How To Take Pilot Portraits With F18 Fighter Jets

Over the last year, Douglas Sonders has created some excellent behind the scenes videos showing off many of his photo shoots. In this video he takes us onto the tarmac at the Lemoore Naval Air Station in California where Douglas creates some excellent portraits. I wish there was a little more explanation of how he approached some of these images but fortunately there is some written material over on the Douglas Sonders Blog. My initial question is how in the world did he get clearance for this considering the US military is often pretty strict with photography.

F18 Fighter Jet Pilot Portrait Photoshoot - Douglas Sonders Photography from Douglas Sonders on Vimeo.

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Lemoore NAS is NOT IN SAN FRANSISCO. Its in the middle of the state... just fyi.

Great shots BTW

Patrick, while I can't tell you how Mr. Sanders went about getting clearance to the flight line for his shoot I can tell you that there are two ways to do it.

The first is the official way through the Public Affairs Office (PAO) of any military installation. You contact the PAO and explain your goals and if they like you and when they have time they will escort you around the installation and grant you limited access to the things that you hope to photograph for a few hours.

The second way is the recommended way and that is by using an inside man. The old saying "it's not what you know, it's who you know" is true in this case. If you know someone or can sell the members of the unit on the shoot or you have a friend of a friend that can get you in then your good to go.

If the unit agrees to contact the PAO on your behalf and do the escorting then PAO is 1000 times more likely to say "okay, you guys handle it." This leads to much more time, creativity and flexibility on the behalf of the photographer.

As a military aviator I have the fortune of having unlimited access and the misfortune of having limited time. But if you know someone your chances of getting to do a super cool shoot go up significantly.

Incase you're wondering, ride along shoots are just about impossible and those that have regularly received access have paid a substantial amount for Class 1 military flight physicals, altitude chamber rides, and egress training in order to be eligible to get the flying shots.

I really like the dramatic look. It was also great to see my former duty station again. Now if you can only find BTS of when Road & Track did the supercar shoot out @ NAS Lemoore from a few years past.

Maverick: Tower, this is Ghost rider requesting a flyby.

Air Boss Johnson: That’s a negative Ghost rider, the pattern is full.

The last pic looks deadly cool.

Just got around to watching this one and I'm glad I did. Also, I highly recommend hopping over to his blog for the extra info on the creation of the images. I really think the black and whites were knocked out of the park, and it was really a great idea to shoot some extra frames to expose for tough shadows, the sky, etc. and then merge them in post.

and @Josh up above, thanks a ton for the info on how to go about things. Got some ideas that I might give a try... worst they can say is "no," right?

That's it? I want to see more pictures from this shoot.

Douglas Sonders's picture

@Minghao Yang, check out the blog post! :)

@Nathan... LOL! I'm suprised no one got this...

The social network music for the win. Love it.