Thursday, September 01, 2011

what I learned about photographing airshows

In a previous post, I linked to some webpages that gave advice about photographing at airshows.  I read them and was happy to get the information before I went to the big show at Selfridge ANG in Harrison Township almost two weeks ago.

I went, I heeded the advice, and I took hundreds of pix.  But when I got home and saw them on the big screen I was disappointed as to how many of them weren't sharp.  So I went back into research mode and came up with some more information (especially when I heard that there was going to be another airshow only a week away!).

So here's what I would suggest when it comes to shooting those speedy beasts at the airshow.

  • Find the sweet spot on the lenses you plan to use.  I planned to use my longest lens, a fairly cheap Sigma 70-300mm without OS.  Turns out it is sharpest around f11 and f13.  Roger that!
  • Rather than the 1/1000 shutter speed suggested in my reading, 1/2000 or even 1/3200 is better (you will, unfortunately, be nearly freezing propellers, but everything else is better -- and it won't matter on jets)
  • With those settings, you're not getting a whole lot of light, so crank up the ol'. ISO.  Probably beyond what you are comfortable with.  On my Canon 40D I usually don't like to go higher that 400, maybe 640.  But I went to 800 often at the second airshow and all is well.  Higher ISO contributes to more noise, but more light lessens the effect and I was able to fix the rest with the noise reduction features in Lightroom 3.
  • If you have problems panning with the aircraft, I suggest looking for the slower parts of the performance such as when the plane hits the top of a loop-de-loop or intentionally stalls.
  • Leave the filters off your lens.  The first show I used a polarizer and I think that it very subtly affected my autofocus accuracy (anybody ever have a similar experience?).
  • Other than that, get as close as you safely can, use your lens hood, shoot in manual and RAW, try your hand at manual focusing if your lenses hunts too much for that small object in the very big sky, and practice panning smoothly.
Please comment or e-mail me ( ) if you have other tips that you'd like to share.  Thanks, R

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