Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Is For Incendiary

Looks Like Someone Just Dropped A Bombshell

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


On Friday night I was at the 2009 Australian International Air Show and things didn’t quite go according to schedule. I had planned to get to the Show by about 4pm or 4.30pm at the latest. I’d been monitoring the weather reports for a few days and I knew it was going to be a hot day, which in turn meant I would be able to shoot under a clear, cloudless sky.

And as the week progressed, the weather seemed to be tailor-made for what I wanted to do. There was a chance of a storm late in the evening, which meant after shooting several frames in clear, bright light, I would be able to shoot several sequences in cloudy conditions at dusk - which would have been perfect, given that most of my subjects would be metallic in nature, even though most are hi-tech alloys.


So it looked as if I’d get a couple of hours in bright light and at least an hour and a half in soft light. Just before darkness fell, I would pack up and head for home. But that was not quite as it turned out. A couple of unforeseen glitches meant that I only walked through the entrance to the show at about 6.45pm, with the light fairly murky in thick cloud.

This in turn meant that I stayed on longer than I had planned to - so I was treated to this display of high explosives in a great display of precision use of armament. The weather had been assessed very carefully because of the fog that rolled in with the heavy cloud, so for a while there was a real question mark over whether any night flying would be possible.

There is, as I was about to discover, a very interesting discipline in photography of this nature. It was stygian blackness all around, save for the runway lights, and I quickly computed what settings to use on my camera. I had opted for the 70-300mm lens, just for the need to shoot over people’s heads for a clear close-up.


So picture this. You’re waiting in the darkness, not knowing which side of the runway the aircraft will approach. In addition, you have no idea where the armament will be dropped, so even if you were using a tripod (I never do) there is no knowing where to point your camera.

Flexibility is everything in this sort of situation. Because I’m so tall, I’m lucky enough to get a clear view over most people’s heads. And when the firewall began, I was quickly able to capture the pyrotechnics.

Someone who saw these images before they were published asked me if this sort of photography requires a lot of skill. My honest answer was, "Not really, but you do need a lot of patience and a certain degree of luck".

Sometimes it pays to be kept in the dark.


For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

47 comments:

Barbaloot said...

I hope one day I have the luck required to get pictures like that:)

The Quintessential Magpie said...

WOW! WOW! WOW!

That's the most apt expression I can come up with for those amazing photographs. Good job, David, and Happy St. Patrick's Day (who was actually a good Scot)!

Sheila :-)

Sandi McBride said...

Fireworks displays always leave me breathless. There's something about the mimicry of war without the devastation of actual battles, I think. Whatever it is, I'd have loved to witness this exhibition! Beautifully shot...makes me feel as though I was almost there...
Sandi

Indrani said...

WHOA! I am WOW over those shots! I have never been to explosives armament display and you have great captures. Besides luck, I think you need to know the technique of handling the camera settings too.

Janet said...

Those are astonishing, gorgeous, and unique! Sometimes having plans go awry works to your advantage.

Leesa said...

I misread the title. I thought I was for indecency.

RuneE said...

You must be the master of fireworks photography!

Muthering Heights said...

Wow, they're amazing!

Nessa said...

Spectacular.

Carolina said...

Oh wow! These are spectacularly well caught!

Daryl said...

That's how I feel shooting in bright sunlight .. my LED screen becomes impossible to see .. so I point and pray ... I do that at home when I am trying to get the cats w/o using anything but existing light - so as to sneak up on them before they see me and turn away - I call it shooting blind but my result pale compared to yours!

lakeviewer said...

SDavid, I don't see much luck in this. I see a trained and experienced professional coaxing technology to cooperate at just the appropriate time. Luck, not so much.

I am enjoying learning how to set up these 'lucky' moments.

Kat said...

Wow! Those are amazing!
I am hopeless at shooting in the dark. Perhaps using a tripod would help me. I'm such a novice. Maybe I should take a class or something. ;)

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Stunningly beautiful!

JoAnn's-D-Eyes said...

wow David.
Interesting, its your sory and the pictures together what makes it special thanks for showing.

Greetings from JoAnn
Happy ABC

Rinkly Rimes said...

The final shot is particularly wonderful. At first I thought you were going to describe a crash!

Sylvia K said...

Incredible photos! Not that I'm surprised, yours always are just that!

Mojo said...

Luck? Sure, there's an element of luck in every photograph -- good or bad. But even after you've identified the impact area (where -- hopefully -- everything should fall) there's a dozen considerations to make and not a lot of time to make them. So don't sell the skill short. Without it, you'd never have gotten these fine images.

The closest I've come to a display like this to date is fireworks. Very similar, but with less available light. But what I'm waiting for are those spring/summer thunderstorms. Gonna try my hand at lightning. that ought to be a good challenge, eh?

introspection said...

Professional photography at it's best. Love the pyrotechnic display shots. Thanks for sharing your treasures, David.

Stacy Quarty said...

Well done! The last is my favorite shot.

Janie said...

You caught some great images. It helps, obviously, to have both skill and luck.

Steve said...

Wow. Gorgeous, gorgeous photographs. Such dynamic shapes and yet so strangely organic too.

Maggie May said...

I'm sure it is more than just luck!
These photos are amazing!

Leslie: said...

Fabulous shots, David! And lucky you that circumstances got you there at the right time. It must have been so exciting to be there!

Eddie Bluelights said...

Great Balls of Fire!
Fantastic. I missed a car on fire the other night. Why? I forgot to take my camera. Never again! Super shot, David

Siw Aina said...

Wooooow, your photos are totelly amazing!!!

Moannie said...

Phew! Spectacular pictures, thank you David. You know that all he technical stuff flies over my head, I shall probably never own a camera that demans that I do know, so I am amazed, again.

cheshire wife said...

Quite a spectacle! Amazing photos or just luck? There must be some skill involved.

Alison said...

Wow! Those are amazing pictures.

imac said...

Are you not the clever one David.lol
Fantastic captures 1st class photography.

Catch my Gems - Flying high posts.

Hilary said...

Those are gorgeous images, David. That last one in particular is a stunner. Wow!

anthonynorth said...

Impressive photos. More than luck, you have to have the skill when the opportunity presents itself.

Corey~living and loving said...

I'm bowing down to your rockin' awesome lucky shots! :) night photography is a mystery to me still. :)

hope you are having a great day, David.

Andrée said...

Beautiful shots! I'm envious because of the strong colors and light.

SandyCarlson said...

I'm glad you're flexible. That must have been quite a show; the intense light of these images is astounding.

Life with Kaishon said...

Spectacular! I always love seeing what you come up with. Incendiary. What a great word!

C. Michael Cox said...

That last picture is fantastic. Great energy and the composition (even if it was lucky) is perfect.

Deb said...

So have you considered writing a photography book? I think you should and all you need to do is organize your helpful posts which always teach us so much. And why don't you ever use a tripod? Loved these photos - they look like gold glitter falling from the sky!

Tumblewords: said...

Wow! Fascinating, fascinating. Incredible shots.

Katney said...

Striking!

Judy Roberts said...

LOVED these photos!!! Agree with Rinkly Rimes that the last one is my favourite.

spacedlaw said...

They are amazing and what amazes me more in the combination of the 300mm lens, pitch dark and no tripod. With my bad camera shake, I'd never manage.

Annie said...

Yes, a lot of luck sometimes!!

Reminds me that last week I was outside just after dark to take a photo of the moon (I was very pleased with result on my blog) and while I was standing there...very silently, oh so silently many many bats flew over, out of their trees up at the Japanese gardens at the uni, and onto ..where ever they feed at night. I was so amazed at the sheer numbers of them, but also at how difficult it was to take a photo of a bat that you didn't know was coming from which angle..if you get my drift!

So so many, so silent...and not a decent photo to be had. The photos I did get had funny wispy marks of bat black against a blue black nearly black sky. Oh well, at least I got the moon!

Grace and Bradley said...

Great photos and great post. They are not our everyday firworks.

lisaschaos said...

Those are all so interesting! Sounds like you did ok, even if you arrived later than planned. Nice to meet someone else stubborn about tripods. :)

becky aka theRAV said...

Awesome as always David. Lucky you. I find it hard to photograph it with my digital. I tried it during 4th of July. I have also tried an air show in broad day light. The last time we went to one we watched from the Walmart parking lot. I accidentally deleted my memory card so it was a painful memory for me. I don't care to got to another one because of it. If we did go, I would just watch instead.

Cath said...

Well yet again I beg to differ. I struggle to take night shots, and keeping my arm still is the LEAST of my problems! If you refuse to accept that your skill is involved, I have to yield (at least) to experience!

imho though there is a great deal of skill and knowledge involved there. Luck be blowed. No such thing as luck!

So - I think these are fantastic.

I agreed with the Quintessential Magpie -

WOW! WOW! WOW!