Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mustang Sally

I have this love/hate relationship with aviation museums. On the one hand, it's nice to have aircraft preserved for current and future generations to see and appreciate. On the other hand, many times the aircraft are in a wretched state of preservation and stored or exhibited in less than ideal conditions. Ideally, they should be restored to as near pristine condition as possible and as close to the markings of their real service career, then displayed indoors in a climate-controlled environment.

That, of course, is far from what happens in many places, especially in small, financially-strapped local museums.

Southern California is fortunate in that many such places do have the ability to preserve and display a large part of their collections in great venues. Some friends and I went to two of those museums last weekend: the Yanks Air Museum and the Planes of Fame Museum, both in Chino, CA.

Yanks is the newer of the two at the Chino Airport. The airport has long been the home of Planes of Fame and a whole subsidiary industry dedicated to the restoration and preservation of old warbirds and contemporary air racing craft. Both museums now sport beautiful interior hangar displays and a large collection of flyable and flying articles.

We went to Yanks first because there was a kit collector's show being held inside the facility that day - the reason for our excursion.

While it's great to see such beautifully restored aircraft, the one complaint I have with every such venue is it's a royal pain to get good over-all shots of the individual vehicles. I much prefer to get clean shots outside in nice light. But if they were outside in nice light, they would not be in such great shape for long. Such is the dilemma of museum aircraft.

Nevertheless, neat shots can be had with a little creativity. The image below is an overall view of the legendary North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. The kit show is to the left of the airplane, outside the framing of the shot. It's amazing how much you can hide with careful composition.

It's a decent shot, but not a great one. Good enough for documentary purposes, though.

However, with a bit of careful positioning and composition, a much more dramatic shot is possible, as is shown in the image that opens today's entry. The Mustang was built with beautiful curves and this angle shows some of those classic lines to good effect. The lighting helps set the mood with dark shadows and bright highlights that accentuate the shape of the airplane. It is a much more expressive shot than the overall picture, but than it should be. After all, that is the difference between art and documentation as each have different objectives in mind. While those objectives are not necessarily exclusive of each other, it is a much more difficult challenge to combine the two - especially in a museum setting.

And that's why I shoot both ways, if possible.

We will explore more such images in the next few entries.

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