The Planes of Fame Airshow

It’s that time of year again – the Planes of Fame Airshow in Chino California.  This is a fantastic show, with many different types of WWII Warbirds including the P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, and usually something modern to spice it up a bit like the F4 Phantom.  If you’re interested in Warbirds, or aircraft in general and want to mix in some great opportunities for photography this event should be on your go-to list!

The show this year is couple of weeks earlier than usual, which normally wouldn’t have been a problem except this year I had another commitment.  On Saturday I was going to be the photographer for a motorcycle event benefiting the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.  Ok, no big deal.  I’d just readjust my plans and go on Sunday (unfortunately that didn’t work out either).  In the meantime, I had discovered that I could access the pre-show practice sessions simply by purchasing an admission ticket to the Planes of Fame Air Museum!  What a great opportunity for access to the planes without the big crowds.

Getting ready for my day at pre-show practice, I had some decisions to make, specifically regarding how much camera gear I should bring.  For something like this, I try to travel light.  There can be a lot of walking around with aircraft on display from one end of the runway to the other.  Here’s a list of what I ended up taking with me:

  • Canon 60D
  • Canon 40D
  • Tamron 200-500mm Lens (on long time loan from my friend Walt)
  • Canon 70-200 F4L Lens
  • Canon 18-55 EFS IS Lens
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra memory cards
  • Slinger bag

You may be asking why bring this stuff, and why 2 camera bodies!?  Good questions!  My thoughts were to have the big Tamron 200-500 lens mounted on my 60D, and the 70-200 on my 40D.  That way I could switch between each setup (depending on what was going on) without having to take time to disconnect one lens and switch to another.  While I did find this very convenient, I did end up with a stiff neck and sore back.

How did all of this “stuff” perform?  Another good question!  Overall I’m pleased.  Both my 60D and 40D worked quite well.  Here’s how I configured each camera:

  • Shutter Priority
  • 1/160 sec.
  • AI Servo
  • Drive – High Speed Continuous
  • ISO 100
  • White Balance – Daylight
  • Format – Jpeg, Large 60D, RAW 40D

Here are the results:

This is an aerobatic team know as the Horsemen.  What an incredible sight, a P-38 with 2 P-51’s!

Here’s a P-38 with an F4 Phantom.  In both cases, you have aircraft in the sky that are rare and unique. It was quite a privilege to see them fly!
I did mention that overall I was pleased with my gear, and generally pleased with my photos.  This is the 7th year in a row for me attending airshows in one way or another.  Every year I come away with literally thousands of images.  By and large there are many duds.  There’s a reason for this, the slow shutter speed!  The mark of a good Warbird image (especially vintage propeller aircraft) is for the props to be blurred.  To be successful you need to pan and track you target carefully, smoothly, and push the shutter as you continue to pan through the shot.  Easy to explain, not so easy to do!  There’s also the excitement factor (some call this Buck fever).  I get very excited when I see these Warbirds in the air, and make mistakes or get busy watching the action overhead and am late on the shutter.  And then there’s the equipment.  That big Tamron is slow!  This lens will sometimes miss focus and start hunting.  And this usually happens at the most in-opportune time, leading to out of focus shots.  In contrast my Canon 70-200 L Lens is fantastic!  It would focus very quickly, and I could really grab some quick shots at 6.5 fps with my 40D.
In closing, I’d like to mention again how great a venue the Chino Planes of Fame is, and what a fantastic airshow they put on every year.  Here the link to their website: Planes of Fame
What would I do different next year – bring a chair!  Until next time, happy shooting!