Airshows are good fun. For photographers, they present photographic opportunities.
Read on for some tips on how I captured airshow photos.
I shot these photos of the Jacksonville Beach, FL Sea & Sky Airshow on October 25, 2015. The unique thing about this format is that the airshow takes place over the beach. In years past, this airshow included amphibious craft landings and static displays right on the beach.
I used my Nikon D600 with the Nikkor AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G zoom lens, mostly zoomed out to its 300mm focal length setting. Even then, I generously cropped another 1/2 to 1/3 of the original size in order to frame the photos displayed in this post. Hence, the resulting “softness” of these photos (and lack of perfect panning skills by yours truly). I had Hoya circular polarizing lens to try to control the occasional reflection, although the weather was mostly overcast. In hindsight, I could have left this filter off.
Exposures were in shutter priority (mode dial set to “S”), so I can capture jet aircraft with fast shutter speeds to minimize motion blur, using 1/400 second or faster. I set the ISO high enough (200 to 800) to allow the aperture to capture enough depth of field. f/5.6 is my lens’ maximum aperture at 300mm focal length. This aperture is good for a single aircraft or a tight formation of Blue Angels. Close the aperture down to f/16 to get more depth of field for dispersed aircraft or a large aircraft flying close (e.g., closeup of the Blue Angel’s C130 support aircraft).
Propeller aircraft presents more of a challenge for me, as I want to capture motion blur of the spinning propeller to portray its motion. For a high-performance acrobatic aircraft with high revving engines, 1/400 second exposure yields a decent blur as in the example below.
At twice that speed (1/800 second), the spinning propeller looks static. Or near static as below.
For World War II fighter aircraft, I had to slow the shutter even more, down to about 1/125 second. At this slow speed, I had to pan and follow the aircraft motion more precisely, in order to avoid motion blur.
When pilots bank their aircraft towards the audience on the beach, the resulting shots look as if they were taken in flight along side the aircraft.
The star of this show are the Blue Angels. And the approach of their support C-130 aircraft signals their impending arrival.
Ta da! The excitement grows!
For the opposing solo duels, I pick one aircraft to follow with panning motion. This aircraft will be sharp. I keep my other eye open so I can see the opposing solo closing in and time when I need to release the shutter to capture the dueling action. The opposing solo aircraft will be blurred to capture the high speed motion. Remember to keep releasing the shutter to capture the result of their near miss. Lots of tension.
The Blue Angels are always my favorite!