Pat Hatch's PhotoJournal A blog about photography & other musings…


Tom Savrda’s RV-7 First Flight

Well, actually today was his second flight, but since the first flight on July 22nd was cut short by an erroneous oil temperature indication, I consider his "official" first flight was today.

Tom with Van and the RV-1 at Sun 'n Fun 2012

The oil temperature indication on his first flight was almost 300°F, but since his oil pressure was a very strong 90 psi, it was obvious that it was a calibration problem with his cockpit gauge.  We had just gotten airborne and I was joining up on his wing with my RV-6 when he mentioned the high oil temperature.  So we decided to make a precautionary landing and investigate the problem.  And as it turned out, the problem was indeed a calibration issue and was quickly resolved.  We had also inserted an accurate temperature sensor into his oil sump through the filler tube and measured the temperature to be around 195°F (very normal) right after landing, so that just confirmed that the temperature indication was indeed erroneous.  Flight time was only 11 minutes because of the oil temp problem.

So today was the day.  Tom wanted to get a solid hour of flight in today using high power settings—the standard way to break in a new engine.

We taxiied out to runway 4 at Vero Beach and departed in tandem, Tom first.  With Tom having to use maximum power for break-in purposes, I needed to use a turning rejoin to be able to catch him.  For the non-pilots, the only way to catch a faster airplane is to keep the radius of your turn less than the airplane out front.  It becomes a geometry problem to comprehend how this works, just know that it does.  So soon I was on his wing, but it was taking full power to stay with him, which I was able to do—barely.

Flying in formation is a skill that is acquired.  It is not easy, but becomes second nature with training and experience.  Now, try flying in formation using full power while continuously having to do a turning rejoin just to stay in position, at the same time snapping decent photographs with one hand while clearing for other aircraft.  Not easy.  Don't try this at home.  Safety is paramount always, so I don't recommend doing this; however, my safety pilot decided to go play at the big fly-in at Oshkosh and left me high and dry.  Needless to say the photography was very limited, but we managed to get a few decent shots. I used a 55-200mm telephoto zoom for these shots, which allowed me to move out to an extended formation position while shooting.

It was another hazy day down low today (more Sahara dust in the air) so ground shots were impossible. We were at 6,500 feet for these photos:

Tom Savrda's RV-7 Tail Number N732TS

This one is my personal favorite.

The "RV Grin"

And finally, the obligatory "RV grin" shot, whose purpose is to capture and celebrate the exhilarating feeling one experiences at the end of the first successful flight of an airplane you built yourself.

You are probably never going to see a nicer built RV-7. This is certainly the best one I've ever seen in terms of the outright craftsmanship and attention to detail. Proof of this is that the airplane flew straight, no heavy wing, no right rudder required in cruise! You really need to go around and inspect closely to see the outstanding fit and finish of this airplane. Oh, and the engine performed flawlessly—there were no leaks at all after the flight. Not a single squawk.

Nice job, Tom!

Filed under: Aviation, RV-6, RV-7 No Comments

From HDR into Night

So this was a couple of nights ago. The plan was to get out on the compass rose before sunset to set everything up for this shoot. I planned on starting with a few HDR (high dynamic range) shots while the sun was still pretty high, and then switch to off-camera lighting to catch the post sunset and twilight. Here is one of the HDR shots:

HDR test shot no. 4

Here is another HDR shot to illustrate how carried away you can get with this stuff. I call this my "grunge" look, HDR to the extreme, makes it look more like an illustration than a photo. Not sure I like this but I see a lot of it around. Pretty obvious it's HDR, so I prefer the more subtle look.

HDR to the max.

Same as before, I had two strobes out front of the airplane gelled with orange. These are to provide rim lighting in front and under the airplane.  Here is the shot taken right after sunset:

Off-camera lighting no. 1

Here is the set-up shot revealing the two strobes forward of the main gear and the diffuser umbrella next to the camera tripod:

This last shot (below) was taken as the last of the ambient light was fading out and as the new moon came into the frame. I went to flip on the navigation lights for effect, and they didn't come on. Later, I found a broken connector behind the switch. Oh well.

Off-camera lighting no. 2.


Learning the Off-Camera Lighting Technique

OK, so I passed the Strobist 101 course and have gone out and bought a few basics to get started in off-camera lighting. A pretty interesting part of the hobby, actually, and you can go as far as your time and money will allow. Instead of teaching the course, let me just delve into a few first attempts and then try to explain what is going on. Here is Max, my male Schnauzer model:

Max the miniature Schnauzer in his favorite chair.

In the shot above, I was practicing balancing my off-camera strobe light with the ambient light coming in through the window on the left here in my home office. I had one strobe set up behind and to camera right with an umbrella on a stand. The strobe illuminates the interior of the umbrella creating a nice soft, diffused light. I also used a backlight strobe above and to the right of the subject with what's called a snoot on it to direct the light in a narrow beam behind and above the dog's head. This provides the rim or back lighting. The trick, and it's not easy until the technique is learned, is to balance all of the light sources to create the desired effect. Next, I imported a famous male model to use in the same setup now that Max had served as my guinea pig. This is what I see when I look in the mirror every morning, and believe me, it's getting pretty scary (it's just an illusion, though; on the inside I'm still 24).

Famous high-dollar male model agreed to work pro-bono for this shot.

Okay, so much for the basics, but now let's try some real cool airplane at dusk stuff. In this shot I was attempting to use as much of the learning and equipment as I could—kind of a final exam for Strobist 101 and maybe graduate to Stobist 102. Here was the setup: I picked a day where I could see thunderstorms on the west coast of Florida building throughout the afternoon. Since I live on the east coast, this sets up some pretty amazing sunsets, if you're lucky. So I went up for a quick flight to check out the west horizon and the dissipating thunderstorms. I came back in and taxied to the compass rose (my usual spot for airplane photography). The plan was to orient the airplane such that the sunset was in front, camera behind, with two strobes set up low on the ground in front of the main wheels and hidden from view. Fill light was provided by a strobed umbrella on a light stand to camera right. I wanted to catch the intersection of the compass lines under the airplane and have it lit up, and the two strobes out front were intended for this purpose as well as to provide rim light around the front of the airplane. The camera was positioned to allow for the compass radials to lead the viewer from the edge to the center of the photo. Anyway, here is the result:

Strobist 101 final exam.

A couple of things that went wrong: I used a ½ CTO gel (an orange colored transparent film) in front of the forward strobes to simulate the rich light at sunset. The wind was blowing a little and blew the gel on one of the strobes right off its mount. So I got kind of a combination of light under the airplane as you can see. Also, I learned that the umbrella pretty much acts like a parachute and with any breeze at all, tips the light stand over. Luckily, I was able to catch it before it hit the ground. But now I use my trusty 25-pound shot bags on the legs of the tripod. I would have liked to have turned on the tail navigation light, but forgot. I also should have used my new LED instrument panel eyebrow lights to illuminate the panel, but forgot that too. Oh well, next time. Yes, it was a learning experience after all.

Filed under: Photography, RV-6 2 Comments

New Blended Airfoil Propeller

Had to go up today and clear my head.  Actually, clear the vuvuzelas that had been buzzing in my head.

But mainly to fly off the 5 hour test flight period assigned by the FAA for my new prop.  Why the new prop, I hear you ask?  Several reasons.  My original Hartzell prop was due its 6-year calendar inspection, so it all started with a simple inquiry as to the cost of this inspection.  In the meantime, I had been following the development of the new "blended airfoil" propeller that I think was developed with Van's aircraft in mind and was being tuned to the RV's performance envelope.  Van's was claiming an additional 3 knots true airspeed over the older model.  Additionally, Hartzell has now pretty much eliminated all of the RPM restrictions that had plagued the older prop.  Because of the unknown vibrational characteristics caused by the most common upgrades to our engines, e.g., electronic ignitions and higher compression pistons, Hartzell had issued a bulletin cautioning operation within certain RPM ranges, which really had been a nuisance.  So when I immediately found a buyer for my old prop and realized that the net cost was going to be just over a thousand dollars, well, hell, let's go for it.  No inspection required, no more RPM limitations, 3 knots more speed, and a pretty nice looking, high-tech prop to boot.  It made perfect sense to me.  Here's the new prop:

New Hartzell Blended Airfoil Prop

Flying around in circles can get pretty boring, so I took the camera and tripod along with me today to pass the time. I also have been testing an iPad and the Foreflight app as a possible replacement for most of the charts and other pubs required for IFR flight. And I took advantage of the time to practice some holding pattern entries at altitude, and on the autopilot, but, hey, it all counts towards IFR currency requirements.

Well, I haven't had much time lately for taking photos so I was glad I was able to shake off some of the cobwebs and get a few wide angle shots from the baggage compartment of my RV-6.

First thing I noticed was that my Koger sun shade was going to interfere with the lens' field of view, so I decided to slide it off the track and stow it.

Number 2 for takeoff behind a FlightSafety trainer.

I climbed up to 7,500 feet and checked out the prop, of course, but I also had a chance to observe the new GPS mode in the ForeFlight app on the iPad. So now you get enhanced geo-referencing, centers your chart on your position, posts relevant GPS data, and your course line is superimposed over the chart. Pretty cool. In a future post I will critique the iPad as an EFB and also the new RAM mount that I am expecting any day now. I'm currently using a special knee board for the iPad, but I think the RAM mount is going to be much better. You can see the RAM mount structure on the right side of the instrument panel where I had previously used it for my iPAQ PDA. This will adapt to the new iPad RAM mount. My hope is that the iPad is going to replace about 90% of the paper required to be on board.

Flying in a holding pattern at 7,500 feet.

I was also trying out a new shutter release cable seen here in my right hand, which is much more reliable than the wireless one I had been using. Yep, this is going to be just the ticket for inflight photography for sure. The wireless release had been intermittent, possibly being interfered with by the on board avionics.

Here we go down the beach on the way back home. Nice day today on the east coast of Florida.

And one more going down the beach:

I never get tired of this view!


An HDR Photo Shoot

Haven't been around these parts in a while, been missing the photography, so today's goal was to get in a solid HDR workout.  I have been working on the airplane quite a bit recently so I haven't had much time for the camera.  Just a quick review:  HDR is high dynamic range photography; it is software based, and used in situations where lighting is high in contrast, such as shooting into a setting or rising sun or into a bright sky.  The human eye adapts very nicely to these situations, much better than the camera, so the idea is to take 3 to five images of the same subject, bracketing the exposure so that you end up with one or more underexposed images, same number of overexposed images, and one correctly exposed image.  The software then processes the exposures and blends all the images into the final HDR photograph.

So today's subject was my RV-6 at sunset.  I had been making a new tail wheel fairing to match the main gear fairings.  The tail wheel fairing is completely optional--not necessary for the airworthiness of the aircraft at all.  So its purpose is mostly aesthetic; however, there is also an element of cleaning up the aerodynamics of the tail wheel area.  Not enough to appreciably reduce any drag or add any speed, but certainly it doesn't hurt--anyway, it sure makes it look about 20 knots faster!  I had this fairing since the building days and it was just gathering dust on a shelf in the hangar.  So I finally decided to fit it and paint it to match the other pants [make that "wheel" pants - thanks, Britt!] on the airplane.  It just adds a nice finishing touch to the airplane in my opinion!

Baseline shot prior to HDR photography.

So I took the airplane out to my favorite setting:  the compass rose on the airport.  I just like the way the rose lines play with the symmetry of the lines on the airplane.  I also took a few HDR shots in front of the hangar and inside the hangar which I've included at the end of this post.

Here is a hand-held shot of the airplane on the compass rose to establish a baseline for the HDR shoot.  I just used a little fill flash to take out the shadows caused by the fading light.

Notice how the small amount of flash tends to wash out the sky in the background. The object with the HDR exposures is to use only natural light provided by the setting sun and its reflections off the sky and clouds. If you're lucky, the combination of sun angle and cloud cover can make for a very pretty sky at sunset. The problem is that shooting into the sunset tends to underexpose the parts of the airplane that are in the shadows, or you overexpose the sky and sunset. Your eye can see it rather well, but the camera cannot--so HDR tends to simulate what the human eye would see in this situation. Here is an example:

On the Compass Rose at Sunset - RV-6 with New Tail Wheel Pant

Notice how the sunset bathes the airplane in a nice, warm glow, compared to the rather harsh look of the flash fill.

Here are a few more taken out in front of the hangar:

RV-6 with Wind Sock & Pink Flamingo

RV-6 with New Tail Wheel Fairing

RV-6 with New Tail Wheel Fairing

I took these pictures using a ground pod, an item of photographic equipment whose purpose it to get the camera as low to the ground as possible while keeping the camera steady and in the same relative position to the subject. I'll include a photo of the ground pod at the end of this post to give you an idea of how it works.

Here is an HDR image of the airplane in the hangar. The problem here is the bright light coming through the doorway that contrasts with the shadows on the tail of the airplane. Again, HDR does a nice job handling the high contrast conditions.

In the Hangar: RV-6 Sporting Its New Tail Wheel Fairing

Homemade Groundpod

On the left is a picture of my homemade groundpod.

It is basically just a piece of plywood with an old tripod head mounted on it. The tripod head allows for camera positioning in 3 planes. The three legs are wooden dowels covered with plastic chair leg ends.

Commercial groundpods sell for several hundred dollars, but really all you need is the simple apparatus pictured, which is made easily and inexpensively in a home workshop.

As always, just click on a photo to see it in full size.