Shooting Planes

Private jets are owned by celebrities and billionaires, usually. So when I got a call from a friend asking if I’d be up for photographing one, my thoughts turned to – “who the heck has he been hanging out with?!” This guy works in IT, there’s no way he knows Warren Buffet. So anyway it was a real enquiry phone call and it was past 9:30 on a Friday evening, and as he began to explain he was in a bar having a drink with a Gulfstream pilot I got a bit worried. Then I reminded myself that I am a photographer, that I photograph interiors, portraits and commercial business operations, so why wouldn’t some billionaire guy want me taking fantastic shots of his plane? So after a pre-arranged briefing and exchange of passport docs I headed of to Stansted Airport with all my kit to meet Captain Menzies to take us on board. I had been making some notes the past few days on how I might photograph this kind of aircraft. Here are some notes on the craft… The exact model is a Gulfstream G550, built by General Dynamics’ Gulfstream Aerospace in the USA, in service since 2003, a capacity of up to 19 plus 2 attendants, a length of 29.4 meters and a wingspan of 28.5 meters, with a cruise speed of 488 knots (562 mph). An impressive compact aircraft owned by the likes of Tiger Woods and John Travolta, with I imagine who has a bumper stick saying ‘my other plane is a 747’. The G550 cabin is known for its luxury design, great light and views –  iconic, wide oval windows.

Arriving at Harrods Aviation facility at Stansted Airport, near London was a simple task – no fuss, just leave the car outside, passport check, jokes with the security staff about having a penknife in my bag (no really, they don’t care) and straight into the small luxurious terminal facility where we could relax and chat about the plane, flying to the Caribbean and general insights into how the other half live (or other 0.1%). We then took an terminal cab the whole 300 Yards to where the plane was, which happened to be parked opposite ‘The Bandit’- Roman Abramovich’s Boeing 767. I spent a good 30 mins inside and out of the aircraft figuring out how to shoot this beast. After a few external test shots I decided to try a few different angles, some of which I thought might look great from an elevated perspective. We had a ground crew of 3 with support equipment including a tractor to move the craft, and a passenger stair truck for view access points. After having the plane dragged from left to right and back a little to get the background scene how I wanted, the stair truck was positioned and up I went with my D800 and 35mm prime lens, were I was literally climbing stairway up to the heavens, very carefully. Such a strange moment, looking down at a £30million aircraft with my modest 36million pixel camera.

We didn’t use any specialist lighting, partly because I didn’t think it would have helped in any real way. The extra restrictions at an airport and a time limit we had, literally a couple of hours, they would have been a hindrance. We were fortunate with the weather, some light rain earlier in the day created some pools of water which give off some nice reflection. But ultimately it was the sky that made the images, cloud with silver linings and a hint of blue and then flashes of green from fields. All the photos were delivered on online, on time and It only look a few days to process all of them and get them looking to a production standard I was happy with.

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