought a tripod for when I wanted to do some HDRs of the stationary planes.

This is the first time I attended an air show and I had a great time. I was told that as air shows goes this is a pretty large one. San Antonio is a big military city and they have these airshows every year, however, they alternate between two air bases, Lackland and Randolf. While there were planes of various sizes and vintages, I was draw to this beast of a plane displayed above. It’s the old B-52 bomber. While it’s not the newest technology in the US air fleet, what it lacked in futuristic styling, it made up it with its physical size. An Air Force officer mentioned that its wingspan was wider than its overall length. The image above was my attempt at capturing this huge aircraft.

I was also drawn to the engines on the B-52. The had a slender shape and nicely integrated into the wing. Instead of being on some huge pods that hung off the wing, these engines looked comparably sleek on this large plane. Here I have two views of the engines — from the font and the rear. I used the distortion of the wide-angle to make them larger and more dramatic. Wide-angle lenses makes the distance from front to back larger than normal so these engine look even more stretched out.

B-52 Bomber Engine

B-52 Bomber Engine

The first two image were taken as single RAW images. After looking at my histogram, the dynamic range was not too large so I figured a simple RAW file will give me enough range. No need to do a time-consuming HDR image, blending multiple exposure together, if I don’t need it. Also doing HDR images with cloudless skies can be very challenging. The HDR process tends to create halos, discolored white areas, around objects which, in my opinion, makes the image less desirable. As part of my normal HDR processing, I blend in one ore more of the original image into the final HDR image to get rid of any of these halo effects. These are more difficult to clean when there is an even blue, cloudless sky. For this reason, I happily do straight forward single RAW image, when I can.

In the 3rd image, the photo of the engine from the rear, I wasn’t so lucky. Because of the different light direction, there was increased dynamic range. A single RAW file would not be able to capture the entire range of detail. Therefore, I opted to do an HDR. Also I knew that an HDR will greatly enhance the shine of richness of the metallic finish that was visible from this angle. The clear blue skies made processing more of a challenge but I did my best to clean any obvious halos around the engine.

[View all of my images of the Air Show]

My Thought Process

I wanted to capture the enormity of the B-52 bomber. I also purposely used the distorting properties of a super wide-angle lens to make it seem even larger. In the first image, the front of the fuselage looks even longer and the wings seem to be pushed back even further away. The engines seem larger and longer also with this lens. The rear view of the engine has less wide-angle distortion since I zoomed in. In this case, I emphasized the engine detail, rather than its size. I wanted to capture the neat curvy details. My ultimate goal was to capture aspects of the plane that looks a bit different from the norm.

[Note: Click on the images for a larger version]

Image Details

The images were taken with a Canon 7D with the Sigma 10-20mm lens on a tripod. The first 2 images are single exposure RAWs which were processed with Aperture 3. I increased the color saturation, sharpened the image, lightened shadows and recovered some highlights. The 3rd image is a HDR image. My standard HDR software process includes Photomatix to merge the 3 images, Pixelmator to blend parts of the original image to the HDR image. And as a final step, I use Aperture 3 to sharpen and add color saturation.

Image 1: f13, 1/100 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 100 at 10mm
Image 2: f13, 1/50 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 100 at 10mm
Image 3: f13, 3 exposures, -2, 0, +2 exposure compensation, ISO 100 at 20mm

8 responses

  1. Wonderful images all! I like the perspective on these.

    Looks like the airshow was a blast. Sorry to miss it.

    Don

    November 10, 2010 at 10:37 am

    • Thanks Don, for your compliments. It was fun. I will have to take my boys to it next year, if they are interested.

      November 10, 2010 at 11:22 am

  2. Looks great Andy! Cool shots, glad you made it down there. Jim

    November 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    • Thanks Jim. It was a fun show.

      November 11, 2010 at 9:11 am

  3. Interesting post and shots. I would have loved to get up close and personal with a B-52. Long ago Austin was one of the NORAD bases for them.

    November 11, 2010 at 1:24 am

    • Tony, Didn’t realize that Austin had a NORAD base.

      November 11, 2010 at 9:12 am

  4. I really like what the 10-20 does to this beast, especially on that first shot.

    Also, great work on handling that clear sky with HDR in the third one.

    November 12, 2010 at 1:39 am

    • Thanks Joshua. The HDR was a bunch of work but I guess it added a nice bit of glow to the image.

      November 13, 2010 at 4:37 pm

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