Photographing the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

F-35 Lightning taking off from Lubbock International, April 2013

F-35 Lightning taking off from Lubbock International, April 2013

This is not something you get to see every day – Now a pictorial does not always have to be a landscape and I don’t limit myself to that. While you may not see this image hanging my my gallery, it was a lot of fun. The F35 is the best of the best in multipurpose fighter jets. A stealth machine that’s so new it’s not even in military inventory yet and costs around 200 million dollars. No surplus deals here. You can read about the F35 here.

When touring I keep a list of people to visit with. Generally colleagues that have emailed and said to stop by when I’m in town. Eventually, I’m usually in town. This time is was Lubbock Texas. Jody from Smeyers Photography and his wife Jan were great hosts. We stayed in town two night and Jody made some of his famous Texas ribs. And by famous I mean if they are not famous they should be. We all had a good time and Cy loved playing their son Cody.

We went down to the Silent Wings Museum for a look back at some amazing glider history. On the nearby runway was one of the new F35 lets. Jody is a retired flight controller, so he know through the grapevine that it had landed for repairs. We got as close as we could, but the guys from Lockheed were not exactly chatty and eager top show it off. They would not even tell us when it was leaving.

Jody shouted out to some friends and we managed to get the details. The next day we headed down and parked the Super Camper in an empty lot as home base. Jody and I drove around the outskirts and thanks to Jody’s knowledge of the airport and a few tips, determined the direction she would be coming from. We setup and waited in the back of Jody’s pickup.

Then it came. And it came fast. I thought I was prepared but it was moving and escorted by an F16. My focus was not tracking well and I switched to manual focus as I’m generally more conformable there. I was a bit sluggish so this was a great exercise. I did get some fuzzy ones, but I manged some sharp one is all you really need. The pure blue of the sky offset by flames coming out of this 200 million dollar airplane is enough to satisfy me.

It was there and gone almost in a blink. So if you plan to photograph a fighter jet taking off, make sure you’re ready for it. It was quite a thing to see. Kind of made me want one, but I have to sell a few more prints before it’s in the budget 😉 We went back to the Super Camper had a good latte before bidding Jody goodbye and moving on down the road. It was a good day.



For Photographers. How it was made…

Technical Notes: Canon MK2, 70-200mm 2.8, 200mm @ f8, 1/500, ISO400, Induro Tripod
Lightroom 4, Photoshop, Seim Effects tools.

I did not do as well technically as I should have. I failed to focus fast enough and missed some images. The afterburners also showed up for a short time and this one was the only frame I managed that conveyed them well.

I metered and place the sky around Zone 7, leaving it on full manual the entire time. As soon as the jets started coming close I realized the focus was not tracking week and snapped into manual. At the speed this all happened that snag slowed me down. This frame was good, but I did not to crop a bit. More than just for the wide frame, I had to use that crop to being up the size of the craft. That’s a no no for me as I like as much resolution as possible.

Still, I’m beating myself up a little in these notes. I got the image and I’m very happy with it. It was a good time and it helped me see some areas I need to practice. Especially my high speed manual focusing. I do love manual as I’m totally in control. I may never see one of these planes again, but I had a chance to photograph one and I got the image.

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