“Hazy” Haseltine Talks About the Planning Behind His Photographic Projects

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This is the second part of an interview of Jim “Hazy” Haseltine, the photographer behind the lens for the “Hazy’s Photo of the Week” feature you see here at Photorecon.net. What equipment does he use to capture these powerful images? How does he get to take these photos and what coordination is needed to get him in a back seat – at the right place at the right time – to record the action?

Equipment
First of all, let’s look at equipment… Jim’s first 35mm SLR was a Minolta that his dad gave him when he signed up for his first photography course. Jim says that he never finished the “Photography 101” class and ultimately learned photography mostly on his own. “I’m an OJT kind of person, I don’t like a three hundred page book. I’m a picture kind of guy, I just start mashing buttons and go out and use it [the new equipment]”.

As he began to work in the imaging field, using rented equipment at his job as a videographer, he talked with professionals who were renting equipment for specific events. Jim began renting from Nebraska’s Rockbrook Camera, using Canon EOS film cameras. While he was still polishing his self-taught photographic skills, he developed a liking of Fuji Velvia 50 color slide film too. He “loved that dark blue color” of that film, although he sometimes added Velvia 100 for flexibility.

In 2005, he finally purchased his first Digital camera body, a Canon EOS 1 DS Mk. II. This was the point where he switched mediums from slide film to digital images. He has remained with Cannon digital bodies and lenses ever sense.

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Faster shutter speeds capture the action of flare releases.

Today, he uses a Canon EOS 1 DX Mk. II, with three primary zoom lenses. A wide angle 16-35mm f 2.8, a medium range 70-200mm f2.8, and for about eighty percent of his air to air photography, his 24-70mm f2.8. Usually, his shutter speeds range between 1/500th of a second to 1/1500th of a second during air to air photo missions, the faster shutter settings are used during aircraft maneuvers as well as weapons or flare release portions of a flight.

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Hazy’s view from his office in an F-16D.

Hazy states that he doesn’t have a favorite aircraft as a subject, but as a mount he likes the visibility and responsiveness of the General Dynamics F-16. The canopy is just inches from his head and face; this makes it easy to get close to, for blocking out reflections. The McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle’s canopy is about a foot from his head, and harder to get close to and negate reflections. How does he keep cockpit reflections to a minimum? He’s made a proprietary lens cover out of flexible black neoprene, in the shape similar to a cheerleader’s megaphone that attaches onto his lenses.

Planning and Execution
Preplanning for a photo mission goes deeply into details and logistics well before the day that Jim climbs aboard his photo ship, and meets his subjects in the air. Hazy’s in contact with many of the key players in U.S. military squadrons around the world, and there are times where he’ll make the first contact to begin planning a photo shoot; although at other times it is unit personnel who contact him with a request for photos. Some missions involve one aircraft, maybe in a special color scheme or making a weapons drop. Other times it could be a full-scale exercise in Great Britain, South Korea or Italy. Planning can begin six months to even a year out, and the amount of photos taken varies from a single photo flight to four or five sorties during a weeks’ worth of flying. It all depends upon what’s needed to fulfill the photo request. A base visit to photograph an overseas exercise or for an article for a magazine could involve half a dozen squadrons and aircraft types.

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F-15C Eagle with an eight-missile load.

Hazy strives to control “every aspect of what we do so that you can have a successful mission – outside of Mother Nature” – that is, he controls as many of the variables in the equation as he can, before the photo shoot in the air. This includes which tail numbers are available, special color schemes, loadouts with fully-configured weapons, pilots, airspace, key landmarks to be in the background, lighting, and more. “I want to make everything look like it is an operational mission and as realistic as can be” he adds.

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The 31st Fighter Wing is based at Aviano Air Base, Italy; here four of their F-16s are pictured over the canals of Venice.

Details like carrying live instead of training rounds (yellow versus blue markings on weapons) will enhance photos of an operational squadron, and Hazy is keen to specify those details during planning. Local landmarks are another area to be discussed, as the inclusion of a familiar geographical element can help to tell a story better than words. Most of this rather long-range preparation occurs a month or so out from the actual flight. During the week prior to a flight, a call to schedulers for airspace, aircraft and crew is made, just to insure that key aircrew and aircraft are included on the weekly schedules.

Hazy will arrive a few days in advance of the mission(s) for a briefing the day before the flight, by then he’ll have talked with most of the pilots via phone or other means. Now he’ll meet them all in person. A laptop loaded with photos of previous flights is used as a visual tool, with specific angles and attitudes in the pictures to help diagram the following day’s expectations. A picture is worth a thousand words in this case. The final briefing on the morning of the flight ensures that all the bases are covered, and any final requirements are fulfilled.

His close proximity to his subject aircraft is another item important to him, and helps yield great results. Using a 24-70mm lens most of the time means the pilots and photographer must operate quite close to each other in the air, and communicate clearly… in a fashion that’s understood by all. In order to fill the frame, aircraft must operate in close proximity – not unsafe by military standards, but “close enough to see rivets” states Hazy.

Some of the more interesting and detailed coordination takes place well before a flying mission. Take a weapons release photo mission where Jim recalled that the inbound heading to the live fire range was very limited, and since he prefers to photograph in the earlier parts of a morning and later in the afternoon (when the sunlight is not as harsh as it is when directly overhead during midday hours), the timing of the range access was crucial so optimum lighting would be available for the one-time attempt.

His prior experience and photographic results keep Hazy in demand around the globe. With over three hundred hours of flight in the rear seat of F-16s, and hundreds more in various other types like F-15’s and T-38’s, Jim is well aware of safety and practical limitations to his photo missions and can plan accordingly ahead of time. Cockpit layouts mean different amounts of room to move camera(s) around, and sitting in an ejection seat means you must keep that system clear of obstructions. In other words, you can’t bring all of your stuff aboard a jet with a small cockpit to begin with.

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Proper pre-planning, and mental run-throughs allow for that perfect moment, when the aircraft (singular or plural) are in action and the camera is pointed in the right direction at the right place, and at the right time. With the experience, the right equipment, and the proper forethought, Hazy will bring back the image that everyone’s hoping for.

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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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