Unusual Attitudes…all for a picture!

Last night I attended a talk at the Flying Club by renowned aviation photographer Keith Wilson. He was showing pictures from his 30-odd year career and regaling us with stories of how he got the pictures, and the planes — and pilots — involved. Sadly of course some of those pilots and planes are no longer with us.

Keith started photographing aircraft in the late 1970s, with a good old 35mm film camera hanging out the side of a Cessna 172. And in the subsequent years there is hardly an aircraft he hasn’t had his camera — or himself — hanging out of. If you’ve ever picked up an isse of Pilot magazine, or one of several dozen other aviation related journals, from Flyer, Aeroplane, Flypast, AOPA etc etc, the chances are you’ve seen some of his pictures, on the cover and inside. The current (March 10) issue of Pilot has his photos on the cover and in at least two other feature articles.

Keith described to us what a “typical” sortie might consist of. You need two aircraft; the camera ship, containing the photographer and a pilot, and the subject aircraft containing the pilot and a spotter. The subject aircraft will formate on the canera ship closely (and by close, he means real close. Keith related a story from a sortie where he was hanging out the back of a C130, and an A10 was formating in trail for some head on shots. When the nose was literally a few feet from the door of the herc, Keith signalled that this really was close enough thankyouverymuch, only to get a resopnse from the A10 pilot that he’d wanted to see if he could get the gun between his legs! Only when the A10 broke formation and left, did Keith discover that gun was live…)

Oh yes, the subject aircraft will formate on the camera ship, and perform a number of pre-briefed manoeuvres, so that pictures can be taken from all angles (and that includes head-on nose shots, which are taken generally leaning out of the camera aircraft, looking back). Sometimes they will be high above the clouds, other ties low to the ground, depending a lot on both the weather, character of the subject aircraft and terrain. Beaches, lakes, sea and cloudscapes are favourite backdrops.

When photographing civillian planes, the owner often wants to be involved, and flies in the supject aircraft as spotter (the pilot is concentrating on the lead aircraft, so it’s only the right-seat spotter that is looking out for traffic). Inevitably, the oner has a camera with them, and the photographer being photographed while hanging out of the door/window/upside down etc. is a favourite picture.

Keith rounded off with a selection of his favourite photos, including a Hercules in formation with a 172 registered ‘G-HERC’ (“well, with a registration like that, it just had to be done…”).  The photos and stories were just so entrancing that we didn’t realise two hours had gone by. All in all, a facinating talk. If you’d like to see some of Keith’s work, just walk by your nearest news stand and pick up a flying magazine…

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