Well it’s finally that time of the year again when the first airshow has arrived. The season officially began with the Cable Airshow in Upland, CA during the beginning of January but for myself the first one is this month with the LA County Airshow. Usually before I go to any event I always go through my checklist of what I need to bring, what will I be shooting, how will it be shot and any other homework regarding the event. These are important lessons for any trip so that you maximize your chances of success before you leave.
Airshows are a combination of great aircraft and performances brought together to bring amusement to the crowds. The people attend to see the thrills of flight. Thus bringing money into the airshow. People are a very important element to the airshow experience and capturing those people and the joys that they are having is essential when covering these events. But it’s not just about the general public. It’s also the pilots, the mechanics and of course the veterans. Everyone has a story and capturing it all is important. Last May in Washington DC while I was covering the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover for the Texas Flying Legends Museum, the people in the crowd at the WWII Memorial were all amazed when the planes flew overhead. Everyone was looking up taking pictures but of course I was photographing them taking pictures of history in the making. It was a combination of both that made that event so special.
Back on the ground, there are always subjects to be photographed. At each event there are dozens of aircraft making it a general smorgasbord for photographers to get great images. But you have to be creative a work around the other elements that come with shooting on the ground including people, ropes, chairs, orange cones and other elements that come with an airshow. While I tend to shoot a lot with the 24-70 f/2.8 or the 70-200 VRII I also shoot a lot of statics with the 200-400 VR just to isolate certain elements. I’ve gotten really good at removing elements that detract from the composition in post but whenever you can make the shot happen without the use of post processing it’s always better. For no other reason besides the fact that you save time.
Then of course there are the acrobatic, aerobatic, flybys, performances and tributes that come with every great airshow. These are the ones that are always the hardest for me because it’s not always easy to get that super engaging shot. You need to have the right background, good light and of course the image has to be sharp. With prop planes that can be a little harder since you also want that prop blurred which means having a slower shutter speed. It takes a bit of practice getting used to the panning involved with this kind of shooting but that’s why you start early in the season before you ever get to the event. All of this comes down to practicing early so that you are ready because if aren’t then chances are you might miss that shot.