Review of the Photo Pit at Wings Over Houston (2009)
This review was first posted on 1 November 2009 at www.mcglamery.com and has been relocated here.
At the 2009 Wings Over Houston airshow this past weekend, the organizers set up a special photo pit for serious hobbyists. This was their first time to do so. I suspect they were motivated by photographers requesting press credentials but having no specific media relationship. Whatever the motivation, it proved to be a good idea, I think.
I purchased a pass for the Saturday, October 31, photo pit when they first came out, on June 25. I had seen a reference to them on the WOH web site earlier in the year, when the organizers had requested feedback about possible interest. For $75.00, I received the following:
The location of the photo pit was interesting. The pit was located several hundred feet to the right (south) of show center (see the map), rather than at show center. Surprisingly, prime view seating, at only $40.00, is located at show center. On the one hand, show center is a prime reference point for the performers, and some of the key action occurs there. On the other hand, the sun crosses the sky south of the airfield, so more of a plane's pass in front of the crowd will be to the north,Â allowing the lighting to be at the photographer's back for a longer portion of the pass, especially in the morning.
While the WOH web site showed the photo pit was sold out, the pit on Saturday did not appear to contain 50 people, even though the weather was outstanding (clear skies, temperature in the 70s) and the show set a record for attendance (estimated at 100,000 over the two days). I didn't make a count, but I would guess the number of photographers was closer to 30. A few people even seemed to have paid for admittance but were taking no photos (family members were not supposed to be allowed in the pit without a pass, so I guess these people just paid for the view).
Riser space was limited, and it didn't help that several photographers brought tripods and set them up on the riser. One photographer even brought two tripods for his medium-format Pentaxes, and occupied about a quarter of the available space. If I remember correctly, the riser was never able to accomodate more than about seven or eight photographers at any one time because of its size. The pit had plenty of space for more riser length, so the organizers should consider a longer riser in the future. It didn't help that the riser had no guardrails, so each photographer had to be careful about not stepping off and taking a two-foot fall. I also think each photographer should be limited to a single tripod.
Other than the riser, most of the other photographers were able to grab some space at the fence along the flight line, but it did get tight. I moved between both the fence and the riser during the show. I probably preferred the riser but don't think my photography suffered by having to go to the fence.
Since the 2009 show was the first to have the photo pit, some things naturally weren't as smooth as they might have been. The security people and volunteers directing traffic apparently had no idea where parking for photo pit pass holders was supposed to be. I was directed to an area that was reasonably convenient, but the lack of recognition of the pass was a bit disconcerting.Â Some vendors would not accept the food coupons. I tried to purchase a frozen lemonade, but the vendor pointed at the tents staffed by organizations affiliated with the airshow (JROTC, etc.) and said they were the only ones accepting coupons. A couple of the photographers in the pit complained that a runner for food would have been nice, especially given that we had coupons anyway, but that seems a little spoiled to me. I must admit, however, that a number of professional sports stadiums do have waiters for the expensive seating areas, so maybe the thought isn't out of line.
I talked with a few other photographers during the day. Most were serious hobbyists, and some had some very expensive gear ($5,000+ lenses, for instance). Surprisingly, a few people were using non-SLR cameras. A few of the photographers were from out of town, including one who had traveled from Los Angeles and another who had traveled from the UK.
Having been to WOH for a number of years, a few other comments are in order about the show with relationship to photography.
Other comments about the show this year.
In summary, the photo pit pass proved to be worth the money to me. I was able to maintain a good sightline to the action and didn't need to leave the pit except for a bite to eat. If WOH sets up a pit next year, I will probably purchase a pass.