Monday, January 14, 2019

Access vs. Trespassing

(or how to straddle the barbed wire fence
by Ed Simmons

Ever since seeing the "Omega Man" with my folks at the drive in the 70s, I've been fascinated with dark themed/ abandoned locations. I like to shoot old buildings/ abandoned warehouses, and basically anything that looks like it belongs in the zombie apocalypse.  There are lots of cool pages and venues for this type of photography, and most of them share a common set of ground rules, one being "Don't ask the photographer for the location or for their access" (if it's not a well known spot.)

In other words, get your own access / find your own shoots.

A lot of these photographers find the thrill in bending the rules to get access, i.e. trespassing.   My own comfort level involves "Always get permission"  I find this will sometimes get me some cool stories about the site as well as the thrill of the chase of getting in touch with the owners, and the bonus of not worrying about getting arrested or shot. Most property owners don't mind if they're asked politely, but they don't want 50 other photographers showing up the next week, so it's understandable why discretion is important.

Aviation photography has a lot of similarities.  There are plenty of public venues (airshows) to get photos, but trying to get something more private/ one-on-one will get better pictures, but and should be handled with the same concern about being a good citizen in the photography community. Good manners and social skills will also go a long way.  Before stalking the taxiways at your local General Aviation airport with a long lens, take the time to meet some folks, bring some donuts by to the FBO, and make sure to ask the airplane owners if they mind you taking their pictures, and respect their wishes if they say no.

If you really want to shoot warbirds or other cool airplanes without having to fight the crowds at an airshow, a growing and sure-fire way to get great access to some cool airplanes (and some great training) is to take a class with one of the many providers of aviation-related photography seminars.

Joining the CAF or your local EAA chapter, volunteering at local airshows, museums, or other events, are great ways to meet some folks that can help you with additional behind-the-ropes photo opportunities.

Along this subject line, I had a great conversation with a local warbird owner about this topic, and in addition to the above, he suggested the following advice for those wanting to do some private warbird photography on your own:

Before asking to shoot, get to know the owners/ pilots.  Do your research on the plane, the "mission" of its owner,  and define the purpose for your shoot. Look at pictures of their plane from previous shoots, and try to think of something unique to accomplish.  The owner  will likely ask what the pictures are going to be used for.  "Portfolio building" is a legitimate reason, but respect that many warbird owners have thoughts on how they want the images of their planes portrayed, so please respect their boundaries.  It is also poor taste to remove or alter nose art, change colors, etc.

Many warbird owners own businesses and travel for long periods of time to be able to afford and support their airplane(s).  Time is something that we never get back in this life, so please respect people's time as the precious commodity that it is.  Approach it this way: If you have the greatest idea for a warbird shoot ever conceived, say so, but don't beat around the bush, just spell it out clearly. If you want to chat, offer to meet in person, bring your portfolio, and always bring or buy the coffee. Don't blind message someone on Facebook wanting to do an air-to-air shoot out of the blue.  If you are that good, they will reach out to you.  With the average cost of operating a warbird being high, it is a significant investment to do a "quick" air-to-air shoot, not to mention the risks involved.

For the most part, the pilots "get it" when people want to take pictures, but you still need to be polite, respectful, and bring your A game.

Ed Simmons is an aviation and zombie apocalypse photographer based in North Carolina.  When he isn't out chasing airplanes or abandoned sites, he is shoveling horse poop on his farm.

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