Show and Tell: Sopwith Camel

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One of the things I enjoy the most about photography is being able to capture a scene in a way that others may not see themselves when looking at the same object or location.  Finding that creative composition for a photo is the first step in going from a simple snap shot to an artistic photograph.  All the fancy post processing in the world can not improve a poor composition, that must start long before the photograph is taken.  I’m sure I’ve said this before, probably most recently when I did the post on the 1935 Chrysler Airstream, that to get an interesting view of a common object, be it a car, an aircraft or a can of Dr. Pepper, you have to change your perspective from the known.

For this photo of the Sopwith Camel, one of the most recognizable (aside from perhaps the Fokker Dr.1 triplane) aircraft of the first World War, I opted to get up close, tilting the camera at a steep angle to line up the propeller’s length with the vertical axis of the frame.  The aircraft was in fact sitting static on the ground, wheels firmly on hanger floor, but this dynamic composition gives rise to a feeling of movement and action where there was none.  Aiding in this change of perspective and feel from the known and actual, was my choice of ultra-wide angle lenses, the Tokina 11-16mm at its widest setting.  With a moderate crop from the original (as seen below) and processed for a bit of a vintage or aged feel, the photo takes on the look and feel that I desired for the finished image.


The straight out of camera photo seen to the left shows what the camera saw when I took the photo at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum, in Addison Texas.  Compared to the cropped and Lightroom adjusted version on the right you can see how much of the upper part of the frame I choose to crop off, closing in on the part of the image that I wanted the image to focus on.  Remembering the rule of thirds, I placed the upper third line through the center of the propeller, and the vertical third lines run through the inside cowling edge on the left and along the lower left edge of the propeller on the right.   It also removed most of the hanger roof from view, an unneeded and unwanted element in the photo.

Processing in Nik Color Efex Pro 4, the desired look was fairly simple to achieve.  I wanted an aged, historic look, but not B&W or Sepia.  I liked the deep red of the cowling and the wood grain and color in the propeller with the brown and gray of the old radial engine in the middle.  After applying the Detail Extractor filter to bring out even more detail throughout the image, though primarily for the engine, machine gun and prop areas I turned second to one of my favorite color altering filters in the Nik Color Efex software and that was the Photo Stylizer.  This filter has a number of different modes including Varitone, Cool Ice, Cool Silver, Copper and Russet.  It is these last two modes that I usually turn to, and in this photo Russet fit the bill for the look I wanted.  A reddish-brown cast is applied throughout the image, turning the bright red to a deep wine red, and giving the white under wing fabric a look of wear and age.  The last step in this processing was to darken the edges of the image while brightening the center slightly, drawing the eye to the engine and cowling which I wanted to make the focal point.

From start to finish, another Show and Tell about the background and thought process that went into the Sopwith Camel photo by Fischer Photography.

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