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  • Back from Normandy

    I am finally settled in now after returning from Normandy, France on August 13th and all I can say is wow. What an amazing, life-changing, humbling experience it has been. We spent our 8 days traveling coast to coast of Northern France and through parts of Belgium with Harry, a World War II veteran and star of the documentary I am working on, Normandy: A World Apart.

    We met so many amazing people and saw so many amazing things. I was grateful enough to have four cameras with me for this trip: Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 50D, Fujifilm Instax Mini 90, and of course, a trusty phone – my Samsung Galaxy S3. I still can’t believe some of the things I’ve seen as I look through the photos.

    I have begun editing through my images but unfortunately I will not be able to share many of them just yet. I am putting together a photo book and gallery tour featuring images from our trip so they must stay under wraps until the release. For those interested, please check back here for more information for the release dates of the film book, and gallery tour.

    For direct updates on the documentary, please visit our website:
    www.aworldapartmovie.com

    I hope to share more of my recent work with you all soon.

  • The Invasion of Normandy at 70, I at 24

    I have been very reflective lately – on history, on my life, and what I have accomplished in such a short amount of time as a photographer and a creative person. I have developed beyond just an aviation and space photographer into an editor, journalist, director, and filmmaker, sharing the common threads of history and inspiration.

    A still of actor Nick Holmes from The Last Patrol, the first film I directed while studying at Brooks Institute.

    Since my graduation from Brooks Institute in August 2013, I have become a journalist writing space articles for news outlet The Spaceflight Group and conducting interviews with fantastic individuals of aerospace companies. I photograph rocket launches and aircraft. Now I am embarking upon a “great and noble undertaking” of my own – directing a documentary that will be bringing a 92-year-old World War II veteran back to Normandy, France in August to honor the anniversary of the invasion. He has always wanted to return to Normandy where he was part of the invasion, but never had the opportunity to do so – until now.

    70 years is a lifetime ago and a whole other time I cannot fathom, yet the more I speak to and work with these World War II veterans, the closer I feel to this time in their lives. Working on this film, Normandy: A World Apart, during the past few months has been the most humbling and inspiring time in my life to date. It is amazing that by peering into our collective past, I am learning about what I can do for our collective future.

    What it comes down to is that our past is certainly part of our future, and it is not about how much time we have, but rather what we do with the time given to us. Harry Snyder, our veteran, has taught me that at the wonderful age of 92.

    You can never be too young or too old to accomplish great things and you should always be striving to do them, no matter what. Dreams and wishes are eternal; they are always waiting to come true, but you have to go after them.

    Harry Snyder, 92-year-old World War II veteran of the Invasion of Normandy and Battle of the Bulge.

    Thus, I am reminded of a quote by one of my most favorite authors, explorers, and photographers, Jack London:

    "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

    I am honored to be aiding Harry in granting his wish to return to Normandy at 92 – and realize that at 24, helping him is granting one of my own wishes, too.

  • Antares Cygnus Demonstration Launch

    Outside the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) building at NASA Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, VA.

    This week was a great one for all sorts of aerospace milestones, including two launches. I had the opportunity to attend the Antares Cygnus COTS demonstration launch yesterday and the pre-launch events on September 17.

    As some may remember, I had the opportunity to see the awesome collaboration between Orbital Sciences and NASA a few months ago at the Pegasus/IRIS launch. Needless to say, I am a huge supporter of the NASA and Orbital team.

    Observing the assembly of the next Antares rocket inside the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF).

    Kicking off the pre-launch festivities, the media was able to tour the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to observe the next Antares rocket being assembled. This was a unique experience and I really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes aspect of the launch.

    Workers at Orbital Sciences with parts of the next Antares rocket and ATK's CASTOR 30-A motor.

    The media also got to see ATK's CASTOR 30-A motor, which was impressive!

    Next, we were taken out to the pad on Wallops Island where we were able to see Antares and Cygnus (above).

    NASA's Josh Byerly during the pre-launch mission briefing.

    The day concluded with a mission and weather briefing hosted by Josh Byerly of NASA and several wonderful presentations by Orbital Sciences, Dutch Space, and others who aided in the development of Antares and Cygnus.

    Antares and Cygnus launched at 10:58am EST the next day into an incredible blanket of low clouds and up towards the sun (above).

    My favorite image I took from the launch (above), which features a flock of birds fleeing as Antares climbs into the sky.

    You may view my full set of images from both days on Flickr here.

    Additional Information:

    Cygnus will be berthing with the International Space Station on September 22 around 7:25am. You may follow the mission here.

    For more information on the COTS Demo mission, you may visit Orbital Sciences' website here.

    Congratulations and many thanks to Orbital Sciences, NASA, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), ATK, Dutch Space, and others involved in this important and historic mission!

    Bonus:

    I also stopped by the Chincoteague Community Center where they have a full-scale model of the Cygnus capsule on display outside. Cygnus is much bigger than I thought!

  • The Last Patrol: A Short WWII Film

    Recently I've been experimenting with short film, in hopes to also be able to offer video to my clients. Being both a writer and a photographer who constantly looks to history for inspiration, I decided to take on the task of a World War Two short film.

    Assistant director, Austin Rawcliffe, filming a scene in the film with actors Ehren Rauch and Nicholas Okpysh.

    My crew and I shot for two long days up in the mountains in a secluded spot that could pass for Eastern France. My actors were all actual WWII reenactors who fired blank rounds from their M-1 Garand rifles in order to create an effect as close to firing a real bullet as possible.

    Actors Ehren Rauch and Nicholas Okpysh reviewing footage of themselves firing their rifles in a battle scene.

    My biggest inspiration for this film was the 1927 silent film, Wings. I had always admired the beautiful lighting in that movie and the way that the characters' facial expressions moved the story along without words. I tried to include those elements in my own film, which tells the tale of a lone soldier on patrol.

    Lead actor Ehren Rauch (left) and myself (right) and I prepare a second camera angle for a patrol scene.

    I will be blogging the official production stills from this video soon, so stay tuned!

    Actors left to right: Ben Regester, Ehren Rauch, and Nick Holmes.

  • Entrepreneurship with Elon Musk and Richard Branson

    This morning, Google+ hosted a great Hangout with SpaceX's Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic's Sir Richard Branson on entrepreneurship, space, and innovation. If you missed the Hangout, you can watch it on YouTube here.

    I've highlighted some of the best advice that Elon and Richard gave during the Hangout below.


    Elon Musk:

    • Take as much feedback as you can from as many people as you can
    • Seek critical feedback
    • You want the future to be better than the past—or at least I do
    • Understand the mission
    • Make sure those joining the company believe in the mission
    • Throw as many hours at it as you can


    Richard Branson:

    • Great idea? Screw it, just do it.
    • Many of the best ideas come from personal frustration
    • What can I do to make a real difference in the world?
    • Motivate other people
    • Don’t let your business absorb your life 100%
    • Surround yourself with other people that can share the burden


    As an aerospace and aviation photographer I am also dabbling in the realm of entrepreneurship with my upcoming projects. Here is some additional advice I would give:

    • Dream enormously, but start minutely
    • Accomplish something much bigger than yourself
    • Meet everyone that you can
    • Inspire and be inspired
    • Never settle
    • Come full circle and give back to the world


    Thank you to Elon Musk and Richard Branson for their time and to Yonca Brunini for hosting the Hangout. Hope the rest of the day is just as inspirational!

  • Houston, We Have a Portfolio

    Let's face it - the internet has been an amazing tool for budding photographers, actors, singers, and well, everyone. The amount of people that see your work had magnified tenfold since the era of analog. Regardless of this, the pixels of the internet can be deceiving and art directors, employers, and clients are still eager to see a printed portfolio of your work.

    I've had physical printed portfolios in addition to a website for as long as I've been a professional, but recently I decided to completely redo my books and my branding. I went with the company, Lost Luggage, whom I've purchased portfolio cases from before.

    Since my work is in the realm of aviation, aerospace, and historical photography, I wanted a portfolio case to match. I envisioned something that looks like it could have came right out of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet still look sleek enough to be a metaphor of the future. I found these qualities in the Looking Glass case at Lost Luggage. Mine features their clear, frosted acrylic covers with a silver metal spine. It was my first time getting anything etched with my logo, and it was done with precision and professionalism.

    Lost Luggage also sells quality paper from Moab that is pre-scored with drilled holes specifically to fit their portfolios. They have two kinds, the Lasal and the Entrada. I went with the double-sided Lasal Matte and found the paper to have a beautiful, smooth texture. I am very picky about the thickness of paper and I was pleasantly surprised by the sturdiness of the Moab. While colors printed vividly and flawlessly, I found that the blacks were slightly flat in comparison. Overall though, the Moab paper was a great choice to compliment my case.

    To top off my futuristic themed portfolio, I purchased one of Lost Luggage's Arsenal cases, whose screws reminded me of the rivets in the fuselage of an aircraft or the side of an Apollo capsule. The case is made of the same frosted acrylic as my book and added an elegant touch to my thematic print display.

    Overall, I had a great experience with Lost Luggage. My custom etched portfolio came in about four days - record time for any custom item. I can't wait for an excuse to purchase from them again... and I have a feeling it will probably be their matching iPad case!

  • Workflow Tips: Vision

    All too often I find photographer's flying by the seat of their pants both on the job and behind the computer. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. I will admit that in my free time, my fine art photography often comes to me in a serendipitous way.

    However, when it comes to my commercial work, I always like to walk into a scenario with a vision about the final product.

    Here is an example of the before and after of an image taken last year of an old helmet on the beach. I wanted to depict a more dramatically lit scenario, which I achieved mostly with mutliple exposures and precise masking.

    While most of my magic happens behind a computer screen, I still pay very close attention to lighting and on location techniques. However, sometimes it is not always possible to capture a subject lit the way you had hoped to, whether it be due to size, space, or limited access.

    This image of the inside of the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel was also achieved with mutliple exposures and precise masking.

    My vision for the wind tunnel images was for them to look very sleek and clean, almost in a futuristic sort of way. In post, I emphasized the edgy qualities and created a cinematic feel. My inspiration was Stanley Kubrick's film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    Using layering with mutilple exposures, I created this dramatically lit scenario that made the observation window of the wind tunnel almost glow.

    Here is an aircraft image I am in the process of working on. This image was lit solely by sunlight. I have been sculpting the light with HDR and masking techiniques for a sleek and dramatic look.

    Having a solid vision is extremely important to the overall outcome of my photography. It has effectively portrayed the conceptual and narrative side to my seemingly drab comemrcial work. It is crucial to find ways to carry out your vision in your work, even if circumstances prevent you from doing so on location. Through creative and conceptual HDR techniques, my work has blossomed into something between commercial and fine art.

  • Behind the Scenes at Helicopter Big Bear

    For the Fourth of July weekend, my friend Rachel (who is a fellow photographer/filmmaker) and I decided to relax up at Big Bear Lake with a cozy little mountain cabin. Of course, there is no rest for the aviation enthusiast, though. I managed to set up a photo shoot with Helicopter Big Bear, located at the Big Bear City Airport. This company offers an assortment of scenic tours in both their helicopter and airplane. They also offer flights for photographers, which I will have to do next time!

    Photos by Rachel Marie Smith.

    Rachel took some Polaroid images of me working on the tarmac. Although most of my magic happens behind the computer, angle, lens, and light are really key to a dynamic aircraft image. I love the vintage effect on the expired film from The Impossible Project too.

    Photos by Rachel Marie Smith.

    Here are a few of the finished photographs. Other photos from this shoot will be posted into my Aviation gallery soon.

    Jennifer and the pilot, Roy, were great to work with and very accommodating. It's great to meet people as passionate and excited about aviation as I am!

    A big thank you to Helicopter Big Bear for letting me work with their beautiful helicopter and aircraft as well as Rachel for the behind the scenes photos.

  • Inspiration: Our Veterans

    Inspiration is certainly one of those words that is used often enough and with good reason. For a creative person such as myself, it is one of my core motivators. I hope to post many installments about my inspiration, as much of it is quite relevant to my aerospace and aviation work.

    Of course, at the top of the list of inspiration for me is our veterans.

    A statue in Washington, D.C. that is part of the Vietnam War Memorial.

    Reflections in the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

    I make sure to pay tribute to the enduring spirit of our veterans whenever and wherever I go. Their inspiring stories are at times the fuel that keeps me going towards my own dreams.

    Statues that are part of the Korean War Memorial in Washinton, D.C.

    Etchings in the wall of the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

    One of the most rewarding parts of my work is being able to meet and honor our veterans in person. I volunteer my time and photography as much as I can. I have worked closely with the San Diego Air and Space Museum and the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Museum donating my photography for various events. I have been able to meet some amazing people and hear their equally amazing feats as a result.

    Veterans at the 2013 Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Barbara Cemetery.

    Astronaut Gene Cernan and I at the Apollo 17 40th Anniversary celebration at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

    Astronaut Charlie Duke and I at the Apollo 17 40th Anniversary celebration at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

    At many of the events I volunteer for, I end up rubbing shoulders with a lot of astronauts that are also veterans as well. It is always an honor to be around such great people. All in all, I hope that in time my photographs of these legends and unsung heroes will preserve their legacy and also inspire future generations.

  • Launching NASA's IRIS

    This past Tuesday and Thursday, I had the opportunity to witness the product of some great collaboration at Vandenberg Air Force Base. IRIS, which stands for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, is NASA's latest mission aimed at exploring our sun.

    Left to right, top to bottom: Bryan Baldwin (Orbital Sciences), Geoffrey Yoder (NASA HQ), Alan Title (Lockheed Martin), and Dr. S. Pete Worden (NASA Ames)

    Tuesday was purely a day for the press, starting off with pre-launch briefings with some of the great people involved in the mission from NASA, Orbital Sciences, and Lockheed Martin. It was a great opportunity to really get a grasp for the importance of this mission. By far the best part of the day was getting escorted out to the runway to see Orbital Sciences' L-1011 "Stargazer" aircraft with the Pegasus XL rocket that housed IRIS. We were also able to tour the interior of the aircraft.

    The L-1011 "Stargazer" aircraft with the Pegasus XL rocket fitted beneath.

    Stargazer and Pegasus preparing for takeoff.

    After being delayed a day due to a power outage at Vandenberg, the launch resumed on Thursday. I was fortunate enough to be on the flightline for the takeoff of the F-18 chase plane and Stargazer. It was a beautiful early evening with beautiful light as the pair took off and headed out over the ocean where Pegasus was then launched.

    The L-1011 aircraft with the F-18 chase plane taxiing just before takeoff.

    The L-1011 "Stargazer" aircraft taking off at Vandenberg Air Force Base.


    You can follow the IRIS mission and view footage from the launch here.