Planespotting is something that Simple Flying and many of its readers are undoubtedly familiar with. We are continually flicking through photographs from across the globe to find amazing images of aircraft. However, the process of getting the perfect shot can be a tricky one. Recently, we had the privilege to speak with aviation photographer Vincenzo Pace about his background in the scene and his technique of snapping outstanding aircraft photos.
A local presence
Vincenzo is known to thousands by his Instagram and Twitter handle of @JFKJetsOfficial. Despite his online popularity, it’s his local community that first inspired him. The New Yorker was born to immigrants from Bari, Italy. He grew up and currently lives in Howard Beach, NY, one of the shorefront communities that are adjacent to JFK International Airport.
New York runs through the veins of Vincenzo. He received his degree in political science from New York University. He also had the honor of being a construction project lead on portions of the World Trade Center redevelopment. This factor was particularly emotional to him as he witnessed the 9/11 attacks while attending NYU in Manhattan.
Subsequently, he has taken part in several leadership programs. For instance, he is an ACE Mentor, guiding NYC high school students in management, engineering, and architecture.
Planting the seeds
Vincenzo was always interested in photography. When he was growing up, his father had a Nikon SLR and took pictures on the field of professional soccer games as a hobby, taking Vincenzo along. He also has a cousin in Italy that takes architecture photos who always brought him along on outings when visiting Italy.
Nonetheless, Pace had a fascination with aviation and space travel from a young age. His parents used to bring him to JFK to see the aircraft, and he particularly loved seeing Concorde. Being fortunate to have grown up near JFK, planes always arrived or departed over his house, which meant he was often looking up at the sky in awe.
Vincenzo started traveling by air when he was five years old to visit his extended family in Italy, and his first flight was on an Alitalia 747-200. This early affinity for aviation coincided with his love for photography. In 2005, as a young adult, he made friends with a bunch of local JFK aviation photographers, through the group NYC Aviation.
With the encouragement of veteran NYC Aviation members and friends Phil Derner, Tom Alfano, and Mario Craig, and inspired by legendary aviation photographers such as Joe Pries, he started casually taking photos with a Nikon point and shoot. Soon enough, he managed to get a couple of pictures on JetPhotos.
Returning to his love
However, due to career priorities, Vincenzo significantly slowed down the formal aviation photography hobby until 2018. At that time, he moved on to a new firm, which encouraged management to embrace a hobby in their free time. Coincidentally, he came across an air-to-air helicopter photo of an Alitalia 777 at JFK taken by Ryan Patterson.
Being a major Alitalia fan since his early travels, the enthusiast messaged compliments to Patterson about the photo. The two conversed, and Vincenzo was quickly convinced to take up aviation photography once again.
Patterson suggested a good starter camera (Nikon D7500), and soon enough, Vincenzo started taking photos again and realized immediately that this was an incredible hobby to embrace. He befriended a few local JFK photographers, most notably his friend, Dong An, who helped Vincenzo master shooting in manual mode to improve his skills.
Now, Vincenzo’s primary camera is a Sony a7R IV, and he uses a secondary Sony a9 II for helicopter and ramp shots. Lenses include the Sony 200-600mm, Sony 100-400mm, Sony 70-200 2.8, Sigma 24-70 2.8, and Sigma 14-24 2.8. Meanwhile, he takes helicopter shots with the Sony a7R IV and the Sony 200-600mm lens. He also uses the Sony a9 II with the Sony 70-200mm lens while in the air.
Behind the shot
Some of Vincenzo’s most iconic shots are at JFK. The photographer took the opportunity to speak of the process of getting these special shots.
“We have many diverse spotting locations around JFK, despite the challenges of having an airport bordered on three sides by water. Most of these locations are off the airport property. My two favorite locations are at the foot of the Crossbay Bridge in Broad Channel, where I take banking shots of the famous Canarsie Departure,” Vincenzo told Simple Flying.
“Banking shots require a lot of skill and a steady hand as the jets are essentially rocketing off. I use my longest lens, the 200-600mm. The departure pattern here calls for a dramatic turn out of the Atlantic Ocean, which results in dramatic banks of the aircraft and epic photos. As the planes are banking, I pivot with the camera as I shoot in the same sense as a golfer would swing his golf club on a drive.”
Vincenzo’s second favorite location at JFK is from the rooftop deck of the TWA Hotel on airport property. Here, he would typically use his 100-400mm lens and capture dramatic departure shots of jets in rotation or just after departure. As an extra challenge, he sometimes likes to catch arrivals on the more distant runway if the heat haze is not an issue.
One of Vincenzo’s other signatures is his aerial shots. He explained how he got into this realm.
“I got into aerial photography with the mentorship of my friend Ryan Patterson, one of the world’s premier aerial photographers. I took my first helicopter in October 2019 over JFK and EWR with Ryan, James Oates, Dong An, and Wallace Cotton. It was an epic experience, and I was hooked after that. Since then, I have taken several helicopter airport photography helicopter rides,” Vincenzo said.
“In December 2019, Ryan and I were the first photographers to shoot over ATL. I then did a helicopter over LAX in March 2019. Although the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of a few helicopter rides in the spring, Ryan and I, along with our friend Tyler Lorenz became the first photographers to shoot over Chicago’s ORD Airport in July. We then subsequently did a second JFK/EWR heli in late July.”
A careful approach
Aerial photography can be challenging. The planes have to be framed perfectly, and a unique set of camera settings are required. Most notably, a higher shutter speed to counter the shake experienced in the helicopters would work. However, Vincenzo explains that with the right settings, weather conditions, and aircraft positioning, the resulting photos are second to none.
Altogether, the most challenging part of capturing a good photo for Vincenzo is having the proper weather conditions. While a sunny day with blue skies is optimal, he prefers the challenge of a partly cloudy day where the sun is shining on the subject plane while creating a beautiful, contrasting background. As he shoots in full manual, having the proper setting is a must, and in ever-changing lighting conditions, particularly at sunset, sudden setting changes are required, even in mid-sequence.
Another factor to consider is learning to have proper framing of the shot. Vincenzo also takes pictures keeping in mind the type of crop and edit he would want for the completed photo.
Vincenzo’s attributes have allowed his works to be used by several airlines, particularly Alitalia, which has also published two of his photos in its inflight magazine, Ulisse. Other airlines that have used his images include Virgin Atlantic and SWISS. Additionally, one of his American Airlines photos was on the cover of Airways Magazine in March 2020.
Despite Pace’s inspiring works, he states that there is still much for him to learn and gain experience in the world of photography. His future goals are to continue to improve at aviation photography, enjoy helicopter rides, and travel on adventures with friends. He also wants to serve as a positive role model and mentor locally, along with being proud and supportive member of the JFK Airport community.
Altogether, Vincenzo is proof that it is never too late to return to a hobby. He has managed to positively combine his natural love for the community, aviation, and photography. His passion is evident throughout his vibrant photos, but it sounds like this is only the beginning.
What are your thoughts about aviation photography? Let us know what you think in the comment section.