After photographing the Doolitle Raiders reunions on several occasions, I was very honored when I was asked to photograph the Final Toast ceremony for the Raiders at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 8-9, 2013. I’ve written about the Doolittle Raiders and their historic contributions in WW II on the blog before here and here, so I won’t go through the entire history again here.
One of the interesting things about The Raiders is that they gathered together every year since the end of WW II, gradually dwindling in numbers each year. They eventually made a pact, sealed with a bottle of unopened Cognac from the year of Doolittle’s birth (1896), that they would continue to toast their fallen comrades each year until they were down to the last two Raiders, and at that time, the last two survivors would open the bottle and do a final toast. Each crew member had a silver goblet housed in a special traveling case with their name engraved right side up, and upside down. Deceased crew members from the previous year had their goblets turned upside down in a moving but very private ceremony that only the other Raiders attended each year.
After their 71st reunion in 2013, there were four of the original group left: Col. Richard Cole, Sgt. David Thatcher, Col. Ed Saylor, and Lt. Col. Robert Hite, who has not been well enough to attend the last several reunions. With the survivors all in their mid to late 90’s, the possibility existed that perhaps they might not be well enough to travel, or, God forbid, perhaps they all might pass in the same year, thus losing any chance for the culmination of the Raider tradition. The remaining survivors made the decision to go ahead and complete the final toast in Nov. 2013 on Veteran’s Day weekend at the U.S. Air Force Museum, in a semi public event attended by the top brass of the Air Force, and many of the Raider’s families and friends. It was a bittersweet occasion, but one I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I was lucky to be accompanied on the trip by my good friend and overqualified photo assistant John Simmons.
I was lucky to make a couple of portraits of the remaining three Raiders, and of the toast ceremony. On this Veteran’s Day a year later, I raise my glass to these brave men, and to their great contribution that changed the course of World War II.
After several years with another company, I recently made the change to an HTML 5 site from Rob Haggart’s APhotoFolio. I wanted a clean, customizable design that performed very fast, and APhotoFolio fit the bill. My blog will still remain here (with links of course on the new site), and my archive will remain with Photoshelter, and I hope to focus on making more stock available there in the near future.
The biggest change you’ll notice, right away on the new Robert Seale Photography site, is the scalable HTML 5 design. You can literally grab the bottom right hand corner of the web browser window, and drag it to fill your screen on any device, from a laptop to a 30 inch monitor, and the photographs will scale to that size. This is an incredible improvement over the old site, and I’m very excited about it. It works well on Ipads and Iphones as well, but hopefully, you’re viewing it on a big monitor!
Security is still a bit of a concern, as we’re now uploading bigger and bigger photos onto photographer’s websites these days. I’m happy to have people link to the actual articles, and I always appreciate those that ask for permission first, but sites that just screen grab stuff with no attribution – that’s a no-no. None of the photos published on the site are in the public domain, by the way. Anyway, the photos are registered with the US Copyright office, so if anyone is stealing stuff or publishing my photos without permission, I’ll chase them back to their caves in Afghanistan (or wherever it is that copyright infringing losers hang out these days…a dorm room in Baton Rouge?), and shoot them in their kneecaps before I sic the attorneys on them.
I’ve refined the categories somewhat and added a ton of new work. I kind of have my feet in two worlds: Sports Portrait photography that I do for both advertising clients and magazines (Sports Illustrated, etc.), and Corporate Annual Report Photography which I do for Fortune 500 corporations, design firms, and ad agencies. If you’re a Houston photographer, a lot of the annual report and corporate photography is of course geared toward the oil and gas industry.
Here’s how I’ve organized the portfolio section on the new site:
Under the Advertising and Editorial Photography category, we have several sub-category portfolios:
SPORTS ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY – This features not in-game, traditional long-lens sports action photography, which I used to do a lot of, but instead, sports portraits featuring athletes in action or motion, or photographs that emphasize movement. I find that 9 times out of 10, this type of photography involves me laying on the ground in goose poop or mud, destroying my clothes, and getting covered in chigger bites, but that’s usually what it takes to make players look like they’re levitating.
SPORTS PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY – This category features more traditional static portraits of athletes, including many high profile celebrity sports figures. I’ve been able to photograph many athletes over the years like LeBron James, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Alex Rodriguez, although considering the trouble he’s in this week, it may be a while before Arod agrees to any photo shoots any time soon.
AVIATION AND SPACE PHOTOGRAPHY – As part of an ongoing personal project, I’ve been trying to make memorable portrait photographs of notable pilots, both civilians and famous military aviators. I’ve also had the awesome opportunity to expand this body of work into working for several aviation magazines and aviation photography clients. As a Houston photographer, I’ve also been fortunate enough to do several shoots with NASA astronauts including a series on the end of the Space Shuttle program.
REAL PEOPLE PHOTOGRAPHY – Although I tend to concentrate on annual report photographs and sports advertising , I don’t just limit my work to those two categories. I often have opportunities to make environmental portraits of Texas musicians, Houston celebrities, sports celebrities, cowboys, barbeque pitmasters and just eccentric characters from all walks of life, and this category is a catch all for some of my other portraits that don’t fit these other main categories.
Within the Corporate Annual Report Photography section, we have a few more portfolios:
OIL AND GAS-ENERGY PHOTOGRAPHY – Most photographers who live in Houston do their share of work in this area, and I enjoy this work very much. The first photographers I admired were guys like Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, and Arthur Meyerson, and in corporate annual report assignments you kind of get to indulge that colorful and graphic inspiration first brought forth by these masters of the medium. I also love challenges and problem solving, so for me, it’s really fun to be sent to a fluorescent-lit lab full of lighting challenges, an industrial factory setting, chemical plant, or refinery, and be forced to make good, interesting, well-lit, and well designed photographs out of something that looks unattractive to most people. I’m fascinated by light/shadow, and good design, and man-made structures often have their own inherent beauty – you just to have to find it and make the proper composition in the right light. This category focuses on photographs of people working within the oil and gas industry, some at-work portraits, offshore oil and gas drilling and production platforms, and aerial photography, which are all part of the job of an annual report photographer.
INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY – Over the years, I’ve been asked to do “beauty shots” or landscape photos – wide overall views of industrial refineries, chemical plants, oil wells, and other oil and gas facilities and details. With the right time of day and long exposures, these can often be interesting and beautiful. That, and I get to wear cool Nomex coveralls and safety glasses, too.
EXECUTIVE PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY – Dealing with athletes and sports celebrities for years has prepared me well for photographing busy CEO’s and other executives. In most portraits of professional athletes, you have 5-15 minutes to get the job done, so preparation is key, and the same goes for corporate executive portraits. Like the annual report stuff, finding an interesting background or setting to photograph an executive within the confines of an office building is an interesting lighting and logistical challenge. We often scout ahead of time, show up super early, and have multiple lighting set ups ready to go and pre-tested in different locations throughout the building, so we can quickly walk from one setup to another and finish quickly to minimize the executive’s time commitment on set.
There are also sections for Press, which feature links and other news about me from other photography sites and blogs, a link to my Blog (robertsealeblog.com), which features behind the scenes info, lighting diagrams, and problem solving stories behind the photographs, and of course, the all important Bio page, where you get to read boring stuff about me.
I’m excited about the new site and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check it out.
I’ve had a keen interest in military aviation since childhood…when other kids were reading Curious George and other children’s books, I was reading military biographies and books about World War II and Vietnam. I remember one summer day, when I was in about 3rd or 4th grade, while returning books to our local public library, one of the elderly librarians tried to usher me from the “grown up books” to the “kid’s section” on the other side of the building. One of the other librarians quickly corrected her, “He’s ok, Mabel….he just returned a book titled Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism. ” After that, Mabel left me alone. (I actually can’t remember what her name was…… Mabel just seems like the perfect name for an old lady librarian).
I thought being a fighter pilot would be cool, I even requested info on the Air Force Academy at one point during junior high or early high school. 20/400 vision, however, and projectile vomiting during a simple Cessna 172 plane ride with a friend conspired to keep me out of the ejection seat.
After photographing the Doolittle Raiders a few years ago, one of my friends from the assignment, Matt Jolley, of Warbird Radio recommended me to some of the nice folks at Wings over Houston, the annual airshow here in the Houston area. I had mentioned to him an idea about a personal project, trying to photograph environmental portraits of notable pilots. The people with the autograph tent at WoH were nice enough to let me set up in their area and shoot simple, white background portraits of the pilots who were there signing autographs. I was able to photograph Col. Bud Anderson (a triple ace in the P-51 during WWII), Col. Dick Cole (Doolitle’s co-pilot on the WWII Doolittle Raid on Tokyo), Gen. Boots Blesse (a famous Sabre jet ace from the Korean war) and several others during my weekend there. I was also lucky enough to meet and photograph former POW and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Bud Day.
The photos were interesting facial studies, but I lamented the limitations of the white background. I would have loved to have captured each of them with their respective airplanes, but during mid-day sun at a packed airshow, it was just not in the cards.
Several months later, John Simmons, one of my buddies from the WoH event sent me an incredible video of Bud Day, eagerly climbing into the cockpit of an F-100 Super Sabre just like the one he had flown in Vietnam and going up for a flight! The video was from the Collings Foundation, a non-profit foundation that owns and maintains not just World War II era prop planes, but also several Vietnam era jets, at….get this…..Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. The F-100, painted just like Bud’s Misty 1 Vietnam bird is one of two in the world in flying condition.
John went to work, getting us permission from Rick Harris of the Collings Foundation to use the airplane. We made arrangements to photograph Bud, who lives in Florida, during a visit to see his son George, a former F-16 pilot, who now works as a SWA captain in Houston.
A few months later, there we were before sunrise on a warm summer morning in Houston, pulling the F-100 out of the hangar and towing it to the proper spot on the taxiway. We had scouted a few days before, using the iphone app LightTrac to position the plane.
Bud showed up in his flight suit, with his boots and Nomex gloves on – he was definitely ready to fly the plane if necessary! His son George also wore his flight suit. Part of my plan was to do a nice group shot of the father and son fighter pilots together.
We started shooting before dawn – long exposures on a tripod with battery powered strobes. Nathan Lindstrom assisted on the shoot and did a great job. We used a Profoto 7B with a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 on the side, and a Wafer 100 on another 7B boomed in front of the face as a fill.
We next moved onto the backlit side of the plane, and photographed the Col.’s Day together and also the elder Col. Day alone, again using the same lighting setup. Fortunately, the sun came out for a few minutes before going back under a layer of clouds. The sunrise was beautiful!
We next moved to a shot with a long lens looking at the signature angle of the F-100 – straight up the open nose air intake. We carefully framed Col. Day in the foreground and backlit him from each side with a Profoto 7B and a Wafer 100 on each side. We then boomed in a Chimera small strip bank powered by an Acute 600. Although 87 years old, and with his body ravaged by years of torture and POW abuse, in this pose, with this light, in front of the F-100, Bud Day looked like he could still kick some serious ass.
We finished with a 3/4 side lit portrait, with his glasses off, which showed off the MISTY patch on his flight suit.
We did some group shots with the Collings Foundation folks who had so generously donated their time and effort to showcase the plane, and some USAF U-2 pilots, who had gathered during the shoot. All USAF pilots go through survival training at the AF Survival School at Fairchild AFB, named in Col. Day’s honor. It was like watching a bunch of NBA rookies meeting Michael Jordan for the first time.
After packing up, the whole crew adjourned to a nearby Ihop for a truly memorable breakfast. I could literally sit and listen to George and his dad tell flying stories for hours. It was a fantastic experience.
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After the shoot, I sent a few of the photos to my editor at Air & Space magazine, just on the off chance that they might be working on a story related to Col. Day, MISTY, or the F-100. Several months later, as it turns out, there was a story on the MISTY program in the works. They eventually decided to use one of the photographs of Col. Day on the cover of the issue, with another one running inside.
I didn’t want to jinx anything, so I didn’t mention it to Bud or George until the cover was posted online. I’ve worked for many magazines, and covers often get pulled or changed at the 11th hour.
It was really an honor and a highlight to finally be able to make the call to Col. Day and let him know that not only was there a story on MISTY in the current issue of Air & Space, but that he had made the cover! This was truly one of the coolest things I’ve been able to work on, and I’m grateful to A&S, the Day family, Rick Harris and John Simmons for making this happen.
A little background on Col. George “Bud” Day: He joined the Marines and fought in World War II just after high school. He came back to the US and earned a law degree, then continued in the Air Force flying fighter jets in Korea and eventually Vietnam. He miraculously survived a no-chute ejection the 1950’s. At an age and mission count when other pilots were retiring, he volunteered for another tour and came up with the MISTY Fast Forward Air Control (Fast FAC) program, of which he was the commander. MISTY pilots flew low and fast over North Vietnam, marking targets including SAM missile sites for other aircraft to attack. It was so dangerous that it was an all volunteer squadron.
During one of these MISTY missions in 1967, Col. Day was shot down and captured. Badly hurt and barefoot, he escaped after a few days and evaded the enemy for 12-15 days, subsisting on frogs and berries, traversing miles of enemy territory and crossing the river into South Vietnam. He was within a mile or two of an American base when he was shot twice and recaptured. He spent the next 5 years 7 months in the “Hanoi Hilton” being tortured along with other notable POW pilots like Sen. John McCain and Admiral James Stockdale. For his valor, he was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Today he is the most decorated living service member. After returning from Vietnam, he received 13 medical waivers and continued flying. He eventually amassed over 8000 hours – nearly 5000 of those in fighter aircraft. As if that weren’t enough, he retired and went to work as an attorney, eventually suing the US Government on behalf of veterans who were not getting promised medical benefits and won. As a result, millions of veterans (my late mother-in-law among them), have benefitted from the program, called Tri-Care for Life.
Here’s a cool behind the scenes video my friend John Simmons put together of the shoot:
In 2011, I was lucky enough to photograph three of the remaining five Doolittle Raiders for a story in Smithsonian Air & Space. It was an incredible experience and was a wonderful introduction to many wonderful people in the warbird community.
Through some wonderful new friends I met on this assignment, Larry Kelley, a B-25 owner and Doolittle supporter, and Tom Casey, who manages the Raiders’ appearances, I was invited to photograph the Doolittle Raiders 70th Anniversary April 16-20 at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
I jumped at the chance, and was also able to bring my father (a big military aviation buff) with me on the trip to help me (and keep my light stands from blowing over!)
Larry Kelley, who owns and pilots “Panchito”, a vintage B-25 (and the one we used in the Air & Space portraits in 2011), was on a quest to bring a large contingent of B-25’s to Wright-Patt for the anniversary celebration and flyover. Through tireless fundraising and incredible determination, he was able to get 20 B-25’s and their crews to Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio and the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson in Dayton for the event.
I had two goals for the event: first, to capture the massive gathering of B-25’s for my friend Larry. (It was the largest gathering of flying B-25s since the end of WWII!). Second: I wanted to photograph a group portrait of all the surviving Raiders together.
Unfortunately, just after I arrived, we found out that one of the surviving Raiders, Lt. Col. Robert Hite, was too ill to travel to the reunion. We were however, lucky enough to photograph the other four survivors: Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, 96, Maj. Thomas C. Griffin, 95, Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, 92, and Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, 90.
Time was at a premium, as the Raiders had many different events and appearances scheduled, but I was able to make a group shot with them at Wright Patterson, specifically, the closed runway of the US Air Force Museum, which was temporarily turned into a ramp for 20 B-25’s specially for the event. The area was open to the public, and there were hundreds of people milling around to view the planes (Picture a busy airshow crowd). During a brief 2-minute window, we were able (with Larry’s help) to clear a path and photograph the Raiders in front of “Special Delivery” a B-25 from Galveston, Texas with the Doolittle logo on the nose. It was a bit unnerving to have an audience of 200 people (and a CBS Evening News crew) over my shoulder watching while we did the picture, but we got it done in record time.
With the help of some generous ramp crew from the USAFM we were able to secure a jetway ladder and photograph all 20 B-25’s at sunrise the next day. We then set up another portrait session at the Raiders hotel where I photographed each Raider on white and black backgrounds with old vintage leather A-2 jackets and flyboy caps. Matt Sager, a photographer/brilliant mechanic from the Panchito crew helped out on both shoots and saved my butt with his Boy Scout preparedness.
The anniversary was an amazing experience, and it’s gotten good play in a few publications in the months following the event, including AOPA Pilot magazine, which ran a series of portraits, and a cool photo I took from the end of the runway during the Grimes Field takeoff. WWII magazine also ran the group shot we made on the field at the Air Force Museum. I’ve included some of the tearsheets below.
I’m a real military aviation history buff, so it was an incredible honor when I was recently assigned to take portraits of the Doolittle Raiders for Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine. It was especially gratifying because I was able to pitch the idea to the magazine and then get the green light to take on the assignment.
The Doolittle Raid was America’s first major strike back at the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led an all volunteer group 80 men launched 16 B-25 bombers from the USS Hornet and struck Japan. Because a Japanese fishing boat detected the carrier group early, the crews launched early, which weakened their already compromised range, and prevented them from landing safely on Chinese airfields as planned. The crews bailed out or ditched their planes near the coast of China after running out of fuel. Three men were killed in the raid, and eight more would die in Japanese POW camps. Miraculously, most of the crews were eventually rescued and safely transferred back to the US by the Chinese.
It was an incredible feat for a number of reasons – chief among them, the fact that they used Army bombers, which were not designed to take off or land on an aircraft carrier. The men on the mission were not told the details of their target until the Hornet was steaming toward Japan. Even though the common thought was that it would probably be a suicide mission, no one backed down and all volunteered to continue. Although the raid didn’t inflict series damage on the Japanese, it was a huge morale booster for the Americans. The raid had an additional benefit: the Japanese islands, once thought to be safely out of range of American attack, were shown to be vulnerable, thus Japan would need to hold back key defense forces to protect their homeland for the rest of the war.
There are five living crewman remaining from the raid:
-Colonel Richard E. Cole, copilot of aircraft #1
-Major Thomas C. Griffin, navigator of aircraft #9
-Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Hite, copilot of aircraft #16
-Major Edward Joseph Saylor, engineer of aircraft #15
-Staff Sergeant David J. Thatcher, gunner of aircraft #7 (Thatcher is featured prominently in Ted Lawson’s book, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, which became a movie starring Spencer Tracy in 1944).
I’m always excited to photograph notable pilots, and I knew that Dick Cole, Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot during the raid, lived in Comfort, Texas, near San Antonio. I thought that perhaps with the 70th anniversary of the raid coming up next year, that it might be a great opportunity to photograph him with a B-25. I thought that I could probably arrange to photograph him in Texas with help from the CAF (Commemorative Air Force). After making some phone calls, I found out to my surprise that three of the remaining five raiders would get together at the Florida International Airshow in Punta Gorda, Florida for an airshow, and that it might be a great opportunity to photograph them together for the magazine.
Upon arrival, I found out that Dick Cole was going to meet up with Larry Kelley, the owner of the “Panchito” B-25, and fly in his airplane from Sarasota to Punta Gorda. K.T. and Syd Jones, along with Matt Jolley from Warbird Radio were crewing the plane with Larry, and were kind enough to make arrangements for me to make the flight with Col. Cole. Space was tight inside the plane, but through their generosity, I was able to take one of their seats in the main crew compartment and photograph Col. Cole’s experienced hands taking the yoke from the right seat of the B-25. At 95, he was as smooth as ever, and it was an incredible experience to know that we were being flown around by Doolittle’s co-pilot!
With fabulous support from my editor at A&S, and incredible support from this tight-knit warbird community, we were able to pull off a once in a lifetime sunset photo shoot the next day with 3 of the Raiders and a B-25 very similar to the one they flew to Japan in 69 years earlier.
Fellow photographers and good friends Brian Blanco and Chip Litherland assisted me on this dream assignment. Chip and I used Lighttrac, an Ipad app, to determine the optimum position of the plane at sunset. Once we determined our position, Larry graciously provided his airplane as our iconic backdrop and allowed us to tow it into the perfect position for the evening shoot. The airboss and ground crew at the airport actually shut down an active taxiway to provide us with the perfect angle, far from the other planes on the ramp. Tom Casey, who runs the Raiders charity organization, and manages their appearances, delivered our hero subjects at the right time, and arranged for us to borrow an authentic copy of Cole’s WWII era leather jacket. K.T. Budde-Jones and Syd Jones, who work with Stallion 51 in Kissimmee, Florida, pitched in and answered a million of my dumb questions. Matt Jolley helped us out as well, and videotaped the shoot for Warbird Radio, a fabulous internet radio site, with tons of interviews and information on pilots and planes.
We photographed the group together in their Doolittle insignia blazers, and then photographed each Raider individually. Col. Cole looked great in his WWII era A-2 leather flight jacket. We kept the lighting simple, utilizing an easy corner lighting setup with two softboxes. For Griffin, we used a Plume Wafer 100 and some ridiculously low shuter speeds to try to capture what little ambient light we had remaining. Because we had a cloudless sky, it quickly became very dark, and we photographed SSgt. David Thatcher in almost complete darkness. Chip backlit Panchito’s nose and canopy with the Wafer 100, and we used a large Hexoval for Thatcher’s face. We used Profoto 7B’s and Profoto Acute 600 battery powered strobes, since we were out on the taxiway far from any sources of AC power.
One of the highlights for me, was a bit of audio on Matt’s video of the shoot. Dick Cole is a very laid back, humble and classy guy. If you met him on the street, you would never know that he was a famous pilot or war hero. Matt asked him on camera – ‘what do you think of all the fuss?’ Cole quickly came back with, “the water-boarding is next?”
The lead time on the story was several months, but they’ve finally been published and now I can share them here. It was a real treat to photograph these heroes, and it wouldn’t have been successful without the help of my Florida colleagues and good friends in the warbird community.