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September 2013

Head in the clouds

 Ah, the magic of flight

One of the most important keywords in my catalogue of working pictures is "cloudscape". Searching on that term produces hundreds of images. 

Most - though not all (as we shall see) - are taken from on board aircraft. Yes fellow passengers, I am that sad soul who craves a window seat, preferably in front of the blurring hot exhaust from the engines, and spends much of the journey clicking the shutter button, pathetically trying to shade the lens against the reflections from the double windows. 

You might think I was mildly deranged; you probably would not think that I was working. But for me each flight is a photo opportunity and really there is no such thing as a bad view - in fact ironically, good weather can be the least rewarding.

I am talking about the backdrops for my aviation artworks. The air is the element in which I operate. The more altitudes and angles I have available, the better. Anywhere that passes for southern England, France or Germany is at a premium.

On the rare occasions that an airliner tilts to the side to any appreciable degree, revealing the landscape tableau below, I am in a frenzy. That said, it can mean a long stint in Photoshop getting rid of polytunnels, bright yellow rape fields, motorways and white vans in farmyards - I think I have complained about this before. 

It's all about the light

When I first began making the pictures I was severely constrained by the available canvases and had to confine myself to subjects that fitted what I had in store. Increasingly though it is the other way round.

If I need (say) largely clear air at 20,000ft over the Franco-German border, chances are I have it. I have a growing range of cloudforms and weather moods and it is not too much of a twist to layer these where necessary - combining and blending to build up the sky.

As always the light is the key. If it is supposed to be midday then long shadows are out; flatly lit white clouds at day's end just look wrong. While some tweaking is possible, it is a very uphill struggle to repaint an entire sky so it has to be more-or-less right to begin with. 

Situations now arise where I come back with a haul of skies and cannot wait to get stuck in. A recent trip to Edinburgh (for the Fringe) was a classic example - see video above. Such riches, there and back! I can become almost paralysed for fear I might waste a splendid slab of upper air on an inferior composition. 

Happily, it often works the other way round and an available cloudscape prompts a picture. And it does not have to have been taken up above. My latest creation uses a sky that I shot when squally rain was about to stop play at a 'bagels and baseball' knockabout in the park with some American friends. 

I have used it in a day-for-night way. I'll leave you with ... Bomber's Moon: 

Lancasters-at-night-FB

From elsewhere: Discussion of rules regarding photos on commercial flights