Friday, April 03, 2009

Things That Go Whoosh In The Night

Trust Me, It's A Flaming Difficult Task

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


Here’s the equation. It’s very delicately balanced and even the slightest variation could tip the scales towards total mediocrity.

It’s dusk at the 2009 Australian International Air Show, the weather has closed in and the public address system has been telling us for the past half an hour that the night-flying segment might not take place.

By the time total darkness has fallen, the Super Constellation has revved its engines and begun its stately journey towards one end of the runway. It won’t be taking off. Instead, it will do a high-speed roll down the runway before braking, turning round and doing the same thing in the opposite direction.

Yes, I’m looking forward to this, because the flaming exhaust stubs will make a great image.

But in a different section, I can see some serious activity around an F-111 of the Royal Australian Air Force and a couple of F-16 Falcons of the USAF. Sure enough, a few minutes later, they are positioned down the northern end of the runway. It is several minutes before a decision is made. They will fly. A cheer goes up around me.

But the equation has been running through my head, unresolved, for quite a while. I’m not using a tripod (I never do). It’s completely dark. There is some peripheral light, but the F-111 and the F-16s are well away from the floodlights. What settings am I going to use on the camera?

I want to capture the glow from each afterburner as the fighters accelerate past me. Without a tripod, in the darkness, I don’t have a hope of capturing each jet in totality. All I’ll get is a blur, even if I can get a clear shot over the heads of the people in front of and beside me.

I know there will be no second chance for a while, because the next air show will be held in 2011. I have discarded my 18-125mm lens and screwed in the 70-300mm lens instead. Because of the darkness and the speed of the F-111 as it accelerates down the runway, I know I have to compose as tight a shot as possible, to combat the blur and to emphasise the afterburner instead.

The results are very, very far from perfect – but that is the true joy of experimentation.


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

41 comments:

Cheffie-Mom said...

Wow, how exciting!! Very cool photo!! Great job!!

kaye said...

ditto the above-very cool

Mara said...

Well, if I can still make out what the photo is supposed to be and it looks absolutely fantastic, I don't think you did a bad job at all!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Cool? Flaming hot post, I'd say! Terrific photos...can hardly believe you took these without a tripod! You're amazing! Gutsy, and Great!

Shadow said...

hey! now that i know what it is, it makes it all the more captivating...

Moannie said...

What do those figures mean. David...it is the speed of the shutter, or something to do with distance. I read them and I'm sure they are important but it must only apply to cameras with screw on lenses. However, whatever they mean you did get a great picture.

Indrani said...

Wow! David!
These shots took me back to 'those' days! They were the MIGs though.

Janet said...

I love to read about how you decide to take pictures, and I love the results, but to my little ignorant brain, it feels a lot like reading a foreign language. But that's not a bad thing! It's important to keep learning new things.

Eddie Bluelights said...

A shot in ther dark indeed! Your mind must have been almost as quick as the Falcon. Eddie

Sylvia K said...

Awesome shot! Had to be exciting! You never disappoint, David!

Artist Unplugged said...

Awesome photos!

Ananda girl said...

Your photos and explanations are always fascinating. I'm a point and shoot gal... know nothing... but I know that these are wonderful!

Charles Gramlich said...

So many great opportunities for photos, it sounds like. Life is all about choices eh?

RuneE said...

That is what photography is- fun.

When you are in "the mood" you see opportunities everywhere and after a while you even get to catch them

I'm impressed.

Denise said...

Impressive photos, I am totally hopeless at night shots. These are absolutely splendid.

Maggie May said...

Something totally different from the norm!
Wasn't sure what it was at first!
Good shots.

Leslie: said...

AWESOME!

lakeviewer said...

Not only we get good photos, but we get a tutorial to go with them. Sweet deal.

the eternal worrier said...

That’s such a cool photo. Your pictures and blog never fail to entertain me. I took this photo at Farnborough Air show last year with a camera phone. It’s a Vulcan Bomber and I don’t think they’d flown publicly for years.

http://eternalworrier.blogspot.com/2008/07/farnborough-air-show-2008.html

Guy D said...

Great captures David, but just so you know, thats an F-111 of the Australian airforce, not F-16's. One thing that I do love is that both Australia and Canada have Hornets!!!

Have a great weekend!
Guy
Regina In Pictures

VALKYRIEN said...

I'm glad you explained what it is I am looking at! Great shots! It would have been cool shots if you didn't explain also! They look like abstract paintings - and then you can let your mind wander....

Anemone said...

David!! The master of the SWF !!

And all this interesting text...

Nice weekend from Norway Anne :-)

Janie said...

Interesting photos of the jet fire, and even more interesting to hear all of your considerations as you decide how best to get a shot.

Daryl said...

I am not sure what I am looking at but knowing you its got to be something no one else would have noticed let alone snapped ...

Erin said...

what an interesting post...and you did such an excellent commentary regarding.
thanks for sharing.

Tarolino said...

That's what's so much fun. Experimenting. Ever so often it actually works. It has here. Especially in the first shot and I'm surprised it's taken without a tripod and over people's heads too. Glad you shared it and thanks for taking the time to explain the process too.

Mary Elizabeth said...

Wow, awesome…
I hope someday I can shoot one close like that.
Great shots!

From Now and Then.
Mary Elizabeth.

imac said...

Thats what seperates you from other peeps like me David.

Bradley Myers said...

It is always fun to try things like that, remember bothing ventured nothing gained. Cool shots.

Merisi said...

Well, you got the speed(s) right! :-)

Happy SkyWatch from the "Don't use tripod either" girl! ;-)

ChrisC and JonJ said...

Cool!

Jeri said...

Your photos are just amazing!

Annie said...

ah, very good David. I knew you could do it! Well done!

bowledover said...

Lovely work David. Wonderful picture and worth all the effort you made.

Did you know you can buy a single spoke, instead of a tripod.It come to chin level and takes up less space.

Cath said...

What a challenge! But you got it. It's all there in the frame! Well done.

Jazz said...

That is a seriously cool pic. Seriously

Pat - Arkansas said...

Wow! Love the photos and all the info! As I am learning, there is so much more to taking a good photo than just pressing a button. Thanks, David.

Arija said...

I like your pink flamed blow torch in the night.

Mojo said...

I had no idea there were still any F-111's flying. I figured the F-15 had pretty much replaced it everywhere. Though I suppose only the F-15E is really an equivalent and they almost didn't make it into production and are still pretty uncommon.

But all that aside, this is one of those shots like a full moon or fireworks where you just have to go with your best instinct and ignore the complaints of the meter in the camera. Unlike a full moon -- or even fireworks -- you can't shoot-adjust-repeat. Faced with that, I reckon I'd set my aperture as wide as it'd go, and my shutter as slow as I could reasonably handhold. (Incidentally, even though I'm a big believer in my tripod -- especially for night shots -- I suspect it wouldn't have been feasible in this situation even if you'd had one.) Using what's in my bag, that'd mean twisting on the 200mm f/2.8. And if I had to go tighter, adding the 1.4x extender. I wouldn't want to do that unless I had to though because it would cost me a stop, but I'd then have a 280mm f/4.0. In low light like this, I'd probably favor the extra speed over the extra focal length -- especially since the 1.6:1 sensor would actually give me the field of view of a 320mm -- just without the magnification. So with that settled, I'd dial in maximum aperture and probably 1/160 shutter speed. Anything any slower than that -- even if I could hold the camera perfectly steady -- and all I'll get is a blur. I'm already not going to get any detail of the aircraft itself if there's no external light source to illuminate it, so there's little to be gained by trying to slow the shutter down to get the edges. What I might do instead, though, is ramp the ISO setting up to 800 or even 1600 hoping to catch a faint outline. For white balance, there's not a preset that will really cope with this lighting, so I'd probably set it to the "K" (manual) setting and set the color temp in the middle of the range, say 5600-6200K. The afterburner exhaust is going to be white hot, which ironically is going to make the color fairly cool. Dialing the color temp down to 3600-4000K might have an interesting effect, but I'd be concerned that it would make things too blue. If I knew I'd have multiple aircraft taking off and time in between to adjust I might experiment with that, but if I was only going to get one chance I'd play it safe.

Would I get the shot? Well My camera would probably be blinking and screeching that I was way underexposed and if I weren't shooting on manual it would probably refuse to take the shot altogether. But truly, there's no way to know unless I tried it, and I don't know of any opportunities for that coming up in the foreseeable future around here. But it's still interesting to think about.

Because you never know.

All things considered, I think you got a couple of winners here -- especially in the first shot. It's a difficult balancing act at best, but you've managed to get enough detail that you can't pass it off as a UFO!

Jack and Joann said...

Boy, great shots but way past my mental photo powers. As some else said there are little peeps on Skywatch Friday and then there are the big guns like you. Great job. From a little peep in Haymarket, VA.

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

At first I couldn't make out what this was at all, but after reading I could clearly see in the second photo - very cool!