Category Archives: Blue Angels

Olympus E-M5 at an Air Show, Revisited

I first wrote about my experience with the E-M5 early last year, and was somewhat disappointed with my results.  There were some definite limitations with the E-M5 with subjects that move fast.  Although the E-M5 was marketed with blazing fast autofocus (or something to that effect), it gave me fits at the air show.  Here are a couple of the main problems I had:

  • Tracking autofocus – very poor performance.
  • Continuous autofocus – very poor performance.
  • Electronic viewfinder – goes black when shooting a burst.

While I was able to come back with a handful of successful shots from my 1st air show using the E-M5 exclusively, I had to rate the E-M5 as a dud for this type of photography.  For my next air show, I brought along my Canon 60D and associated large lenses (in addition to my E-M5).  Having the Canon was a crutch for sure, but knowing that I had a solid, proven performer took some of the stress away.  I relegated my E-M5 with static displays and used the Canon for everything in the air.

I thought it would be helpful to others to post my experience using the E-M5 on a popular photography forum, and was given some good advice (along with a couple of virtual kicks in the butt).  It seems that others have already tread this ground and were having a much higher level of success with cameras like my E-M5 (MFT – micro four thirds).  There were some settings to change, and different approaches using the E-M5 for air show photography and birds in flight (BIF).  Birds in flight are equally, if not more difficult than air planes at an air show.  Not only do they fly fast, they can be unpredictable and are very small.

With some of the forum advice in mind, I started experimenting.  One of the changes I made was re-setting the burst mode from its highest setting of 9 fps to 6 fps.  This helped with the viewfinder blacking out.  It still went black, but came back much quicker.  I also changed the autofocus points from using just the center most point to a larger center grid of 9 points.  Instead of using continuous autofocus, I kept it on single autofocus.  The E-M5 can lock on to an object very quickly, it just can’t track it very well.  When an air plane started on a fly-by, I would pan along, get the E-M5 to focus, fire off a couple of shots and continue the process until the plane moved out of range.  This approach started to work.  This isn’t to say that my keeper rate with the E-M5 is approaching that of my Canon, but it was a big improvement.

The 1st air show of the year for me happened this weekend with the LA County Air Show in Lancaster, California.  Instead of the Blue Angels (who performed last year), the Thunderbirds were the main act.  I haven’t seen the Thunderbirds in 7 years, and was excited to see them in the air again.  The actual in-air performance between the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds could be seen as similar to some, but it’s still a treat for me to see the colorful F-16’s in the air.  To be fully prepared for this event, I brought both the E-M5 and Canon 60D.

I started out using the E-M5 for the static ground shots and the Canon for air shots.  But as the show progressed and I had both cameras out, I started using the E-M5 for more and more air shots.  The Canon 60D had the reliable (but slow) 200-500 Tamron lens attached and E-M5 had the Panasonic 45-200.  I’m going to do a separate post on the 60D and its results, but it worked as expected.  The E-M5 on the other hand did much better than I had originally anticipated.  The ground shots are usually never a problem (if there is a problem, it’s more than likely operator error).  My air plane in the air shots were much better than on previous attempts.  As long as I planned a little ahead and took my time, waiting for just the right moment to press the shutter, I came away with a few good shots.  If I just grabbed the camera and tried to fire off a quick burst without much thought, my results were very poor.  I don’t blame the camera for that, it’s completely my fault.  I didn’t work within the limitations of my equipment.  This doesn’t just apply to my E-M5, but with any camera.  They all have strengths and weaknesses.  Once you’ve figured them out and work within them, you will increase your success rate!

And now for the results.  All of these images started out as RAW files and were converted to .jpeg’s.  Some were cropped and tweaked a bit in Photoshop and then resized.

That’s it for this post. Until next time, Happy Shooting!

The Way Things Work Out.

It’s funny how things work out. With regards to photography, I’ve always considered myself a landscape photographer. Not that I don’t enjoy other subjects, its just that landscapes are my favorite. That seems to have changed lately. Landscapes have temporarily taken a backseat to aviation photography, specifically air shows.

Since the beginning of 2014, I have attended 3 air shows, and paid extra for special photographers access at 2 of them. There’s just something about the vintage WWII planes that I can’t get enough of, and the icing on the cake this year was the appearance of the Blue Angels at the LA County Air Show and the F-22 Raptor at the Planes of Fame Air Show (I know, these aren’t vintage WWII planes, but pretty special just the same).

Since the Planes of Fame Air Show in early May, I have captured literally thousands of frames of these planes. Now that isn’t to say that they are all keepers, quite the contrary. When I’m sitting down at the computer I’m carefully reviewing each one, and have deleted hundreds so far. Mostly because they are not in sharp focus. Since I tend to use a relatively slow shutter speed for the propeller planes (gotta catch that prop blur) my keeper rate can be low.

If you follow me at all on Facebook or Google+ you know that I like to give the WWII planes a vintage touch. I start out in photoshop, but most of the vintage look and feel is done with OnOne Perfect Effects 8. I love the options that are available, especially the ability to stack different filters into separate layers, each with its own blending functions. You can easily apply a filter, tweak the blending, and immediately preview your image. On the fly adjustments are quick and simple.

I suppose the message of this post is to flexible. You just never know what direction your photography will take you. At one time (a long time ago) I thought wedding photography was what I wanted to do. I even dabbled in videography for a short time. Air Shows have slowly moved up the favorite ladder for the last 7 or 8 years. As much I enjoy the fast action of the air show, I am looking forward to getting back to the quiet and peacefulness of an early morning landscape.

Here are a few photos from air shows.

That’s if for this post. Stay flexible my friends, you just never know what photo opportunity will present itself.

Until next time, Happy Shooting!!

Air Show Photography, What I’ve Learned

This post is about some of the things I’ve learned about photography at air shows.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended quite a few over the past 10 years, and I’ve done 2 so far this year with one more to go next month.

Arrive Early
I can’t stress this point enough.  Air Shows can get very crowded, but I hold to this old adage, “the early bird gets the worm”.  This simple phrase contains powerful wisdom, not just for air shows, but for many things in life!  Regarding air shows, be there when the gates open.  You’ll have less people to deal with if you want clean photos of the planes on the ground.  And you can stake out your spot early.  I usually find a place somewhere along the front of the fence line, either where the planes take off or land.  It seems that the majority of the crowd arrives very close to when the show starts, and will pile up behind you.  While most of the action is in the air, over head, I still prefer to have an unobstructed view of the runway.

Photo Access
To get the best access available as a non-working professional photographer, check to see if the air show you want to attend offers a photographer’s access/pass.  This year, 2 of the 3 shows I have attended offer this option, the LA County Air Show (Photo Tour Pass) and the Chino Planes of Fame Air Show (Sunrise Photo Pass). They do cost more, but in addition to allowing a limited number of air show enthusiasts sunrise access to all of the planes, they also include things like preferred parking and lunch.  The other benefit is that you will be in the company of other like-minded air show photographers!  I noticed how courteous the group at the LA County Air Show was and appreciated it.  They understood and respected each other’s space as we all worked our way around the planes trying to nail that keeper shot!

Be Prepared – Weather
I’ve attended air shows when it was cold and wanting to rain, and also when it was close to 120 degrees on the tarmac.  Watch the weather reports and prepare accordingly!  Feeling miserable while trying to catch the action at an air show is a recipe for lousy pictures.  If you know it’s going to be hot, don’t forget your sunscreen.  A wide brimmed hat offers better protection from the sun than a baseball cap.  And one final thing, wear comfortable shoes!  This should go without saying but I’ve seen everything from high heels to thin designer sandals.  There can be a lot of walking and standing at an air show, and having happy feet can be the difference between getting those perfect shots to wanting to just go home and soak your feet.

Be Prepared – Gear
While this really boils down to personal preference, I think a little planning ahead can help lighten your load.  Unless you’re going to go straight to your spot and sit there for the entire air show, you may want to narrow your gear down to the essentials.  What exactly are the essentials?  Good question!  It depends on what you are interested in.  Is your main focus the static displays on the ground?  If so, you may want a wide angle lens.  Do you want to get shots of the planes in the air when they fly by?  A good telephoto lens would be in order.  The gear I bring will fit into 1 bag (Lowepro Slingshot 202 AW). I’m able to put my Canon 60D, Tamron 70-700 and 200-500mm lens inside.  There’s also room for my Olympus E-M5, 7.5mm fisheye, 17mm, and 45-200mm lenses.  Finally, I bring a small tripod for my E-M5 (for the early morning, low light photos).  In addition, I have 2 batteries for the 60D, and 3 for the E-M5.  Each camera has a 32gb SD card, and I bring along several 16gb cards as back up.  One last thing regarding gear – don’t forget a light weight folding chair!

Be Patient
Unless a special area has been set aside for you, the general public will be everywhere.  It seems that some people have no sense of personal space, and will try everything to squeeze in and around you, including trying to go under you.  Some are polite, others are oblivious and don’t understand why you may be getting angry with them.  And unfortunately I’ve seen some photographers get pretty rude too.  Believe it or not, I personally try not to get upset.  If it’s a kid that just wants a better view of a pilot walking by or a plane taking off, I’ll usually let them in for a few minutes.  This also goes for an elderly person that is having trouble seeing the action from the back of the crowd, but only if there’s enough room!  My 200-500mm lens with it’s large lens hood has bonked more than one person standing too close when I’m following the planes in the air.  I’ve also found it best to work together with a couple other photographers to stake out our spots, and watch each others gear when someone needs to step away.  It sure beats lugging all of your gear with you to the porta-potty!

The Pictures
What should you take pictures of?  Depends on what you are interested in.  I’m not trying to be vague, but there is a lot going on at an air show and the photography options are varied.  Obviously there are the planes, both on the ground and in the air.  There are also the pilots and ground crews working on the planes.  There’s action on the ramp with planes getting ready to take off and on the other end where they land.  And don’t forget the crowds!  Sometimes you can get some interesting shots by including the crowd.  Look for angles and scenes not typically photographed, like the MC of the event and all of his equipment.  I got lucky once and got some great shots of a model dressed in a WWII outfit standing near one of the planes! There are literally thousands of photos of air shows with planes in the air.  Try to make yours stand out by being a little different.

The Results
In the end, you want results, pictures you are proud of and want to share!  With some preparation your odds will increase and hopefully you’ll come home with memory cards full of keepers!  Here are some examples from my last event, the LA County Air Show.

Blue Angels, Pilots
Blue Angels Pilots, Canon 60D , Tamron 200-500mm lens.


Air Show Performers Getting Ready
Air Show Performer getting ready, Canon 60D, Tamron 200-500mm lens.
Fly Wing & Blue Angels
Flying Wing passing in front of the Blue Angels, Canon 60D with 200-500mm lens.
Blue Angels, Flying in Formation
Blue Angels flying in formation, Canon 60D with Tamron 200-500mm lens.


P-38 Lightning, Sunrise
P-38 Lightning, Sunrise Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 45-200mm lens.
Blue Angels
Blue Angels heading out, Olympus E-M5 with 45-200mm lens.

That’s it for this post!  If you liked it or want to see more photos, you can follow me on Facebook.  Just click the link on my page!

Until next time – Happy Shooting!