One of the fun things I’ve done in recent years, was attend several air shows, not only to enjoy the entertaining displays of aerobatic military and civilian aircraft, but also to test out my photography skills in capturing really fast action.. I love taking action photography especially of sports,cycling, auto and motor racing, air shows, boating etc. There’s something kind of magical of freezing in time the action or using effects like a slow shutter and a pan to create that sense of motion, and airshows with their colorful and dazzling aerobatic displays make a great place to do this!
Air Show Calendar
The first step in finding good air shows is getting to an airshow calendar. One of the better one’s online is the Milavia Airshow Calendar it has a list of airshow events for US and the world. There are many airshows here in the United States, the air show season is typically during the summer months in most parts of the US. Some of the higher profile US shows for 2013 are . Sadly due to the fiscal cliff budget issues many of the big name Airforce base (AFB) airshows have been cancelled this year.
- Ocean City Air Show (MD)
- Bethpage Jones Beach Air Show (NY)
- EAA Air Venture Oshkosh 2013 (WI)
- Andrews AFB Air Show (DE ) (Cancelled this year due to budget cuts)
- Miramar Airshow (FL)
- Aviation Nation 2013 – Las Vegas Air Show (Nellis AFB) (Cancelled this year due to budget cuts)
What is a modern Airshow like?
Most airshows are usually weekend affairs, near and around municipal or military air fields, and feature a wide of variety of aerial displays, from military parachute teams,to several acrobatic aircraft, biplanes, vintage World War 2 “warbirds” to modern high speed jet fighter aircraft.
Usually the airshows are capped by a headliner, which for larger shows in the US is typically one of the United states military air demonstration squadrons; such as the Air Force’s Thunderbirds, the Navy’s Blue Angels or civilian demonstration squad such as the Black diamond jet team.
At these shows the US military may also feature flyby’s of rare aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor, Stealth bomber and V2 Osprey amongst others. During the airshow an announcer in concert with the airshow director gives you a detailed description of what’s going on in the sky.
In addition to the live aerobatic displays, many shows have static displays on the ground where you can see, touch , walk inside and in some cases sit in the cockpit of a wide variety or aircraft .
There are also a whole host of activities for the kids as well. If you’re an aviation junkie, you need to get to an airshow its a real treat to see up close and personal the aircraft, pilots and personnel that are at the heart of aviation.
Photography tips for an airshow
The keys to good photography at an airshow are as follows:
- DSLR camera , absolute must have: Although you’ll see plenty of folks with smartphones and regular point and shoot cameras, to do these airshows justice you need a modern DSLR with a decent telephoto lens to capture the high speed action.
- 300mm , 400mm or longer Telephoto Lens: You need to be able to “Reach” the action in the sky, and for this you need a 300mm or longer telephoto lens. Its critical to have the longest , fastest lens you can afford (or rent one for the day: check out lensRentals.com ). Fast telephoto lenses are very , very expensive, next time you watch an NFL game or baseball game and see the professional photographers on the sidelines with their long white lenses on the cameras (typically those are telephoto Canon lenses), keep in mind those lenses can cost in in the range of $10,000 to over $25,000 .
- Consider a Teleconverter to boost reach: Because airshows are outdoors and typically in good sunny conditions, you can generally get a 1.4x to a 2.0x teleconverter to help increase the reach of your telephoto lens. This is an inexpensive way to double your reach , while still retaining decent quality.
- Tripod or monopod: While you may be able to hand shoot a large number of aircraft , for the best results a tripod or monopod to hold the camera super steady will do the trick.
- Stake out a good spot: Take a look around where you see a bunch of professional photographers, and try to stake out a spot near them. typically this is on a little higher ground, so your shooting over the crowds and have clear unobstructed shots of the action in the sky.
Don’t forget the static displays: While the highlight of an air show may be the high-flying (or low-flying …) aircraft in the sky, often times the static displays of aircraft on the ground, can be just as rewarding. It can provide great opportunities to get up close and personal to both vintage and modern aircraft. Take this time to photograph these aircraft from low,high angles, or use wide angle lenses to capture some of the larger birds. Static displays are also great for including family and friends in the shots.
- Bring a chair, sunblock and refreshments: Air shows can last over 8 hours , out in the sun, so consider that, you’ll need to take a break and a small folding chair and some refreshments will keep you relaxed and comfortable.
Some of my Favorite Airshow Photos
Below are some of my favorite photos that I shot at a variety of airshows. I’m no professional but I think a few came out pretty good. enjoy.