How to Shoot an Air Show

It’s Fleet Week in San Francisco and that can only mean one thing: The American Blue Angels will be in the air.

The Blue Angels are the the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps goodwill ambassadors. These top guns fly 68 air shows at 35 sites annually and the San Francisco show is one of the most spectacular. So how do you shoot a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet that is only 50 feet long and 40 feet across travelling as fast as Mach 1.7 (1,200 MPH) and capable of hitting 50,000 feet?

First you pre-plan your shooting. Great action shots don’t just happen. Remember while most pros will recommend a 400mm lens, if you’re using a DX-senor (not full frame) an 18-200 is in full-frame terms really a 27-300mm lens or a relatively cheap 75-300mm (without VR but buy VR lenses if you can afford it) is really a 112 to 450mm lens which is perfect. When it comes to VR, it’s unnecessary if you’re shooting in bright sunlight and will do nothing to stop the blur in a shot of a moving aircraft taken at any shutter speed less than at least 1/500 of a second.

So how would I set up my D-300? Here’s where I’d start: ISO = 400 (no real noise and enough speed to allow for higher shutter speeds); Mode = manual (I’d set my shutter speed to 1/1000 and adjust the aperture using a lightmeter either in the camera or my Sekonic incident meter accordingly); Autofocus = single point or 11 points active. I’d experiment with 54 points as well.) I see Jim says no polarizer and when I think about it, he’s right. You will lose shutter speed when using a polarizer and you can darken your skies using software later.

Here’s a link to the Landscape, Nature and Travel Photography blog written by Jim M. Goldstein where he offers us his top 10 tips for shooting an airshow.

Jim’s photos of the Blue Angels are fabulous! Here’s the Blue Angels tag on Flickr.



One thought on “How to Shoot an Air Show

  1. Thank you for posting this. There will be plenty of air shows around where I live this summer and I would love to try them out with my new camera.

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