A night with the Lightnings

The Lightning Preservation Groups’ (LPG) Bruntingthorpe night shoot has been on my list of “Roundtoits” for ages. If it wasn’t my shift pattern it was the weather and if it wasn’t that it was other commitments, so this year I decided to grab the bull by the whatsits and go. Come rain, hail or shine I was going!

Arriving at Bruntingthorpe was an eye opener, the security gate does not take any prisoners with spikes that rise out of the ground to burst types both going in and out. Double barriers make life interesting, it was just like being back at work, except fore the lack of razor-wire. I had heard stories about the guards here but I have to say the ones that I met were a decent bunch.

The LPG hold two evening photo shoots,  they had one where the aircraft engines were running last November and the one last weekend where it was just a static photo shoot with the aircraft and re-enactors. My only experience with re-enactors had been with the lawn-ornaments at Duxford, whose primary duty was to a) pose like a leek and b) get in the way of photographers who did not want then in their photos.
Funny how they always want to play wartime Americans, hardly anyone wants to dress up as a wartime Brit. Almost like fantasy role playing going on there.
Anyway I have to say that the LPG re-enactors  were in and they were out of the shots in good time and considering they had to hold their poses, they were very good at what they did.

The proceedings started during the late afternoon with the doors of the former Wattisham QRA, Quick Reaction Alert hangar being opened and the two Lightning F.6s available for photographs inside with the Lightning F.3 outside.

There then followed a briefing giving a run down on the nights proceedings and a vain call that when you got your shot to move out of the way so others could get theirs… oh I do like a joke.

There was also a reminder that we should not get in each others way and if one does transgress then just chill, likewise if your tripod gets accidentally kicked in the dark then chill again, which is easier said than done.

Tug and photographer, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-055

It was actually a test shot for exposure when the chap photo-bombed.

The two Lightning F.6s in the QRA shed.

XS904 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-013 XR713 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-017

Technical bits

If you are interested in the technical side of things I was using a Canon 1DX and a heavy Manfrotto tripod, which was just as well as the wind was strong that night and blew over the lighter Fuji X-Pro1 the day after.
Normally I would have used a cable release to activate the shutter but the gusty wind would have blown it about causing camera shake so I just used the cameras internal two second timer, which done the job. Manual white balance was done from time to time using the Colour Checker Passport, (I have a thing about colour casts from artificial lights and do my best to minimise them.)
The tripod carry strap was removed to prevent it flapping about in the wind and the camera strap was secured by a Velcro strap to stop it flapping about in the wind. I normally have this on the tripod leg that points forward, it is yellow and is easily seen in the dark, also useful for securing the cable release. (It’s a useful aid when operating in total darkness, when you need to know where the adjusters are without using to a torch, which destroys ones night vision.)
My camera has a built in level, otherwise I would have used a spirit level fitted to the camera hot shoe.
The 1DX also has a shutter that closes off the eyepiece for long exposures, useful for stopping light from getting to the sensor, otherwise I would have used a flattened out piece of Blu-Tak over the eyepiece.
The lens used, in case you are interested was the 24-105mm zoom.

Something different

I decided to try something different with the day time shots and go for some long exposures using a ten stop Neutral Density filter that I happened to have in my car. The idea was to blur the clouds or even better streak them, with a side benefit of blurring out the off photographer or car that strayed through my shot. The exposure times were in the region of 20 to 30 seconds, with my main consideration in exposing to the right.

XR713 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-116 XR713 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-118 XR713 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-124 XR713 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-127 XR713 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-140
This was the first time that I had tried long exposures on aircraft, although I always meant to at some point and I have to say the results were mixed. The swaying trees do make your head hurt after a while and the clouds were too tightly packed to give a proper effect. I really should have done a white balance or a colour profile but there was no where that I could set the card up where it would not get blown away in the wind. The pictures put me in mind of the Lens Baby narrow depth of field type of photos, I’ve been thinking about one of them for ages but I am still unsure about it.
By the way there are hundreds of 15 plate Nissan Cash-Cows here, some around the Comet and Nimrod are up on axle stands.

The guys

These shots were taken to give you a flavour of my fellow photographers and represent a third to a half of the photographers around that day.

XS904 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-121 Photographers, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-079 Photographers, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-036
XS904 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-063The aircraft were pulled out of the hangar, moved about and put back in, this F.6 was my least photographed aircraft.

Night time cometh and we get down to business

XR728 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-176-HDR

Things started to get chaotic. The organiser wanted to wet the apron in front of the QRA hangar and a fire appliance was brought into action. However the message of what he wanted up to do was totally lost on the wind. Hardly anyone moved while the dousing was going on and the water did not lie for long so the effect was lost. Just what he wanted to do with the floodlight was lost on me, except that it was shining directly where I was standing. I managed to get this shot when someone moved to let me in.

The F.3 was towed out into the dark, a spot of light painting from some of the photographers gave this shot.
XR713 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-224
This one was lit by the flood-light.XR713 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-212I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the old Lightning F.3, which for may years was at Leuchars. I’m glad that she went to a good home.

XR728 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-151The purpose of the yellow channel that the nose wheel sits in was explained to us in that the Lightning nose wheel had a bit of slack, which was the last thing any pilot would want to have when they come barreling out of the hangar on a QRA alert. Oh to see one of these girls take off and climb straight up like a rat up the proverbial drainpipe.

Re-Enactors

These were the only two re-enactor shots that I took, not bad but the intake blank is still on!

XR728 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-264 XR728 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-253Getting creative.

It pays to keep ones eye open for other possibilities, only myself and another photographer saw this one and by the time we had finished there were others behind us patiently waiting. Sorry guys but neither of us knew you were there. I saw this right at the end of the shoot, an almost full moon with the clouds streaking across the sky. Timing was needed so the moon would not burn out the sky.
XR724 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-129
An interesting photo bomb was made by one enterprising photographer who attached red lights legs of his tripod. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Personally I don’t think it is such a good idea in the long run, although I have felt the need for a dim light to show where my tripod is when I leave it in the dark during the long exposures but three is over kill and the red light could possibly find it way in through the eye-piece onto the sensor. Perhaps one shining directly downwards may be a better idea, at least then you could see what’s at your feet if you dropped anything.
Photographer, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-281I made an effort to reduce the colour cast from the fluorescent lights with the first shot, the red light trails was just to show the red lights.

COAP, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-078

There is nothing like advertising is there?

XR728 Lightning, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-073

A selfie.

A bonus

Everything must come to an end and we started to drift off towards our cars, however I could not believe that I was the only one that thought to shoot the gate guards at night, a triple whammy!

XZ382 Jaguar, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-298 XT630 Scout, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-293 85 Mystere, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-296

It’s behind you…

Always look over your shoulder, as there is often more interesting photos to be found. I missed a Guppy skyline shot because I could not focus properly in such low light conditions. This was the best that I was able to get of the Comet, which was a lot nearer. Again, I could not believe that no one else thought to try their luck at the other aircraft around.G-CPDA Comet, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-227

Thanks.

Anyway I must give my appreciation to the organiser, who photo-bombed one of my shots, he’s not blue in real life honestly! My thanks to everyone who made the night-shoot possible.

photo-bomb, Bruntingthorpe-20160220-155

Final thoughts.

These night shoots tend to be a bit of a scrum, this one was no different. Some lucky photographers found good spots and stayed there denying others their shots but that’s life. Spreading the scenarios out between three locations would have forced everyone to move rather than concentrating everything at the QRA shed. Difficult to do in practice with the number of cars around but not impossible.
I don’t know why the Cold War Jets do not have their own night shoot, I would love to photograph their aircraft in the dark. However as it is, that would be a dangerous proposition as it has lots of hazards for the unwary… even in daytime.
There were a few passing cars driving right past the Lightnings, which made life interesting including a couple of sexy sports cars. It pays to keep ones guard up at night.

Lessons learned.

One needs to be a bit more savvy as to what is going on, the old hands knew what shots were coming up and camped out waiting for them. I need to do Colour Checker Passport profiles for the artificial lights, easier said than done. Bump up the ISO for the re-enactor shots to minimise movement. Wear warmer clothing and a hat that would keep my ears warm in the wind. The final item was I developed a workflow to quickly set up a shot on the tripod, framing and focusing the shot with the leveling done at the end, I don’t know why this never occurred to me before.

Anyway that’s all from the LPG Bruntingthorpe night-shoot, I hope that you enjoyed reading this blog and it will inspire you to have a go yourself, as the money does go to a worthy cause.

But there’s one thing for sure….
Mair tae come

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