Second installment of our interview section. Today we interview US photographer Angelo Bufalino, MD-11 pilot for FedEx and one of the best aviation photographers.
When (and) why did you start with aviation photography?
I first started in aviation photography 25 years ago when I was flying for a corporation. I had a simple Kodak film camera but took it with me everywhere I flew. Digitally, I bought a Nikon D40 in 2008 and that is when my digital photography took off. I started because I have a passion for aviation and wanted to share what I saw with like minded people. To me a photograph is a frozen moment of time and to capture an interesting shot is very gratifying.
Do you remember your first time doing spotting?
When I was 10 my brother used to take me to Cleveland Hopkins airport (KCLE). We’d watch the American Airlines 727’s and TWA 707’s thunder off the runway from an observation deck. A year later, my brother bought a share of an old Beech Bonanza and I flew with him to Cleveland so he could take his commercial check ride with an examiner. While he was up, I walked across the ramp with a lawn chair, a VHF radio, and binoculars, crossed an active taxiway and sat down in the grass beside the runway. I remember the noise of airliners taking off right in front of me! So close, some of the pilots waved. After an hour, the airport police came and grabbed me, asking how I got there! I said, “I walked”. I was only 11 so they let me go. I’ll never forget that spotting session!
If you could give an advice to a beginner, what would you tell him?
My advice would be to invest in lenses before camera bodies. A good lens on a sub par body can make great shots. Also, I’d say shoot, shoot, shoot. The more you shoot, the better you become. Work on your composition and pay attention to where the light is. Always try and shoot the great light of the day, sunrise + 2 hours and sunset – 2 hours is best for me. Be demanding in your post processing. Develop a workflow you can count on and don’t settle for “just good enough”.
In my opinion one of your best shots, could please tell us how did you get that photo?
Thanks for the compliment on this shot. I was given a ride in “Thunderbird” a B-17 with Lonestar Flight Museum. It was VERY hot and I was pouring sweat. I sat in the nose bubble while the pilot practiced landings. For this shot, I had my Nikkor 24-70/2.8 lens and a Nikon D700. I held it above my head and propped it against the top of the inside framing. I shot 15 shots at this angle and decided I liked this one best! It was an experience I’ll never forget!
Could you choose your best photo?
A photo I always come back to is this one –
I like shots that show great light and atmosphere. This shot was memorable as well because my brother was the Captain on that 777 and I was FREEZING in subzero temperatures after hiking 20 minutes in 3 feet of snow waiting for him to depart!
Your work is AMAZING, what’s your trick?
There is really no trick. When I look at my older photos I see them now with a much more critical
eye. What I like is that as I look at my photos today, I have gotten better. That is the secret, don’t just accept being “good enough”. Always strive for a better image. I have to credit todays equipment and processing software as well. Nikon makes a great camera (I shoot with a D4 and D800E) and I use Lightroom 5 coupled with NIK Color Efex Pro 4. The NIK software is second to none in my opinion and plays a major part in my workflow.
Everyone (in aviation photography) have one of those stories of forgetting the gear with a really interesting plane or something like that, do you have one? what happened?
Well, I was asked to shoot the maiden delivery flight for FedEx’s first B767F a few months ago. I was chasing the airplane down the taxiway in the airport operations vehicle and switching from my wide angle 16-35 to my 70-200. I pulled up along-side the plane which stopped for me on the taxiway for a shot or two. When I opened the door my 16-35 went tumbling out onto the tarmac and rolled across the taxiway. I jumped out, got the shot I wanted, and expected the lens to be trash. To my amazement, not only was it fine, but not a single scratch!
Your favourite airline? and plane? (do not say Fedex and MD-11) 😉
My favorite airline growing up was Eastern Airlines. I took my very first airplane ride at 8 years of age on an Eastern Boeing 727-100 and I was scared to sit by the window. The flight attendant told me to relax and she thought I’d be by the window before we leveled off. That takeoff and climb out was so cool! And she was right! From that day on I loved Eastern and decided to become a pilot. My favorite plane of all – The Boeing 727-100.
We know you work as a pilot, what is the best and the worst part of your job?
Being a pilot is like living a dream. I truly think I am blessed to have one of the best jobs for one of the best companies in aviation. The best part of the job is it’s NEVER the same. You don’t get bored. You are constantly challenged with changing situations and conditions. The worst part is packing my bag and leaving my family for a 14 day trip. Although we have great time off when we are off, being gone extended periods can be tough. Honestly though, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing!