Behind the Lens: Photographing the TBM 930

Take a ride with Flying's staff photographer as he captures the TBM 930 in flight over South Florida from the back of a Piper Seneca.

Shooting air-to-air photography is exhilarating. I can still vividly recall the first few moments of this shoot, when we had already taken off in the Seneca and were waiting for the TBM 930 to slip up and join us. Watching those flashing position lights on the wings of the subject airplane get closer and closer until I could see the pilot’s facial expression is exciting to say the least.

At that point, my lens came up and it was game on. At first, all the sound of the wind rushing in through the open door and the static on the radio is overwhelming, and then you settle in and start composing and it all just sort of fades into the background.

It was early morning when we took off, maybe a half hour after sunrise, and I was strapped in with a Home Depot safety harness tied off to a seatbelt. Air-to-air photography truly forces you to be simultaneously creative and technical. You obviously can mess up these shots really easily with either too fast a shutter speed or too slow, and when the action is happening there's not a lot of time to fumble with the controls.

Tunnel vision isn't an option, you've got to refocus on what your camera is trying to do with every change in the light. Your tech has to be on point to facilitate the creative aspect and avoid causing you to miss a shot because you need to stop and think. Getting the chance to use both sides of the brain that acutely in photography is just inherently fun for me.

And of course, success or failure up there depends so much on the pilots to get into the position you're asking for to get the perfect angle. They make or break the shoot.

I was shooting with a Canon 1DX Mk2 with a 24-105mm lens and a Canon 11-24mm lens. Most exposures hovered between 1/60th and 1/80th of a second at various apertures depending on the lighting conditions.

The entire shoot took probably two hours or so by the time we did some runway and low pass shots. It all goes by too quickly.

TBM 930 Photo Shoot
The new TBM 930 was photographed flying over South Florida for the cover of our September 2016 issue.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
A fleet of TBMs on the ground.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
The TBM 930 on the ground.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
The TBM 930 features a Hartzell five-blade propeller.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
The TBM from the runway.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Staff photographer Jon Whittle captures images of the Daher TBM 930 while strapped into the back of a Piper Seneca.Jerry Pomales
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Air-to-air photography of the TBM 930.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
To get some of these stunning shots, our photographer got within 30 feet of the TBM 930 in flight.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
The beaches of South Florida provided a beautiful backdrop for the day's photoshoot.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Air-to-air photography of the TBM 930.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Photographer Jon Whittle took more than 1,500 photos from his vantage point in a Piper Seneca chase plane.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Air-to-air photography of the TBM 930.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Air-to-air photography of the TBM 930.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
The TBM's pilotside door allows for easy entry and exit without the need to clamber through the passenger compartment.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
The TBM 930 being prepared for flight.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
The TBM 930 flies overhead.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Air-to-air photography of the TBM 930.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Air-to-air photography of the TBM 930.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Air-to-air photography of the TBM 930.Jon Whittle
TBM 930 Photo Shoot
Air-to-air photography of the TBM 930.Jon Whittle