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08/19/2011 09:20:07 AM · #1
I am going to be at my first airshow this weekend and am curious about suggestions for getting great pictures. I have a Nikon D40 and will be shooting with my new, thanks everybody for the suggestions, Nikon 70-300. I was curious about how to set up the camera for the sharpest photos. I know that shooting at 300mm on this lens gets a little soft, but I can live with that. I was thinking I would shoot in shutter priority and set my shutter speed above 450 somewhere, but I saw another suggestion of shooting in Aperture Priority and using F6.3, ISO 400 and let the camera set the shutter speed.

Any suggestions on which would be better? Also any ideas on metering and auto focus?

Thanks!
08/19/2011 09:55:33 AM · #2
Airshows are usually bright and in the middle of the day. I think you can use a higher aperture and lower ISO. Using the higher aperture will help with your lens that is iffy at full reach, and increase your DOF in case your focus misses a little. These were shot in aperture priority at F8.0, ISO 200, and still pulled in a fast 1/1600th shutter speed.
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I tend to use the center focus point, rather than letting the camera try to decide. I tried AI focus at the last airshow I was at (not sure what Nikon calls it, but the focus mode that tries to follow the subject) and found those shots missed the focus more than the others did and hunted around more.

Exposure can be difficult. As the planes move past you, the direction of the light will change as the plane moves and you turn to follow it. I've found there is a sweet spot as the plane moves past you, where the light plays wonderfully with the aircraft surfaces and the smoke. Review your shots and get a feel for where that is. I'd suggest shooting in burst mode, starting a few seconds before the plane gets to where you want it. How far in advance depends on how many shots your camera can shoot before a full buffer slows it down. Shoot in RAW for the most flexibility with your images after the fact.

Message edited by author 2011-08-19 10:04:03.
08/19/2011 10:42:56 AM · #3
Airshows are fun and exciting and one of my most favorite things to do. Trying to get some good pics can be challenging, however. Like Yo_Spiff says it will probably be a bright day which is good so you can jack up your shutter speed quite a bit. A low ISO is good too for the "slow" movers but if you have "fast" movers like "these guys ' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35000-39999/37529/120/Copyrighted_Image_Reuse_Prohibited_901789.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35000-39999/37529/120/Copyrighted_Image_Reuse_Prohibited_901789.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' and ' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35000-39999/37529/120/Copyrighted_Image_Reuse_Prohibited_901790.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/35000-39999/37529/120/Copyrighted_Image_Reuse_Prohibited_901790.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' then you may want to move the ISO and shutter speed up and hope for a sharper picture. These two shots were taken with the same lens you have at f/5.6, ISO800, 1/2000sec and they are both soft. Also I used Shutter Priority as well because I wanted to limit as much blur as possible. Although not particularly successful, if you have a real steady hand you could do better than this as I am a little shaky on a good day. Good luck and have fun.
08/19/2011 11:13:18 AM · #4
Assuming you have a bright day, not heavily overcast, you will have plenty of light, and ISO 100 or 200 should be all you need. Your exact strategy will be different depending on what you are shooting. Try to work with an aperture of f/8 if you can. Only use wider apertures if you must. The f/8 aperture will give you sharper results, and you should still be able to get adequately fast shutter speeds. As far as focal length, your 70-300 lens on an APS-C camera will give you a good focal length range for airshows.
For propeller-driven aircraft, use a shutter speed around 1/400s. Much faster and you won't see enough prop motion. Much slower, and you will get blurry shots due to shake, and props may be too blurred. What I will normally do is set the camera in full manual and take a few test shots to determine proper exposure. 1/400 @ f/8 is right on center with the "sunny 16" rule of 1/ISO at f/16, so should give close to the right exposure at 100 ISO.
For faster jet aircraft, you want the fastest shutter speed you can get. I set Av mode, boost ISO to 200 and set aperture to f/5.6 (or stay at f/8 if the day is really bright). This will usually give me shutter speeds of 1/1000 or better.
I do recommend using an aid to reduce camera shake. I've used a tripod with a ball head set for very light friction to good effect, and also used a monopod with the head loose. You don't need a highly stable platform, just an aid to smooth panning.
I highly recommend practicing panning before you go, to develop and refine your technique.

ETA - Some of my airshow shots:
Airventure 2003
AirVenture 2004
AirVenture 2005
AirVenture 2011
Some of it's good, some of it's bad, LOL.

Message edited by author 2011-08-19 12:37:12.
08/19/2011 11:16:26 AM · #5
If you're a mere mortal, you'll need high shutter speed and F-stop like Spiffy. But if you're a God, like Slippy, you may be able to handle lower settings.

Bring a chair, sun screen, and a cooler of drinks.

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08/19/2011 03:18:14 PM · #6
Thanks all for your responses. I work about a mile from the airport on the 13th floor and am watching the practice runs today. I have my camera and am trying your suggestions.
08/19/2011 03:23:47 PM · #7
Originally posted by Strikeslip:

If you're a mere mortal, you'll need high shutter speed and F-stop like Spiffy. But if you're a God, like Slippy, you may be able to handle lower settings.

You may not be mortal (or human, rather), but a saint does not a God make.
08/19/2011 03:30:36 PM · #8
Originally posted by Art Roflmao:

Originally posted by Strikeslip:

If you're a mere mortal, you'll need high shutter speed and F-stop like Spiffy. But if you're a God, like Slippy, you may be able to handle lower settings.

You may not be mortal (or human, rather), but a saint does not a God make.

YES! :-D
08/19/2011 05:26:14 PM · #9
As with all brilliant questions, the answer is ... it depends.

Camera Stuff
If you're shooting propeller driven airplanes ... I like a shutter speed of about 1/160 of a second. It shows blurred props. But the planes are moving pretty fast and you need to have steady panning skills to keep the planes themselves sharp.

As you shoot faster and faster, the planes will be in better and better focus and you have less and less motion blur on the planes themselves. When you get fast enough, you can stop the props completely and your planes begin to look like models. Like this one for example. If that's your objective, great.

For me, the biggest challenge isn't the movement of the planes, but movement of the camera/lens. I own the Nikon 70-300, it has image stabilization, I use it.

My D3 has a continuous focus mode. I use it.

But even with image stabilization (Nikon calls it VR), I still get motion artifacts if I'm shooting too slow.

So unless I'm shooting propeller driven aircraft or rotorcraft and want blurred props, I try to shoot very fast. If I can get to about 1/4000 of a second, I get very crisp results.

My Nikon D3 has very little noise at high ISO, so I try to shoot with an ISO around 400 or even a bit more, and at the sweet spot for the lens. The Nikon 70-300 has its best focus performance around f/8. So I boost ISO until I can get the shutter speed I want. With your D40, noise will begin to be a problem at some ISO (not sure where exactly) so I'd set ISO as high as you can with out much noise, try the sweetest f/stop for the lens and see where your shutter ends up. Then I'd open the lens rather than increase the ISO. You'll be shooting objects that are a fair distance from the camera so depth of field isn't an issue.

So to recap: I shoot with continuous focus in aperture priority, at a a low-noise ISO of 400-640 depending on weather, at the f/8 sweet spot of the lens to get a shutter speed around 1/4000. If I can't shoot that fast with these settings, I open the lens before I boost the ISO.

Composition Stuff
Unless the action is far away, things happen too fast to really compose very well in the view finder. So I tend to zoom out a bit so I have space around my subject and I put my subject in the center of the viewfinder. This lets me crop to get a desirable composition in the computer. And this is where my continuous autofocus seems to work best.

Take time to look at stuff besides planes. Shoot the crowd. People are interesting and they're always doing something funny, or touching, or interesting. Shoot the static displays. Face it, even in a great air show, there's a lot of waiting around. Use it to shoot the whole show.

Examples
About 3 weeks ago I shot the Seattle Seafair Blue Angels show. Here's a gallery of photos from that. And here's another gallery from last year. And here's a gallery of photos from Aviation Nation at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. Herre's a gallery of photos from the Farnborough Air show in 2006, one of the two best sir shows in the world in my opinion.

Check out ' . substr('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21.gif', strrpos('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21.gif', '/') + 1) . ' kirbic's galleries. He's got many many terrific photos.

Message edited by author 2011-08-19 17:45:39.
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