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Go Behind the Scenes with the Air Force Thunderbirds’ Official Photographer

Sergeant Larry Reid Jr. has a job many men and women in the photo world can only dream of having. He’s a United States Air Force Photojournalist… more specifically, he’s the official photographer for the USAF Thunderbird squad.

The above video, which was put together by FstoppersJaron Schneider, takes an inside look into what Sergeant Reid Jr. does on a day-to-day basis.

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Two cameras in hand, Sergeant Reid’s work consists of documenting absolutely every detail he can for the Thunderbirds team. From shots of engineers working on the planes, to wide-angle photographs through the canopy of the fighter jets traveling at incredible speeds mere inches from each other, he does it all — and he has one hell of a time doing it.

But just because he enjoys it doesn’t mean it’s easy. As he explains in the video, there are times where there will only be one opportunity to capture the needed photo. Toss in the fact that he’s flying at around 500MPH, being subjected to incredible G-forces and getting jostled around all the while, and you end up with what Sergeant Reid calls “a roller coaster on steroids.”

The video comes in at six minutes flat and goes into far greater detail, as does Schneider’s article on Fstoppers — both are is definitely worth checking out. We’ve also included a number of Sergeant Larry Reid Jr.’s photographs below for your viewing pleasure:

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For more images and information, you can head on over to the USAF Thunderbirds website. They also have a presence across most social media, if you’d prefer to give them a follow on Facebook, YouTube and/or Twitter.

What It’s Like to Photograph F16s… From Another F16 [Fstoppers]


Image credits: Photographs by Sergeant Larry Reid Jr./USAF


 
  • http://stevepellegrino.com Steve Pellegrino

    Very cool article and video. I grew up in Las Vegas in the 1970s and got to go to the home of the Thunderbirds, Nellis AFB,many times for air shows. Occasionally you could see them flying over Vegas or off in the distance practicing. Brings back a lot of great memories. Sgt. Reid has a great job!

  • Steve Hughes

    Wheres the lens hood? – would of thought he’d need one of those.

  • http://www.bokelicious.net Jack Zhang

    nothing else. I just don’t like the way you speak. you are just lucky that the country has given you this job. Pass your camera to the pilot in front of you, he could also take those images and maybe better than yours. I know, I know, i can’t do it because we, the public wasn’t trained to fly in the speed and experience that kind of Gs.

  • Terry_Clark

    Too dangerous. Can’t use anything that might dislodge, become airborne, bounce around cockpit and potentially cause disaster for pilot or aircraft.

  • TerraKacher

    Does the pilot let you know when he’s getting for a snap role? So your equipment doesn’t become a projectile inside the aircraft. Your equipment that you carry, is it strapped to you in case of bail out? Now that would be a once in a life time shot, getting rocketed up away from the aircraft and taking pictures the whole time. weeeehaaaa. Awesome shots! I really like the one with the shadows of the planes on the ground trailing smoke.

  • BillyBobFromHooterville

    I think it is more of an issue of the lens hood scratching the canopy than the FOD possibility. Quite often the photographer will put rubber rings around the end of the lens to ensure no canopy damage.

  • moonbase2

    is it me or this guy shooting in “program” mode… check the dial at around 11-12 seconds into the video.

  • Brian Hursey

    Even if he’s in Program mode he gets the shot and that is all that matters…. And they are really good shots I might add. Try worrying about manually changing your exposure in an 9g turn. You barley can hold your hands up at 2-3g’s on a roller coaster

  • moonbase2

    You’re right. Except for the fact that he’s just standing there while using his camera in program. He’s not in a 9g turn. He’s standing there. But, your point is well taken. I just cringe when I see people who shoot in program mostly because said shooters don’t know an F-stop from a bus stop. I apologize for being negative, but it’s in the video, for everyone to see. And yes, the shots are beautiful. But there are many photographers that don’t shoot in “program” mode that capture amazing images every day and I’m sure they too cringe at the sight of someone using that “feature”. That brings up another question actually… why is that “program” slot even on the dial if your a “professional”?

  • Dr. James F. Hansen

    So?

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  • moonbase2

    Wow– good stuff there “Dr.”

  • Steve Hughes

    Yeah both valid points – still clean images considering no rubber hood or any hood. Thought it would be flare tactic up there. Although its not like he can’t quickly get into position sat in a jet ;)

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  • http://www.rwanderman.wordpress.com Richard

    Who cares? Next you’ll give us a lecture that he’s not holding the camera “correctly.”

    None of that stuff matters if he’s getting the shots he wants (and his editors want).

    “I just cringe when I see people who shoot in program mostly because said shooters don’t know an F-stop from a bus stop.”

    That’s a rather infantile (and incorrect) assumption but again, who cares? If they’re getting the results they want the mode they shoot in is irrelevant.

  • Leonardo Abreu

    Program Mode? Fail!!

  • http://www.rwanderman.wordpress.com Richard

    Excellent images and great to see the person behind the camera.

  • Pickle

    I was with him and was thinking “they need to give that man a D800s” and then I saw program mode. I’m not a manual snob, but even if he was in Shutter priority mode, I’d be more forgiving. The thing is program mode while photographing fast moving planes or panning fast moving subject shows that he has absolutely no choice in the final result and is just leaving it up to chance. Is he getting some great pictures? Sure, but it seems like the camera is making the decisions and he’s just one of those photographers who is getting recognition for having the opportunity to get on those planes rather than his photography skills.

  • Pickle

    But how many shots is he missing? Even a teenager with a rebel up there can get some good shots.

  • http://www.rwanderman.wordpress.com Richard

    Well Pickle, you get up there and see how you do and then we’ll talk about Program mode being a liability. I think his images speak for themselves, they’re excellent. Enough said.

  • http://jaronschneider.com/ Jaron Schneider

    No. He’s not.

  • http://jaronschneider.com/ Jaron Schneider

    And what I mean by that is this: Even if he’s using program mode (which I’m pretty sure he isn’t), you’ll notice that shot is of a D610. In the video, he talks about using a D3s and a D3, so it’s actually likely this isn’t his camera body, and was the only one he had at the time I captured the footage.

    Also, who cares?

  • MathiasI

    Indeed – The camera at 11-12 seconds in is set to manual.

  • http://www.christiandebaun.com Christian DeBaun

    For all the people grumping about him shooting in “P mode”, I probably would too. Those nomex gloves are pretty thick, and changing settings: ISO/Shutter/Fstop would probably be a bear. 2 cents.

  • nic

    You clearly have no idea the type of professional training combat cam (now “photojournalists”) go through. And as someone who has shot military operations from inside multiple airframes — yes, you’re on program about 75% of the time. There’s no other way to do it. You barely even have enough reaction time to even realize there’s a shot, let alone frame it. So please spare us the historinic, art school perspective…

  • nic

    Maybe one teenager out of 10,000 could. You have no idea the reaction time it takes to shoot from any airframe and actually nail the shot you’re trying to get – clearly the SSgt does. This guy is the cream of his crop in a well-trained, well-schooled field of military photojournalists. He wouldn’t be with the Thuderbirds otherwise. It’s not like they just picked some random enlisted guy, handed him a camera, put him in a g suit and said “here, go document one of our most marketable assets effectively.”

  • nic

    You’re trolling at this point and are coming across as an art school student cliche, rather than someone who has a love for the craft. Sincerely – a public affairs Air Force vet who has shot from Chinooks, Blackhawks and an F-16. You know, someone who knows first hand the technical training combat cam goes through, their level of excellence and how stupid it is to think you can do anything more than spot a shot and just maybe frame it right in .20 of a second while pulling 4 Gs.

  • moonbase2

    I’m sure that sports photographers who are shooting people,objects that are moving at high speeds are not shooting in program mode, but hanks for the education about combat cam though. Interesting.

  • moonbase2

    You’re an angry person aren’t you Richard. It’s a legit question.

  • moonbase2

    No one is implying any of what you just said. Calm down. =)

  • moonbase2

    I would not give a lecture, nor did I ever try to give a lecture here so I don’t know where you got that from. I posted a comment. Your rant is what is infantile here. Shooting in program, to me, is not something many professional photographers do. I learned from Nic below that there is a reason for it in this particular case. Have a great day! =)

  • http://www.rwanderman.wordpress.com Richard

    Actually, not at all moonbase2, I’m quite calm. What irritates me is people who, for a variety of reasons, seem to think that there is some kind of rule in the photography world that states that anyone who shoots on Auto (or P) doesn’t deserve to own a Canon 1D (which has Auto on the mode dial). The assumption behind that thinking seems wrong-headed to me.

    When various companies started putting Auto ISO in their cameras I had these same “discussions” up on flickr: Auto ISO is for whims, real men always set their ISO, etc.

    Anyway, enjoy your photography, any way you do it.

  • moonbase2

    NEW AMAZING COMMENT! ;) What if a painter used a paintbrush that had magical “automatic” or “program” modes and the user could just point it at the subject then it would fill the canvas based on some algorithm? GIVE ME A BREAK. I’d rather see the camera set to custom settings learned from experience than program. (throws down mic) LOL –

  • moonbase2

    I posted this reply to another, but just because it applies here as well… What if a painter used a paintbrush that had magical “automatic” or “program” modes and the user could just point it at the subject then it would fill the canvas based on some algorithm? GIVE ME A BREAK. I’d rather see the camera set to custom settings learned from experience than program. (throws down mic) LOL –

  • moonbase2

    NEW AMAZING COMMENT! ;) What if a painter used a paintbrush that had magical “automatic” or “program” modes and the user could just point it at the subject then it would fill the canvas based on some algorithm? GIVE ME A BREAK. I’d rather see the camera set to custom settings learned from experience than program. (throws down mic) LOL –

  • moonbase2

    Nic– calm down =)

  • mike921

    Repeating your nonsense again? Really?

  • moonbase2

    If this doesn’t makes sense to you, I’m sorry. It’s completely clear and simple. It’s in no way nonsense. Have a nice day =)