I've specialized in organic aerial photography for over 7 years, hanging out of a helicopter with my cameras, photographing subject matter from extremely diverse altitudes. Through these years, my pilots and I have formed lifelong friendships! And my admiration and respect for their aviation careers has deepened immensely! So I was over the moon excited when Scott Willis of Calcasieu Parish Mosquito Control requested a meeting back in February to discuss creative ideas to highlight our local pilots who quietly regulate these little West Nile carrying pest swarms while we sleep! After an hour of ingesting all the science and technology that goes into such a commitment to our Lake Area, I was even more intrigued! We developed a marketing plan that would begin with a photoshoot for the pilot segment of their work, followed by other accompanying shoots that would be focused on ALL of the aspects of these "behind the scenes" full time jobs of keeping our area enjoyable and safe: the lab work, tracking different species, the how, when, and how much of such an operation!
The assignment: Create marketing portraits of these "Midnight Mosquito Men" career pilots alongside their planes.
Mosquito free 48 hour timeframe so they could temporarily ground the planes - meant scheduling during a time without prior rain for awhile
all pilots assembled (one actually flew in - literally in front of us- to join for a few hours)
scout day to set and organize the aircraft, perform test shots as I'd sketched out in our initial meeting
shoot day with an open window of flexible time due to increased wind on runways
tripod, wind resistant high speed sync light setup, and ladders and fork lift gate on call incase we felt the need to shoot anything higher up
I went out and met up with Scott and aircraft mechanic, Ricky, 24 hours prior to the shoot, met their awesome and super helpful mechanic, Ricky, as well as his big fixed wing babies he cares for daily. I walked the runway, knowing we needed space large enough to maneuver the aircraft easily, be able to fit them in tightly - I wanted them atypically off centered from each other, staggered and tightly snuggled close, but the area also had to have enough visual space to welcome a setting sun behind them.
For two hours, we configured, arranged, and rearranged the planes, ran test shots, and did a dry run of the various lenses, lighting, and angles I'd been envisioning for the group hero shot, as well as individuals. We marked the planes' positions, and tucked them away until the following afternoon.
With marketing photography like this outside, it's wonderful to prepare and adjust all that I can in the effort of efficiency of time for the day of. Though the parts of any shoot are out of anyone's control always keeps me humbly ready for anything, despite so much pre-planning. In this case, we had gorgeous blue skies, beautiful sunlight, and barely noticeable wind. We expected the same for the next night. I was feeling great within my test shots, confident I'd be able to use some of my light modifiers I was depending on lighting. Thankfully, I also tried shooting without any at all - virtually bare bulb lit, in the event that the following day may bring more wind with storms approaching for later in the week.... and so very glad I did....
I love how you can see the sun rays even in Lisa's iPhone snapshots!
We arrived at 5:00, set up, ran through another round of test shots in the continuously thickening cloud cover on the runway, and then began shooting. I LOVED meeting the pilots, getting to know them, and easing them in front of the camera. They enjoyed viewing previews of their portraits, while I giggled at their excitement and further requests to shoot "just a few more maybe over here?"
All in all, the session lasted almost 3 hours, including set up and breakdown. And it went perfectly! The wind was crazy strong (meaning I had to shoot bare bulb - without any wind-catching light modifiers), the sky became saturated with cloud cover, but it didn't matter. We were going to make dramatic awesome portraits anyway! And then an hour in.... something amazing happened. The clouds parted and danced with the late sunlight. The sky and ambient light shifted and changed, painting the most spectacular and dramatic sky I could have never imagined for this shoot! IT WAS INCREDIBLE!! Sun rays peaked in and out, contrasting beautifully with the drama of the thick, puffy clouds. We were given a background skyline show we almost couldn't take our eyes off of! My positive intention to create dramatic, hero-like shots of these career pilots was already running strong, but when the "silver lining" of a evening sky like that was produced, it quieted even MY mind in the moment and we blew through all I'd planned and wanted for them. And then the production came to an end, just as the sun set somewhere behind the cloudy horizon.
It really was kind of amazing... and I couldn't be more thankful to have captured that evening with so many well-deserved subjects! Pilots, planes, and just another Southwest Louisiana sunset all received the attention and images they so rightly deserved!
Quick note of gratitude for Mr. Willis' extra compassion with our shooting timeframe:
My contact for this work was Mr. Willis, who, I can't say enough amazing things about. The man was so patient. I kept myself stressed about providing a tight time frame, thinking there's no way we could hold these pilots all together for any longer than an hour max. Understandably, this is typically the case in commercial photography shoots! Which isn't that tough to do... usually. But as I've noticed, there's a huge time frame difference between open sky shoots, entirely codependent on a cloudless day versus an overcast day. The ambient light (available, natural light), is as different as night and day, thus fully altering the shoot. This left me unsure if we needed to wait and shoot between 6:30 & 8, or if overcast, we would need the strongest ambient light for the best background by starting closer to 4:30 or 5:00. Scott continued to assure me that their highest priority was the best shots possible, and the pilots were happy to "standby" for hours if needed. This immediately put me as ease leading up to the photography shoot, and I was finally able to provide a more accurate shooting window a few hours prior to beginning.
Behind the Scenes of the Aviation Runway Marketing shoot!
Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, 4 pilots, 3 lights, 2 planes, one photographer, and some dramatic clouds!