VE Day +70 Part 2

By Mark

As Roger wrote in the last blog the hazy weather over the mall didn’t make for the best aircraft shots.  

Start of the "Missing Man" finale formation.  P-40, Corsair, Avenger, and a Mustang

Start of the "Missing Man" finale formation.  P-40, Corsair, Avenger, and a Mustang

Luckily for us, the organizers wanted to give the public a chance to see the aircraft up close and personal so they were going to fly in to Dulles Airport and be on the tarmac right outside the Udvar-Hazy museum.  Having seen the traffic jams for family day before, I made everyone get up early and we headed down to Dulles.  As we drove from home, we noticed that it was a little misty, but the weather guessers assured everyone that the cloud cover would all be gone by 10, when the aircraft were scheduled to start landing.  We arrived and the place was already pretty full of people.  There were many WW2 Vets there with their families among the crowd.  I got to chat with an 8th AF B-17 pilot who flew with the 344th.



He was spry and feisty.  I’m pretty certain he was not unlike the reenactor by the tents outside.  

Everyone trooped through the hanger to get the required safety briefing before we would be allowed outside and then, well to put it bluntly the weathermen were just wrong.  The clouds and rain hung around and the ceiling never lifted enough for the extremely valuable aircraft to make it in.  All was not lost though as the museum continues to be an amazing place.  One of the things that struck me in talking to that pilot was that he had seen aviation transform from these wood and fabric biplanes

Nieuport from WW1 flown by the American "Hat in the Ring" squadron

Nieuport from WW1 flown by the American "Hat in the Ring" squadron

all the way to watching the Space Shuttle retire from service. 

Space Shuttle Discovery--39 trips to orbit and back

Space Shuttle Discovery--39 trips to orbit and back

I took advantage of the opportunity to use my 14-24 wide angle lens to do something I’ve wanted to capture ever the museum first opened.   Capturing both the size of the facility itself and just how big some of the aircraft really are has always been difficult.  Standing on the various walkways above the main floor provides great vantage points.   I’ve gotten parts of the F4U Corsair hanging in the entrance before, but never the whole thing. 

F4U Corsair--My uncle was shot down in one of these over Korea.

F4U Corsair--My uncle was shot down in one of these over Korea.

From above the Enola Gay you can look one direction and see the World War 2 aircraft.

When you turn around though and look the other way, you get to see the evolution of how aircraft have evolved and transformed civilian travel.  

From an early Boeing airliner to the Concorde Super Sonic Transport in the distance, it makes you hopeful what progress we will continue to see in our lifetimes.  You can spend hours and hours and hours in the museum.  I've been there lots and have yet to see every thing.  Just gives me something to shoot for.   

Walking through History

I can remember the first time I went to Gettysburg when I was six years old, living here in VA.    I live smack in the middle of short drives to the great battlefields of the Civil War.  I drive through the Bull Run/Manassas battlefield everyday to get to work.  I was really surprised to learn that Roger had never been there.  So Saturday morning, we drove the 2hrs straight North on Route 15.  The National Park Service have recently finished building a brand new museum and restoring the great cyclorama painting of Picket’s charge by Paul Philippoteaux.  It was a gorgeous day, cooler with a slight overcast making it a good day for photos.  Every trip there reminds me how brutal the conditions were, and how much the soldiers on each side had to take.  Standing shoulder to shoulder at very close range with black powder rifles had to be terrifying.  Seeing what vicious damage the soft lead bullets did to flesh and bone, not to mention the shot and shell, always makes you question, “Could I have stood there, with my comrades?”  The battlefield is incredibly well marked.  After the war, the States and individual units came back to walk that hallowed ground.  My two favorite memorials are actually from the Southern line, in the woods where the troops formed up, before marching across open ground to be destroyed in Pickett’s charge.  


 The North Carolina memorial captures their men going forward and you can almost feel the bullets flowing past them like a lead rain. 


The Virginia memorial captures the wide range of men who left their occupations as farmers, mechanics, teachers and landowners to fight for the wrong cause. 

VA monument


Along the road, the Park Service and a group of MD reenactors were giving an artillery demo.  Some of these guys and a fairly large number of women, spend a lot of time reliving their heritage and history.  I’ve seen over 5,000 soldiers from both sides camped out and refighting the charges.  

On the far left of the Union line is Little Round top and the famous Devil’s Den.  If you’ve seen the movie, you will know this is where the 20th Maine stood its ground and repeatedly repulsed the 15th Alabama.  One of the most famous photos of the war was by Alexander Gardner of this Confederate Sharpshooter at Gettysburg.  Years later we have learned that he and his assistant dragged the body from further down the hill and arranged the whole scene.  Early Photoshop in action.   This time, just like my first visit, I still recall the words  “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain” .  

Museums can be a photography challenge

For me one of the most interesting parts about traveling in Europe is visiting the museums.  Thousands of years of history are captured in sculpture, paintings and other precious artifacts.  Taking good images of those things home is harder than it might appear.  First and foremost many museums do not allow you to take photos at all.  The new Athens Acropolis museum is like that.  They want you to purchase the guide books and that is understandable.  Checking your camera at the coat locker can be an uncomfortable feeling, so be prepared.  Most guidebooks, such as the excellent DK travel books will tell you ahead of time.  Although, I would rather have my gear with me, as you never know what you will see on the way rather than leave it in most hotels.  Second most museums prohibit the use of flash although the Louvre in Paris does not, which I find strange.  Some museums will charge you extra if you want to use the flash.  So if you still want to take pictures, you have to know how to turn your flash off.  This means shooting in available light, which is often dim.  The obvious choice is to bring in a tripod—whoops, most museums hate tripods worse than they hate flashes.  They tend to trip up others and block the flow of traffic.  One way around this is to use a monopod.  No one seems to blink at them. 

The challenge is holding the camera steady enough to get good pictures.  For most people this means the shutter speed on the camera has to be faster than 1/60th of a second. The in camera techniques are the ones I’m going to talk about.  The first is to just use a faster lens.   Yep these are more expensive right?  Well not necessarily.  A good Nikon 50mm f1.8 is right around $100 dollars.  Yes you have to get closer and use your foot zoom, but it will be fast enough in almost any lighting conditions.  Of course, a really good lens will make getting these kind of shots easier.  Two simple techniques can also help improve your stability.  Lean against a wall or the side of a case and brace the camera while shooting—it makes a difference.  Also proper camera hand position, really adds a stop to your shooting.  Keep your arms tucked in close to your body, hold your left hand under the lens to cradle it and pull it towards you.  You see people waving their arms way out in front like they were afraid of the camera.   It also helps to put the camera on continuous mode and shoot a lot of shots.  One of them is likely to be in focus and sharp.

Be aware of the glare from the lights and the glass of the display cases.  If you can get close, use a rubber lens hood and hold it against the glass.  Walk around the room and see where the reflections are minimized.  Use the other members of your group to block out really obnoxious lights. Often the lights are hideous fluorescent which make the colors look bad.  Luckily, Lightroom processing can really help cut through glare and correct the light as in this fresco from the buried city on Santorini. 

Most museums are busy places; when you compose your photos ensure you know what is in the background as well.  Too much clutter and the subject will be lost. By walking around the room I found the walls on the other side to be a much better background. Don't be afraid to move.  Lastly, there are crowds. They will get in your way.  Be considerate of others and hope that they will return the favors. 

One bonus tip, shoot the signs for the exhibits as well.  Digital is free and it will help you remember what that thing was anyway when you get back and start playing with your pictures.