Friday, October 17, 2008

You Wing Some, You Lose Some

Clouds Can Be A Photographer’s Best Friend

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


I thought I’d write about something a bit different this week, and I remembered this series of shots taken at the 2007 Avalon International Air Show. A sky defines everything in a photographer’s world. Simple as that. The quality of the prevailing sky defines how you use a camera.

The Air Show was the first time I had actually spent time photographing a variety of aircraft, and I was hoping that the warm weather would bring clear skies. When we arrived at Avalon, there was a mainly blue sky, with patchy cloud on the horizon, but by the time the US Navy jets treated the capacity crowd to a fly-past, things had started changing.

One of the interesting things about an air show is that you are up closer to valuable machinery than you ever will be - but there are still tight restrictions. For one thing, you can only use the cordoned-off paths, so you have to work out your angles from within those strictures. Secondly, you have to work very hard to compose a shot without including the heads of at least 100 onlookers.

Once you realise that you need to work within those parameters, everything else is easy! For the first shot, I was able to follow the ropes to make the most of the camouflage paint on this fighter, as well as the clouds that were starting to roll in. I guess the back-to-front view, looking forward from the tail, the rudder and the engine nacelles, works fairly well.

For the second, I had to walk very quickly - against the flow of onlookers, mind you - to get an almost-silhouette of these fighters on the runway apron.

I used a Sigma 18-125 lens for everything I shot that day and I was very pleased with the results, not just for the frames shot of static displays on a tarmac, but also for those taken of aircraft in flight. Regular readers of this blog know that I do not crop, edit or digitally enhance any of my photographs, so everything you see on this site is exactly what I shot, as I saw it through the viewfinder of my Pentax.


For the next air show, I’ll take my Sigma 70-300mm lens along. But guess what - I would probably not have composed any of the images on this post differently.

Yes, a 300mm lens would have given me great close-ups of any fly-past, but the reason I really like this last shot (below) is not just the orientation of the fighter as the pilot banks hard, with wings practically perpendicular to the ground. To me, the best part of the shot is the subtly-toned sky that the jet is crackling through at a great rate of knots.

Like I said before, sky is everything - because it really defines this last shot.

For other participants in Dot’s concept, go to Sky Watch HQ.

43 comments:

Expat mum said...

Great photos. We have a fantastic Air & Water SHow in Chicago every August. I took some photos with my phone (sorry) and they were absolutely dreadful. Yours put me to shame.

Daryl said...

Off we go into the wild GREY yonder .. flying high into the skies ... sing along now ...


:-Daryl

Lee said...

Takes me back home to earlier times, David! I've seen the Blue Angels fly in Texas skies. Great shots! While very compact in view you managed to capture that wide open skies and ready to launch feel.

Cheers!

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

Woah Boys toys....as we call 'em in this house! My husband adores the discovery wings! channel...say no more..l shall send him this page, he'll be in heaven...I used to love going to air show, before kids...We once went to the US Mildenhall airbase in Uk, for hours I traipsed around behind him smiling (at airmen not planes)and I recall he was quite tetchy in getting just the right shot each time. We sat and ate, and he was looking at the camera mouth agape....and he shouted, no ***ing film!! me and all the surrounding people laugh for quite sometime...

imac said...

Hello my friend, flying high still I see David with great shots.

quilly said...

Gray clouds are great. Blue sky is wonderful. What I have trouble working with are those stark white formless clouds -- which are pretty much the winter sky here.

imbeingheldhostage said...

These are wonderful. Taking shots around the restrictions is hard, I once was a few feet from some Stealth fighter and we weren't allowed to walk within certain views :-(

cheshire wife said...

I do not think that we can appreciate how difficult it was to take these shots unless we try to take them ourselves.

Migs CFL fan said...

Fantastic pics of the F-18's. Well done. Thanks for sharing!

Cheers

http://reginainpictures.blogspot.com/

Kahshe Cottager said...

Somehow I think those grey skies are just the right background for fighter jets ... it adds to the picture's story I think.

My Sky Watch Photos are posted Here and Here

Old Wom Tigley said...

Hello David...
Great captures... showed the clouds off so well.

Ivar Ivrig said...

A powerful SWF. Perfect for this meme. Well done and have a nice weekend

Coloradolady said...

Nice photos, we just had an air show here this past weekend. Your shots are great against the clouds. Have a great weekend.

Aisha said...

Great shots, David. The sky is also the pilot's friend, huh?

marcia@joyismygoal said...

very cool I love the drama of the sky to accompany the fighter jet

Maggie May said...

Do you know........ I thought you were a secret pilot as well as all the other talents you have!
Nothing would surprise me! LOL

Hilary said...

Wonderful flight of fancy.. you pull off the toughest shots.

Photo Cache said...

Beautiful shots.

kylie said...

david,
i thought you might read momentsfromsuburbia.blogspot.com
i thought her post called "poverty" was worth considering for POTD

Sandi McBride said...

They look so natural up there in the sky...like great big birds! Great shots.
Sandi

Craver Vii said...

The rear view, behind the nacelles is my favorite of these shots. I wish I could have been there. I imagine it must have been quite loud when they passed by.

Rocky Mtn. Girl said...

Ah, airshows are something we rarely get to see around our neck of the woods out in this part of Canada but would love to see! I'm sure the bears and the moose would concur! =)
Awesome photographs!
~Michele~
Mountain Retreat- Canada

Millennium Housewife said...

David, the last shot was heartbreakingly, breathtakingly beautiful. The backdrop leant a loneliness to the plane, a sense of complete isolation as the pilot executed his/her moves. Imagine being a pilot in a war and this being your only place of refuge, but also your place of attack. Wow, I'm really learning about the power of photography from you - thankyou. I went onto the post of the day sunflower photos, again just beautiful. Imagine those juxtaposed with the plane. MH

The Texican said...

Thought for a minute that might be your jet David. I love to watch them fly.

Deb said...

The gray clouds seemed to add much more drama to this picture than if it had been blue skies. Winning photos ~ again!

Seamus said...

Air shows and the air races at Reno, NV are some of my favorite photo ops. You are right about the opportunity to get up close and personal with such extraordinary machines and it's certainly worth the price of the gate.

Pernille's ting og tang said...

Very nice shot:)

Gramma L said...

Those are awesome. Nothing like the power of one of those going low overhead. Great pictures.

Enigma said...

GREAT images! Those clouds and the heavy feeling they evoke is a wonderful contrast to the jet images. Very nice!!

leslie said...

Always love your photos, but really appreciate your explanations with these types of shots. :D

Carletta said...

What great captures David!

womaninawindow said...

Yes, that is one formidable sky, to be sure!

Laura ~Peach~ said...

wonderful photos and now i cant wait unti the next air show here!

alicesg said...

Very beautiful shot of the sky from the plane's view. I love these planes. Have a nice weekend, David.

Sharon said...

Great shots. Our local airshow is coming up next month!

Colin Campbell said...

Fantastic shots David. Shooting planes is tricky stuff.

John said...

Great captures and explanations!

reluctantfarmchi said...

Yes, I can tell this is a professional speaking. Who else would have more than one camera to choose from, and then would remember (from a year ago) what camera, what lens, and what restrictions there were in taking a series of shots! AND come out with such a great selection. Happy SWF!

Cindy said...

Not so sure I'd like to take off into skies looking like that, but then, I'm a big coward and don't like to fly anyway. Beautiful shots.

Jeannelle said...

Oh, yes....the clouds ARE a perfect backdrop for the plane shots! Happy SkyWatching!

raf said...

What better for SWF than an air show! Another interesting and informative post, David. Thank you!

Carrie and Troy Keiser said...

Awesome shots!

fishing guy said...

David: Sorry I missed this one. This was a neat set of photos. I just got too busy with things this week.