Since the first time I flew in the backseat of an aircraft I have been struggling with reflection. Later I learned that almost everybody who photographs from behind a windows fight the same ghost that always appears when you have the perfect formation set and you are ready to capture the action. Canopy glare is like flying with the most unfriendly travel companion you can ever imagine. So, from that very first moment I’ve met with Glare I decided that the Merge was on and I grew a passion to eliminate this unwanted and ever moving bastard. The Ghostbuster in me was born.
Since you are most likely an aviation photographer yourself you understand that safety is key in everything we do in relation to aircraft. So, coming up with a fancy glare defender is not an easy thing because it needs to be safe to fly with, meaning you still can egress in case of an emergency and the device doesn’t obstruct flight controls.
Initially I tried to bury my lens behind my hand to keep the glare away. This is the natural solution as your hand acts as a human lens hood. Obviously, while wearing a glove otherwise the ghost will appear because you used your hand to protect your perfect image from this glare. Glare comes from everything. From your buckles, cockpit instruments, even from you being there sitting under that fish bowl.
Ductape and later in combination with a cloth became my new best friends. I started taping away labels on the ejection seats and this was a step into the right direction. Especially Aces II ejection seats like in the F-15 and F-16 have white labels on their parachute housing and these are a nightmare, especially because I like to shoot a lot over my shoulder to get that dynamic angle. The glare that comes from those labels always bite at you and with my roll of black tape I managed to work around this portion of obstructive glare. But I wasn’t there yet…
At some point I noticed a video featuring legendary aviation photographer Katsu Tokunaga flying with a black cloth draped over his torso. I wanted that as well! Not long after I had my hair cut at the barber and I immediately saw the potential of the black cloth the hairdresser used to protect me for the hairs coming from my head. As soon as I came home, I ordered a barber cloth myself online to fly with it fighter aircraft. Please keep this for yourself and don’t tell anybody, ha! I slightly modified the cloth with Velcro so I could remove it in a Nano second, in case I had to reach out for that beautiful yellow handle on the ejector seat that rockets you into safety before the jet crashes into the ground.
So, there I went for the first time with my roll of ductape and barber cloth. You should have seen the face of the F-16 pilot when I quietly told him that I was going to sit behind him with a barber cloth over my shoulders. But I did it and it worked. Not perfect, but it worked, and it eliminated a huge portion of the glare. After this sortie I have flown with this cape for quite some time. Eventually it turned out that flying with this cloth wasn’t as comfortable as it is while I sit in the barber’s shop and get my hair done.
The barber cloth wasn’t my dream solution. Not only because it doesn’t look cool to sit in a fancy fighter aircraft with this black cloth draped all over me but, especially the hose of the oxygen mask interfered with the collar when I had it attached around my neck with Velcro. But it was a good starting point.
Another little addition to my Ghostbusters kid was a pair of black Nomex flying cloves that I prefer over the traditional green military style gloves. Little side step: Sometimes I see picture of civilian photographers in cockpit with some fingers cut out of the gloves while they are celebrating their success in selfies. This happens mostly in Navy environments. But why??? It might look like you are a pilot, but you are not. You are there to capture that perfect picture and want to keep everything that might create slightest bit of glare away and not adding them, like with those your fingers that are sticking out of your gloves. Gloves have a purpose as well. They are fire retardant. Just saying.
At some point Koji Nakano, a very talented photographer from Japan, pointed me in the direction of the Lens skirt. The lens skirt is a small flexible black lens hood that you can attach to the end of your lens. It is very light and you can fold it easy to take it along anywhere you like. Its’ like a little black box where you can stick your lens in. What a solution! I immediately ordered one via lensskirt.com and was extremely excited when I got mine. I had my mom do a little modifying to my lens skirt to prevent it from collapsing because the Lens Skirt naturally comes with suction cups at the corner of the hood but these don’t work in the environments I would use it. The outcome was beyond great. After reviewing my images after the first time I used it (with the 140thWG/ Colorado ANG) I was absolutely euphoric. There was almost no glare visible plus I could take cool selfies again without that barber cloth!! But there is a little disadvantage of the Lens skirt and that is that you have to keep up the lens hood with one hand while you keep your camera up with the other. So, zooming in and out is a bit challenging and keeping it up in a high G environment is a bit ambitious too. But it can be done, and I did it. But it isn’t Ideal because it is quite heavy.
The perfect solution
Bring in the ultimate lens hood (ULH)! This hood is as simple as it can get. It’s what it promises to be, a big lens hood made from rubber that for some people might be the ultimate solution to prevent yourself from glare. Same here and I tried it at home, but it appeared a but sluggish to me because it is a little oversized. I never flown with it but a friend of mine did. It appeared that the ULH also collapse so you need to keep it up with one hand. So, at this stage the Lens Skirt was still my winner.
About the same time, I noticed an advertisement on Instagram from an Asian company that in true Chinese fashion copied the idea from ULH and where also selling a rubber lens hood. Because I am so passionate about this thing called glare, I also bought one of these to try it alongside the ULH. So, I exactly did that from behind the window in my living room. This was a direct hit, OMG! This little Chinese lens hood is a winner because it has a hard edge over a soft edge to keep it up. Next to that it isn’t as big as the ULH allowing you to keep up your camera with two hands again. Is it 100% perfect? No. Although I find it a great solution it can have some improvement. This plastic fantastic lens hood tends to slide along the shaft of your lens, making zooming out a bit challenging. But it is okay, and you need to be aware of it and push it back when it happens.
After the first time I flew with it I felt like I won a triple crown. This is a greatest solution so far and I strongly advise you to get one yourself. The good thing they are very cheap, like $8 or so. You can get yours via Ali Express. Search for lens hood and you will find it.
The ghost is still there but I feel I mastered it. Although this solution isn’t totally perfect, I have won from this thing called glare. Rock on!