Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I had the distinguished privilege of spending every single waking moment of last weekend with Riley, helping him on a big photo shoot. He got hired to photograph a global aviation-related company's annual retreat, timed to coincide with the Reno Air Races. They rented two WWII-era bombers, a B-17 and a B-25, and gave their executives and some top clients rides in them out of a private terminal at the Reno airport.

We had been out to the terminal Friday to see the planes, but we arrived there at 6am Saturday to set up the lights and get the rest of the gear set up properly. The collection of gear we brought is a little bit ridiculous and it's mind-boggling to think about all the contingencies we put into place to make sure everything went off smoothly. Quick count: 3 cameras, 15ish lenses, 11 lights, a production assistant, 8 pocket wizards, 120ish GB of flash cards, 6 batteries, chargers for every light's battery, a generator, a cherry picker, too many filters and tripods and light stands to count, sandbags, extension cords, a computer, external hard drives, etc.

From the cherry picker. How to light a plane. Photo: Riley


Fast forward to late that afternoon, after several rounds of shooting and editing, when we headed up to the Hyatt in Incline to photograph their gala dinner.

Flame and moon

We managed a few hours of sleep before getting back out to the airport at 7am to set up the myriad lighting equipment again; this is still an active airport, so nothing could be left lying around where it might get sucked through a plane's propeller!

About mid-day, the gentleman coordinating everything for the company told us that there were a couple of no-shows, and that we could both go on the next B-25 flight. We dropped all non-essential gear, left our production assistant with a list of to-do items, and wriggled into the belly of the B-25. The beast roared to life with a cloud of smoke and we careened down the runway, swaying to and fro. The "interior" of this plane is littered with protrusions both sharp and blunt, making safe navigation within its embrace a substantial challenge.

Safe is a misnomer

Nothing to be embarrassed about

Once airborne, we had free reign over the plane, meaning we could crawl into the nose gun, into the top gun, and all the way back into the tail gun. And by "crawl," I mean "crawl."

Not for the claustrophobic. Photo: Riley

These planes have windows, too, and they're not the slide-up-and-down window cover that we're used to on airlines. It's a hole in the side of the plane, leaving one free to stick his head out into 280-knot airflow! We flew south out of Reno and did some formation flying with the B-17, after which they turned up to Tahoe and did more formation flying, making big banked turns with the B-17 so close it felt like we could reach out and touch it.

Alongside Slide Mountain

Leaving Reno airspace

Tahoe beckons from the nose-gunner's perch

B-17 from the B-25. Life is officially awesome!

They brought us back down over Spooner Summit, a few hundred feet above the trees, before setting a course over Carson and Washoe Lake on the way back to Reno.

Blat blat blat blat blat


Instrumentation, or "this is how scared you should be" in analog form

Heading home over Washoe Lake

By this time, 30 or 40 minutes into the flight, the turbulence was starting to get to me, as Sunday was far far more windy than Saturday. I think Riley was feeling it too, as we both stumbled out of the plane and curled up into little balls before the next group of execs showed up for their ride.

After a couple more hours of shooting and on-the-spot editing in a back room, we went and made the prints (to be delivered that night) and called it a wrap. Exhausting weekend by all counts, but what an experience to go for a flight in a WWII bomber!

Past Detritus