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“The best way out is always through.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Plan a Shooting Strategy (Especially if Your Subjects are Going 400 mph)

A few weeks ago I heard about a big air show up in Rhode Island and decided to get a hotel room and spend the weekend shooting the show. I grew up near an airport that held air shows almost every summer and I knew how exciting and fun they were to shoot. Unfortunately, though we got a pretty early start, we got stuck in traffic on I95 and didn't get to the show until mid afternoon--just in time to see the U. S. Navy's Blue Angels.

I've seen the Blue Angels fly before and they're just amazing. As you're standing there at the edge of the runway watching the Diamond Formation (shown here) of four jets (there are a total of six jets in the team) blasting past within mere inches of one another, you can't help but be in awe of the extraordinary young pilots that are performing these maneuvers. You also can't help but wonder: How in the heck am I ever going to get a sharp photo of these guys?

I shot probably a hundred of so photos of them on the first day and while I was happy at times that I even managed to get them in the frame (trust me, there are a lot of jets chopped in half in my take from that first day), I was disappointed with both placement in the frame and with the lack of sharpness. Of course, when your subject is going 400 mph, you can be forgiven some errors in framing and even in sharpness--but I don't want to be forgiven, I want good photos!

Luckily we were going back the next day to see them perform again, so I went back to the hotel room that night and decided to read some more of Simon Stafford's extremely useful Nikon D90 Magic Lantern Guide and see if I couldn't concoct a shooting plan that would maximize my chances of getting sharp, well-exposed photos of a very challenging (did I say they were going very fast?) photo subject. While most photographers in this situation are probably shooting with top-end professional DSLRs, the freelance writer in me has trouble parting with $5,000 or more for a camera body, so I force myself to get the same results with much more affordable equipment--in this case the D90.

Tomorrow I'll tell you more about my shooting plan (both technically and mentally) and how I used some of the D90's camera controls to stop the Blue Angels in their tracks (so to speak).

By the way, if you happen to live near an airport that is sponsoring an air show this summer, go and you'll have a fantastic time. And also, thanks to the kind kids at the hamburg stand at the Rhode Island show for giving us the best burgers we've ever had--and for free! I wish I could remember the name of their fine business.

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