This must be the Photograph of the Year

23 Sep 22 26 Comments

I only have a quick post for you this week (and I’m taking next week off to deal with life issues). But I hope you all will agree that this photograph is worth a million words.

Australian Royal Airforce F/A-18F Super Hornet photographed by Nino Lo Giudice.

Isn’t that astounding?

But when I called it unbelievable, I meant that many people honestly did not believe it and were convinced that it was a photoshopped compilation.

I first saw it on Down Under Aviation News who posted a cropped version with a caption that the photograph would undoubtedly go down as one of the most famous Australian aviation pics ever.

The responses were fast and condemning.

The photo of the aircraft is superimposed over a non-related picture. I am a photographer.

The people are not even looking at the plane. It isn’t there.

Surely if this was real all the people on the roof are now deaf or dead as they would have been blown off the roof trust me

It’s good to see that someone can still think critically.

You obviously lack a critical mind and knowledge of what is also allowed within major cities and what is possible in aeronatuical engineering. May I suggest you go back to basics and do your own research.

It’s clearly super imposed.

It is always amazing to me how quickly people degenerate into attacking the intelligence of people who disagree with them.

Another photographer quickly came to Lo Guidice’s defence. David Kapernick was with Lo Guidice that day and took similar photographs.

He explains in the thread that he is friends with Lo Guidice and that they took the photographs from his veranda. Lo Guidice brought beer and pizza and then they settled in to watch the practice flights for the airshow. Kapernick posted a week later to say that their photographs had seen over 9 million views and counting on Twitter in the week after they first shared their shots.

The other photographers in the photos are on Brisbane Story Bridge, which seems to be a popular spot for airshow photography in Brisbane.

Meanwhile, Lo Guidice became frustrated with the response and posted the entire sequence to Instagram. Note that the embedded version here may take a moment to load, it looks better if you click through. Instagram embed is not the greatest!

Finally, a number of other Brisbane photographers have spoken up to the defend the photograph and the position it was photographed from. Sadly, I don’t know Brisbane well enough to spot the flyover but this video is meant to be the actual cockpit footage from the flight that Lo Giudice and Kabernice photographed:

The jet appears much closer to the spectators than it actually is as a result of foreshortening. This is a common issue in photography, where the size and depth of the subjects are distorted within the two-dimensional image. This is often done intentionally, where I think the most common version I’ve seen is where a person pretends to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or to be plucking the setting sun from the sky.

In these days of AI-generated photography and deep fakes, I think it is important that we recognise the talent and effort that goes into real photograph taken by a person with a camera with no special effects. There’s something wondrous and exciting to know that a person was standing there and able to grab this shot. And it makes me happy to know that it is possible (even if unlikely) that I could be stood in such a place and see such a thing, even though I know my version would just be a fuzzy grey streak surrounded by cloudy blur.

This isn’t just conjecture. I took some friends to see the Soviet cemetery at Ämari Military Air Base (more on this soon) and we heard two German Eurofighter Typhoons taking off. A few minutes later one returned and as I know where the circuit is, I should have been perfectly positioned for the shot. However, when it came to the crunch, I did not just fail to get the photograph, I didn’t manage to get out from under the pine trees in time to even try.

Luckily, my friend Bernie Digman managed to take excellent photographs as it passed over us and gave me permission to share them with you.

German Eurofighter Typhoon in Estonia, photographed by Bernie Digman
German Eurofighter Typhoon in Estonia, photographed by Bernie Digman

I’m so lucky to be surrounded by competent people; I highly recommend this as a life plan.

Category: Photography,


  • Sylvia,
    The sequence of the images that you posted prove, in my mind anyway, that it was indeed a composite.
    Each shows the aircraft in the same attitude, same angle with the same condense above the wing (very high speed and angle of attack).
    Moreover, it seems that the wingtip is below the level of the railing – although that could be due to the upward angle of the camera.
    But I agree that this photo is a composite.
    I cannot imagine any pilot taking this level of risk, unless he (or she?) is intent on committing suicide and taking some innocent bystanders with him (her?).

    • Well, as he stated, some will still refuse to believe its real. If anything that should be a compliment to the amazing shots and to the amazing pilots. But to any others who want to voice their opinions, I implore you to look very closely at the pylons under the wings before making a fool of yourself by commenting its still fake. Each shot you can see slightly more of the pylons than the previous. Keep in mind this plane is traveling quite fast and already at a high angle of attack so the rate of turn in the small distance captured isn’t going to be massive but it is still quite noticeable if you care to truly analyze it before jumping to conclusions. Amazing shots and amazing flying.

    • There is little “level of risk” as the aircraft is not as close to the bridge as it looks. The telephoto lense causes this foreshortening because the viewer is much closer to the scene than the camera was, and thus the human mind reads the depth cues wrong.

      • Yup. The floor lines of the building should converge at vanishing points on the horizon but they’re barely converging. The horizon line must be well below the bottom of the photo.

    • I see exactly the opposite — the angle of bank appears to steepen in the middle shots, and the view of the aircraft changes as it passes overhead. Condensation isn’t necessarily an indication of high speed; I saw it from the window of a 747 over downtown LA, where the airspeed limit was IIRC 230 knots (1985; rules in the successors to TCAs may differ.)

      What really astounds me is the view from the cockpit. Occasionally a fighter airplane (or set of 3 planes) will do ONE pass over a densely-populated part of the US, for some special occasion. (There was one in Boston in the last few years — first in 50+ years I’ve lived here — related to either a special ceremony or a USAF photo shoot.) Doing repeated passes down a river in the heart of a city leaves me muttering “These Aussies are crazy!” (with no apologies at all to Goscinny).

  • Looks like a composite photo to me because the people on the bridge do not change position at all. Their heads don’t turn as the airplane goes by them. Nor does any other body part move at all. The people on the right of the photo are looking away from the jet as it approaches and never turn to look at it. I realize the jet is moving fast and there would not be much movement from the people in the time it takes to fly by. But I have been on the ground under an airplane as it lands and the instinct is to flinch and crouch, not stand there as if nothing is happening. Heads can turn in fraction of a second and it’s hard to believe out of 17 people, not one would move a muscle.

  • Sorry to those who think it’s a fake, but the RAAF do this every year (there was a bit a COVID gap). It’s comprehensively covered on local TV news and in the papers and anyone walking or driving through the city can clearly see them practicing in the days leading up to the festival. I pulled over in my car to check them out this year. It’s amazing (and extremely noisy) but perfectly safe because while clearances are certainly close but nowhere near as close as the photos make them seem. Do some proper research!

  • The RAAF does this every year, except during covid lockdowns, with a variety of aircraft. If you look up ‘RAAF C17 Brisbane low flying’ or something similar, you can get various videos, including a cockpit view, of some very interesting flying.

  • Whilst everyone is debating wether this is a real image or not the same people seem to completely disregard the safety aspects of carrying out a highly dangerous and risk laden act. A bird strike would likely have catastrophic consequences with a jet fighter coming down in a highly populated city.

    This would never be allowed in the UK since the rules were changed for air displays following the Ramstein air display disaster. It’s a fantastic photo but allowing the event to take place in the first instance is foolhardy

    • I don’t have any links at hand, but, there have been a few videos and photos over the years from Australian airshows that have made my jaw drop about planes doing things that you think planes shouldn’t be doing. In particular, I remember a video that made the rounds a while ago of an Australian C-17 (I think) flying below skyscraper level in an Australian city while practicing for an airshow.

      In other words, whether or not the photo itself is real (though I tend to believe it is), the circumstances that created it seem possible. Or, in other words, it passes the initial smell test, at least for me.

        • Oh hell no. But I only realized on checking back in that my reply is attached to your comment by accident – I was actually intending to reply to the thread as a whole. Sorry.

          • I love reading all these “expert” comments about angles of attack & “composite because blah blah etc”.
            – Makes me laugh !
            So many experts, but so little actual knowledge.regsrds how a long / telephoto lens inherently foreshortens perspective.
            An Arts degree in photography from RMIT, 8 years as a RAAF photographer / photographic instructor , time spent teaching photography back at RMIT + 15 years as a practising commercial photographer.

            Folks, it’s a genuine image.

            But man you’d need a 500mm / 1000mm to achieve it. (Just like the press guys at the cricket / football capture images where the action appears to be happening “Right on top of the crowd in the background”

            And just to let you in on a little secret, our RAAF boys are amongst the most professional in the world. They don’t take risks & they rehearse everything to the “Nth degree ” .- Believe me, I’ve sat in on / had to contribute to, the preflight briefings before air to air photo sorties.

            So many experts, man it does your head in – LOL!

        • It might be a fast jet but it’s hardly high speed for a Hornet. The number of approvals these guys would have to get would be enormous. It hardly matters what one member of the public in a distant land thinks about it; what counts are the voices of those we put in positions of power, presumably people who know the situation, know the dangers, know the costs.

          The pilots themselves spend a lot of simulator time beforehand flying the course. They aren’t going to get disoriented and end up in someone’s office.

          And while they may be flying between buildings, those buildings are on opposite sides of a fairly significant river.

          These sorts of air displays are commonplace around the world. This one was well advertised in advance, plenty of opportunity for people to warn about any actual risks, and certainly commonplace enough for a couple of guys to sit on a balcony with a good view, having beer and pizza and clicking off the odd fabulous snapshot.

  • Long-time resident of Brisbane here. The shots are genuine. Brisbane in recent years has developed numerous riverside skyscrapers that are higher than the Story Bridge. The extreme telephoto shots compress the subjects; in reality the jet is nowhere near the bridge or the buildings.

    These are annual events and the internet has numerous examples of military aircraft seemingly weaving between skyscrapers. Spectacular, genuine, but as misleading as the telephoto shots of airliners apparently hovering in midair during crosswind landings or taking off vertically. Get the right lens and viewpoint and wonders ensue.

  • Due to being repeated yearly, if a false set up it would have been well known. I could almost be convinced the picture is a composite by the nearby onlookers not following the flight path, most looking far right of the streaking aircraft.

  • A million words? Not yet, but we are still working on it.
    Looking closely at the photo (again), I still wonder if the claim that the photo is genuine is indeed the truth and nothing but the truth.
    From the position of the aircraft, the attitude and the condensation on top of the wings it strikes me that:
    – the aircraft was flying at high speed, probably 300 kts or more.
    – it was a damp, dull day.
    – the people may have been further away from the jet than the photo suggests, but even so, it is strange that they seem totally unaware of the fast approaching fighter jet.
    – the photo is crisp and sharp, foreground and background.
    – this would suggest that, if a long lens was used, it may have been of moderate focal length, e.g. 200 or 300.
    – using a longer lens would have resulted in much more obvious compression.
    – a very long lens is also much more difficult to manoeuvre.
    – it was probably not a very bright day, which would have required a high ISO setting. But OK, high-end cameras can handle that without much “digital noise”.
    – a very high shutter speed would have been necessary to “nail” the jet.
    – a very small aperture would have been required to acquire the depth of field.
    – this means that it had been necessary for the camera to be supported, if not mounted on a tripod.
    – all this suggests a certain degree of planning.
    The photo, if genuine and even if distorted by the effect of a long lens, shows a disturbing disregard for safety. The people on the bridge, even if further away than the photo suggests, seem unaware of the jet zooming in on them. All it would have taken for a serious accident would have been, as mentioned, a bird strike, a miscalculation or a mistake taking only a microsecond for a stunt to become a disaster.
    I still believe that it was a composite. I know people who can achieve miracles with Photoshop. But yes, whatever, it IS a very good photo.

    • “A certain degree of planning” for a predictable, yearly event is what I’d expect from a good photographer. ;-)

      Can these military aircraft really be downed by a bird strike?

      • Without a doubt. It happens regularly. Coastlines and other water features (like a river) are particularly vulnerable as they attract birds.

    • Make Google your friend. These displays are a popular part of the annual Riverfire celebration. Here is an article from a previous year by a different photographer showing some apparently jaw-dropping flying by a C-17 cargo plane seeming to weave its way between skyscrapers:

      The link gives details of the equipment used. Nothing exotic or amazing. Off the shelf stuff.

      Getting back to the image in question, it is taken from an apartment with a riverfront view east of Fortitude Valley heading toward New Farm along Bowen Terrace. Google Streetview won’t show you the view from the private apartment but it will show images from the clifftop outlooks there.

      The building in the background is Waterfront Place at 1 Eagle Street and the “rooftop” in the foreground is the southern tower of the Story Bridge. There is roughly a kilometre between the two points, high above the Brisbane River.

      Here is an article with video showing F-18 Hornets making multiple passes along the river past the CBD, including the same path taken by the aircraft in the photo that so many label as fake.

      The aircraft aren’t going particularly fast – for them – but they do have to load up the wings to make some turns and climbs leading to the spectacular condensation zones appearing above the aircraft.

      Google “F-18 Brisbane” for more information and likely enough videos and images to keep one enthralled for hours!

  • I know David Kapernick personally and he posted the images on FB minutes after the event. No PS operator could ever create a mask for the plane and then plonk it on that background. Look at the translucency of the vapour coming off the wings. Absolutely impossible to auto-mask without a supercomputer used in movie animation.

    PS: It was a rehearsal for the Annual River Fire festival in Brisbane which is not an air show per se. It’s a fireworks display preceded by a military aircraft flyby.

    Both toggies had the right gear, an amazing vantage point, and the technical skills to capture these amazing images.

  • Always amazes me how people are willing to display their lack of thinking skills on the net.
    Just for their potatoes who think this is made up, the RAAF did it again this year. See for yourself buy a ticket fly down from the Northern Hemisphere and see how RAAF pilots fly through the burbs.

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