WarbirdsNews loves to promote the work of talented photographers, and we are overjoyed to share the stunning work of Emmanuel Canaan here for you today. During Fleet Week 2015 in San Francisco, California, Canaan had the rare opportunity to go up for an air-to-air photoshoot with the US Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team flying in formation with probably the world’s finest aerobatics pilot, Sean D. Tucker. They had a stunning backdrop in the scenery around San Francisco Bay area to play with … including the Golden Gate Bridge and the infamous Alcatraz Island. Needless to say, Canaan captured some magic with his lens, and we know you will enjoy the results. We will let him continue the conversation in his own words…
I recently had the very lucky opportunity to participate in an air-to-air flight that very few photographers ever experience in their lifetime. I had done a lot of work with Team Oracle in the past, and their star Sean D. Tucker liked my photography enough to give me a shot at something truly amazing. It was an exhilarating experience, all the way from feeling like a fly on the wall in the cramped briefing room with the entire Blue Angels flight crew, to the four minutes I had to get my shots once they formed up with us in the air.
I was pleased that Sean did all of the talking during the brief, as I found myself somewhat mute in the company of such accomplished aviators. Much of the short time we had in brief was spent discussing the key shots we all wanted (my #1 was the shot I call ‘Intensity’ featuring Sean over the city with the Blues trailing and the city nestled beneath them). We also discussed radio frequencies, how they would form up with us, the circular shallow descending pattern we would fly, and the limited time we would have in formation before the jets would be low on fuel (our photo flight would be icing on the cake to the practice air show they would perform beneath us as we orbited in the aerobatic box thousands of feet above them). That was one of the coolest moments by the way, to look down on the Blue Angels performing BELOW me.
I used a wide-angle lens to be sure I could capture the entire formation. This resulted in a slightly warped perspective that left me stunned when I briefly dropped the camera from my eye, only then realizing how unbelievably close they were to me. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing the raw power of these aircraft in their natural element (and over such an iconic city to boot). Lest you think this was a pleasure cruise, know that it was really four minutes of frenzied insanity while I, and the two other photographers on the flight, each jockeyed for position on the cramped photo ship (a twin-engine Piper Seneca). In the end though, the final images seem strangely peaceful to me.
I’m often asked if I used a gyro stabilizer on this flight in order to have a reliable chance of crisp shots at the slow shutter speeds necessary for prop blur on Sean’s aircraft. All of the shots you see here were taken hand-held, with most being captured between 1/100th and 1/200th of a second shutter speed (generally 1/125th whenever possible). A gyro would certainly have been nice to have, but it is a costly, bulky, accessory that I am unfamiliar with and I didn’t want to introduce a new element on a shoot this important.
The excitement continued the following day when I was able to go up again with the Blue Angels support aircraft, the famous C-130 Hercules known familiarly as ‘Fat Albert’. That flight had a very similar briefing to the day before in terms of content, but was more intimate as we (including a photographer from the Blue Angels) stood outside in the shadow of Fat Albert with the first female Blue Angel and Fat Albert’s pilot, Captain Katie Higgins to discuss the flight details. We had a unique photo-ship pilot for the Fat Albert flight. Sean D. Tucker himself took the reins of the Seneca! It was also quite different in the pacing as we had much more time to orbit the city at around 3,000ft with ‘Bert off our left wing before the (relatively) leisurely climb to 8,000ft to drop the U.S. Navy Parachute team “The Leap Frogs” for the start of the Friday Fleet Week air show. For the parachute drop, it was a mighty struggle for position as we had to be farther out and behind Fat Albert to catch a safe view of the open ramp, rather than close in and ahead like we usually are in a typical air-to-air photo-op.
As a photographer, the flight with the Blue Angels was for me like the sweetest of confections, with Fat Albert being the whipped cream, and the cherry on top was a final ‘golden hour’ shoot solo with Sean D Tucker at the end of the day. I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to the Blue Angels and Sean D. Tucker for pulling this flight together, as well as to our photo ship pilot for the Blue Angels flight Scott Steiner and his safety pilot Chris Rudd. Everyone involved represent the finest aviators I’ve ever had the chance to meet, and they made something magical look effortless.
We at WarbirdsNews are very grateful to Emmanuel Canaan for both providing us with his magnificent photographs and commentary from his time aloft with Sean D. Tucker and the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team. We hope to feature his superlative work again in the future! Please be sure to visit Emmanuel Canaan’s website HERE where prints are available from his flight with the Blues and Sean D. Tucker, as well as other fascinating subjects.
The video below was shot with a GoPro mounted beneath the Team Oracle photo-ship.