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Posts from the ‘Gear’ Category

Giving Back

Of all the gifts and opportunities that we as photographers will experience through our careers, none are more important than the opportunity to help someone else out. From teaching others your craft to using your talent to enrich someone else’s life, there is no downside to giving back.

One such opportunity presented itself about a month ago when I got a phone call from the man that owns the studio I shoot out of, Floyd Bannister. A little background on Floyd… He is one of the most humble men I have ever met. On many occasions I have come to him with clients that were charity based organizations and he has let me shoot without asking for anything in return. When we produced the entire Fstoppers video of the Lamborghini photoshoot, he again told me that he was grateful I chose Loft 19 and that it was on him. I have had shoots where athletes have been in bad moods upon arrival and he sat me down and told me to not worry and that the situation would calm down and then I should shoot. It is for this and many reasons that I see him as a bit of a father figure in this industry.

Back to the phone call… He said that he was sponsoring a very small college’s football team. Many of the players on the team and students at the school were the first members of their family to even attend college. He then asked if there was any chance that we could give them a photoshoot to make the guys feel like rock stars and make their sense of accomplishment even greater. Without hesitation I said “yes.”

I began calling assistants and telling them that we had a shoot for Floyd and every single one of them immediately said they wanted to help. Incredible people, every one of them. I told them all to bring their gear to the set for I also saw this as an opportunity to teach.

The day of the shoot, we all showed up and began producing images and an environment that saw many of the players calling their parents to tell them what was going on. I was able to also start giving the camera over to my assistants and letting them gain experience on a set that isn’t possible in a big time shoot where a campaign is on the line. To say that this was a perfect day for me is an understatement.

We were able to help out a man that we all like, a group of kids feel important from the experience, and my crew gets to take turns shooting while I assist them.

It was a good day.

I want to thank Andrew to doing a behind the scenes on the shoot and all the guys on my crew that made this possible.

Bb: LowePro Ambassador

I will admit right now, every time I write a title like this or the Nikon, or Maurice Lacroix ambassador one, I sit back and think…. “you know, people are going to stop asking me to grab a beer with them if I keep this stuff up.”

Please know that, like the other endorsements, it means the world to me to have a company that I know and trust show such support. I can’t say much, but will say this… there are some VERY exciting things that will come out of this relationship. When LowePro approached me about becoming a LoweProfessional, one aspect that was discussed at length was, “how can we use this partnership to help people out?” From raising money for charities to helping educate photographers on how I go about my work, I wanted to make sure it was a contract that helped me give back to the community above all. Blair_Bunting_Bio_main

It’s an odd reality to be a part of and I find myself honored to experience it, but also missing what things were like before. To be honest, some of my favorite shoots I have ever done were the small editorial gigs where I didn’t make all that much and came home tired. Unfortunately, the calls for those go away when photo editors fear that they are wasting my time calling, and so such sponsorships have an averse affect.

It’s a part of this career that I never saw coming. I used to sit on the internet looking at who was with what company and think, “damn it would be awesome to be in his or her place.” However, it was impossible to see that said achievement would make people hesitate to reach out and ask for advice like, how I lit a specific photo or what gear I used.

To have fun and try to pay it back to you (my readers/friends) I have started calling random Twitter and Facebook followers every week to say “hi” and ask if they had any questions… (on a side note, the calls have been freaking awesome and I plan to keep on doing them when I have breaks in my schedule).

You guys are the reason great companies like LowePro have reached out to me, and I want to say not only thank you, but please don’t ever feel that I am in a different league and therefore am inaccessible… I am one of you and always will be. So whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Smoke Signal (the OG social media), please feel free to ask advice on cameras, watches, bags… heck, ask what I had for dinner, I really don’t mind.

How to Light a Football Player

Firstly, I want to thank those that sent over emails or messaged me on FB and Twitter about the new ASU campaign. It was a ton of fun to produce, and when my readers enjoy the shots, it is icing on the cake.

As happens a lot, many of the emails had the age old question, “how did you light it?” buried in there somewhere (often thinly veiled as an “oh, BTW”). So today I thought I would take a bit of time to talk about that, some lighting theory and show some RAW files from that and other shoots because I think this sort of thing needs to happen more often.

To be honest, this idea has been in the making for some time now. I have had the good fortune of meeting with quite a few agencies lately and have begun to see two very distinct approaches to photography emerging. The first approach contains a lot of lighting and a technical appreciation of what a purist would consider painting with light. The second one concerns me, it is an approach that more or less says flat light everything and …. (my most despised line) “fix it in post.”

I enjoy the approach of fixing things in post as much as I love listening to heavily auto-tuned music. Then again, for me auto-tune might make my singing voice a bit more angelic, but I digress…

Today I want to talk about a return to lighting because our clients deserve it, our medium deserves it, and we deserve it. Now there will always be things that can’t be done in camera, perhaps due to a location that makes it impossible to travel the subject to, or an action that endangers the subject or crew, and for this there will always be comping, and for those reasons there is nothing wrong with that approach.

So let’s talk about lighting, specifically for mood.

The first place that I went to develop my approach towards lighting theory was not a photo book, but rather my psychology courses in college. It was a common theme that as humans we feel comfortable when we know what is around or in front of us. A quick Shark Week analogy… I went for a swim last Saturday during the day. It was at my neighbor’s house, the pool was clear, I knew what existed because I could see it. Now put me in that same pool at night and we have a different situation. Even though all logic tells me, “Blair, you are in a pool,” I still am 99% sure that Megalodon has come back from extinction and will be remaking the beginning of Jaws with me any second.

Sharks aside, lighting is much the same way. The eye finds discomfort and intimidation in the unknown, and the unknown is where the light is not. The approach to making a subject intimidating should not be a mass of lights cranked to 11, but a single focus of direction where one light dominates and the remaining support the fear. An example of this that I shot a while back is this portrait of a football player.

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As I promised in the beginning, here is the RAW image from the shot to show where we take it on set before it goes into good ole Photoshop.

HerringRAW

And the lighting scheme: (notice that the powers of the support lights never go above the singular direction of the key, if we broke that rule, the eye would become comfortable)

topview

On the most recent shoot we approached things with the same idea, but incorporated action, so the singular direction source had to be broadened, but still contained. There are many people that approach lighting or even teach the one light approach, which I enjoy for it’s simplicity. However, if I may add an addendum; I think that it should be more of a single direction source approach (doesn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly). Remember, as photographers, we are telling a story, not just telling our viewer that our subject exists.

The final with smoke and plate:

ASU TRY2

The RAW test before smoke. This shot is actually a prep shot for the main image that involved smoke from a machine (camera left), but shows lining of subject and a disregard for any details that I don’t want my viewers to see:

pre smoke RAW

Believe it or not, one of the most important parts of lighting is the camera, and your knowledge of it. To best light a subject where you want to play dangersouly with shadows, you have to know and trust the sensor that lies at the heart of your camera. I was shooting on a Nikon D3x which lets me shoot more contrast out of camera with the safety that my shadows will exist when I open the file. I only know how far I can stretch the contrast ratio with my camera from practice. There will always be those that measure the heck out of a camera and it’s sensor, but to push one on set with a job on the line is an act of trust in the equipment you are using.

As with the need for consistent sensor performance is the need for consistent lights. For campaigns, I trust Profoto 8’s with my livelihood. The power is always sufficient to close down and delivery is quick enough to avoid blur. From there the rest comes down to build, reliability and standards that make it easy for me to tell an assistant what is needed, even when they speak a different language.

With an approach to technical lighting, and equipment that can deliver you will actually become more financially efficient. In what might take you five minutes on set to put up a light, you will save yourself hours if not days in post trying to create a texture that doesn’t exist because the photo wasn’t lit correctly. As photographers, we should crave perfection and do everything in our ability to create it. These are details that your clients deserve, and that will make you proud of your work.

ASU Football : 2014 Photoshoot

Photoshoots are not made by a photographer alone, they are a result of everyone that set foot in the studio that day and sat on the endless preproduction phone calls the weeks prior. When the campaign is released, it will carry the name of the photographer, but I would give anything for it to carry the names of everyone that stood behind and alongside us as we create.

Today’s blog will be a bit different that others as I want to talk about what others did to make a shoot possible, rather than ramble on about how I did this or that to make an image…

ASU TRY2

For the ASU campaign, the images start at the beginning of our working relationship when I was just a teenager. An ASU new hire named Becky trusted me to create imagery of athletes when I definitely had not earned such trust. Over the years she rose to the position of director of marketing and I am grateful to continue producing campaigns together, often with the simple direction of, “make something awesome.”

ASU TRY1

The next person on the set is the Creative Director, Chris. He usually stands on my right side and tosses out ideas for images and it is between us that the imagery forms. Periodically we will take a couple moments to step into a side room and discuss if we want to steer the emotion of the athletes in a different direction or continue on the given path. I trust his opinion and he trusts mine, it is a relationship that must exist between the AD/CD and photographer that makes a campaign successful.

ASU Runner

My assistants Rob, Brian and Ramsey worked to make the vision exist in camera. Not that they don’t always work hard, but on this shoot they did their job, and so much more. The first day on set was actually the day that I was announced as an Ambassador to Nikon and I was trying my hardest to respond to emails, texts and phone requests, all while prepping lighting and shooting. I can’t tell you how impressed I am watching how hard they work, and am grateful to have them on the team.

ASU TRY 3

Last but not least the athletes. Awesome, just awesome. One thing to note is that they are not models, and for many this was their first photoshoot ever. It is easy to take being on set for granted, but for some of them (the rookies especially) it can be insanely intimidating. While it is my responsibility to give them direction in a way that gets the shot that my client and I want, it is still on their shoulders to deliver the level of intensity that I need, and they did.

I am very proud of this year’s campaign, and want to thank those that made it, and hope that you all enjoy the 2014 ASU Football campaign.

GO DEVILS!!!

River Monsters

:   With all the recognition that this image has received lately, between the CA Photo Annual and Archive’s Top 200 Ad Photographers, I figured I would re-share the story that was the River Monster’s shoot   :

Lighting as a thought process is fundamentally easy to apply to schemata, water is not. Sure there are the physics that govern the drops via gravity and pull them back to Earth properly, but the abstract way that this is done is a logistical nightmare when combined with good ole electrons. Sure water makes for dynamic imagery when lit well, but what doesn’t get seen is the grey hair that the photographer grows as a result of the set.

When the call came from Discovery to shoot the ad campaign for their show River Monsters, I was thrilled. The concept was strong and the comps that we were to key off made visualizing the final image easy. However, creative potential and potentially dangerous walked hand in hand on this campaign. The idea was to have the show’s host Jeremy Wade wrestling a giant fish in the shallow waters near South Beach, Florida. Now by giant, I mean the kind fish that hangs out with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on the weekends… probably having a glass of wine with its flippers and talking about the delicacies of krill. Where things get complicated is that we wanted to have Jeremy and mega fish in the water thrashing around…. lit. Obviously we didn’t want a bathtub with a toaster situation, so safety would come first, creativity second, after all electrocuting an actor is not a good way to land another job (the industry tends to look down on this).

River Monsters photographed by Blair Bunting

 

Knowing that this set would be determined by the quality and work ethic of the people on it, I flew assistants in that I had worked with on previous shoots. We approached the lighting situation with Photoflex Tritons, for their safety, weight, and flash duration (we would be freezing splashing water). We had a scout look for beaches with long gradations to the shore line and went to multiple locals just to walk into the water to his waste level. Background would not be important, as we would fade to black behind the subject. For cameras, I brought both the Nikon D3x and D3s to back it up.  Never on a shoot had I expected to destroy a camera more than this, so redundancy would play key to making sure I came home with the shot, even if the camera was a paperweight.

With lighting, safety and concept behind us, it was up to Jeremy to make the action, and he did it masterfully. Often he would bring advice and reality to the table that we could not have thought of in our wildest dreams… mostly because I have yet to catch a 350 lbs. grouper, and also because I don’t fish. However, one comment amongst all the others stood out to me… All of us (7 people, 1 fish) were waist deep in the water at night in the Florida ocean and Jeremy looked up at me and said, “you know, these are perfect conditions for a Bull Shark….” to which I replied, “haha, and when’s the last time you caught a Bull Shark?!?!”…. he replied, “I caught one here….. last night”. At that point, without any direction from me, the entire set moved about 10 feet closer to shore.

We shot for only a couple hours, not due to a time crunch, but because Jeremy, the creative director, and rest of the crew worked so well together that in two hours we had a solid 30 images that would work for the ad. Since we were in the ocean, laptop previewing would be impossible, but seeing the shots out of the back of the D3x, the CD was able to see that we had the shot directly out of the camera. Although this image was not the final one chosen because of the main subject’s address to the fish, it shows the strength of a RAW file, and gives an idea to the situation around us:

Jeremy Wade

Also, here is a short video to show how the prep work went. We had originally wanted to have a complete behind the scenes of the shoot, but with the dangers at hand (be it lights, sharks, groupies, sea turtles) we decided that everyone would contribute to make the shot. My assistant Matthew Coughlin made this video of the prep, and may I warn you, once you have seen this skinny, pale photographer without his shirt on, you might wish you had never watched it…

[UPDATE: Unfortunately the video offended some animal rights groups and out of respect has been removed]

I wish I could take 100% credit for this shoot, but, as in every shot, it is the quality of the people around you that make the image. So, Jeremy, Mike, Linas, Bryan, Matt, Grant, Paul and Lisa, here is your shot and thank you.

 

The Nikon D810

A camera lives a life to do one thing, capture the information that lies before it… nothing more, nothing less.

Manipulated by man, there exists no two cameras that will live the same life, for we as photographers make them unique. Be it our style, our situation, life… there will be outer influences on our camera. However, it is as unaffected as it’s meter is colorblind, for its job remains the same, to show us what light went through it’s lens to its sensor the moment you chose to press the shutter.

On many occasions I have been asked what I wanted in a camera. Many times the person asking the question may have expected a life changing attribute that would make an ad out of every shot.… this is just not the case.

I want one thing out of a camera… a clean file.

Enter the Nikon D810

Nikon D810 side

Being the first camera that has been released since I joined Nikon as an Ambassador, I have much pride behind it and in the direction that we are going. In a step that very much resembles my all time favorite camera, the D3, Nikon chose not to cram more megapixels into the chip, but to refine the pixels that already existed. At the end of the day all that matters is the file.

As photographers, we crave detail as much as we crave the possibility to destroy it. To the audience, proof of existence is in the hands of the creator, and by his or her title of artist, existence is also to their subjection. We can take away what doesn’t attract the eye, and the image still occurred, but we cannot add, for that reality never existed. It is for this reason that the ability of the camera to create the clearest image is the most important of all of it’s functions.

The D810 serves one purpose… to show the world what the photographer truly wanted them to see.

I just hope we’re ready

When Nikon took back the Night

Living in Arizona, the idea of walking around during a hot summer’s day to take photos is not what I’d call enjoyable. Between the heat, the insanely harsh light and the heat again, it is hard to find any inspiration to shoot. On the opposite side of the coin, the nights in this desert are beautiful. With little city light to overwhelm the sky you can see what civilizations saw before us, the night.

For so long, I would walk around after the sun went down wanting to photograph the world I saw. However, the casual walk and shoot was impossible, for high ISO’s were an abstract painting at best and even the fastest prime lens would barely let you handhold a sharp image. Enter the Nikon D3.

midnight

By all outward appearances, this camera was like most other pro camera bodies, built strong and incredibly comfortable to use. Heavy? Maybe. However, it is a weight that I have become accustomed to and prefer (it’s still a feather compared to medium format bodies). Aesthetics aside, this camera had a monster inside.

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A sensor that put quality of the pixel above quantity of pixels. I bought the camera as a complete skeptic, wanting to shoot with it a bit so that I could educatedly say that it was not up to par with all the other high megapixel cameras. This was not the case. I quickly found the files were so clear that upresing them to match other camera’s chips left them just as clean, if not better. Pixel structure was film like and turning the ISO dial was no longer dangerous, it was encouraged.

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For too long, history was made at night and documented once the sun rose. Only now in our existence we are starting to find the reality that light had hidden for so long. The idea of ISO’s above 800 was obscure and only used when all other options were exhausted. If you want an example of this just look back at Olympic photography. Our technological achievements in photography become very evident as they now grace every sports magazine or website.

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However, for me, the D3 has an extra significance to my career. It is the camera that got me through the time when work had left. This is an area that no photographer wants to talk about. It is our job to always sound busy, and we fear that not being busy is not being relevant. You as my readers and friends deserve honesty, so…

From January 2009 to January 25th, 2010 I didn’t work. The phone didn’t ring, the emails didn’t show up in my inbox, the economy had collapsed. I was getting emails from some of my best friends in the industry that were clients, telling me that they had been let go and wondering if I had connections to get them a new job. It was the first time that I had to question the notion of being a professional photographer. While I have always said that I chose my college degrees (business and sociology) to be a backup in case the photography thing didn’t work out, when I got to the reality, I didn’t want to do anything else. Every day I would wake up early (5am) just in case I had a new client on the east coast that called early, I wanted to be alert. All for nothing.

midnight7

At first it was a vacation, then it turned into boredom, then desperation and finally acceptance. Acceptance that this dream was over. All the while I wasn’t shooting, not for work, not for practice, not for fun. One day, my wife came to me and said, “let’s take the dog for a walk… and why don’t you bring your camera.” When I questioned the idea, she told me that before photography was a job, it was my passion, and just because the job part doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean that the passion shouldn’t.

I picked up the D3 and went for a walk around the neighborhood with her and our dog.

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For all I knew, there would never be another client, and this art would be retired to a hobby. What struck me the most is that when the walk was done I didn’t care that the job aspect was gone, I just wanted to take pictures. So once the sun had set, I would walk around the neighborhood photographing everything from light poles to plants with the D3. It was the camera that let us photograph the darkness, and it was the camera that helped me escape it.

I wanted to write this for photographers, many in this situation and many that will someday face it. I want you to know that when the calls stop, don’t be disheartened. Your images are still strong. When you get to a point that you feel scorned by the industry, do not despair. Your images are still strong. Photography is not over the day the work ceases to exist, it is over the day you lose the passion. Find what inspires you to shoot, and photography will live on.

 

 

An Accidental Addy

Some shoots are easier than others, some shoots have setbacks, and some shoots just go to hell in a hand basket.

When this happens on a large campaign, it is the photographer’s responsibility to fix it and he or she should have multiple contingencies planned to make sure that the client gets the shot no matter what. Fortunately, today’s blog is about a shoot that didn’t go as planned, but at the end of the day it was a friend and a photographer trying to see if something was even possible.

I have shot for the last couple years the ASU Women’s Rugby campaign in an effort to help out my friend Ashley and also to give back to my alma mater. The campaigns have been fun, and are usually done on the cheap but with intention to try out some different aspect of photography. This year’s campaign was no exception.

We decided to try and shoot this year’s rugby campaign…. under water. Because when everyone thinks rugby, they think… swimming pools?

GEOOORGE-ASUWRFC-Hardcore

Nonetheless, the goal was to see if we could shoot the girls doing rugby moves at the bottom of a pool. An aggressive goal? Yes, but go big or go home. Where things got tricky was that we didn’t have the budget to get underwater housing for the cameras, lights… heck, we didn’t even have the budget to rent a proper pool. However, it was summer in AZ, and shooting in a pool even if we lost the camera might not be so bad. So with a homemade underwater camera case and a bunch of duct tape, we headed off to someone’s backyard to try and shoot it.

For the photographers reading this post, take some notes so that you can skip over making the mistakes I made. First of all, don’t make your own underwater housing, and secondly, duct tape is NOT waterproof. However, the leaks were controllable, so we proceeded. The next huge challenge we were presented was that the lights can’t be triggered from a source underwater, as radio waves do not travel through liquid. To work around this, we had to run a chord from the camera out of the kinda waterproof rig and have it held about the surface. Once that was done, we found that light is cut quicker than the inverse square law when H2O enters the equation, and had to scrap the lights altogether.

GEOOORGE-ASUWRFC-Sugar

The next problem we encountered was that water in a small swimming pool, like the one we had, is nothing but a reflective element of the environment around, our environment was a pool painted white. What this does from a technical standpoint is that it fills in all shadows with cloudiness and makes it impossible for a camera to pick up contrast in the subject, therefor it is not possible for the camera to focus on the person and we would have to manual focus this one.

The final knife in the back of this photoshoot came when we tried to photograph the first girl doing a rugby move, only to find that it was impossible because… big surprise… rugby balls float.

GEOOORGE-ASUWRFC-Beast

So with that, I had my assistant throw together a quick (above water) setup that he and I had talked about before hand in our, “in case this shoot goes to hell in a hand basket” briefing. With a speedy setup, we shot ten portraits of the girls in a couple minutes and called it a day and chalked it up as a learning lesson. End of story.

Or so we thought…

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I get a call from Ashley that goes something like… “you remember that photoshoot when nothing worked out and we had to just shoot the portraits real quick at the end?”…. Yeah, “so I kinda entered them in the Photography category for the Addys, and you won.”

Somethings never cease to amaze me.

Reddit /AMA

With all the craziness that has been the release of the Thunderbirds video last week, there is one request I have received on many different occasions that I wanted to help with. I got quite a few people that asked if I would do a Reddit AMA (for the non-Reddit savvy, that is “Ask Me Anything”… don’t worry, I just learned that as well). I am always around to answer questions people send over, but am looking forward to having a proper forum to do it in this time around. So whether you want to know how to light a photo, what watch I wear around the house or if I passed out on the F16 flight, please free to ask away. I will be answering questions every spare chance I get until there aren’t anymore. Hope you enjoy it, and here is the link for the thread:

Blair Bunting AMA on Reddit

 

Flying with the Thunderbirds

To all those who have ever wondered…. what is it like waking up in the morning, knowing you are going to fly with the Thunderbirds?

It is SCARY AS HELL!

Perhaps as some sort of twisted joke, the Thunderbirds flight surgeon told me that I needed to get a good night’s sleep before my flight….. Let me put this into perspective… Sleeping the night before flying is like a kid trying to sleep the night before a Christmas where Santa brings him an F-16. Not Happening.

Nonetheless, after whatever sleep I could muster, I got in the car and headed to Luke Air Force Base. As the passengers in my car will attest, I listened to heavy metal for the entire drive, as it was the only thing that calmed me down. Upon walking into the briefing room I was immediately informed that the flight had been bumped up and that I needed to brief with my pilot right away. We would step to the jet in 30 minutes. Sitting there listening to Thunderbird 7 talk about everything from how I would need to sit if we had eject, to how I could stay conscious through 9 G’s was completely surreal. Before I knew it he said, “that’s it, let’s head to the jet.”

USAF Thunderbirds

A quick mental image to tell you how crazy this moment was….

I remember very vividly walking down the flight line and there sat all the Thunderbird jets (the absolute pinnacle of the F16 fighter jet), lined up perfectly in a row. The last jet in the row had the cockpit canopy open, and no sooner than I could take in this sight, one of the flight engineers kindly said to me, “sir, your jet is ready.” Please forgive my swearing, but the moment you are informed that your F16 is ready is UN-FUCKING-BELIEVABLE!!!

With the Thunderbird crews standing around the jet, I walked up, put on my G-suit and went to climb up the ladder, only to realize that not only was this my seat for the next hour, but the plane also wore my name on the side. There is no way that I deserved any of this, and I can’t begin to tell you how humbling it was.

Bb in Jet 2

Larry Reid / USAF Thunderbirds

Sitting in the jet, G-suit, oxygen mask and seat belts hooked in, the nerves disappear. At that moment the world fades away, nothing goes through my mind. All this time thinking of what it would be like gives way to reality. The moment to wonder if I would stay conscious or get sick was gone. As the jet engine fires up, I know that I am along for the craziest ride of my life…. time to sit back and enjoy the ride… and take a selfie.

After a short taxi we sat at the end of a long runway on an airfield that we had all to ourselves. The pilot asks if I am ready. I could barely get the word “yes” out before the engine starts to run up, almost as if the rocket we are strapped to has just woken up and is angry. He releases the brake and we are starting to move… quickly. Not long after that, he ignites the afterburner and I find that this thing goes even faster. With the wheels up we stay barely off the the ground blazing like hell down a runway as he is calling out speeds to me…. 100 miles per hour, 200, 300 miles and hour, 400, 500 MILES AND HOUR! and then he says the most insane words that I can remember…. HERE. COME. THE. G’s.

No sooner than I could start my breathing he pulls the jet in a straight vertical climb and we scream away from the Earth. Where I could once see my friends and family cheering on the side of the runway, only a moment later we are punching through the clouds as the world curves. I am speechless, as any words that I could write down would never do the view justice. In short, it epitomizes every essence of the word “beautiful” in its most primitive form. As the pilot pulls jet from vertical to inverted I could breath, but was breatheless.

Leveled out, we head north to a range where the pilot can show me “what the jet could do” as if the takeoff wasn’t life changing enough… At this point I just kicked back and tried to fit my smile behind the mask. With no effort whatsoever, the jet tears through the sound barrier. I am sitting in peaceful bliss as the world breaks behind us in a 1000 mile per hour combustion that is heard for miles around. If I had a pen and paper, I could sit there and check off the bucket list items as we did them.

A couple maneuvers down and the pilot asks for a status update. At this point I am just laughing hysterically and every question of, “would you like to try?” is immediately answered with”YES.” Then comes the question that I had been dreading the most, “would you like to see if you can make it to 9 G’s?” Part of me wanted to say, “you know, the 8.5 we pulled on takeoff were good for me,” however, reluctantly I answered, “HELLLL YEAH!”

Now let me try my best to explain what 9 G’s feels like… Firstly, in no way is it comfortable, not even close. I began to feel my face melting away as the skin in my cheeks pulled down to my mouth. The color from my vision was the next thing to fade away, first the reds, then the greens. Squeezing like hell, I did everything I could to get air into my lungs as the G-suit wrenched it out. With all the color of a 1950’s television set, the next thing I noticed was that waves were starting to develop in my vision and a vignette appeared. All the while I am listening to the pilot’s breathing and trying my hardest to match it. At any point I could relax and immediately be unconscious, only to wake up and wonder where I am, but I had trained too hard to let this happen. Then, just as G’s set had set in, they  began to leave and normalcy appeared. However, if I were to relax at that point, the blood would leave my brain too fast and knock me out as well, so I continually squeeze as the G’s lift and my body slowly returns to what sanity it had left.

With the chaos that maneuvers gave, a balance came as we traded G’s  for the world’s craziest site seeing tour. Dropping down to the lowest altitude we were allowed, we decided it would be fun to give someone else a story that no one would believe. We found the highway that runs between Phoenix and Las Vegas and flew along it at a significant speed with the smoke on, topping it off with crossing a bridge low, for all the traffic to see and for none of their friends to believe.

From there we had reached bingo fuel (the max limit that can be used before returning to base). I took a couple minutes to take some pictures with my iPhone and send my wife a text as we flew home. While the engaging portion of the flight may have only lasted an hour, it was already starting to hit me with what I had just experienced. I thought about the kids like myself that looked up every time a jet flew by and the cadets at the  academy striving to be the next Thunderbirds. However, more than anything, I thought about the honor that had bestowed me to be sitting in the seat of a Thunderbird jet.

Bb in Jet 1

Larry Reid / USAF Thunderbirds

Upon arrival, I watched as my friends and family came out to the jetway along side the many Thunderbird crew members. It was like a homecoming party for someone that had been gone for years, all excited for someone who had just sat in a seat and enjoyed the ride of a lifetime. It was the kind of celebration that the men and women that serve our nation deserve every time they come home, not me. I am thoroughly grateful for this experience and will always be in debt to the Thunderbirds for this. Every person, friend, family and crew member felt welcome and important and I can’t thank the entire squad enough.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing another video of the photoshoot I did of the pilots and all the training that went into the flight. In the meantime, I encourage you all to head over to the Thunderbirds website and check out their schedule. Who knows, they might be in a town near you soon. I guarantee you, just watching the show will be one of the most incredible experiences you can have.

To the Thunderbirds, my crew and everyone that made this happen… Thank You.