Kedar, we first met quite a while ago, at an airshow in California, I think it was around 2005. Back then you were shooting Nikon, digital, and were already carrying around some big lenses. How long have you been shooting, and what made you pick up a camera in the first place?
Aviation Photography and taking pictures was almost parallel for me. I used to take family pics but everyone takes that. I was always a military aviation nut and when I found myself at Moffett Federal Airfield for an airshow in 1999, I guess that was the catalyst I needed to attend more air shows and pick up photography. And of course, the story would not be complete without mentioning Fencecheck.com. That website was my guide during those early days. I learnt a lot about air shows, and air show photography from all the folks who frequented that site sharing information, techniques, among other stories.
Is aviation photography your main focus? If not can you tell us about your other subjects?
Unfortunately ;) yeah especially military aviation photography is my main focus. My brain works if there is a jet or a propeller thing with wings on it in the scene. I might shoot landscapes and commercial traffic but only if I am there - I wont especially go to a civilian airport to catch some special airliners coming in. If there is any different type of photography involved, my ADD kicks in and I lose interest after some time.
How would you describe your style of aviation photography and how did you develop that style?
I don't know if I have a particular style - maybe give me some hint to answer this question the right way.
Well, if you think about styles; you can do profile shots, for archiving. Or more arty shots. And editing is whole thing in itself - where styles are the final touch to complete your overall style / statement.
In the past, when I was crazy excited, I used to click almost all the sides of the aircraft passing by or in flight. These days, I don't have a particular style in mind. I want the aircraft captured doing something different, profile shots I might take a couple, but overlook them in the initial glance for post-processing; but I prefer the aircraft doing something dynamic than just a pass with wings level. In the A2A I challenge myself with up, close and personal tight shots of the aircraft and the crew. I have wide angles too but that is my thing mostly.
I want to develop an eye for the artsy angles, I haven't got it in me yet. Crew shots is something else that I want to learn especially after doing it with COAP in the Tucson assignment. I came away from that session with lots and lots to learn that I can implement it better in a similar assignment in the future.
Are you inspired by the work of other photographers, or maybe artist in a different field?
Oh yeah - starting at the top with the master Katsuhiko Tokunaga, Peter Steinemann (the first time I saw aerial pictures of fighter aircraft), John Dibbs, Tyson Rininger, Paul Bowen, Jim Haseltine, Jake Melampy, Jose 'Fuji' Ramos-Navarette, Jamie Hunter, Frank Crébas, Kevin Jackson, Rich Cooper (he just has a different eye/angle and post-processing style I like), Scott Slocum (for his work on warbirds). And of course there are so many others whose countless pictures I follow and learn from their work as well.
About the tools of the trade, which cameras do you use?
When I made the decision to switch to digital, Nikon D70 was the best at the time out there. So I started my digital journey by crossing over to the 'dark side' :) Since then it has always been Nikon bodies and lenses. These days I use a Nikon D4s, D810 and D500 as camera bodies.
And what kind of glass do you mount on them?
For the lens, I have always used Nikon glass - although there are a couple of times I tried Sigma but not really happy with it. I have 24-120mm (wide angle air-to-air and general purpose lens); 70-200 (low light and if I am shooting really big aircraft for example the B-29); 80-400mm (close-up air-to-air); 200-500mm (if I am shooting from land); 400mm prime.
Is there any combination of your equipment you prefer for certain events or occasions?
Yes. If I am going to an airshow where the action is really at the envelope of 800mm then I would take the D500, 400mm and a 2xTC combination - that really pulls the action closer to me resulting in less crop. If I want to have some room around the viewfinder, then I might put the same combination on a D810 that gives me the room but also the 36MP help me in if I have to resort to cropping to pull the subject closer without sacrificing too many pixels. If speed is what I am looking at, then its either the D4s or the D500.
You’ve been shooting air to air, how do you tackle those missions.
A2A is a fast occurring event - light changes faster, time flies faster ;) One first needs a clear picture of what they are going to capture. The formations to make it happen should be detailed when briefing the crews. Refinements terminology should be clarified as part of the brief. Its also important that the photographers sit through the crew brief as they figure out how to get what the photographer wants. That experience alone is a learning experience for a photographer as well. Photoship and subject aircraft matching their performance is important since both have to be comfortable flying at the slowest or fastest speed to match each other. Selection of crew and their expertise is important. It first begins with flight safety, and secondly with the pilots and what they are comfortable with. Scott Slocum time and again reinforces that sometimes you have to stop being a photographer and act as eyes and ears contributing to flight safety. I am just an instrument that pushes the button when the moment is right, but A2A really works because of the air crew, ground crew and their mounts. And then there are the other moments that are unplanned but you can catch when the formation is being transitioned and there is movement between the subject aircraft or the light changes from front lit to backlit and the scenery changes below on the ground.
You have quite a vivid editing style. Could you share some of your workflow with our readers?
My take on pictures is that they should evoke some emotion out of the person looking at it. Sometimes it could be as simple as enhancing some contrasts, colors and sharpness or sometimes complex as bringing out the details in the shadows or brightness of the background than the subject or in contrast subduing them as well to make the subject pop. I am no photoshop expert and barely manage to scratch the surface of the surface of photoshop :P I use Adobe Lightroom and the Nik Plugins for my workflow.
Do you have any goals or items left on your bucket list?
Oh sure - there are so many, I don't know where to begin. As Goose says in Top Gun 'the list is long, but distinguished' There is MAKS or equivalent to capture the Russian hardware, there is the Mach Loop, Axalp, Duxford, RIAT, some of the WTIs back here in the US, the Aggressors and F-4s of Japan, the bases of Switzerland, Tiger Meet, and I am sure there are few others that I am missing right now.
Kedar, thanks for your time and sharing your insights with us.