I was working through some shots and came across a sequence a little before a bunch of shots I have used a lot in the past. It was of B-2s on approach to Nellis just before sunset. I had some clear shots of them in the distance including as the gear was traveling. Here is one of those shots. I just liked it and thought I would share it here.
Adobe periodically updates the processing algorithms that are used by Lightroom and Photoshop. Each update provides some improvements in how raw files are processed and it can be good to go back to older shots and to see how the newer process versions handle the images. I find this particularly useful for images shot in low light and with high ISO.
I have some standard process settings I use but have also experimented with modified settings for use with high ISOs and the higher noise levels that come with them. I got to some night launch shots from an old Red Flag exercise and had a play with the images. The E-3 launch was actually as the light was going down but it still had some illumination so it didn’t need much work.
The KC-135 and B-1B shots were a different story and were at high ISOs and with very little light. I was able to update the process version and apply some new settings I had worked out since the original processing and it resulted in some pretty reasonable outputs considering how little light there was to work with.
Departures over the Speedway are best when they flex. The straight out departures are fine but not that exciting and they often get pretty high pretty quickly. Those jets that flex seem to stay a bit lower and provide a more interesting shot. The later in the day it is, the better the light on a flexing jet. If they are doing an evening departure after the Flag participants are back, the conditions can be ideal.
Here is a selection of jets in both good and okay lighting. If a four ship goes out, you hope for the last jet to be more dramatic since it will be playing catch up with the others and shoot turn in a bit tighter. The fourth Saudi F-15SA was another story though since he went very early and then straightened up before having another go inside us. Not sure he had been paying attention at the brief!
The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) was attending Red Flag 19-2 with some brand new F-15SA jets. These jets had come direct from delivery so had not yet even made it out of the US. I guess they had that new fighter smell. They did fly the first day we were there, despite the strong winds which was a pleasant surprise. They flew along with the rest of the jets on our second day. I have mentioned their slightly strange approach to flex departures before so I won’t go there any further but instead will share what I have of the jets from the two days I was there.
Speedway departures can be a mixed bag at Nellis. Flex departures with a pull over the Speedway are the best but it does depend on how high planes have got. Some climb out quite steeply and are way too high for a good shot by the time that they reach you. On my most recent Nellis trip, though, we were treated to a few departures by the locals that broke the mold. They got airborne and kept it nice and low as they accelerated towards us before breaking in to the flex departure routing.
The evening light combined with the great angles made for some good shots. It didn’t hurt that I had a lower shutter speed than usual so got some nice blur of the mountains behind the planes courtesy of them being nice and low. The Strike Eagles also gave it a go which was nice.
Fighters departing Nellis are well out of burner by the time they get anywhere near you outside the base. However, if you are shooting in low light, the burners can show up quite well even though you are a long way off. The plane is a small part of the overall shot but the intensity of the burner plume can make it far more conspicuous in the shot than would otherwise be the case.
E-8 JSTARS are not a rare thing at Red Flag but they do often get involved in the night sorties. Seeing one heading out to play for the daytime activities was a pleasant surprise. On their return on the first day they were following in the KDC-10 that I mentioned in a previous post. They also adopted some sporty approach techniques and were similarly unsuccessful in converting them in to a landing. The go around ensued and was followed by a more conventional straight in approach and landing.
Some late day departures after the Flag returns included F-15Es, F-35As, L159s and A-4s. You don’t know how long anyone is scheduled to be out but you find yourself hoping that they will all make it back before the sun sets so you can get some arrival shots in the nicest light available. Once they are gone, it is a case of watching the time and crossing your fingers. As it was, we got lucky. They came back in a steady stream with all of them showing up as the sun was at its best. Arriving over Cheyenne is not ideal from a sun angle perspective at this time of year but we still got some nice angles. Some turned tighter while others went wider so we got to try all sorts of angles out to see which picked up what light was remaining.
There were two tankers I was hoping to shoot at Red Flag. One was the Colombian 767. It didn’t fly on the first day but on the second it started to taxi before returning to the ramp and shutting down. Never mind. The other was the Dutch KDC-10. I hadn’t shot one before and they are not likely to be in service for too much longer so this might have been my last chance. Therefore, I hoped it would fly and it didn’t let me down.
The winds were strong on the first day and it departed towards us off 21L. As soon as it was airborne, the nose cocked into the strong crosswind and it turned towards us. A right turn overhead and it was on its way to the ranges. When it returned, they went for a very impressive curving approach. It looked great. However, it wasn’t great from a flying perspective and a go around followed. The second approach was more conventional and more successful.
On the second day they flew again. This time the arrivals were from over the Speedway so a more traditional view of them coming in. I was hoping for a go around and a tight circuit to land but that was a tad optimistic. Maybe after the previous day they were more content to get the beast back on the ground.
I have shot at quite a few Red Flags both on and off base. On base of get such good access that you don’t see anything to make you think that the participants are camera shy. However, off base I have become rather suspicious of the Growler community. When you see something strange once, you figure it must be an oddity but, when you see something repeat, you start to think there is a pattern. When you tell your friend that something happens and then they do it again for both of you, you really think something is going on.
The E/A-18G Growlers fly in a way that makes me think they are trying to be difficult for photographers. (Either that or they think they are doing something to help but are actually making it worse!). During arrivals the Growlers often go left but, when they go right, they either fly incredibly tight patterns or they go so long as to make all shots rather dull. However, it is on departure that I have got most suspicious. When they come off the left runway heading towards us, they seem to sidestep to the left and then straighten up after a while. This puts them almost directly overhead the awaiting photographers. You get an underside shot but nothing more. Not a great shot but you start wondering what you are missing from the profile or above that might be more interesting. I am probably paranoid but I do see a pattern developing.