Ok so I have to be honest I have never before covered an air show in a photographic way. It came up quick, a friend had mentioned the air show so I went online Googled it and read through the site real quick to get the lowdown. As I was running through the site I seen an application for press credentials and filled it out. A few days later and about two days before the show I received my approval email and instructions. Awesome! I could always go to any event as a spectator but media passes are so much better for sure.
So before I received the media passes I knew I was going and had to lay out a plan of what I wanted to achieve at this event. Do I want to do a photojournalistic type shoot or do I just go and shoot. Ah hell I’m not getting paid to cover the event so I’ll just make it fun and go and shoot. But what gear should I use?
So after contemplating for a while I decided I would us a Sigma 50-500mm 4.5-6.1 lens as well as my trusty 70-200mm 2.8L. Also the website says “No Backpacks” so I’ll use my Lowepro belt and shoulder straps. Tripod isn’t going to do too much good so I’ll just take the monopod. Two 32 gig & Two 16 gig cards should be more than enough for digital film. So now all I need is good weather.
And the gods were more than generous with the “good weather” thing. Blue sky, low 80’s and a slight breeze. So I arrived at the show a half hour after the gates opened. Got in, got in and received my passes. I walked around a bit and then I started to make my way to the “media” tent. Only to find out that there was no such animal, although the press instructions clearly stated there was a media tent. As the morning progressed I realized there were many things about the air show that had not been fully thought out. The biggest surprise came at the end of the day when it was time to leave and you couldn’t. Over one hour to move a mere 100 yards from my parking space to the gate. The infamous words “you can checkout, but you can never leave” came to mind from Hotel California. So in retrospect and from previous experiences I start to wonder how does one plan an event that will house 300 thousand people over the course of a weekend and leave out such details as traffic control. It is either stupidity or greed. Maybe both. Was there any type of evacuation plan in the event of a disaster, more than likely “no.” So as a pilot would say “your flying by the seat of your pants.”
Ok so back to the photography. I soon learned the 50-500mm was a little tricky doing straight overhead shots. It is a “slider” lens in which you can just pull on the lens to zoom in and push it back to zoom out. So when I would look straight up the lens wanted to slide back and zoom out. Not too much of a problem but something I had to deal with all day. Of course zooming out on the Sigma meant going to f/6.1 and that forced me to the range of ISO 200-250 and away from ISO 100. I wanted ISO 100 for super clean (no noise) shots because I knew I would be doing a lot of cropping in post. But hey… ISO 200 is better than ISO 400. So at ISO 200 the sensor was a little more sensitive to the light which let me go to 1/1000-1/4000 second on the shutter for high speed capture. So high speed in fact that it stopped the props on the planes but I was ok with that. Also keep in mind I wear eyeglasses that tint, so when I am shooting outside in bright sunlight I can barely see the camera display at all. So have to really rely on good shooting skills and hope for the best. I stayed in Av Aperture Priority most of the day although I did go to Manual mode for some static shots. I picked a good vantage point along a fence that had a strong steel post. I used that post to lean against as I was looking up and moving side to side. By pressing my body against the post I could get steady upper body movement and not get dizzy or disoriented and fall while looking through the view finder.
Canon 70-200mm vs Sigma 50-500mm: Let me just say that next time I will use the 70-200mm with a 1.4 extender. Although the 50-500mm got nice shots all day, they were just that “nice” shots and not “great” shots. However the 70-200mm always gets great shots. It doesn’t have the zoom that the Sigma had, but what good is a zoom if you can not get a great shot. Also in tripod tests I did a few days before the air show I noticed that I was getting the bluish-purple cast that tends to halo objects when shooting on a cheaper lens. I used to get the same halos with my Tamaron 70-300mm. The bluish halos are nonexistent with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II. Now with all that said I still had loads of fun capturing the images of the day. I had fun spending the day in the Sands Casino VIP tent, that is where I was sent after the officials realized they had no “media” tent. So Thank you Sands your food was great and I did tip the bartender for every soda I drank.
Back home in post editing I had 2300+ images, of those about 100 unusable, either blurry or photos of my feet. I quickly culled through to narrow it down to 300 of the best and 150 images to go into a slideshow.