What It's Like to Photograph F16s... From Another F16

It's hard to imagine someone not describing what Sergeant Larry Reid Jr. does as a dream job. Once you see what he does, the images he captures and the joy on his face as he explains his process, part of you (no matter who you are) kind of wishes you were him. With two cameras strapped around his neck firing shots off while his pilot banks at seven G's, Sergeant Reid is living the dream. 

I met Sergeant Reid completely by chance. I was in Arizona with my friend Blair Bunting helping him with a project for the Air Force Thunderbirds (which included getting a ride in a Thunderbird F16 and sustaining 9 G's) when I saw Reid moving around, Nikon in hand, documenting everything that was happening. On this same day, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was also scheduled to take a trip in an F16, so it was only natural that the Air Force would send a journalist to capture all the moments. I struck up a conversation with Reid, curious how one came into his position.

After he briefly explained his job to me (and laughed at expression- my jaw slack in amazement), I asked him if he and the Air Force would be able to grant me just a few minutes to allow me to capture his story on video. They happily complied, and what ensued was the retelling of Sergeant Reid's story, full of mind-numbing detail. Without realizing it, he explains his nearly superhuman ability to maintain calm amongst a swirling torrent of pressue- both mental and physical. 

Each photo is bursting with emotion. Real, unstaged, in-the-moment, true emotion. What's more, his images take us viewers to places we have never been and view moments in time few of us have ever experienced or will ever experience... and that's just on the ground! When Reid takes to the sky, we are met with photos that are truly magical and challenge what we believe we could all be capable.


"It's just amazing what I get to capture, looking through my viewfinder," Reid told me. When he is up with the team and assigned to capture a photo, often that photo they are trying to get is the team flying over a specific monument, such as the Statue of Liberty or, above, Pike's Peak. "When we are on a dedicated photo mission, we may have one pass. One opportunity... over a monument that we might not have the opportunity to go back over." But it is in those moments that Reid shines. 

"The rewarding part is when my commander comes up to me after a mission and says 'Larry, let me see the images.'" Sergeant Reid told me, a smile on his face. "And when I can deliver each and every time, that opens doors for more opportunities to go up there." Why is that important? For a couple reasons. One, it is a dying art. With more one-seaters taking over the Air Force and the two-seaters being phased out, it's only a matter of time before taking photos in this manner will no longer be possible.

That is a day that Sergeant Reid does not want to see come to pass. "It's great to be able to showcase this and show our leaders, 'Look, this is what we can do with this capability. We can keep these two-seaters around so we can tell this aspect of our military mission, showing that precision that our aviators have to go through." 

With outstanding photos like the ones he captures, I think he has more than a fair argument to keep the two-seaters alive. 

All images by Sergeant Larry Reid Jr., United States Air Force Photojournalist

Special thanks to the United States Air Force and the AF Thunderbirds

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Jared Elliott's picture

Great article, looking to cross-train into PA in the future..

Scott Beck's picture

Great story! This guy does some amazing work.