P-51D, Su Su

The Warbirds Are Coming!

The Warbirds are coming!  The Planes of Fame Airshow is just a couple of months away on May 4th and 5th.  The theme this year is Lightning Strikes Chino.  That means
P-38’s will be there, 5 of them to be exact!

P-38 Lightning

P-38 Lightning above, from the Planes of Fame Airshow, 2008.  Canon 40D, f/13, 1/160th sec. ISO 100.

You can read more about the P-38’s in my previous post, My Favorite Planes.

In this post I’d like to share some photos of the other types of Warbirds that you’d see if you attended the “Show”!

F-4U Corsair

The Chance-Vought F4U Corsair.  Canon 40D, f/11, 1/160 sec. ISO 100.

F8F Bearcat

The Grumman F8F Bearcat, operational in 1945 and did not see service in WWII.  Canon 40D, f/14, 1/160th sec. ISO I00

SBD Dauntless

The Douglas SBD Dauntless, Naval Dive Bomber.  Canon 40D f/13, 1/160th sec. ISO 100

P-51 A, Mustang

The North American P-51 A Mustang, powered by the Allison V-1719-81.  Canon 40D, f/14, 1/160th sec. ISO 100.

P-51D, Su Su

North American P-51D, Su Su.  Unfortunately the plane was destroyed in a crash on March 11th, 2010 and it’s pilot/owner killed.  Canon 40D, f/13, 1/160th sec. ISO 100.

Airshow Photography Tips

What follows are some things I’ve learned from taking pictures at airshows.  While the information below works for me and I offer it freely, your results may vary.

If you’ve looked closely at the information below each photo, you’ll notice something common, each shot had the same shutter speed, but different apertures.  The reason for this is because I set the camera to Shutter Priority (I choose the shutter speed, the camera sets the f-stop/aperture).  I wanted to keep my shutter speed slow (1/160 of a second) to blur the props.  This creates a challenge when also trying to capture a sharp image!

You don’t have to shoot with such a slow shutter speed.  In fact, there’s a general rule when using a long lens to keep the shutter speed at 1/focal length for sharpness.  This means if you are using a 300mm lens, your shutter speed should be no less than 1/300th of a second.

While 1/focal length rule may be true for most subjects, it needs to be broken if you want to get the blur!  The mark of amateur aircraft images are props that are frozen.  In fact, I’ve heard them referred to as dead sticks.  If you want to keep the airplane sharp but the props blurred, you have to perfect your panning technique.

Before you begin with the panning, you’ll need to set up your camera.  I set mine to a low ISO, like 100, Shutter Priority, AI Servo (continuous auto focus), and high speed shutter (5.5 frames per second on my Canon 60D).  For optimum post processing, you’ll want your image files set for RAW, but that could limit your ability to keep a high frame rate (RAW files are quite large).  Jpeg files may be better in this case.  I also set my metering to either partial spot or spot and my focus point to center.  This will keep my focus from being confused by off center subjects and will base my exposure on what is in the center as well.  The meter could be fooled by a bright background and try to under-expose the whole scene.  I would take some test shots before the show begins and fine tune your settings.

What about tripods?  Good question!  I don’t use one.  There are some folks that use them, and I have seen the Pros using them.  But there’s a big difference in the Pro’s tripod and mine (and a lot of other amateurs).  One thing I noticed is they use very large tripods with very large Gimbal Heads.  Most of the Gimbal Heads that I’ve seen cost more that my whole tripod with a standard head.  The other problem with tripods at an airshow is the limited amount of space, and the large number of people.  Personally, I don’t want people tripping on my tripod or worse, knocking it over.

A couple more tips before I wrap this up.  Bring a folding chair!  Standing the whole time will wear you out and if you have heavy camera gear, you’ll begin to tire and get very poor results.  Take a few minutes and just enjoy the show with both eyes, not just through the viewfinder.

Speaking of heavy camera gear, the next piece of equipment you may want to consider is a quality camera strap.  The one that comes with your camera that hangs from your neck is not the best way to carry a heavy camera and large lens.  I learned this from last year’s show.  I had two Canon DSLRs hanging from my neck and after a couple of hours, had quite a neck ache that worked into quite a headache.  Here’s what I use – Op/Tech.  There are other makers out there, but this is what works for me.  Trust me, whichever one you choose, your neck and back will thank you!

That’s it for now.  If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer.  Until next time – Happy Shooting!