Pima Air & Space Museum – Night Shoot – 12/14/2013
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
This past Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend a night photography session at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. I was given this opportunity because I am an active member of a great organization, Arizona Aviation Photographers (AzAP). AzAP is great group of people with varying levels of photography experience with a common focus: aviation photography. AzAP also publishes the Southwest Aviation Review which contains in-depth articles on various topics with an emphasis on military aviation. As a member of the group, I am invited to several events a year, including several night shoots at Pima Air & Space Museum.
Pima Air & Space Museum (PASM) is one of the largest privately-owned aviation museums in the world. The museum currently has over 280 aircraft on display from various eras throughout aviation history. While many of the aircraft are on display outdoors on the museum grounds, some are displayed in one of several hangars throughout the museum. While aging static aircraft may not be as thrilling as flying aircraft, the static aircraft at PASM gives us an opportunity to see aircraft many will never see fly again along with providing an aviation timeline through history. For example, I am partial to the many aircraft developed during the cold-war era and the Pima Air & Space Museum has plenty of specimens from this era.
The museum typically closes at 5PM. The event ran from 5PM until 10PM. This provided an opportunity for some sunset photography, along with plenty of time to hone one’s skills in night photography. While 5 hours may seem like plenty of time to take a plethora of photographs, time flew by quickly. Navigating throughout the vast museum grounds, composing shots in the dark, and long exposure times made those 5 hours seem like only a few. Fortunately, thanks to some strategic planning, we had a 90%+ moon to help provide some ambient light. This ambient light was definitely needed because the PASM grounds are not lighted in the evening.
While night photography can be a lot of fun, it can also be very challenging. If a photographer is not familiar with the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, they will be after a night photography session. A photographer dependent on “auto” settings will quickly learn that nothing is “auto” in the dark. Focusing must be manual, along with the amount of exposure your camera’s sensor will require to gather enough light for a shot. A tripod is a “must”, along with a remote shutter release, to avoid camera movement during long exposures. Sure, one can “ratchet up” the ISO on the camera and take hand held shots (especially on some of the more-expensive full-frame sensor DSLR’s), but, in many cases, after reducing the noise in post-processing software, valuable details in the shot are lost.
This event provided a great opportunity to practice night photography skills, such as timed exposures and light painting, while having a more personal experience with some of the magnificent aircraft at PASM. Thanks to the hard work of the AzAP leadership group and the PASM employees who volunteered their time outside of their normal work schedule, this event was well-organized and provided a great experience to all the photographers that attended.