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San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show

Blue Angels San Francisco Fleet Week copyright 2011 Andy Richards

October is a month in which I usually plan a trip somewhere related to photography. That October coincides with our anniversary often means that my wife (who is not an avid photographer, but is often a very patient participant) and plan a trip together. This year our daughter moved to San Francisco from the Mid-west and we had not been out to see her, or her new home. Indeed, I had never set foot in the state of California (though my wife was born and spent her youth in Southern California). We planned a week in and around the San Francisco area. When we planned our trip, we were unaware (until later) that the end of our week was also “Fleet Week.” This meant there were lots of people in town. It also meant an unexpected, but fun opportunity: the Fleet Week Air Show.

The highlight of any U.S. Military show, of course, has got to be the famed “Blue Angels.” But to “warm up the crowd,” we had several other participants, including The Canadian Air Force and several other U.S. Military Planes.

Canadian Air Force; San Francisco Fleet Week copyright 2011 Andy Richards

A couple weeks back, I blogged about knowing your equipment, and preparing for a shoot. This was a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” I haven’t ever thought about shooting an air show and my planned shooting involved basically static landscape images. So I was concerned with depth of field, creating opportunities for composite images, light direction and conditions, and proper location for perspective. I was prepared to try to expose for fog, which is supposed to be a staple for San Francisco.

This was a case of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Iusually use my “custom setting 1” on my camera, which sets the AF actuation on the back button and not on the main shutter button. I generally shoot in Aperture Priority mode for 90% of my landscape images. I don’t worry about technological aspects like “focus tracking.” I am more interested in where those little brackets are for exposure purposes (after attaining sharp focus, of course).

Blue Angels; San Francisco Fleet Week copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Fortunately, my “default” “custom setting 2” puts the AF actuation back on the shutter button. I think I have focus tracking set (but cannot be sure, and didn’t really have time to fool with it, as the air show opportunity arose as a surprise). As well, my 28-300VR f3.5-5.6 was probably not the best piece of equipment for this task. I shot it with full, active VR at its (nominal) 300mm length and did my best to track and focus. In hundreds of tries, I got a few sharp images and a few just marginally sharp images.

Fleet Week Air Show; San Francisco copyright 2011 Andy Richards

True pros have this stuff down. This is not to say that Ansel Adams, with his view camera, would have been any better prepared than I was. But most journeyman, working pros today would almost instinctively know how to get the best out of the equipment they were carrying and capture the important images. For me, it gives me something to continue to strive toward. In the meantime, I don’t plan to become an aviation photographer, and this trip allowed me to capture some lifetime memories.

Blue Angels; San Francisco Fleet Week copyright 2011 Andy Richards


6 Responses

  1. Love, love, love air shows. Great shots!

  2. Thanks, Phil. You would have enjoyed this one — probably the whole trip!

  3. Andy, air shows may not be your forte, but you really got some nice shots. As you know, I love the top shot and the Blue Angels shot is fantastic.

    I’ve never shot an airshow, but if I did, I don’t think I would get such great photos.


    • Thanks, Al. You are very kind. Having shot with you several times, I am quite certain you would have come away with your own, very unique and very good take on this opportunity.

  4. Well, I’m an aviation photographer (http://tinyurl.com/88wwjhc) who is trying to learn the intricacies of shooting foliage. I love to go to airshows, but always come home thoroughly exhausted by the noise, weather conditions, and the stress of lugging photo equipment around.

    • Hi Tim: Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you reading my blog! Would love to hear more about what you use for equipment, and maybe about technique and weather conditions for aviation photography.

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