Planespotting: Photographing Luxury Jets With Pepper Yandell

When you think of photographing jets above rising cityscapes, some of you may think initially of a "Mission Impossible" type of situation: a daring photographer in a flight suit and goggles strapped to the back of a military-looking plane with the cargo ramp down, snapping off shots as they fly through the air. Sure, it's been done, maybe not to that extreme, but you get the gist. However, Dallas-based Automotive Photographer Pepper Yandell shows you his trick to getting those picture-perfect photos, and it's much less dangerous and extreme than what you may have first thought.

​When you look at a multitude of photographs that you see being used in marketing nowadays, just about every single one of them has had some sort of digital manipulation. Whether it's through something simple, such as a basic color correction to clean up a photo or something more drastic, like dropping in a plane that's in fact not airborne into a sunset sky. As a commercial photographer, this is sometimes a necessity in order to get a client's vision to become reality, and for Pepper Yandell, this was just another day in the office.

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This shot of the Falcon 900 with the new Acura NSX shows a different perspective on the same plane.

The Plot

When you think of a boat, generally you think of a boat in water. Whether it's an oil tanker or a kayak, most people will instantly envision a boat in water. In reality, a plane is no different, except for the simple fact that they fly. So, when a client comes to you and says: "I would like a photo of my plane above the Dallas skyline," how would you go about accomplishing that? Sure, you could try to create that Mission Impossible action sequence as detailed earlier, and it might work, might not. Aside from the danger which is inherent in doing something like that, the cost to do so is also greatly increased with the use of fuel for the planes as well as the pilots and crew operating them.

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With the sun in the right location and the utilization of a scissor-lift, Pepper positions himself behind the plane to get the right perspective and lighting for the shot he wants to create.

The Solution

With the clever use of a small single-engine aircraft, a scouting run ensued in order to capture all relevant lighting conditions and plate shots needed in order to accomplish the objective of the project. Once the images were collected and sorted, the remaining shots were analyzed and the final shots were selected, which established a shot list as well as a set of parameters as far as lighting conditions needed to set the plane convincingly in the scene. Thus ensued a period of time waiting on the sun to be in the correct position in order to create the necessary highlights and shadows for the scene. Armed with his trusty camera and the use of a scissor lift, he crafted his images piece by piece and shot by shot until he reached his final conclusions.

The Finished Product

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Finished shot of the Falcon 900 over the City of Dallas, TX.

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"Head in the Clouds," a second finished shot of the Falcon 900 from Pepper Yandell's session.

There's nothing more natural than a plane soaring above the clouds or over a city, and these images definitely will leave an impression on the viewer. Some may scoff and say it's too much Photoshop, but in reality, it's the right tool for the right job. And I think more importantly, it's perfect proof that you don't need a million-dollar budget to create exceptional images; just a little know-how and some patience is all you need, and of course, access to a jet and scissor-lift. For more information and more of Pepper's work, hop on over to his website

Images used with permission of Pepper Yandell.

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11 Comments

William Masters's picture

I work for Falcon and now I see how they did some of the photos we have hanging here at work. Nice job!

Michael Kormos's picture

I smell another fstoppers tutorial: "Mile High Art: Photographing Luxury Jets".

Yea, and let's do Air Wolf also!

Mike Schrengohst's picture

I would have photoshopped a little heat signature turbulence coming out of the engines. And the reflection on the plane does not match the backdrop. The line is too high.

Jim Wilson's picture

Interesting, but there's nothing like the real deal...............

Mike Kelley's picture

Man I would kill to do this haha

Jim Wilson's picture

Hi Mike! Air to air is a great "palette cleanser" from day to day architectural work. Air to air is the exact opposite, still a great deal of planning and expertise, but things happen really fast once all the pieces are in place. Often, even with all the planning, something cool will happen that you never anticipated.................That's the shadow of my B25 platform and the T-38 in a perfect "sun dog" on the cloud tops. I could tell you that I had that all planned out, but I'd be fibbing to you, it was a "gimme", and I gladly accept those:)

Jim Wilson's picture

And when you bring them to life in 4K it's pretty cool as well..................

https://vimeo.com/167348144

https://vimeo.com/167665209

Liviu Dnistran's picture

That's not how this works... That's not how any of this works... :)

Jim Wilson's picture

You crack me up Liviu! Wonderful image!!

Christian Berens's picture

Pepper's amazing at what he does! A great follow on IG, facebook and youtube!